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It was all smog and soot by day and a fiery hell by night

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: December 27, 2013

By John Workman

  • Stanley Mill, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 200 years old and made in the Black country.

  • Black Countrymen busy at the 'ommer

  • The night sky was lit up by fiery hues

  • An impression of daily life in the old Black Country when smog and soot were constant companions

  • Ironwork made at Brierley Hill at the Benjamin Gibbons Works in 1813.

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LOOKING across any stretch of the Black Country these days it's hard to imagine the tremendous throng of industry that once dominated the landscape, and the tall chimneys that polluted the air with unforgiving layers of soot and grime.

It's hard to imagine the gantries carrying the pit winding gear that sent men and boys into the bowels of the earth, punctuating the skyline like rows of tall trees, and the piles of spoil on the colliery fields, desolate places akin to the moon, where weeds were reluctant to grow and no wild birds flew near.

It's also hard to imagine the night-sky over the Black Country, a fiery turmoil of reds, oranges and yellows, reflected upon from the clouds, occasionally split by showers of white trails as man's efforts to fashion raw materials into the wonders of the industrial age continued unabated and unopposed.

But these visions of hell, as far removed from green pastures and open fields, rolling hills and swathes of ancient woodland as you can get, made the Black Country what it is today, a region steeped in the history of industrial invention and innovation, of entrepreneurial skill and hard graft.

Unfortunately, the unrelenting plunder of resources meant the majority of those living in the Black Country at that time suffered as a consequence; men, women and children were caught up in the scramble to make Britain the powerhouse of the world, a nation that was broadening its horizons and increasing its influence, and pushing the boundaries of the British Empire to the very outposts of the world. The masters of industry and the landowners, whose mineral wealth kept the furnaces and the forges in full production, can be compared to generals on the battlefield. But it is the countless thousands of ordinary, unknown workers, the soldiers of industry and their families, possibly the ancestors of many Bugle readers, whose blood, sweat and tears kept the mighty hammers and machinery in motion, that deserve the greatest credit.

Bearing in mind the Black Country is one of the most historic industrial regions in the country, we return to a story first covered in October 2011 and celebrate the bicentenary of the mighty Stanley Mill near Stroud in Gloucestershire, the first iron-framed mill to be built in the country that was made in sections alongside the Dudley Canal in Brierley Hill by the iron master Benjamin Gibbons.

The style and design of the iron work pronounces beauty, but it is functional and practical at the same time. However, its most outstanding feature is its longevity, remaining as proud today as it did when it was bolted and riveted together 200 years ago.

It is a magnificent tribute to the ordinary Black Country working man who may never have received the plaudits during his lifetime, but whose hard work and endeavours can still be seen today.

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