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History defines culture


I usually make pictures smaller so they will upload quickly to the internet, but this weekend I worked out a way of making digital images bigger, so I could see if there was any loss of definition. I made this map larger.

You can see Wednesbury quite clearly on the map and to the north Darlaston. I live in between the two. This map is Victorian and shows the collieries, ironworks and furnaces. I’m old enough to remember the industry that made the Black Country what it is and gave it it’s name.

You can see the density of buildings where the town centres of Wednesbury and Darlaston are, they are both high on the hills. Having researched some history, I’m fairly convinced that high on the hill in Wednesbury was a place where druids met and maybe even made sacrifices to their Gods. It was the summer solstice yesterday and that would have been a special time for the indigenous people of the Black Country.

The druids were a controlling force before the Romans came to the Black Country, but there is little evidence that the Romans did much here. A few Roman coins have been found and the Romans probably collected taxes, but left the aboriginals alone most of the time. This was the iron age and if they made iron here, they must have discovered coal, although they probably used charcoal to make iron and steel.

There was water here, lots of springs and they dug wells. The Romans brought new foods like chickens and lots of vegetables. It must have been the Romans who brought grapes, but with terrible English weather I doubt if the vineyard was a success.

The weather in that period was much colder than now, but they had plentiful supplies of timber and they would have used coal to keep warm in winter. The arrival of the Romans with new foods and a knowledge of agriculture must have helped the people a lot. People didn’t travel much, the tracks they used were often overgrown and there were no roads. It seems though, that they met to trade and Wednesbury was a meeting place for  trade.

There is evidence now, that rather than being invaders, the Anglo Saxons came to Britain to trade. I suppose stories of warrior princesses and great battles is more interesting than people trading fish for flour and ploughs for cows…

There were battles, but that was the warriors under the command of the tribal leaders or war lords. King Alfred was more of a tribal leader than a king, but he did value education. I get the impression he was good at strategy, but not that great in battle. It seems he was popular and his daughter Ethelflaed was popular in this area; the Black Country. The evidence suggests she was more interested in trade than in war, but did command a small army against the invading Vikings. In the movies, the medieval battles feature thousands of men, but they probably were battles involving a few hundred men at most. Imagine making weapons for thousands in the iron age, it could take weeks to make one sword.

We can’t believe all we read in history books or what we are taught at school, but we are still fascinated by our roots and the origins of our culture. History defines culture and the culture of the Black Country is defined by what has gone before.

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