Brownhills is in the West Midlands on the edge of an area known as “the Black Country,” an identity earned through the soot, smoke, and slag of its coal mines. In the middle of town, there is a stainless steel statue to commemorate the coal industry, a shiny colossus in the center of a roundabout.
The statue is called “Jigger” after Jack “Jigger” Taylor, who was killed in a mining disaster in 1951. He was from a multi-generational mining family, and was working in the pit at Walsall Wood when the roof suddenly collapsed. His nickname was submitted to a competition to christen the sculpture, by Taylor’s own great-grandson.
Census data shows that up to 80 percent of the Brownhills population worked in the mining industry at its peak (in the 19th century that included children as young as 11), but by the 1950s the 300-year mining history of the Black Country was gasping for air. It wasn’t long before all the pits would close, exhausted by the relentless pace of extraction.
“Jigger” came to Brownhills 50 years after the decline of the mines, intended as both a celebration of the industry that built the town, and to serve as a reminder of the toll it often took on its workers, on Brownhills, and the Black Country communities.
The piece was created in 2006 by artist John McKenna, a member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors, and at 40-odd feet tall, its size has drawn some comparisons to the better known “Angel of the North” in Gateshead, England.