From the Romans to the Industrial Revolution
The Black Country has seen many changes in human occupation in the last 2000 years.
This gallery displays artefacts and replicas from AD43, and the arrival of Romans into Britain, through to the medieval times when the earliest rumblings of the Industrial Revolution began and swept across this landscape.
In 2020 the major focus will be the history of Dudley Castle which celebrates its 950th year.
The Priory was founded in 1160 by Gervase Paganel, Lord of Dudley and was one of a network of priories and monasteries established after the Norman conquest of 1066. It was built from limestone quarried from Wrens Nest (now part of the UNESCO Black Country Geopark).
Dudley Priory was originally established as a dependency of the Cluniac Priory of Much Wenlock and was dedicated to Saint James. After being founded, it was enlarged. A surviving piece of one of these enlargements is an archway to the Lady Chapel area of the Priory, built in the 14th Century and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Cluniac monks followed the traditions of the Abbey of Cluny (in France) and were resident on site for almost 400 years.
In the 1530's, it was forced to close by King Henry VIII as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1540, following the dissolution, the Priory was granted to Sir John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland. After the King’s death, the Duke unsuccessfully tried to install Lady Jane Grey on the English throne; was found guilty of treason and executed. Following his death, the priory fell into disrepair and became ruinous.
In the 18th Century, the surrounding area became industrialised. Part of the ruins of the church had been used by a tanner, a thread manufacturer and for grinding glass and polishing steel. In 1825, Priory Hall was constructed.
In 1939, archaeologist Rayleigh Radford, excavated medieval tiles (which are on display in the Museum).
In 1949 the site (which is now over 900 years old) became a scheduled ancient monument and a grade I listed building.
The Dudley Coffin Race
This is based on an event which took place in Dudley during the English Civil War. In April 1646, whilst the Royalist castle was under siege by the Parliamentarians led by Sir William Brereton, Dorothy Beaumont, wife of Colonel John Beaumont, second in command to Sir Thomas Leveson, died in the castle.
Sir Thomas Leveson decided to parley to arrange to bury Mistress Beaumont. He sounded a drum to call the Parliamentarians to the castle, but two of Brereton’s messengers were shot dead as they answered the call. Sir William complained about the behaviour of the Royalists and although safe conduct was allowed for the funeral to take place, her husband was not allowed to attend.
The coffin was hurriedly taken from the castle, up what is now Castle Street, through the market place and up to St Thomas’s Church (Top Church) for the funeral. The funeral could not take place at St Edmund's Church (Bottom Church) because Leveson had ordered it be destroyed to stop the enemy having a vantage point.
On 13 May 1646, knowing that the King’s cause was lost, Sir Leveson surrendered his garrison of 40 officers and 30 men. A victorious Parliament ordered the dismantling of the castle’s defences, leaving the ruin which still dominates the town today.