Heavy metal riff, pt. 1

The West Midlands is an area steeped in pioneering metalwork; heavy metal being the trade here long before Black Sabbath et al. came on the scene. So awful once was the air in the mid-1800s that someone christened the region the Black Country — fitting for the not-especially enticing prospect of one unbroken low-lying metropolis of heavy metal makers, stretching from Birmingham to Wolverhampton and Dudley.

Beside the train tracks in some Midlands towns can still be seen remnants of the big Black Country juggernaut. But very few. The brass-buckle foundry is the last of its kind; the others went under years ago. But nothing here indicates due being paid to the cruel march of time. The foundry sticks to the Ancient World-era method of making brass objects by pouring molten metal into a sand cast; the high drama of the lava-into-very-tight-space event belying what happens before — pattern-making with clay and the most nimble of mallet work — and after — filing, polishing, and much other elbow-greasing.

The reason for all this is the development of a trench coat, for which custom-made brass buckles are required for cuff-straps and belt. Knife-frog buckles is what they call them in the Midlands — the origin of the name something military. More will be written about them, and the trench coat, and the brass foundry, if not this month then certainly next.