A sick economy
Steel has been manufactured here since the 17th century. The factory chimneys, plumes of smoke from the blast furnaces and mine shafts covered the landscape. When the queen drove past in her gilded train, she looked down on the source of her wealth and said disdainfully, “What a dreadful black country. Please drive on.” The train drove on, but the black country kept its name, a reflection of the hard life lived here.
Most of the steel mills have now closed. The country is no longer blackened by smoke and ash. Thomas is one of the last metalworkers still working here, at one of the small furnaces where they make specialised chains and links for the navy. “We’re married to this area,” says Luke, the boss’s son. “The steel industry has all but disappeared. We’ve survived by moving away from mass production. Instead of making large amounts of a single product for a few companies, we now make a lot of specialised products for a lot of companies. We’re not dependent on anyone’s boom or bust.”
While this area is rich in the resources needed to make steel – iron ore, coal and limestone – the metal used is often imported from Korea. “It’s a sick economy,” says Luke. “Maybe all that trade is good for world peace, but still, it’s messed up.”
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