The website of the
Black Country Society
Established in 1967 to Support, Record, Preserve and Celebrate the distinct
Character and Nature of the West Midlands area known since the mid nineteenth century as 'The Black Country'
Marlene Watson, the current President, affectionately known locally and on social media as Marlene, the Black Country wench, is a local comedienne who tells tales in true Black Country style. She comes from Quarry Bank (the bonk) and joined the local Operatic Society at 16 years of age. Then she joined North Worcestershire Operatic Society, and later the Little Theatre at Netherton. She was a member of the Black Country Night out team and later her very own 'stand up'. The only time she says that she was ever quiet was when she had a phone call asking her to become the Society president. She thought it couldn't be true but accepted it proudly. Her “President’s Evenings” are highlights of the Black Country Society calendar.
Dr Malcolm Dick
Dr Malcolm Dick was born in Lichfield and lives in Rowley Regis. He has been Chairman of the Black Country Society since 2020 and was previously a trustee of the Black Country Living Museum. Malcolm is Associate Professor in Regional and Local History and Director of the Centre for West Midlands History at the University of Birmingham where he convenes an MA in regional history and supervises PhDs. He taught at Rowley Regis College (1985-99) and directed lottery-funded history projects, including Revolutionary Players (2002-04) which created an online archive of West Midlands history during the industrial revolution.
Malcolm edits Midland History, is editor-in-chief of History West Midlands Ltd, editor of the University of Hertfordshire Press West Midlands Publications imprint and has written about the Lunar Society and Birmingham and Black Country history. He was awarded an OBE in 2019 for ‘outstanding services to history in the West Midlands’.
Keith Robinson is responsible for the Society's book store and sales. He grew up in Princes End and Wednesbury before his family moved out of the area. Having spent 4 years volunteering in village development work in India, teaching and then working for the National Trust in the Midlands he is now retired. Keith has written a number of books about the Black Country: 'Iron, Coal and Roses: A study of a 19th century Black Country family of Ironmasters.' 'Eldon Street: the history of Victorian Darlaston and the Black Country told through the lives of ordinary people.' 'Voices from the Wednesbury Workhouse and the Parish Poor, 1750-1900.' 'Wednesbury Rugby Union Football Club, 1921-2021: A Centenary History.' He is currently working on a study of the Black Country Miners' struggle for justice in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Keith also volunteers at the Black Country Museum and is a regular speaker at many of the region's local history societies.
Barbara French was born in Dudley, then moved to Brierley Hill and attended Brierley Hill Grammar school and went onto study music and became a teacher. She has taught at a number of primary schools within the Dudley borough.
Since retirement she has become a volunteer at Mary Stevens Hospice and is involved with the committees of Viva Musica, Local and Live (a group bringing local musicians to a local audience) and Stourbridge u3a. Barbara is also a member of both Amblecote and Stourbridge History societies and Wyre Forest National Trust group.
Born in Tipton where he still lives, Keith`s interest in local history had its origins in childhood trainspotting on the canal side at Dudley Port, at a time when steam locomotives and commercial narrowboats were still commonplace. He joined the Black Country Society in 1973 and sat on the committee from 1974 to 1988. The Industrial Archaeology Group became his chief interest and following the retirement of Ron Moss in 2007, took over as co-chair with Pete Glews, a role he continues to fulfil. He was invited to become Society President in 2017. Keith qualified as an architect in 1980 and spent the latter half of his career working for Wolverhampton City Council before retiring in 2009. He is chairman of the Tipton Civic Society and his many other interests include photography, rail travel and a love of good pubs and real ale.
Rose Cook-Monk is a proud Dudley girl born and bred. A local historian in the town, she is the founder of the Duncan Edwards foundation and museum, which since its sad closure last November, is being relocated in a smaller version at Dudley College. Passionate about her hometown and its' history Rose is on various community group to try and improve and maintain its' legacy. This includes, Dudley Town Football Club, The Bert Bissell Society, The Dudley Remembers Group (which organises the Festival of Remembrance), is the local Poppy Day coordinator, trustee of Santa's Black Country Toy Appeal and is currently the Mayoral Ambassador for the Borough for 2022/23.
The Black Country's rich heritage is always included in Roses' work too! As a cruise ship lecturer, guest speaker and after dinner speaker she regales not only life stories of the rich and famous and world events but also famous local characters and local historic events too. 2022 is proving to be a very busy year for Rose - as well as a very full work diary she was awarded the BEM in the New years' Honours List and was recently given Freedom of the Borough for her community work during the Covid19 pandemic. Rose is proud to be a member of the Black Country Society and hopes she can contribute to its work in the future.
Born and bred in the Black Country, Brendan has lived in Sandwell for over thirty years. In 2021 he published a well-received book “Black by Day, Red by Night. The Black Country – 500 years in 50 Voices.” This was featured on BBC Radio WM, Black Country Radio and in the Express & Star and it was launched with the Black Country Society in March 2022. Brendan has shared his learning on J.M.W. Turner’s journey to the Black Country and the watercolours Turner produced to various groups and he has written about it for the academic journal, Midland History. He has also written numerous articles for the Black Country Society’s journal, The Blackcountryman and is currently a member of the Black Country Society Committee.
Willenhall-born and now Bilston-bound, Jack grew proud of his Black Country roots whilst at university and has since harboured an unquenchable thirst to learn more about it. His main interest is the life, times, and works of Francis Brett Young; his particular focus is upon his representation of war and pollution in these novels, themes that heavily dominate his fictional representation of the Black Country. When he's not trying to learn about our fantastic region, he is usually either in a pub enjoying a nice pint or listening to the tones of Roy Orbison, Elton John, and Johnny Cash.
Dr Simon Briercliffe
Although I am not originally from the Black Country, I have developed a love for the region and its history over the decade I have lived here. I am a geographer and historian by training and take a particular interest in the landscape, social history and under-represented communities of the region. I recently completed a PhD at the University of Birmingham, researching Irish immigration into Victorian Wolverhampton, and I am also a researcher for the Black Country Living Museum. I have been heavily involved in BCLM’s major new 1940s-1960s development, and my first book (Forging Ahead: Austerity to Prosperity in the Black Country 1945-1968) was published in 2021, based on research for this project.
In his younger days Tony played rugby and football and has followed the Wolves since he met Kathryn, a Coseley girl, in a Torquay pub while on holiday. They have notched up 52 years of marriage - not bad for a holiday romance - and have two sons and five grandchildren, all living in the Black Country. After 6 years as Membership Secretary Tony has recently stepped down, but remains a member of the committee.
Tony lives in Sedgley, was born in Gloucester, and was educated at Colston’s School, Bristol. He qualified as an Environmental Health Officer and worked in local government until 1978 when he entered the world of business and consultancy specialising in Food Safety, Health and Safety, Fire Safety and Environmental Management. He undertook assignments at home and abroad (in the USA, South America, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe) and retired as a Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner in 2010. Tony is Joint Church Secretary at Sodom Chapel and runs occasional Quiz Nights.
Dave Galley was born in Halesowen in March 1947. He writes that he has an unimpressive education (he nearly got an O level) and an unambitious working career in engineering. He has never had to travel great distances to work and has enjoyed a good home life with his passions for my county Worcestershire and every thing about it. He was attracted to the BCS by the walks programme and has been coordinating them since 2006. He liken this to weaving a tapestry with all the places that have been visited. He feels he has been so lucky.
Chris Baker was born and brought up in Pensnett in the Black Country, and as an undergraduate studied Engineering at St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge, from where he gained his MA and PhD. After spending some time working for British Rail in Derby, he moved back into academia – firstly to the University of Nottingham, and then to the University of Birmingham, where he taught fluid mechanics to several generations of Civil Engineering students. His research interests are in the fields of wind engineering, environmental fluid mechanics and railway aerodynamics.
He is a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Institution of Highways and Transport, the Higher Education Academy and the Royal Meteorological Society. He retired in December 2017 but continues to work on various aspects of railway aerodynamics, wind engineering and pollution and pathogen transport as Emeritus Professor of Environmental Fluid Mechanics at the University of Birmingham, as well as on aspects of Black Country and Lichfield history. He has been an Anglican clergyman since 1988 and has been attached to the parish of St. Michael-on-Greenhill in Lichfield since 1998.
Quintin Watt is originally from London, but has lived in the West Midlands since 1979. He attended Hackney Downs School and studied History at St. David’s College, University of Wales. He completed an MA in West Midlands Regional History, at the University of Wolverhampton, in 1993. Quintin taught History at South Bromsgrove High School for 39 years, and was also Worcestershire’s Teacher Adviser for that subject, later becoming that LEA’s Advanced Skills Teacher (AST) for History. Whilst living in Bromsgrove he edited ‘The Bromsgrove Guild – An Illustrated History’, published in 1999. Since retiring, he has edited another book, ‘Wolverhampton’s Great War, 1914-1921’ - published in 2020 - and has completed a second MA, on Britain and the First World War. Quintin has served as secretary and chairman of both the Bromsgrove Society’s Local History Group and the Wolverhampton Society. He is now based in Sedgley.
Ian Bott was born in Wednesbury in 1962 and educated at St John’s Junior School and Wodensborough High School. He still lives in the town. From 1978 to 1990 he worked as a horologist, later working in security at various Black Country venues and, for the last twenty-six years as a visitor assistant at the Walsall Leather Museum He first served on the committee of the Society in the 1990s and became involved in its publishing activities. He contributed to the “Britain in Old Photographs” series with “Wednesbury in Old Photographs”, the first of his seven books. He rejoined the committee in 2017 and currently helps with the Walks programme.
Dr Matthew Stallard is a born and bred Wulfrunian and a public historian working at University College London. He received his PhD from, and worked as a post-doctoral researcher at, the University of Manchester, where he also taught undergraduate history for six years. He has worked on community history projects in the Midlands and North West and with a wide range of public heritage institutions and has many years of experience in the charity and community organising sector. His current work focuses on recovering lived experiences of those impacted by industrialisation and colonisation, particularly in nineteenth century Britain and the Caribbean. One current project is “The Invention of The Black Country”, a catalogue of every published mention of the name in the nineteenth century and tracing how the idea of “The Black Country” was projected onto the region, how those legacies continue to impact us in the present.
Emma Purshouse was born in Wolverhampton, and was the first poet laureate for the city. She is a freelance writer, performer and highly experienced workshop facilitator. Emma is also a poetry slam champion and performs regularly at spoken word nights and festivals far and wide, often using dialect in her work. Her appearances include, The Cheltenham Literature Festival, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Solfest, Latitude, Shambala and WOMAD. In the past, she has undertaken poetry residencies for Wolverhampton Libraries, The New Vic Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent and The International Festival of Glass in Stourbridge. She has also worked for a number of Black Country arts organisations on various community centred projects, creating poetry, plays and local history books. Working with poetry collective Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists Emma organizes and promotes a variety of spoken word events.
George McFadyen was born outside the Black Country in what is now considered South Staffordshire, though he traces his family back to the Tipton area originally.
He is a local historian and folklorist who aims to build on the foundations of the work by Jon Raven.
George is currently undertaking a project to record the history of the Folk Music Revival in Staffordshire and the Black Country which will form the basis for a book once complete.
George joined the society only recently in 2022 with an aim to reach new audiences through the creation of digital content, currently he manages the YouTube channel of the society as well as contributing wherever else his skills can be useful.
See Esther's University of Wolverhampton web page for more details.
Andrew Homer (ex-officio)
See Andrew's personal web site for more details.