Black Country Living Museum
Reviewed by Shelley Owens
On a gloriously sunny day we packed ourselves into the car and travelled the short distance to the Black Country Living Museum. To my husband and me this is a place full of childhood memories, the place of school trips and history projects. Finding ourselves heading back there after "several" years with our own children was both exciting and nerve wracking. What if wasn't as good as we remembered? What if the children didn't love it as much as we had done? Our fears were unfounded!
The entrance is sleek and modern and connects two further buildings housing an exhibition of famous Black Country folk to the left and the gift shop and a café to the right. Staff were friendly and efficient and the queue for admission moved quickly, a relief for anyone with small, impatient children! Detailed guide books are available but we opted to use the free visitor information and site map.
Walking out through the glass doors into the open air, we truly felt as if we were stepping back in time; smoke billowing from the chimney stack, a passing tram, rambling open spaces with the colliery beyond, a working replica of a Newcomen Steam Engine (who doesn't remember those from history lessons?!) and cottages in the distance.
The site stretches across 26 acres and has glimpses of history from 1850 through to 1950 with the sights, smells and sounds of days gone by. There really was something for everyone to enjoy. My daughter and her friend, both aged 12, opted to follow the "Terrific Toy Trail" using a printed sheet handed to us at the entrance it was their mission to discover what toys would belong in a particular setting, following a trail. For my husband it was the motor history, the tram, bus and fabulous exhibition of bygone vehicles, the gas powered street lamps and the chips cooked in beef dripping that made his day! Our 2 year old enjoyed exploring the gardens, riding the small swing boats on the fairground but most of all she absolutely loved the bus! Every time one came passed she got excited and waved, as if she had never seen one before! Perhaps being a lovely shade of bright blue helped but whatever it was she very happy "bus spotting" and absolutely ecstatic when her Daddy took on one on the top deck! And Mummy? Well I loved that everyone was having a great time!
The one thing that everyone definitely enjoyed lunchtime! We strolled down to the "Old Birmingham Road" and it's row of shops "selling" tobacco, motorcycles, menswear and radios amongst other things and there we found Hobb's and Sons Fish and Chip Shop – point to note, we arrived a little before 12 and were served quickly but an hour later the queues were all the way up the street. The food is absolutely delicious, reasonably priced and best enjoyed outdoors in our opinion! We opted to "picnic" in the park area which is picturesque with its pretty flowered borders and winding paths with several benches to sit on. The site is not short of picnic locations or eating establishments as there is a large café at the Workers Institute and the Rolfe Street Café near the entrance and for those who fancy a pint there is the Bottle and Glass Inn!
Whatever you choose for lunch though, make sure you leave some room for some old fashioned sweets from T. Cook's sweet shop and Veal's Bakers shop!
Strolling through the "living" village at the heart of the museum, you truly get the feel for a very different pace of life, bobbing in and out of the stores and gazing in wonder at their wares or stepping off the cobbled streets into a cosy front room with the fire blazing in the hearth and starched white linen on the table, watching children's street games and witnessing forgotten trades such as the Chainmaker – this was a day full of experiences!
The buildings that make up the museum are unique, saved from various locations across the area and rebuilt brick by brick but the truly magical thing about the Black Country Living Museum is the people. The costumed staff that "live" and work there not only demonstrate a very different way of life but expertly depict the living and working conditions that people both enjoyed and endured. They are welcoming, friendly and helpful and you can learn as much or as little as you like when you step inside each building.
Make sure that you pay a visit to the gift shop on your way out, it is very well stocked with unusual gifts, books and old fashioned toys as well as the usual pocket money pencils, rubbers and sharpeners! We were treated to a fabulous selection of gifts by the staff at the museum in our special Goodie bags and can vouch for the quality of the products on sale there. Our particular favourites are the Black Country Living Museum Bear and the children's slate and pencil!
We spent an entire day there and still felt that we had much to see and do, a return visit is definitely on the cards for this family!
Prices for the Museum are reasonable for the experience and a family pass is for 2 adults and up to 3 children which is great. Discounts are available online at: www.bclm.com
There are numerous events on at the museum throughout the year and these can be found here: www.bclm.com/events