Saturday, 5 December 2009

Dudley

I did a guided walking tour of Dudley today.

Okay, as is so often the case with my walks, it's perhaps not a town to promise much. But of course it's stuffed full of stories. I managed to fit in Saxon Chieftains, Duncan Edwards, a couple of breweries, the inventor of Oxygen and Laurel & Hardy. The group were fun and it even stayed dry.

Unfortunately - and there's no escaping this - it was a terribly depressing place to be. The town just looks so drab. Discount shops, messy signs, litter, broken statues and just a sense of being second rate were everywhere. Beattie's, its last department store and now part of the House of Fraser Group, is closing down. The phrase "last nail in the coffin" keeps coming to mind.

Few towns' fall from grace has been as spectacular as that of Dudley. A combination of a more mobile population and the opening of the Merry Hill Shopping Centre conspired to rob the place of all but its most poverty-stricken shoppers. Yes, I realise that that sounds very snobbish. But poorer shoppers don't spend much and it puts the town into a downward spiral from which I can't easily see an escape.

Certainly, Dudley has a heritage background unmatched in the industrial West Midlands. The view of the Castle on its dramatic hilltop which appear unexpectedly between buildings are a joy to behold. But the heritage industry is hampered by the general grottiness of the place and nice views alone don't generate money.

I've spent years trying to talk up the West Midlands, for much of that time in a professional capacity and it's an honour to do so. I've enjoyed showing people the most unpromising towns and taken great pleasure from seeing the looks of surprise on their faces as you make them interested in Bilston, Halesowen, Wednesbury or Tipton.

But for some reason today in Dudley, I had a little twinge that I was wasting my time.

I hope it's a passing phase and I'll be enthusing about the place here very soon. I hope so. But don't take any bets just yet.......

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