England's Black Country is currently defined as the West Midlands region encompassing Wolverhampton, Walsall, Dudley and Sandwell, though the specific borders have been previously debated. The name reputedly derives from the thick Staffordshire coal seam and from the area's industrial past. Once home to steel mills, coal mines, glassworks, and factories that produced chains, locks, leather, nails, cast iron and similar goods, the Black Country also inspired writers such as Elihu Berrit, whose Walks in the Black Country and Its Green Border-land begins: "The Black Country, black by day and red by night
is a section of Titanic industry, kept in murky perspiration by a sturdy set of Tubal Cains and Vulcans, week in week out, and often seven days to the week." Among the notable items made were Ruskin pottery, which was known for the special glazes that are no longer recreated, and anchors, including the one used on the Titanic. The transport of goods was facilitated by a system of canals, some of which are depicted in Ruby's Spoon.
The Black Country is also unique for its distinctive dialect, which has retained some archaic features, including lower vowel sounds, "weaker" past tenses, the use of many Germanic words, and characteristics of early Middle English. A few examples used in the novel include "saft" (daft), "ar" (yes), "Yo" (you), "doe" ( don't), and "cor" (can't), among others. To learn more, read the BBC's article, and visit the Black Country Living Museum.
Watch Pietroni read from Ruby's Spoon against the backdrop of Black Country:
Image above: Postcard picture of the center anchor of the Titanic, weighs 15½ tons, fabricated by Messrs. N. Hingley & Sons, Ltd. of Netherton, Dudley, Worcestershire.
This article is from the February 17, 2010 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.
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