Kingswinford, on the western edge of the Black Country, lies just north of Stourbridge, whose early importance was due to its glass-making industry. Many fine examples of its craftsmanship are included among the exhibits on show at Broadfleld House Glass Museum, which covers both English and Continental glass from the late 17th century until the present day. Visitors can also see glass-making tools and engraving studio.
In the centre of the village, a medieval cross marks the centre of England. Its exactitude is open to question, but most Meriden inhabitants support the theory. Meriden also has one of the oldest archery societies in the country the Woodmen of Arden, which was , formed in 1785. In 1788, it established its headquarters in Forest Hail just to the west of centre.
Countryside and industry coexist in Dudley, former capital of the Black Country, and an iron town since the Middle Ages. The solid ruins of the castle, built largely in the 13th and 14th centuries, with walls 8ft thick in places, stand on a wooded hill. Dudley Zoo lies in the castle grounds and below are the remains of a Norman priory. Underneath Castle Hill runs the Dudley Canal, its one and a half mile tunnel offers trips on the Electra, the world’s first electric narrow boat. At the Tipton end of the tunnel is the Black Country Museum, an open air village.
Basically, Sutton Coldfield is a residential town for its neighbour, Birmingham. In the early 16th century, Bishop Veysey created some fine buildings that still survive. The bishop lived in Moor Hall, which now adjoins the golf course: he founded the grammar school, designed several houses – all of them with spiral stone staircases – altered the church, and also paved the town’s streets. Sutton Park, a gift from Henry VIII, covers 2400 acres. Well equipped with lakes, it is one of the largest and finest in theMidlands.
Walsall’s traditional role was as a leather centre specialising in fine saddlery; now this typical Black Country town embraces 100 industries. Its oldest building is St Matthew’s Church, whose crypt dates from the early 13th century and whose high altar is built above a vaulted archway that once spanned a road. Modern Rushall Church adjoins the remains of a 14th-century castle which was dismantled after the Civil War. A statue in the town centre commemorates Sister Dora (Dorothy Pattison), who spent the last 12 years of her life nursing the sick and the poor of the area in the late 19th century. A plaque in Bradford Street marks the birthplace of Jerome K Jerome, author of Three Men in a Boat. The Museum and Art Gallery in the Central Library contains line paintings and sculptures.
Wightwick Manor, though Jacobean in style, was not built until 1887. Set in terraced gardens remarkable for their Irish yews and golden holly trees, it houses a fine collection of PreRaphaelite art, including work by Rossetti, BurneJones, Ford Madox Brown, Watts, Ruskin and Millais. Much of the beautiful stained glass is by C E Kempe.
Wolverhampton’s coat of arms includes a cross, ascribed to the Anglo Saxon King Edgar, and a woolpack but more obviously relevant to the ‘Queen of the Black Country’ are the flaming brazier and padlock which are also incorporated. Today, not only locks and keys but many kinds of iron and brass components and aircraft parts are manufactured here. The church of St Peter is basically 15th century, with a panelled tower and fine stone pulpit. In the churchyard an ancient carved cross shaft stands near a holed Bargain Stone. 19th century Bantock House contains a museum of items made bymidland craftsmen. Bilston Museum and Art Gallery also has examples of craftsmanship and English enamels.