If you’d worked in the Black Country 220 years ago you might not have been paid in cash. Instead you might have been given a token with your boss’s head stamped on it. Great, you might say. Anyway one such coin, used to pay employees of ironmaster John Wilkinson, is included in the exhibition The Black Country in Ten Objects. During the exhibition we’ll be using this blog to show how each object has a link to the modern urban landscape.
This playing field in Bilston happens to be the former site of one of Wilkinson’s blast furnaces, used to make useable metal from local minerals. It was possibly one of the first of its kind in the Black Country. But there was an even older one another a few hundred metres away, possibly also under some playing fields. This one was called ‘the mother furnace’, what today we might call the-mother-of-all-Black-Country-furnaces.
So why are these old furnaces even important? Today we struggle to find clues they even existed, but they laid the foundation for a massive growth in iron working, propelling the area into the forefront of an international industry. Perhaps more importantly for those of us who live and work here, we might say they are the industrial ancestors of the area’s modern metal working factories. In fact, they are a reason the Black Country even exists in the form we know it.
A footnote to this story is that these early furnace sites have had a chequered history since their industrial heyday. The one in the photo for example was used to dump domestic waste as recently as the 1960s. Only recently has their historic importance to the rest of the area started to be appreciated.
See the trade token and the other 9 objects in Wolverhampton during October and November at The Black Country in Ten Objects;
Subscribe (at the bottom right of this page) and be notified of posts on the other objects;
The Location of the photo in Google Maps;
Watch the BBC’s animation of a blast furnace at work.