Dudley Council the historic capital of the Black Country
Dudley Skyline

Famous faces of the Black Country

Dudley has its fair share of home grown heroes from sport, science, stage and screen. 

Explore artefacts from local legends such as 'Jumping' Joe Darby, Footballer Duncan Edwards and Para-Olympian Jordanne Whiley.

Joe Darby. Champion Spring Jumper of the World

  • Joe Darby belt with image of Dudley Castle
  • Joe Darby belts and memorabilia in case and poster on the wall

The forerunner of the modern stunt-man. 

Born in Windmill End on 16th August 1861, Joe started life as a horse nail maker, later moving to the coal pits. His leap to fame came when he appeared at a charity gathering in London as a young man. About 80 agents besieged the Manchester Hotel where he was staying. He signed up with one of them to appear at the London Aquarium for 10 weeks at £25 a week. That was the beginning and from there his salary sometimes went as high as £100 a week.

Apart from being an internationally renown champion jumper, Darby was also regarded as the most remarkable trick jumper ever born. In his leaping days he would take a spring jump onto water in a tank, touch the surface with his feet and spring of again without wetting the upper parts of his shoes. Likewise he would jump onto a crate of eggs, touch them and spring off in an instant without breaking a single shell.

One death defying feat involved him jumping over the back of a chair onto the FACE of his little daughter, lying on the ground, and springing off again without hurting her in the slightest - but leaving on her cheeks the marks of whitening from the soles of his shoes.

Joseph's fantastic abilities reached the ears of King Edward who was apparently as baffled as everyone else as to how he did it. In fact the King was so intrigued a command performance was arranged at London's Covent Garden for the publican's abilities to be tested. The King was so bowled over by Joseph's jumping that he sent him a cheque for £25.

Joseph performed before most of the crown heads of Europe who would see him presenting one of his favourite freak jumps - leaping over a handsome cab. As his fame spread, Joseph was beset with challenges from all parts of Europe.

In fact the more he jumped the more daring his feats became. The stunt man was so at home in the air that he eventually became known as "the man bird", a name which greeted him everywhere he went from New York to Vienna, Warsaw to Paris and Berlin to Brussels.

The man bird's more picturesque feats were: clearing a full sized English billiard table lengthways, jumping over a chair placed on top of a table with his ankles tied together , springing from a brick, stood on end, over seven chairs without causing the brick to move, and leaping over ten chairs placed together in one jump.

But these were his fancy jumps. In his matches he performed real athletic feats, beat all-comers and smashed every existing record. He attracted huge crowds all across the Black Country where he became an idol among the sporting fraternity. He set record after record with backward spring jumps, high jumps with ankles tied together, leaping billiard tables, and a number of spring jumps of different kinds.

He held the world jumping championship for 17 years - from 1882 to 1893 - he was regarded as one of the fittest men in the world, although in later years he acquired a Pickwickian paunch.

At the age of 75, the once champion jumper died. He had been a licensee in Dudley for nearly half a century. When he passed on he ran the Albion Hotel, Stone Street, giving him his final record - the oldest licensee in the town.