Black Country life: share your memories!

Ruth Collins is the last generation of a boating family. She travelled to her wedding in style, taking to the waterways to avoid her having to cross a lock in her wedding dress. The church was right by the cut, so she decided to get there by boat.

Brought up in the Toll Keeper’s House at Brades Lock, Oldbury, Ruth remembers her father had a lifelong love of photography – now shared in a new archive project called Living Memory.

Thomas William King, or Will to friends and family, was a toll collector responsible for weighing the tonnage on board the passing boats.

He took thousands of photographs in the 1950s and 60s, recording daily life and people at work long before taking snaps caught on.

‘His main collection was of the canals,’ Ruth says, ‘but he particularly wanted to photograph the Grand Union Canal because it’s the one he knew best and worked on as a child.

‘In total there are 2,000 photos taken on a 116 Kodak, and it was when he got that camera that he really took taking photos seriously.

‘He knew what he was taking, and very often he included people doing their job, which makes them quite interesting.’

It is only now, more than 50 years later, that this fascinating private collection is getting a wider audience through the Living Memory project.

Ruth remembers her Dad with fondness: ‘He was a tall, upstanding gentleman, extremely proud of his daughters. Definitely a family man.’

Ruth on her wedding day


Do you have a shoebox of old photos hidden away at home? Maybe you haven’t looked at your family albums in a few years…

Living Memory is a new Heritage Lottery Funded project exploring photography and life stories from across the Black Country. 

Over the next two years the project will be working to uncover hidden historical gems in the photographs of ordinary families and communities across the region.

Living Memory will team up with local archive services and work with private collections, and will record interviews with people telling their life stories.

A series of short films is also planned, and the Black Country Arts Foundry is offering the potential for writers of memoir and fiction to come on board.


What are the stories behind your family photos?

Do you have film or images that capture important historical moments?

What can you tell us about everyday life in the Black Country?


Geoff Broadway, project lead, said: Everyone has a story to tell and we want to hear about those stories in relation to the photos people may have.

‘We want to explore life stories from across the Black Country.

‘Do get in touch…  we have lots of volunteering opportunities and there is so much potential in terms of written stories, memories and creative reflections!’

A touring exhibition will see newly-discovered photographs go out on the road, bringing a new slice of history to a region with a rich heritage.

Marion Blockley, of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: It’s a brilliant project because it’s across all ages and communities. It’s about valuing the stories and the past regardless of race, age, or gender.’

To share your stories and photos, visit Living Memory.

Remember, you can submit life writing, creative writing, and non-fiction to the Arts Foundry too! We’ll stay in close contact with Living Memory and work together to publish your stories and photos of Black Country life.