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Industrial Deaths in the Black Country

This week, Deceased Online added more records to its Sandwell Collection. The new records cover parts of the Black Country where death from industrial work or pollution were common. In this week's post, I explore further into the lives and deaths of West Midlands Ancestors.

The Deceased Online database now holds over 3.5 million records from the Midlands, including the Black Country in the West Midlands, and Lincoln in the East Midlands. This week, we added burial registers for Rowley Regis Cemetery and Crematorium, Fallings Heath Cemetery in Wednesbury, and Sandwell Valley Crematorium (previously known as West Bromwich Crematorium). Rowley Regis, Wednesbury, and West Bromwich have all contributed to the rich history of the region known as the Black Country. Wednesbury stands in the north of the area, with West Bromwich to the west and Rowley Regis to the south.

Page from the Burial Register of  Rowley Regis Cemetery showing burials for 1923
The area gained its name from the rich seam of coal that lay on the surface, but as industrialisation spread, so did the pollution it created. Now the skies grew as black as the earth, with a constant cloud of industrial smoke hovering above. On the ground, mines stood amidst slag heaps, forges, furnaces and engine chimney stacks.

With industrialisation came migration. Hundreds of people from neighbouring counties flocked to the Black Country seeking work. Most of my West Midlands ancestors were already living in the region by the early 19th century, but one moved there from Wales after being discharged from the army and another relocated from rural Worcestershire.

Map of Rowley Regis from the National Library of Scotland website showing the many collieries and industrial sites in this former village in 1881-83
By 1855, the pollution and standard of living in this part of Staffordshire was so great that the county had the highest mortality rate of any in England. Fourteen out of sixteen of the towns with highest mortality levels in the county were in the Black Country. Besides the atmospheric problems of dirty air and acid rain, the area also suffered from geological faults caused by the pressures of mining. Spontaneous combustion of coal from old workings were not uncommon, and in Wednesbury between 1895 and 1897 a fire burned continuously below ground, eventually burning the sewer pipes.

As mining and heavy industrial work, like iron moulding, continued into the 20th century many of the Black Country's children grew up suffering its ill effects. Others did not grow up, instead succumbing to the bronchitis, pneumonia and lung inflammation that affected so many.

Some of these twentieth century deaths from industrialisation and pollution are found in the records uploaded this week to the Deceased Online database. 

The full details of the new records are:
  • Fallings Heath Cemetery (aka Wednesbury Cemetery), Wednesbury, WS10 0SX: records from 1938 
  • Rowley Regis Cemetery, Rowley Regis, B65 0AG: records from 1921
  • Rowley Regis Crematorium, Rowley Regis, B65 0AG: records from 1962
  • Sandwell Valley Crematorium, Newton Road, West Bromwich, B71 3SX: records from 1962
If your ancestors died as a result of their industrial work in the West Midlands, or you believe they might have been killed by the pollution in their environment, do contact us and let us know. We love to hear from you, whether in the Comments Box below, or on our Facebook and Twitter pages!

Janet Sullivan, "'Shabby Towns of Smother Amid Smother' Polluting the Black Country", West Midlands History, Vol. 3, Issue 1, Spring 2015, pp. 37-41.
National Library of Scotland, Maps   


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