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Pride, history, community: Why Black Country Day is a day to stand tall

By Dayna Farrington | Sandwell | Features | Published:

It is now an established part of the Black Country calendar – but it is hard to believe that Black Country Day has only been held since 2013.

The Black Country flag flying proud above Dudley Council House

Although 2020's celebrations, which would have been the seventh Black Country Festival, have had to be scaled back due to the coronavirus pandemic – the region is still getting behind their heritage and proudly displaying the Black Country flag for all to see.

Today is the official Black Country Day and to celebrate a small event will take place in Halesowen, between 1pm and 4pm.

It will include live performances from local performers and businesses have been encouraged to deck out their shop windows out in Black Country bunting and flags but otherwise celebrations will be largely limited to people's homes.

Stephen Pitts, from Black Country T-shirts, with some of the new designs for Black Country Day

The day was established after the Department of Communities and Local Government marked the anniversary with a specially designed banner. The banner has now become the Black Country Flag and was designed by schoolgirl Gracie Sheppard.

It was designed to recall the famous description of the Black Country by Elihu Burritt, the American Consul to Birmingham in 1868.

He said: “The Black Country, black by day and red by night, cannot be matched for vast and varied production by any other space of equal radius on the surface of the globe.”

Culture, history and the future

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Steve Edwards, the region's champion and the man behind Black Country Day and the festival, said he couldn't believe how far it had come in seven years.

He first came up with the idea to celebrate the region in 2012 and the first Black Country Day was held on March 30, 2013. The following year the Black Country Festival was set up and the date of Black Country Day changed to July 14 - the anniversary of the invention of the world's first steam engine, the Newcomen Engine, built in 1712.

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Steve said: "Black Country Day to me is a celebration of all things Black Country. It was brought about in the first instance to promote the culture and history, but it is also about promoting the region in the now and the future – how we are moving forward.

Reggie the sloth with his Black Country Flag

"Pride is a big thing in the Black Country. For years and years, we are always looked down on a little bit, and I think over the last six or seven years, since we started Black Country Day and the flag, everybody really started taking note of the history – and people started being proud of how we speak and where we are from.

"I didn't think it would be as popular as it is today when I first started it all. When I first started, it was more of an old person's thing – the nans and grandads who had the Black Country pride, but to now see the younger generation getting involved and keep the heritage alive, it has worked really well. It has opened a lot of people's eyes and it kicked off massively."

Dave Brownhill, chairman of the Black Country Festival, said: "To me, Black Country Day is a way of promoting our heritage, particularly since the Black Country flag was launched by Gracie Shepherd after she won the competition, as it just seems to have embraced the area as people love the flag and it's now seen all over the world.

"What the Black Country means to me is it's my heritage and it has made me the person I am today. We all know how proud Black Country people are and I'm proud to be from there."

Community

Isobel Lines, 19, was crowned as the new Miss Black Country during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Isobel, who lives in Wednesbury, is studying sports science at the University of Worcester.

She said: "I think this area is incredible in terms of we have so many historical features in terms of the industrial revolution and there is a lot of historical features that people don't know about. This area has had such an impact all over. It is great to represent the area.

Isobel Lines, 20 and from Wednesbury, was crowned the new Miss Black Country last month

"I think it is really important we celebrate what a great area the Black Country is. There's not many areas in the world that have a whole day dedicated to the area. The community can really get together on Black Country Day and be proud of where they live and celebrate."

The 'Queen of the Black Country' and internet, stage and film star Doreen Tipton said it takes "more than a virus" to stop the proud people of the Black Country celebrating. She said: "Every year in July, thousands of Black Country folk, from all over the Black Country, get together to celebrate their Black Country-ness, in a festival ingeniously entitled...the Black Country Festival.

"Usually on July 14 the streets would be knee-deep in people eating faggots and paes, and whatever other clichéd activities Black Country folk are supposed to do, such as making chains and nails, while people with curious beards sing curious folk songs on gaily-painted canal boats adorned with dogs and flags.

"Sadly this year it’s not to be, but there’ll still be celebrations. It takes more than a virus to stop tough and proud people."

Black Country Ales head brewer Robin Shields and brewery director Martin Wilkes at the Old Bulls Head, in Lower Gornal

Britain's Got Talent finalist Donchez Dacres, who lives in Wolverhampton, said: "It has been such a trying time for everyone, due to the pandemic Covid -19.

"The Black Country Day has been such an uplifting time each year, when the community get together to celebrate life through the beautiful sounds of music. This special day shall be missed greatly."

Black Country Ales brewery director, Martin Wilkins, said: "The Black Country, to me, is the place where we live and is an amalgamation of towns which are linked closely in terms of geography and ideals and many other things that bring people close together, including the Black Country dialect, which is a complete one-off. There's something special about the region which people can't quite describe."

Bringing people together

Black Country T-shirts, based in Castle Street, Dudley, have created a series of t-shirt designs for each town to celebrate the communities that make up the region.

Stephen Pitts, who runs the shop, said: "Black Country Day to me, particularly at this time of year and the current situation, is all about celebrating community and bringing people together. It is a community event which helps celebrate our heritage and the festivals around it are about showing each other what our communities mean and making people proud of where they have come from."

The Black Country flag is being flown from various landmarks as part of the celebrations – including Dudley Zoo, Dudley Council House, Dudley Town Hall and Stourbridge Town Hall. A huge image of the Black Country flag will also be beamed onto the walls of Dudley Town Hall tonight.

Residents across the Black Country have been urged to fly their flags from their homes to show their pride at who they are and where they are from.

Derek Grove, Dudley Zoo director, said: "Where better to show off our Black Country colours with pride and celebrate our bostin’ heritage than atop one of the Midlands’ best-loved landmarks – the 950 year-old Dudley Castle, where the flag can be seen flying for miles around."

And even the animals at Dudley Zoo are joining in with the Black Country Day celebrations – including Reggie the Linne’s two-toed sloth who has been spotted with his Black Country flag.

Meanwhile a pair of performers will be keeping the celebrations going despite the festival being cancelled this year.

Brian Dakin, aka Billy Spakemon, and his performing partner Tom Stanton, from The Blue Granits, are hosting their own socially-distanced celebrations by busking on their front gardens joined by bass player Chris Homer.

They will perform outside Brian's home at 53 Midhill Drive in Rowley Regis today, and Tom's home at 40 Oak Road in Oldbury on Thursday, both from 7pm.

Brian said: "We were due to perform on various stages at this year's festival which was cancelled, so we wanted to do something to bring smiles to people's faces and get them singing and dancing."

Dayna Farrington

By Dayna Farrington
Senior reporter based at Wolverhampton

Reporter for the Express & Star based at Wolverhampton.

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