From the preserved ruins of Coventry Cathedral to the historic mill that inspired a location in The Lord of the Rings, the West Midlands features brilliant historic sites that make for enjoyable weekend excursions and holiday destinations.
Here are 10 of the best historic attractions and experiences in the West Midlands.
1. Black Country Living Museum
The Black Country Living Museum is an open-air museum in Dudley, West Midlands, 10 miles west of Birmingham. It contains 26 acres of rebuilt historic homes, shops and pubs, populated by historic characters participating in life and work from one of the first industrialised landscapes in Britain.
The Black Country became one of the most industrialised parts of the UK in the early 20th century. The concentrated industrial activity in the area resulted in a worldwide reputation and distinctive character. Scenes throughout the television series Peaky Blinders were filmed at the Black Country Living Museum.
2. Aston Hall
Aston Hall is an imposing 17th century Jacobean manor house in Aston, Birmingham. Once the home of the wealthy Holte family, it now operates as a museum telling their history and that of Aston Hall. Visitors can view luxurious interiors from the 17th through to the 19th centuries, including the magnificent Great Hall and Great Parlour.
The grand state rooms showcase the history of the Hall and its former residents, including the events of the English Civil War and times the Hall hosted royalty. Lady Holte’s Garden dates to the 17th century: its striking symmetrical patterns and historic plants were designed to delight Aston Hall’s eminent Stuart visitors.
3. Coventry Cathedral
The ruins of Coventry Cathedral are the city’s most famous landmark. They stand as a monument to the destruction wreaked upon it in 1940, during the Second World War, by an act of bombing so terrible that Nazi propaganda conceived the word coventrieren, ‘to Coventrate’, to describe it.
Yet rather than being preserved as a symbol of terror, the cathedral’s remains have been transformed into a hopeful monument motivated by the idea of reconciliation. The foundation stone for a modernist cathedral designed by Basil Spence, which left the ruins of the original as they were, was laid by Queen Elizabeth II in 1956. Today visitors can explore the ruins, which regularly holds events, and the New Cathedral, which holds many works of art.
4. Coventry Transport Museum
Situated in what was once the centre of the British automobile industry, Coventry Transport Museum is home to the largest collection of British-made road transport held in public ownership. It includes over 240 cars, 100 motorcycles and 200 bicycles.
It also includes remarkable vehicles such as King George V’s state limousines and he jet cars Thrust2 and ThrustSSC, which broke the land speed record in 1983 and 1997, respectively.
5. The National Motorcycle Museum
The world’s largest collection of British motorcycles is located at the National Motorcycle in Solihull, West Midlands. The museum opened in 1984 with a collection of 350 motorcycles, but now features 850 motorcycles covering a century of manufacture. Within the collection visitors will find classic bikes from BSA, Triumph and Norton.
There are also iconic vehicles such as the extremely valuable Golden Dream Brough and the Wilkinson Luxury Tourer, a 1912 motorcycle originally conceived to be fitted with a sidecar equipped with a Maxim machine gun.
6. Wightwick Manor
The Victoria country house of Wightwick Manor is among the few surviving examples of a house constructed and furnished according to the influence of the late 19th century art movements of Aestheticism and Arts and Crafts.
Built in a half-timbered vernacular style, Wightwick Manor’s first occupants were inspired by Oscar Wilde’s lecture on ‘the House Beautiful’ to furnish it with objects from Japan and China and the designs of William Morris and his contemporaries.
Wightwick Manor is operated by the National Trust. Visitors can walk the Manor’s ground floor, while a gallery is dedicated to the work of 19th century painter Evelyn De Morgan and ceramicist William De Morgan. There is also a tearoom, plant shop centre and bookshop.
7. Birmingham Back to Backs
The last surviving court of back-to-back houses in Birmingham are preserved by the National trust as examples of a type of building that used to cater for the rapidly increasing populations of Britain’s industrial towns. The Birmingham Back to Backs are atmospheric 19th century working peoples’ houses, carefully restored and accessible through guided tours.
8. Walsall Leather Museum
The Walsall Leather Museum introduces visitors to the history of the leather trade in Walsall, which transformed from a small market town into a renowned centre for saddle manufacturing. Around 10,000 local people were employed in the leather industry in 1900, toiling to make saddles, bridles, bags and other leather goods.
The museum showcases the craft and design of working with leather, while experienced crafters stage demonstrations of traditional techniques within the museum’s workshops.
9. Stourbridge Glass Museum
Stourbridge Glass Museum tells the history of glass making at Stourbridge. The museum explores the experience of making glass inside an iconic glass cone and how the glass industry contributed to the development of the Black Country. Inside Stourbridge Glass Museum, visitors can get to grips with glass making demonstrations and learn at interactive digital displays.
10. Sarehole Mill Museum
Sarehole Mill Museum is run by the Birmingham Museums Trust and is one of only two working water mills in the city. The Grade II listed water mill was built in 1542, though the current building dates from the late 18th century. It was in use until 1919 and was restored in 1969. Accessible by guided tours, the mill is also notable for having inspired the Mill at Hobbiton in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.