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Heritage Heroes: Your Heritage in Dudley

Explore the local heritage of Dudley...

Wherever you live, there’s treasure to be discovered!  Not just gold and gems, but stories of buildings, locations and people. 

Our heritage is a great wealth… and it’s all around us. 

Sometimes standing proud in the open air, sometimes hidden behind some bushes.

To help find it, we asked for your help and to become Heritage Heroes.

Dudley is a popular town to the west of Birmingham… and one with a firey history!

Dudley is in one of the birthplaces of the Industrial Revolution. That was a period more than 200 years ago that had major changes in the way things were made and how people lived. 

Dudley developed into a major industrial centre with its iron, coal and limestone industries.  But it’s also famous for so much more, as we’re going to discover.

What… and where is the Black Country?

Well, the Black Country is a catch-all term that commonly refers to the West Midlands and the areas of Wolverhampton, Walsall, Sandwell and of course Dudley.   

In the Victorian era the skies would have been filled with black smoke from factories, with a red glow from the foundries. 

It’s thought the area inspired author JRR Tolkien’s mythical realm of Mordor in his iconic fantasy epic ‘Lord of the Rings’. Tolkien was raised in the West Midlands and the name ‘Mordor’ even translates to ‘black region’ in the Elven language of Sindarin!  

But before all of that, Dudley started out life as a Saxon village known as ‘Dudda’s leah’ – Leah being the Saxon word for ‘clearing in a forest’, and Dudda? Well, that’s a bit of a mystery!  

Dudley Fountain

The Dudley Fountain in Market Place is a whopping 27 feet high, so you can’t miss it!  It was presented to the people of Dudley by the 1st Earl of Dudley in a grand ceremony on 17th October 1867. 

It was originally a drinking fountain, but over time became more decorative. If it’s windy, they have to turn the water off as the wind regularly whips up the water into a spray! 

What you said

  • I like Dudley Fountain because people say “I’ll see you by the fountain” and meet up there and my granny said people were saying that when she was young.

Boer War Memorial

The Boer War Memorial was unveiled on 23rd September 1904 and commemorates 56 local men who died serving in the Second Boer War. 

Memorials are important because they can give people a place to remember those who died in other countries, who otherwise wouldn’t have a grave close to home.

What you said

  • The Boer War Memorial in Dudley Ceremony is quite a sad statue as it shows a soldier defending his comrade who is at his feet”.

The Earl of Dudley

The First Earl of Dudley was quite an important local man. He came up with the idea for the fountain, remember?

There is a lavish statue to celebrate him which you can on Castle Hill, a place heaving with history.    

The statue was designed by James Forsyth. It’s quite flamboyant, and was designed in something we call the Italian Renaissance style. That basically means lots of sculpture and detail!

Dudley Castle

Originally a wooden motte and bailey castle, built soon after the Norman Conquest, it was rebuilt in stone during the 12th century.  It’s had a bit of a turbulent life. It was demolished on the orders of Henry II in 1173.

It was rebuilt and was a grand home for many years but was demolished again, this time by Parliamentarians during the Civil War. Whilst some residential buildings remained, many of these were destroyed by fire in 1750 and the castle fell into disrepair. 

A spooky fact is that Dudley Castle is believed to be the most haunted castle in England! 

Dudley Zoo

Dudley Zoo was the brainwave of three men – the Earl Dudley, Ernest Marsh and Frank Cooper, who owned a marmalade company and a zoo in Oxford. A crowd of 250,000 arrived for the opening!  

You can imagine how exciting it would have been for people to have such an interesting place to visit on their doorstep, especially when you think it was built just before the dark days of the Second World War. 

Construction was a bit of an issue. Castle Hill is, as you can imagine from its name, is very steep which made building things a bit tricky and also means that half the zoo is always in the shadow. During construction an unexpected cave, at least fifty feet deep, opened up beneath what would become the bear pit.

Don’t worry, all the architectural problems were solved and the zoo became a popular place for people to come for entertainment. It was designed to be a spectacle, something like a circus… but in more recent times, the zoo has quite rightly put the needs of the animals first.

The Sea Lion enclosure is listed for its “elegant design”. The enclosure consists of two teardrop-shaped pools which join at their narrowest point and are bridged by a stone structure.

What you said

  • We really like Dudley Zoo. It was opened in 1937, and it was the third Earl of Dudley’s idea. He used really modern building styles and today you can see over 200 species”.

Dudley Canals and Caverns

For centuries, canals were the main way to transport goods to and from every part of the country.

The Dudley Canal was opened in the 1770s to serve the industrial area to the west of Dudley.  It was paid for by local factory and mine owners. It quickly became very busy and quite congested with all the traffic. 

Many improvements were made over the years, but it was not until the 1850s that the canal network was rebuilt. One of the most significant changes was the building of Netherton Tunnel. This 3,000 metre long tunnel, as long as 25 football pitches, has the largest bore of any British canal tunnel. It was originally lit by gas! It was also the last canal tunnel to be built during the canal age. 

The Titanic Anchor

Now, you’ve probably heard about the Titanic. It was a famous ship that sank in 1910 resulting in the death of over 1,500 passengers and crew.

Did you know that part of the Titanic started life in the Black Country? The ship’s enormous anchor!

The Titanic anchor was made near Dudley by English industrialist Noah Hingley. 

At over 18 feet long and weighing over 16 tons, crowds thronged to see the anchor as it travelled from the factory to the LNWR Goods Station in Tipton Road, from where it travelled by train to Lancashire and onto Belfast. 

You can see a replica of the enormous anchor at the Black Country Living Museum which is an amazing place to learn more about the area’s heritage and even buy sweets from a Victorian sweet shop!

The Harris & Pearson Brick Works

The Harris & Pearson Brick Works was built in 1888, using lots of different types and styles of bricks. That gives you a pretty good idea what the company made… the clue’s in the name too! Bricks! 

Now, bricks aren’t just for building houses or factories, they’re absolutely integral to the metal working which was the backbone of the Black Country.

The bricks were made from the local clay which was suitable for a variety of uses, from blast furnaces to glass kilns. They find the fireclay in layers between the coal seams. It was mined at the local coal pits, being brought to the surface in slab form and weathered before being used to make bricks. 

What you said

  • Bricks were important because metal works need high temperatures and all furnaces and hearths were lined with firebricks keep the heat in.”
  • The Red House Glass Cone was a place where they made glass. There was a furnace inside and the waste gas would go out of the top of the cone.”

Black Country Living Museum

The Black Country Living Museum proudly shares why and how the Black Country made a big impact on the world and helps bring Black Country folk back to life. From metalworkers and miners to nurses and schoolteachers! You can experience sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the Black Country as you explore shops, houses and industrial workshops. There’s plenty to see and do!

Mining was incredibly important to the Black Country as you discovered. David from the Black Country Living Museum told us:

  • The coal would have come up from the shaft and it had been sorted into different sizes by the women on the banks. It’s really important to know where we come from and what our background is and the contribution that the area made to the world, to the industrial revolution and beyond. Also, with the geology of the area, so that we know what’s under our feet and what made us who we are as an area. This mine that we’re looking at was from late 1850s and 1860s. It closed in around 1902 but on the site it was mined for a long, long time and there were many pits on this site and in the area.

As well as mines, the Black Country Living Museum has carefully reconstructed shops, houses and industrial areas that represent the Black Country’s story.

What you said

  • “So earlier on I went over to do nail making and the smell was like a nice barbecue smell. The way he had to make the nails, he had this stick and he had to heat it up and then he had to smash it until it was wobbly. Then he put a little dent in each side of it and then he smashed it off with like this really thick nail and then he put it in a hole and he smashed each corner so it made a diamond top shape. Then he came over to me and he showed me the how he made it and I asked if it was hot for his hands and he said he said ‘yes it is hot’ but he is used to it. He was wearing these fireproof trousers and tops so he couldn’t get burnt or anything but he wasn’t wearing anything over his face”.
  • The Old School Room: “It’s all wood and you get benches and you use a board with chalk to draw. They separated the desks so everyone couldn’t see each other and be naughty. It made me feel like I was back in the olden times because all the things were different. The first three lessons are English, writing, reading and mathematics.”

Museums are brilliant for immersing yourself in history but you don’t have to go back in time to find out about the past. Just having a look around the places on your way to school or the shops can turn up some heritage treasures. 

Other places you spotted around Dudley

Town Hall

The town hall is a part of a group of civic buildings built by two architects called Alexander Harvey and Graham Wicks. The patterned bricks are in what we call the Venetian Style. 

Public Library

The public library on St James’s Road was designed by George Wenyon and its foundation stone was laid in 1908.

Whilst it’s been modernised over the years, when it opened it had a reference library, magazine room and lending department and also a separate ladies reading room on the first floor.

A fun piece of history is that only library staff had direct access to books on the shelves. If you wanted to take out a book, you had to request it and it would be brought to you in the central hall. 

What you said

  • “I think the library is an interesting building and the front is very fancy with figures from Science and Literature.”
  • Number 33-34 High Street used to be a shop called Woolworths. It was built in 1935 in Art Deco style and it was influenced from Egyptian and Aztec cultures – all in the heart of the Black Country!


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Heritage Heroes

Discover your local heritage and become a Heritage Hero!

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