This place, the Black Country, is where my heart lies.
Still juggling work, home and the blog, this week has been as mad as ever, but in light of the recent Black Country Day success, I feel I must share this wonderful piece found by Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler, even if it does risk raising the maelstrom of a Black Country internecine bloodbath…
I was sad I didn’t get chance to mark Black Country Day, but I am a wholehearted supporter, and it’s nice to see the Black Country diaspora finally pretty much united over more than Bonkses and KVE scratchings; we pretty much all recognised how great this place and it’s culture is, and also united in telling Greater Birmingham and it’s deluded, idiotic proponents to sling their duplicitous hooks.
It also seems to have rattled the cage of Walsall Mayor and fence sitter ‘Councillor’ Pete Smith, who seems to still be testing positive for quantities of moron. Read his latest Fatwa at the Express & Star, and marvel in open-mouthed wonder.
Where urbanisation, heavy engineering and the wilding meet.
Any road up, rapscallion Peter Cutler sent me this delightful piece, and he wrote:
On reading the article on the Blog ‘Hare and Gone’ from the book kindly scanned by Staffordshirebred, it reminded me of something I had noticed previously.
In the Lichfield Mercury in 1906 there was published a series of articles by the prolific and knowledgable author Frederick William Hackwood, under the title Staffordshire Stories. They were later printed as one of his many books.
Here below is one abridged chapter…
I’m sure a few locals, including Distinctly Black Country, Dave Moore, Brumpic, Lichfield Lore, Wyrleyblog, Staffordshirebred will have something to say.
Comment here, or BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers – and do watch out for the Bilston Bulls.
XXIII.—TRADITIONS BY WHICH TOWNS HAVE BEEN TRADUCED OR TRUMPETED
The traducing of towns by tradition and proverb is as old as the epithet ‘Nazarene’ which was contemptuously applied to Our Lord; Nazareth being commonly accounted a town of no repute. Similarly Londoners have been styled in no complimentary sense the ‘Cockneys’ of Cockaigne, that imaginary land of luxury and indolence.
In somewhat the same sense have been used such depreciatory terms as Brummagem Button, Walsall Armchair, Dudley Devil, Wedgbury Cockin, Darlaston goose, Gornal Cuckoo, Bromwich Throstle, Tipton Sharpshins, and Bilston Balloon.
In these nicknames may be discovered much covert satire. There is, for instance, to be discerned and contempt for the insignificance of Birmingham’s one-time leading industry, the manufacture of the small but necessary button.
As against this contempt, this reference may be quoted the commendatory couplet which has long trumpeted forth the productions of one old Staffordshire town—
‘For silken threads both rich and rare,
What city can with Leek compare?’
There is a sneer in the nick-name Armchair, as applied to a native of Walsall; it is said to have been given in allusion to the bowed-legs and crooked elbows which were once supposed to be the distinguishing features of the true-born Walsall man. This comes down from the old days ere any attempt had been made by protective legislation for factory and workshop, to safeguard the physique of the labouring classes; and when bodily development was often distorted through the immature youth being regularly set to perform tasks which were quite beyond his bodily strength.
Allusion to this same physical deformity is included in the old ‘place rhyme’—
‘Walsall town for bandy legs,
Bilston town for bulls;
Hampton town for fancy girls,
And Sedgley town for trulls.’
Then there is the satiric reference to the Dudley man’s superstitious belief not merely in a personal, but a local devil; for a scoffing rhyme tells that it was,
‘At Dudley Wood side
The Devil laid him down and died,
—while another old folk rhyme dealing with the same neighbourhood says,
‘The Devil ran through Sedgley,
All booted and spurred,
With a scythe o’er his hack
As long as a sword.’
‘Wedgbury Cockin’ is the title of a famous but somewhat lewd old ballad of the depraved times when Wednesbury was a great centre for the cock-fighting fraternity; but why the participle ‘Cocking’ and not the substantive ‘Cocker,’ should have been employed in this sense it is difficult for the grammarian to see.
A place of people, density, and unexpected views.
The by name applied to the Darlastonian is supposed to reflect upon him the reputed stupidity of that succulent bird of proverbial giddiness, of which he is understood to be so fond, and with which he is usually credited as being in constant association as breeder and feeder. The Cuckoo of Gornal and the throstle of West Bromwich are but two euphemistic appellations for the tame or common Jackass which was want in bygone times to browse upon the extensive wastes of these two parishes.
The exact meaning of the epithet Sharpshins is not quite clear; but when anyone in the Black Country displays unexpected powers of repartee, he is dubbed a ‘Tipton Sharpshins’; or possibly an attempt is made to stamp out such a budding brilliancy by the crushing rejoinder ‘Oh, you’ve bin to Tipton to be sharpened up a bit!’
To dub as Bilston Balloons the present-day representatives of the local Fire worshippers of old is but to perpetrate the ridicule which, a century ago, was heaped upon the childish wonderment of those townspeople when they first beheld so simple an invention as a aerostat [Bob - that's an airship].
Alluding to the ancient practice of Fire Worship in the Midland region, Mr George T Lawley claims that the strange jingle of the Wyrley villagers is a vestige of that practice-
As I wor a’goin up Wyrley Bonk,
Up Wyrley Bonk, up Wyrley Bonk,
The cart stood still and the wheel went round
A’goin up Wyrley Bonk
This doggerel used to be sung at the celebrations of a local sport, consisting of conveying a wheel (removed from a cart, which therefore perforce ‘stood still’) to the top of the bank, and then letting it run down by itself at full speed, while the people shouted the foregoing ditty with all their might, laying particular stress on the line ‘coming down’.
… As in ancient Biblical times there were places like the doomed ‘cities of the plain’, which enjoyed unenviable notoriety for the wickedness of their inhabitants, so to this day we have in Staffordshire a Nineveh and a Sodom. The former is in the parish of Handsworth, and the latter is near Coseley; both so dubbed for the utter abandonment of moral depravity of their inhabitants in the old cock-fighting and bull-baiting days, synchronous with the rise of Methodism.
… Some places just escaped calumnation by the bare mention of their characteristic productions; as such, Sutton and Tamworth seem but damned by faint praise-
‘Sutton for mutton,
Tamworth for beef;
Walsall for bandy-legs,
And Brum for a thief.’
Happier, without doubt, are those places whose productions inspire the rhymesters with naught but commendation, as do
Dunstall in the Dale;
Tattlenhill for a pretty girl,
And Burton for Ale.
Both myself and Peter love Dunstall, too, one of the gems of Staffordshire.
With regard to the last named it may be pointed out that its world-wide fame is no new thing, nor is it of mushroom growth at all. Burton ale has been a staple steady growth from far away centuries of the middle-ages when..
‘The Abbot of Burton brewed good ale
On Fridays when they tasted’
And being an artful Abbot who preferred that his ale should have time to mellow, the legend continues..
‘But the Abbot of Burton never tasted his own,
As long as his neighbours lasted.’
The fame of the conventual beer is clearly shown by the historic allusions to it, Scott mentions it in ‘Ivanhnoe’; and Mary Queen of Scots, while in captivity at Tutbury, was supplied with ale from Burton, not ‘three miles off’. It has even been claimed that appreciation of this commodity was in Shakesphere’s mind when he wrote the passage in Henry IV., when Hotspur wants to turn the course of the ‘Silver Trent,’ …
But if this is a far-fetched idea, which undoubtedly it is, there is surely some point in the quip that the name Burton ought to be pronounced ‘Beer-town.’