Victorian Britain was the first industrialised nation proudly referring to itself as the ‘Workshop of the World.’ With its Empire providing the raw materials the forges of Sheffield, the furnaces of Wolverhampton, and the Cotton Mills of Manchester dominated world trade.
But it made for a grim landscape:
The towns were crowded and dirty, the air fetid and foul, and workers, their clothes shabby, their expressions downcast, forced from the land because of changes in technology and the Enclosure Acts worked up to twelve hours a day, six days a week for little reward.
Even the Children, as young as six, could not escape the requirement of labour.
It had been a transformation brutal both in its social and physical manifestation.
But it was the sights and sounds of Industrial Britain that horrified.
So polluted was the air that a smoked induced miasma hovered as a cloud above the scarred vistas of a once ‘green and pleasant land’ plunging it into a permanent twilight to which the sun was but a distant memory.
Black by day, red by night – the West Midlands had earned its title the ‘Black Country’ and when travelling through it by train on her journey to her estate at Balmoral in Scotland, Queen Victoria would order the blinds drawn so that she did not have to look upon it.
In his novel The Old Curiosity Shop, Charles Dickens described the scene:
“On every side and as far as the eye could see into the heavy distance tall chimneys crowding on each other and presenting that endless repetition of the same dull ugly form which is the horror of oppressive dreams poured out their plague smoke, obscured the light and made foul the melancholy air.”
But as frightening and tragic as it appeared to many nostalgic for a purer past made myth by the trails of the smokestacks, the thunder of the forges, and the flames of the furnace, to others it remained an inspiration who saw through its enveloping grime and soot the glimmer of a Brave New World, and they painted it with relish but often with a dark and heavy brush:
The Dark Side
The Dark Side