BLACK COUNTRY LIVING MUSEUM
WHAT WE LEARNED
Words written and PDFs created by our project researcher, Lydia Richmond
Unlike the other sites we visited, the Black Country Living Museum is not a historic site itself but a collection of reconstructed building from all around the Black country area. Authentic historical buildings from the West Midlands have been de-constructed brick by brick and reassembled to form a microcosm of- mainly Victorian- English society, including a local pub, a selection of small shops, a ironworking factory and a fairground! Although the fact that the museum is set out as though you are walking through the past makes it an ideal place to film the period mystery pieces, it did mean that there is little history known about the actual site. We therefore decided to instead delve into the museum archives to explore crime in the Black Country during the Victorian era in general.
The archives proved to be an invaluable resource as it turns out there were a lot of criminal goings on in the Victorian era! During the 19th Century there was an increase in crime rates in England and in the early years of the century a total of around 220 crimes were punishable by death! Deportation was also a popular punishment around this time, often criminals were sent to Australia or other penal colonies, many died on the long voyages over there or never returned to England once they arrived.
In the museum archives there are a lot of records of criminals and their dastardly deeds, here are some of the more peculiar crimes listed. One Individual was charged for ‘unlawfully detaining a pigeon’, whilst a Mr Henry Waldron was caught stealing beehives and sentenced to 14 years deportation (rather harsh, don’t you think?), and yet another individual was charged for attacking a neighbour after they complained of the smell off the fish in his fishmongers shop, suggesting the good may not be fresh.
One extremely interesting case is the case of the Wolverhampton monster. This dates back to the 1930s when reports started circulating of sightings of a monster that would attack and sometimes even kill children in the area. One evening a 17 year old local boy witnessed the monster attacking a child and threw a brick at it before kicking the monster to death! The ‘monster’ however turned out to be an escaped Coatimundi- a South American member of the raccoon family- from the local zoo!
Other interesting, but definitely not quite as weird, crimes recorded include several individuals being accused of witchcraft, a quack doctor being charged after a patient of his died following some very strange medical advice, and a few cases of highwaymen and rail pirates- rail pirates being people who jump of bridges onto passing coal boats and steal the coal.
It is evident from the museum archives that crime was rife in the area during the Victorian era, and you can imagine many of the crimes could lead to retaliation from the victims, maybe even in the form of murder! However one item in the museum archives has a very close link to our cludo murder theme, it was actually used as a murder weapon, the murder jug. The jug was a weapon in the murder of Charlotte Whale who was killed by Sarah Ellen Procter because of a grudge she held after Whale knocked her down the stairs whilst she was carrying a basket of nails. The earlier incident caused Procter to sustain brain injuries and thus after being found guilty she was sent to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.
The museum proved a great place to really delve into the past and truly understand the period, as well as serving as a brilliant set for our short movies!