What’s Different About the Black Country Landscape?
The special character of the Black Country landscape was created by unusual natural features of the area together with a peculiar mix of different phases in the area’s history, all leading to the legacy we see in the landscape now.
Natural processes left the area now known as the Black Country with a particularly rich geology. The presence of coal, iron, lime, clay and sand and other minerals has caused it to take a different route of development to other areas. Its topography—on a plateau and (since the last ice age) close to the centre of the land mass of what is now England and Wales has also been important. It now sits on a major watershed: part of the area drains west into the river Severn, and part drains east into the river Trent and the North Sea.
In the period before the industrial revolution the area was relatively isolated. When transport often meant the use of boats and other vessels, a position far from any sea port did not make trade or communication easy. Although it was already a location for early industry, the Black Country’s elevated position and the absence of large rivers multiplied the barriers to transport. The possibility of a large local population living off local agriculture was in any case made difficult by the poor quality of the local soils–which in many cases would only support heaths.
In the industrial age the area changed radically and entered an era of international economic importance. This was assisted by the coincidence of a new ability to exploit the rich local coalfield with a new demand for the fossil fuel. A new system of artificial waterways, connected the area with major cities and the sea, and other important technical breakthroughs made it easier to mine local coal in large quantities. Industries which were to contribute to a fundamental change in the way of life in Britain and beyond became clustered in the area. This period became key to the development of the idea of the Black Country and, whatever the origins of the name, it has been an accepted way of referring to this part of the Midlands ever since.
In the last century or so what was both a rural and an industrial area has been transformed by a massive process of land reclamation and suburbanisation. Large residential neighbourhoods (many Council-built) have been laid out over old mines, collieries and farms and the area is now home to a million people–many of whom were drawn to the area by industrial employment. Along with the adjoining city of Birmingham it forms the West Midlands Conurbation, the most populous single urban area in England outside of the capital.
Where can we see the Black Country today? The landscape of the Black Country is now part of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall, Wolverhampton, although some of its features can also be seen in modern Staffordshire and Worcestershire.