2009 Annual General Meeting

Retiring President’s Report

By Ned Williams

My year as President of the Black Country Society has passed very quickly and I am surprised to find myself now having to write this report. Like some previous Presidents, I am not sure if it would be better to have two years in office in order to get ‘on top’ of the job! However, I am very happy to pass the role on to next year's President and I wish him a happy year in office.

I was able to wear my ‘gong’ while giving talks to a large variety of local organisations and I found this led to me being able to enrol quite a few folk into the Society on the Introductory Membership scheme. Let's hope they continue their membership when renewal time comes round. I have continued to be surprised by how many people have not heard of the Society and seem confused about who we are. Having introduced myself as President of the Society, many people seemed to assume I was something to do with the Black Country Living Museum. The Museum, the BCS and the Museum's ‘Friends’ all seem to merge as far as many people are concerned and I felt I was being treated as an ambassador for all three!

I have been invited to several events in my role as President but on many occasions I found I simply had to gatecrash anything that was going on. This was only possible if I found out about something in advance - on too many occasions I read of events after they had taken place and felt that the BCS President should have been there. The Society needs to have more prominent profile in the Black Country or employ someone to act as a ‘look out’ to spot forthcoming events that could be attended.

On at least three occasions wearing the gong seemed to enable me to join the official party at events (The re-opening of the Netherton Tunnel, the Re-opening of Bilston Town Hall, and the Lady Chain-makers Day at the BCLM.). This enabled me to inform other gong-bearers who I was and about the Society, but of course they are only in office for a year as well, so all that networking has to begin all over again!

So the year has been a mix of a few civic events, some interesting community ventures, like Netherton's Victorian Day and Quarry Bank's Family Fun Day, a few visits to schools, a few funerals, and many visits to other local societies - some of which, like the Cradley Then & Now Group - can stage quite impressive events. One of the best events I attended was a performance of a play called ‘The Corner Shop’ at the Public, in West Bromwich. The most surreal occasion was the youth theatre event held in the caverns beneath Castle Hill, Dudley. The most touching event was an evening of Holocaust Memories in Stourbridge.

I did mount one joint venture with the Wolverhampton History and Heritage Society which involved evoking the legend of Wolverhampton's famous circus elephants, Salt and Sauce, at the Light House Cinema. It was an amazing evening but not very well supported. As President it turned out to be my job to organise the Society's annual Carol Service. This took place on the first Wednesday in December at Upper Ettingshall Methodist Church, better known as Sodom Chapel. I am very grateful to everyone who took part and must particularly thank the congregation at Sodom who worked very hard in difficult circumstances to entertain us. I hope a few more Society members support such events in future.

I have also maintained contact with the St. Johns Church Preservation group - something started by my predecessor, Doug Winterbourn. Another local cause is the fight to oppose closure of the Broadfield House Glass Museum. I know the Society can have no collective policy on such matters but I am sure we want to support any ventures that try to preserve local facilities as well as the traditions of the Black Country. There is sometimes only a thin line between community causes and political causes, but I don't think the Society can ignore local issues just because of that. Our job is to promote interest in Black Country topics and to show that the Black Country matters to folks. With that in mind, I conclude my report with the bad news that once again there is talk of creating a ‘Greater Birmingham Region’. Once again we have to defend the Black Country from some of the implications of such proposals notwithstanding that such things become ‘political’.

Long Live the Society and Good Luck to the next President!

Secretary’s Report

By Judith Watkin

The Black Country Society is pleased to report another successful year and we are especially grateful to our President, Ned Williams, for his endeavours in both publicising the Society at every opportunity during his year in office and recruiting many new members. Stan Hill, who celebrated his 80th birthday last weekend, has also been active in recruitment for us, distributing recently donated early copies of the magazine in free packs, with a ‘special offer’ membership form, as an incentive to new members.

The Society’s events over the year have been well supported and our thanks are also due to Dave Galley, the walks co-ordinator, and the excursions programme organisers, Linda Button, Lance Warren and Joan White for their hard work in putting together such interesting and enjoyable programmes. Vice-Chairman, Doug Winterborn, is ‘retiring’ from organising the lecture programme this year, ahead of an extended visit to Australia in the autumn, so we would like to thank both Doug for his efforts in providing us with such knowledgeable and informative speakers and James Morgan for agreeing to take over Doug’s role from September.

The third Black Country History Day in October, organised in partnership with the University of Birmingham, was again very successful, with 180 participants, and David Cox organised an enjoyable and interesting ‘Crime and Policing Day’, with a Black Country theme, at Keele University, in November.

The efforts of our Treasurer, Tony Copson, in ensuring our finances are on a firm footing, has allowed us to make a donation to the ‘Streets Ahead’ programme at the Black Country Living Museum, to dedicate a bench in the Society’s name in the newly opened Folkes Park and to help restore the Workers’ Institute. The contribution of the Black Country Society to the setting up of the Museum is recognised and Ron Julian represents us on the Board.

It is with regret that we report the death this year of our longest-serving committee member, David Plant. David was a stalwart of many local history societies and pressure groups and we are grateful for the time he gave to support our events and interests. The Black Country Society is fortunate to have a very hard working committee, not all of whom are mentioned by name in this report, who seek to fulfil the aims of our constitution, ‘to foster interest in the past, present and future of the Black Country with regard to historical, social, cultural and environmental matters; to promote a high standard of planning and environmental design, and to secure the preservation, protection, development and improvement of features of historic interest in the Black Country’.

Membership Secretary’s Report

By Linda Button

2008 has been one of the best years for recruitment to the society, with 170 new members joining during the year. Thanks must go to our president, Ned Williams for introducing the majority of these through his wide-ranging interests and contacts. The special offer of £6.00 for the first year of membership has been very popular and in order to keep up the momentum we will continue this offer and try to promote the society whenever possible. We hope that members will tell their friends and invite them to join. Current membership stands at 1883.

Treasurer’s Report Year Ended 30 June 2008

By Tony Copson

The accounts have again been prepared by Yates & Co and a copy signed by the Chairman and Treasurer is available for inspection.

In January 2006 the Committee was faced with an increasing loss as our magazine costs were not being covered by the income from membership subscriptions and so subscriptions were increased to the present levels from June 2006. As part of the review of our financial arrangements the production of the magazine was moved to a less expensive printer, which halved the printing costs. These steps have resulted in the income from subscriptions exceeding the cost of producing the magazine for the first time in many years – a surplus of £8,638 compared to a deficiency of £1,352 for the previous year.

We have again made a profit on the sale of publications whilst overheads have been contained and so the ‘bottom line’ is a surplus of £9,830. This is reflected in the assets shown on the balance sheet, totalling £33,850, which includes £28,613 held at the bank, of which £21,500 is held in an interest bearing account.

Financially, our immediate position is very strong but we are faced with an ageing membership and an anticipated fall in income from sales as we have only two new publications in hand. It is hoped that the ‘special offer’ of half price membership for the first year will be successful but it is too early to say what the long term take up will be.

Donations included £250 to the Dudley Glass Archive appeal, £100 to breast cancer Care and £150 for an advert in the Mary Stevens Hospice Calendar.

Sadly, the Wyre Forest group has now ceased but, for insurance purposes, I have to report that the Industrial Archaeology group and the Kingswinford group have each paid an affiliation fee of £1 per annum to cover the year up to 30 June 2010.

Finally, I should like to thank all members for supporting the Society and also our bankers, HSBC, and our auditor, John Bill of Yates & Co, for services provided. 

Website Report

By Mike Pearson

The website continues to attract many visitors from around the globe. Development by adding new material has continued but at a fairly slow pace as the magazine is clearly my priority. I receive many e-mails from people who have found the Society through the website. Some go on to become members, while others want information about one or more of their ancestors. I still sell back issues of the magazine, as well as other products we have published. I can also supply copies of articles when the magazine they have requested is not available for sale. I hope to carry out more website development in the coming year and urge you to pay the site a visit.

Magazine Report

By Mike Pearson

The magazine continues to be published 4 times a year, now in our 42nd year of publication I am still very pleased with the volume, quality and variety of articles that are sent to me for possible publication. I have a number of series of articles that are being published and more are in the pipeline. I would like to thank both my regular contributors and new writers, whose material injects ‘new blood’ into the magazine. The investment made by the Society in the magazine is much appreciated. I have the software I need to compile the magazine in a form that our printer can use without conversion and I now have a computer, part financed by the Society, that makes my job as editor much easier.

Whilst on occasions I am burning the midnight oil to meet the deadline for the magazine, I hope that in the next 12 months or so my retirement (from work, not the magazine editorship) will make my job of editor much more easy to manage.

Kingswinford Local History Group

By Keith Jeavons

The Branch has enjoyed a very varied programme during the year. The attendance continues to be buoyant, but we are always pleased to see new members and make them welcome.

Again we celebrated Christmas with ‘An unusual job for a Lady’ followed by wine and mince pies, always a popular evening! Our talks ranged from a stimulating talk on the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter by Ken Hughes, to local Industry and the people who made it possible. We ventured outside the Black Country into neighbouring Worcestershire to view it through the great gardens, houses and the history of the milestones! The talk at the AGM by Mr Lock Mills on ‘My Granny was Romany’ also extended our knowledge of rural Worcestershire. We returned to the Black Country with a talk by our President on Chapels which brought back many memories for many of us. This was followed by one of our members; James Morgan who kept us enthralled with ‘My life with Jack’ detailing the life of Jack Haden who for many years was the chief reporter for the County Express. Finally our year ended with a fascinating account of the development and history of the Bournville Carillon - its links with Europe and the Commonwealth by Mr Arthur Casey.

We look forward to our AGM in June with the traditional Buffet and hope members will join us.

Wyre Forest Branch

By Pat Dunn

The past year has been a difficult one for the branch, although a full programme of talks was completed, many with a Black Country theme. However, in spite of finding an afternoon, central venue, membership continued to fall through deaths, ill health, parking problems etc until it was felt it was no longer financially viable.

At an Extraordinary General Meeting after the August talk, regretfully it was decided that the branch could not carry on as in the past. However, as we had just heard that Ray Ratcliffe had left us a legacy, Chairman Joyce Coley suggested we should try to hold a twice yearly get-together, once for a lunch or dinner, possibly with a speaker and once for an outing. As yet we have had no further information on the legacy so any plans have been delayed. 

Unfortunately this means there will be no programme advertised in ‘The Blackcountryman’ magazine. However we did go out on a high note, celebrating our twentieth anniversary with a Christmas lunch.

I would like to thank all WFBCS members, past and present, also officers and members of the main branch and past and present editors of ‘The Blackcountryman’ for their support over the years and will keep them informed of any future developments.