THE BLACK COUNTRY
In 1830 James Nasmyth walked to the Black Country from Coalbrookdale.
“I proceeded at once to Dudley. The Black Country is anything but picturesque. The earth seems to have been turned inside out. Its entrails are strewn about; nearly the entire surface of the ground is covered with cinder heaps and mounds of scoriae. The coal which has been drawn from below ground is blazing on the surface. The district is crowded with iron furnaces, puddling furnaces, and coal-pit engine furnaces. By day and by night the country is glowing with fire, and the smoke of the ironworks hovers over it. There is a rumbling and clanking of iron forges and rolling mills. Workmen covered with smut, and with fierce white eyes, are seen moving about amongst the glowing iron and the dull thud of forge-hammers.
Amidst these flaming, smoky, clanging works, I beheld the remains of what had once been happy farmhouses, now ruined and deserted. The ground underneath them had sunk by the working out of the coal, and they were falling to pieces. They had in former times been surrounded by clumps of trees; but only the skeletons of them remained, dead, black, and leafless. The grass had been parched and killed by the vapours of sulphurous acid thrown out by the chimneys; and every herbaceous object was of a ghastly grey – the emblem of vegetable death in its saddest aspect. In some places I heard a sort of chirruping sound, as of some forlorn bird haunting the ruins of the old farmsteads. But no! the chirrup was a vile delusion. It proceeded from the shrill creaking of the coal-winding chains, which were placed in small tunnels beneath the hedgeless road”.
This image from the Illustrated London News (December 1866)
Slide show of changes to Riverside from the 1880’s to the 1960’s.
© Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Limited 2016. All rights reserved. C. 1880’s; 1900’s; 1910’s; 1930’s; 1950’s; 1960’s
These maps are very detailed and revealing. They show the original narrow boat basins before they had canopies built over them and eventually filled in. To the west of the river in the woodland, the rivers meandering formed an island which has subsequently become obsolete. The island was accessible by bridge with a boat house nearby. Apparent too, is the narrow gauge railway that brought large cast products from the foundry to the canal side crane to be loaded onto the narrow boats, as well as the railway track coming from the eastern end of the site.
The changes to Riverside House itself are also evident, showing that a significant part of the building no longer exists. The estate too, is clearly delineated into different areas having different functions, probably including a orchard (there are still apple trees on the site) and vegetable plots, as well as the (still remaining) walled garden next to the house. The dry dock is clearly marked as part of a larger courtyard area with associated workshops, as too are a variety of smaller buildings throughout the site.
© Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Limited 2016. All rights reserved. C. 1880’s
© Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Limited 2016. All rights reserved. C. 1842
Aerial photographs from 1963 and 1980 clearly showing the gardens and estate features of Riverside House
NINETEENTH CENTURY ETCHINGS OF THE IRON WORKS
A Wintry Blast on the Stourbridge Canal. 1890. Drypoint Etching. 6 7/8 x 9 7/8. Edition 50. Signed by Short and by the famous printer; Frederick Goulding. The image shows an area between Foster’s Ironworks and Wollaston Forge. Image courtesy of Simon Meddings. The image, however, is artistically reversed than how it actually appears in reality.
Mid 20th Century images of the ironworks taken by Harry Cartwright.
Much of the valley has been quarried, mainly for its sand which was ideal both for the glass and iron industries. The extent of the removal is evident in the places marked on the map below where significant rock faces are exposed.
Before the lime kilns, the glass and iron works and the plethora of other industries, the valley would have been picturesque. The name of the recently closed ‘Beauty Bank’ school to the south of the valley is perhaps indicative of this. The Riverside House site has since reclaimed much of that original beauty.
An Osier bed is where historically willows were planted and coppiced to produce withies which were used for basket making, fish-traps, and other purposes. The willow species was typically grown for this purpose. According to a local source, part of the Riverside estate was called the Osier woods.