Industrialisation in the West Midlands

Thanks to the coming of the canals and railways, and the vast local deposits of coal, iron ore, and limestone, the West Midlands became the country’s industrial heartland, and remained as such for nearly 200 years. Much of the area was dominated by factories, chimneys, and furnaces. Even in the more rural areas there would be a chimney or pall of smoke on the sky line. At night the sky filled with a red glow from countless foundries and steel works, and the silence was broken by the sound of heavy industry.

I grew-up in Darlaston where factories were a frequent sight, they were almost everywhere. Although many people will not be familiar with the old industrial landscape, it had a beauty all of its own, both awe inspiring and dramatic.

The unthinkable started to happen in the late 1970s when factories started to close, mainly because of their inability to compete with rising levels of foreign competition. The industries that offered jobs for everyone, and social activities in works social clubs, became unfashionable, and vast areas fell into dereliction.

In our modern post industrial society we eagerly embrace the new, and only too quickly discard the old. We are creatures of our past and our industrial heritage has made us what we are today. Sadly old factories and machinery have little value and we have too few museums in which to display them.

Over the last twenty years the landscape has changed beyond recognition. Most of the old factories have gone, and areas have been redeveloped to such an extent that it’s now difficult to visualise the once-familiar industrial landmarks, or decide exactly where they stood. Younger and future generations will have no concept of what factory life was really like, unless we preserve what remains.

Over the years, a few artists have recorded the industrial scene, but none like Arthur Lockwood, an accomplished artist, who for over twenty five years has been accurately portraying all aspects of the industrial landscape, from buildings and machinery, to the factory workers, and their daily tasks. His unique work is an invaluable record of lost industries and working lives. Arthur’s wonderful paintings are, and will continue to be a marvellous resource for anyone who is interested in our industrial heritage. They recapture the atmosphere of the industrial towns and factories to such an extent that it’s easy to imagine you are actually there.

Arthur's Father

Arthur's father Frank T. Lockwood, also an accomplished artist, came from Linthwaite near Huddersfield and attended a local art college. After being demobbed at the end of the First World War, he came to Birmingham where he acquired a job with Cadburys as a commercial artist. He worked his way up the ladder and ended-up in charge of the studio, where many publications were produced, including a series called ‘Our Birmingham’, and ‘Conurbation’, a book that looked at how Birmingham and the Black Country would be planned after the Second World War. There were also educational books and general books covering a wide range of topics.

Frank Lockwood's view of the Tipton canal, painted in 1953.

Frank Lockwood painted mainly landscapes in the English topographical tradition, featuring buildings, churches, and village scenes.

He became a member of Birmingham’s art societies including the Birmingham Art Circle, the Birmingham Watercolour Society, and the Easel Club.

He was also an associate member of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, and exhibited with them all.

Some of his wonderful paintings are occasionally on display at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. They have a website at

Arthur Lockwood

Arthur was born in Birmingham in the 1930s and began drawing and painting at an early age. His father actively encouraged him to paint, and from the age of nine Arthur went with his father on his painting outings, and learned to paint and draw on the spot. They also drew and painted together during family holidays.

Arthur's fine view of Darcast Components Limited in Rabone Lane, Smethwick, showing the foundry's two cupola furnaces and chimney which have since been removed. It was painted in 1990.

In the foreground is part of Telford's main line on the BCN, the most important canal in the area.

Pouring molten metal into a ladle from an electric furnace at Sidney Smith Castings in Stourbridge.
From 1949 to 1951 Arthur attended Bournville School of Art, followed by the Birmingham College of Art. He then studied graphic design at the Royal London College of Art, and remained in London doing freelance design work for numerous publishers.

In 1984 he began painting in watercolour again, and in 1987, Arthur, and his wife Gillian, who is a potter, decided that they wanted to do more of their own work, and so they moved to the Midlands because of the interesting local subject matter.

Arthur wanted to record what went on in the area, particularly changes in the disappearing local industries, which were not well documented. He began to paint urban and industrial landscapes, including many buildings and factories that have since been demolished. His marvellous paintings have become an invaluable record of a vanishing world, much of which had previously not been documented.

His paintings go right to the heart of a scene, accurately capturing the atmosphere. They are so precise that the viewer can easily imagine being there, to experience the sights and sounds of a long-gone street or factory for themselves.

Filling a ladle from the Birlec electric induction furnace at Crane Cast in Wolverhampton.

The furnace was fed from two cupolas and acted as a reservoir, so that ladles could be filled when necessary.

Sadly the foundry closed in January 2006, only a few months after Arthur's painting was done.

View some of Arthur's paintings of the Crown Nail Company
In 2007 Arthur produced his first book of paintings called ‘Change in the Midlands’, published by Sansom & Company, which is now out of print.

He now has a second book ‘Arthur Lockwood urban and industrial watercolours of Birmingham and the Black Country’ also published by Sansom & Company.

It appeared in the autumn of 2012 and is available on the internet, or from the publishers.

It contains 355 full colour illustrations of paintings by Arthur, his father, and his son Paul.

It is a must for anyone who is interested in Birmingham and the Black Country.

A large hammer in operation at Stokes Forgings Dudley Limited. In the centre is the rolling mill which forms a billet into a rod in readiness for forging.
One of Arthur's lovely street scenes which shows the Garrison Tavern in Birmingham.
An exterior view of Hughes Johnson Stampings Limited of Mill Lane, Langley.

Sadly the factory had closed before Arthur got there in 1991.

A wonderfully detailed and atmospheric view of Shop R at Latch & Batchelor's factory in Hay Mills, Birmingham where steel wire rope is made.

Painted in January 1998.

Sadly Arthur passed away on the 3rd June, 2019 at the age of 85. His paintings are a wonderful legacy to us all, recalling a time when industry dominated the Black Country and Birmingham. It is worth keeping an eye open for any exhibitions that include some of Arthur’s work. His paintings will bring back memories to many people, and introduce others to a way of life that has almost disappeared.

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