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THE BLACK COUNTRY MEMORIES CLUB

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Made in Bilston
Some of the exhibits

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The Club decided that our Autumn meeting would be a special one.  We wanted to bring together as many Bilston made artifacts as we could and display them all together.  The idea was to encourage people to bring along their locally made items, so that we could record them and add to our knowledge and what Bilston had done in the past.  And to publicise Bilston's history.  And to make the point that Bilston is a great place with a great past and that past is worth preserving.  We also had an idea it might get more people to come along to the Bilston Gallery than usually do. This first page is mainly about the event. The second page (linked at the bottom of this page) is mainly about the exhibits. (All the photos are by Frank Sharman, Reg Aston or Mike Reynolds).

Bilston Craft Gallery Our venue - the Bilston Craft Gallery and Library - but originally the home of the Bruetons, great local lock makers.  With others, that's Tom Larkin arriving for the opening. Setting Up A moment during the setting up of the exhibition, with Reg Aston and Roger Cox bringing order out of chaos.

So we went to see the curator, Nicki Gardener, who very willingly found us a room in the gallery that was free at a suitable time (no mean achievement in their busy schedule) and agreed to make available display cases and other necessaries.  She also fixed with the library for us to use their adjoining room for the Saturday morning.  We are very grateful to Nicki and the rest of her staff for all their assistance.

We then decided that it would be a good idea if we could get the Mayor to come along and open the show.  We had a sort of ulterior motive in that we thought that if the Mayor came along that would be a good start towards getting Bilston's history, and its recording and preservation a bit higher up the political agenda.  The Mayor was very willing to come, putting himself to some inconvenience to do so, having to visit us before rushing off to a prior civic engagement in Coventry.

In the lead up to the exhibition our Deputy Chairman and Press Officer, Jim Speakman, got us many write ups in the local press and posters were distributed around town by Tom Larkin and many committee members.

We had two days before the exhibition opened to set it all up.  Most of this work was done by Reg Aston who supplied a lot of his own artifacts and borrowed lots of others from other people; and also provided all the printed material about Bilston's industry which adorned the walls.  He also wrote and printed the excellent souvenir booklet.  All the committee members helped to and our thanks are also due to xxxxxxx  xxxxxxxxx who put his van at Reg's disposal and did a lot of lifting and shifting to make a vital contribution.

Gallery View Views of most of the gallery to the left and right, from the top of the stairs, when everything had been set up. Gallery View

On the opening day the meeting room was full and the Mayor and Mayoress arrived in state and the City's official stretch limo.  On behalf of the Club our Secretary Alma Darby, presented the Lady Mayoress with a basket of flowers.

Alan Bickley & Cllr. Robert Hart
Our Chairman, Alan Bickley, gives the speech of welcome to the Mayor, Councillor Robert Hart. 
Our Chairman, Alan Bickley, made a speech of welcome and the Mayor made a speech from which it was clear that he was already an enthusiast for local history. Note that the Mayor is sitting in the Mayor's chair of Bilston Borough.  This and the two other chairs are kept in the gallery and we thought it appropriate to get them back in use again.  The Mayor was, of course, wearing the City badge of office but assured us the Bilston chain and badge was safe in the Civic Centre and that it could be made available for viewing in Bilston one day. After he had declared the exhibition open he and the Mayoress toured the exhibition, showing great interest in it and great appreciation of what had been done. 

But eventually their chauffeur appeared and insisted that they must leave if they were to have any chance of getting to Coventry on time.  We are very grateful to the Mayor and Mayoress for their attendance.
Mayoress Signs Visitors Book
The Mayoress signs the visitors' book while our Secretary, Alma Darby, keeps a sharp eye on the Mayoral coffee and biscuits.

Attendance on all days was very good.  Not everybody managed to sign the visitors book - there were often too many people to make sure that they all did - but our best estimate is that about 250 people attended in all.  This is a very good turn out and speaks volumes for people's interest in their history and in Bilston's achievement as a manufacturing town.  Everyone was happy to chat about the exhibits and about their and their families' part in our industrial history.  We learnt a lot and made lots of useful contacts.

Visitors Viewing Visitors view the exhibits - and this is in one of the less crowded moments. Derek Barratt and Bill Pope Our Treasurer, Derek Barratt, and committee member Bill Pope, staff the desk, collecting donations, enrolling members, getting the visitors' book signed and issuing copies of the souvenir booklet.
The Black Country Bugle's photographer scales the heights to record Reg Aston, Sylvia Horton, Kath Kiely and Jim Speakman. Bugle Photographer Many people brought items along.  Here is George Philpott, who was with Beldray, showing a very rare surviving example of an industrial needle which Beldray made in their thousands. George Philpott

And then, on the 27th September, it all had to be taken down again and everything removed.  

Mayoral Limo The Mayoral stretch limo takes its hurried departure. All Over It's all over and everything tidied away.

Many people had commented that it should have been open for longer; or that it should be permanent; or that we should do it all again next year.  So probably what will happen is that we will try to do it again next year but we will also see what we can do to get some kind of permanent heritage centre in Bilston, either in the gallery or in one of the historic buildings of Bilston, several of which are empty at present and could be used, at least in part, for the purpose. 

for more about the exhibits, click here.   to go back to the home page, click here.

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