Simon Briercliffe, Black Country Living Museum
BCLM: Forging Ahead: recreating a post-war Black Country high street at the Black Country Living Museum
Black Country Living Museum’s current Forging Ahead project is an ambitious plan to build a new 1940s-1960s town centre and industrial area at our site in Dudley, based on real lives and real stories. The research to date has thrown up numerous stories which show how architecture and material culture were formed by, and in turn informed, the everyday lives of residents in the Black Country. This post highlights the story of a record and music shop in Dudley town centre to discuss the evolution of class, gender and taste in post-war Britain.
James Stanton founded a piano-tuning business in 1870, moving swiftly into piano and harmonium sales to capitalise on burgeoning middle-class aspirations in an otherwise working-class region. Stanton opened a shop on Dudley’s Castle Street in 1895 and was well established by the time Stanton’s daughter-in-law Florence Stanton took over as director in 1932. Under the management of Jimmy Nash, they expanded into gramophones, radios and records, though they still specialised in pianos – a 1937 payment book in our collection shows the careful instalments with which a furnaceman, Harry Hobbs, saved for a piano for his son Dennis. Stanton’s was thus well-placed to serve the new prosperity of the Black Country post-World War Two, and diversified further. A team of engineers travelled the area providing after-care, and visually-impaired piano tuners were employed by the shop to tune pianos they had sold. Records for Dudley’s rock’n’roll-conscious youth and hymnbooks for its churchgoers lined the shelves, alongside pianos, other musical instruments, tape recorders, radiograms, televisions – and record players.
Stanton’s music shop, Castle Street, Dudley, in the early 1950s. (c) Dudley Archives and Local History Service, Castle Street, Dudley, October 1957 pst/427.
The Black Country was one of the highest-paid manufacturing districts in the country. Its factories were turning out millions of components and consumer items, which the area’s working class were now in a position to buy. The boom industry was car components – the famous Beans foundry nearby in Tipton could produce 500 tons of castings a week – but everything from buses to washing machines were built there too. One of the firms that took advantage of this was Birmingham Sound Reproducers (BSR). Despite the name – a Black Country resident never admits to being from Birmingham – the firm was founded in a workshop on Perry Park Road, Old Hill, just four miles from Dudley, formerly used to manufacture bellows for the nailmaking industry. Its founder, Dr Daniel McDonald was an electronics expert and this came to fruition in the early 1950s when he offered his new automatic turntable changer to J. & A. Margolin Ltd. and suggested a name for their record player: the “Dansette.”
1958 Dansette Major Deluxe, donated to the Black Country Living Museum in March 2018. The record player features a BSR UA8 auto-changing turntable, loaded with records purchased from Stanton’s in 1958.
Morris Margolin emigrated from Russia to London and was working as a cabinet maker when he built a record player attached to a wireless set – the first radiogram. The Dansette was in a different league though: it was affordable, portable, and immensely popular with the newly-affluent working-class teenager, and its BSR autochanger was key to its success. As Tom Perchard has noted recently they were a symbol of personal taste, from musical to aesthetic, and served to differentiate teenagers’ musical worlds from the more genteel tastes of their parents’ generation. BSR soon expanded into a huge factory at Old Hill and another at Wollaston, near Stourbridge. They were a well-known employer of women on the assembly line, emphasising those blurred ties between work, home and leisure noted by Stephen Brooke. Even today, it’s rare to find someone born in these towns whose mum, nan or auntie didn’t work at “the BSR” at some point. Their employability was directly related to regional and national economies, the industry of the Black Country tied up intimately with national and global cultural changes.
Although the building became tired and was replaced by a new flagship store in 1961, Stanton’s had proved highly adaptable during its tenure in Dudley. From pianos and organs, they had met a changing market and become the place to go to hear the latest 45s, and to buy the Dansette to play them on. But where pianos had been evidence of the aspiration of the working class to take on middle-class Victorian values, these record players represented the changing social status and purchasing power of the British working class. Stanton’s, BSR and the Dansette were thus emblematic of the post-Second World War Black Country, demonstrating both the changes and continuities of local cultures of work, taste and gender in the era. The record player will take pride of place in a recreated Stanton’s to explain this kind of history.
Black Country Living Museum is still searching for memories of Stanton’s in the 1950s. Please contact the Collections team on email@example.com, or 0121 557 9643.
 Tom Perchard, ‘Technology, Listening and Historical Method: Placing Audio in the Post-War British Home’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association 142, no. 2 (3 July 2017): 367–399.
 Stephen Brooke, ‘Gender and Working Class Identity in Britain during the 1950s’, Journal of Social History 34, no. 4 (2001): 773–95.
Simon Briercliffe is a historical researcher at Black Country Living Museum, working on the HLF-funded Forging Ahead project which aims to tell the history of the Black Country in the post-war period. He is also a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham, researching space and Irish immigration in Victorian Wolverhampton.