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Do images like these of the old Black Country rekindle nostalgia?

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: August 24, 2014

  • The derailed locomotive

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NOSTALGIA can be a strange phenomenon to deal with, a word that normally describes a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations, or in less clinical usage it can refer to a general interest in the past, especially those never to be forgotten good old days.

When two bugle readers salvaged what items of historical interest they could from a skip when the Round Oak Steel Works finally closed in 1982, they did the Black Country a great service.

But allowing us to publish these items from the region's industrial past, before they are forwarded to the Dudley archives, although very magnanimous on their part, has provided our loyal readers with a conundrum.

Do we reflect on this aspect of the Black Country of old, the acres of derelict land that were once occupied by dozens of collieries and spoil heaps that created temporary mountain ranges, and miles of railway sidings that rubbed shoulders with dark, imposing monuments of industry, with nostalgia? Or do we prefer the greener coppice, the abandoned railway cutting now reclaimed by nature, and the new housing estate where once there stood a factory? This question can only be answered subjectively because we are all different. So perhaps nostalgia as a subject has to remain subjective.

The second batch of pictures from Brian and Pat's treasure trove once again concentrate on the railways in and around the Round Oak Steel Works. On this particular day in late summer an engine had become derailed, and the two men in the foreground were presumably waiting for assistance to rectify the problem. The view up track shows an engine pulling passenger carriages that has just travelled underneath a road bridge, and the few buildings on the right-hand side do not, unfortunately, appear to have any distinctive features to pinpoint the precise location. But with passenger traffic using the track it is probably the main line between Stourbridge and Dudley.

The view looking down the track shows the derailed engine was pushing or pulling a train of goods wagons.

The two chaps in overalls standing by an engine are not known, but perhaps readers can identify them. The engine is named Jubilee and by chance the same picture appears in Ned Williams' recently published book "The Earl of Dudley's Railway".

The photograph was taken in early 1963, on the eve of steam locomotives being withdrawn from service at the Round Oak Works and on the Pensnett Railway as a whole in June of that year. Thankfully those of us still feeling a certain nostalgia for the wonderful sight of a steam train hissing and puffing and billowing smoke from all quarters coming down the track, can enjoy the experience of the Severn Valley Railway, and many other similar ventures up and down the country.

The railway network in and around the Round Oak Steel Works was built, developed and further expanded over a period of 140 years and not only became part of the landscape but also for many Black Country folk a way of life. In the early days of railway construction in this neck of the woods one of the greatest engineers of all time, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who in 2000 was voted by the British people as second only to Sir Winston Churchill as the greatest Briton that ever lived, had things to thrash out with the Earl of Dudley's Estate when he came to construct the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway.

Brunel was the OWWR's first engineer and in front of a committee of local planners he had to answer questions about how he proposed to cross the already existing Pensnett Railway with a new mainline track. The proposal on behalf of the Dudley Estate stated that the lines should cross at 'the level'. The OWWR however appeared to have other plans. At this juncture in the proceedings Brunel uttered a famous line. "If Lord Ward will not alter his railway an inch, we must come to his level."

If you can help identify the two railway workers standing alongside their pride and joy, the locomotive 'Jubilee', or add any information about the location of the derailment, please contact 01384 567678 or email jworkman@black countrybugle.co.uk.

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