Present and Past in the Ironbridge Gorge

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This coal-fired power station sits at the entrance to the scenic Ironbridge Gorge on the River Severn in Shropshire. Even when you know it’s there, to come upon the four great cooling towers through the trees, is always a surprise. Its days, however, are numbered, and many of us are wondering how the power station powers-that-be will go about recycling the place, and especially on the edge of a World Heritage Site. Just downstream is Ironbridge town, named after the world’s first cast iron bridge, built between 1779-1781 by Coalbrookdale ironmaster, Abraham Darby III. (See my earlier post Bridge, What Bridge)

 

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Before this bridge arrived on the scene as an 18th century world wonder, earlier bridges were mostly built of stone, usually with several low arches. The particularly novel aspect of the Iron Bridge’s design, then, was the high single arch, devised to allow the large sailing barges, known as Severn trows to pass beneath without lowering their masts. This was a clear piece of Coalbrookdale Company bravado, since the trows would have had to lower their masts for all the numerous other Severn bridges, both up and downstream of the Iron Bridge.

Looking at the sleepy river today, it is hard to imagine that in 1712, Coalbrookdale’s iron works were exporting  1,400 tons of iron wares downriver. It’s hard to imagine too, that although a hundred miles from Bristol, that the towns of Ironbridge and Broseley (on either side the bridge) were busy inland ports, with boat builders’ yards, and locally owned trows. The trade also went upriver to Shrewsbury which in turn exported cloth from the Welsh hinterland and local agricultural produce.

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Ironbridge town and bridge, trows in the foreground; attributed to J. Fidlor some time after 1837, Shrewsbury Museum

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Fascinating details of the trade are preserved in the Gloucester Port Books. For instance, they record one of the  Bristol-bound cargoes of the Broseley barge Thomas & Mary  in 1722. It included:

 

10 tons of ironware; 8 tons of cheese; 8 packs of Manchester ware; 2 packs of sadlery ware; 2 hogsheads of oats; 2 barrels of oats; 8 hogsheads of hair; 80 crates of earthenware; 1 barrel of brass; 2 trunks of wearing apparel; 2 boxes of wearing apparel.

 

An upriver cargo that same year comprised:

 

40 bags of cotton wool; 40 packs and a truss of cloth; 4 hogsheads of train oil; 1 ton of saltery; 2 barrels of herrings; 5 cwt. of salt fish; 4 cwt. of red lead.

 

 

The prestigious nature of the trade is perhaps embodied in the Severn Warehouse, now part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. It stands on the river mid way between the Ironbridge Power Station and the Iron Bridge, and was built by the Coalbrookdale Company in 1834 in flamboyant Gothic Revival style. Down its iron rails to waiting barges would have trundled carts loaded with iron castings of every sort, both functional and decorative, heading for markets throughout Britain and across the Empire. It did a particularly thriving trade in iron bellied, so-called Missionary Pots – some holding up to 400 gallons, and thus big enough to hold a  missionary or two.  They were actually used for processes like soap making and rendering down whale blubber.

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But back to those cooling towers. I am rather fascinated by them; as indeed was TV historian Dr. David Starkey, when I was showing him around the Severn Warehouse many moons ago. He was doing some consultancy for me at the time, and when I told him that in 1979, the Iron Bridge bicentenary year, the cooling towers had been lit up at night, he grew very animated, and said it was a pity that this was not a permanent feature. He felt that the power station provided a dramatic analogy of industrial prowess that would help visitors to the Gorge to grasp a sense of the importance of past technological innovation. Some people will of course hate them as ‘blots on the landscape’. But anyway, see what you think. Here’s a shot that Graham took during their nightly illumination in 1979:

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

Black & White Sunday Go here for more ‘unusual’ shots in B & W

Killing words ~ a case of verbal decomposing?

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It’s all my publisher’s fault that I haven’t been writing so much on my blog. He, the lovely Creative Director of Ransom Publishing published my quick teen read Mau Mau Brother  in their Shades 2.0 series last summer. As with most of my stories, there are many earlier versions. The Ransom Shades edition is aimed at teens with a reading age of around 10 years. Its 6,000 words have been arranged into 11 chapters spread over 64 pages. The purpose of this kind of presentation is to keep an unkeen reader reading, and so give them the satisfaction of finishing a book.  And so yes – maybe they will then want to read another. ( I do have other titles in the series).

The story, though undauntingly presented on the page, tells of challenging times during the 1950s Kenya Emergency.  The narrator is 15 year old Thuo, and his story is one of personal conflict. His hero elder brother, once a British Army sergeant who fought in Burma, has gone to the forest to join the Land and Freedom Army. These are the men and women fighters whom the Europeans dub Mau Mau; their sworn aim is to drive the British from their land.

As the terrifying events unfold, Thuo finds himself hating his own brother: surely it is Kungu who is the root cause of all his family’s terrible troubles. But at the heart of Thuo’s hatred is another fear – that he, Thuo, is a coward. Only when the forest comes for him, does he find out what kind of man he truly is.

In this excerpt Thuo tells how he helps the wounded Kungu out of the fortified village-camp where Thuo’s family have been forced to live under the British Emergency regime. The village is surrounded by barbed wire and a deep ditch set with bamboo spikes. Kungu is now a wanted man and must escape back to the forest.

I haul Kungu from the hut. He half-walks, half-leans as we creep past our neighbours’ huts, across the compound to the ditch.

Behind us comes Mugo with a broom, ready to back off fast and sweep away  our footprints. Kungu flinches as I help him slide into the ditch.

Watch out for the stakes! Mugo throws me his sheepskin. I’m carrying a gourd of gruel in a sling, holding a branch to wipe away our footprints on the other side. I slither into the ditch behind Kungu. We edge between the spikes.

It takes a lifetime.

At last I push him up the far side. Then he pulls me up. Then it’s through the wire, our sheepskins saving us from the worst barbs.

Beyond the wire, a zone of bare earth surrounds the whole village. It is swept before the night curfew and checked  for footprints at dawn. We shuffle backwards. I hold Kungu with one arm, while brushing away our tracks with the other.

The sweat runs down my face like tears. Any second I think the watchtower searchlight will find us. The brushing takes precious times, but if our tracks are found in the morning the whole village will be beaten, or worse.

When at last we reach some cover Kungu stops dead. I am stunned when he hugs me.

“Go back, Thuo. God go with you. You have proved your courage. I was wrong to taunt you.”

I stand in the darkness, the wire, the ditch, the village-camp all behind me. I think of my mother and the promise I am breaking. I think of my father, maybe dead in Manyani detention camp.

I think of my real home that the Home Guards set on fire. But mostly I smell my brother, the unwashed forest warrior who is fighting for my freedom.

Again I make my choice.

And now to the reason for the lack of writing in recent blog posts. A few weeks ago Ransom suggested I might write a new version of Mau Mau Brotherthis for their Sharp Shades series that caters for teens with a reading age of 8-9 years. The books will still have 64 pages, but half the number of words, plus some B & W illustrations.

Half the words – 3,000 instead of 6,000; 250-300 words per chapter. Heavens, that’s tight.

Yet the interesting thing is how much I’ve been enjoying killing off my words. I’ve done for about 1,200 so far, this in a story where I thought I’d already pared it right to the bone. And there’s a lesson here for all writers. Being pinned down to a tight word count can be good for your prose. Of course in this case, it’s not only about self-editing and the removal of all superfluous words. The original text had already been well edited. Now it’s more about re-composing the original into a shorter form.

At every point I must ask myself how I can convey meaning in the most vivid, yet briefest form, tackle the body with a forensic eye. Later, I will need to restore rhythm and check for any lost meaning.

And I’ve still a long way to go. There is also the lurking doubt that I won’t be able to do it without killing off the story completely. But then that’s a challenge too. Time, then, to get back to the bone-trimming and resuscitation department.

 

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

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St. Peter’s Church by Night

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These photos of St. Peter’s Collegiate Church, Wolverhampton were taken on a winter’s night using an automatic setting. When I was editing them in Photo Gallery, I simply increased the exposure on the histogram, and this is what emerged. I like the way the solid stone building not only lacks colour but also substance. So thanks to Jennifer for the interesting challenge of eigengrau: “intrinsic grey” or the colour seen by the eye in perfect darkness. This is my stab at conjuring it.

 

Jennifer Nichole Wells One Word Photo Challenge: Eigengrau

Copper elephants, copper land

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It’s a case of red elephants, then, in Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park. These red Tsavo soils are famous for their brilliance. They smell of red pepper too. But for the elephants it’s more about keeping their skins in good condition. Talk about glowing complexions.

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For more of my Africa stories and more copper landscapes please see the backlist at:  http://tishfarrell.com/category/africa/

 

Jennifer Nichole Wells One Word Photo Challenge: copper

A little blurred on the road to Lunga Lunga

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And blurred is often how we felt after driving down the Nairobi-Mombasa highway to Tiwi on Mombasa’s south coast. We used to spend Christmas down there. It was a three hundred mile trip, descending from the air-conditioned high plains of Nairobi to the  wet-hot steaminess of the coastal strip.  On a good day it would take around five hours. Other times we’d break the journey, staying at Tsavo Inn or Taita Hills. Sometimes the road was hardly there at all, washed out by December rains.  You never knew until you got there. The final leg of the trip also always involved the infamous Likoni Ferry  that carries traffic from Mombasa Island to the southern mainland.

To catch it, you first had to drive through Mombasa, negotiating mad matatu drivers and throngs of push-cart guys, shunting impossibly huge loads of cooking oil, coconuts, pineapples, coca cola. Then came the broiling wait for the ferry. If you timed it badly, the traffic tailed back into town.  Being tetchy Brits who do not bear overheatedness well, we did not welcome being sitting ducks for all the street traders, despite the fact that roasted cashew nuts were a favourite. Grumpy old us.

But then, when we found ourselves close enough to the head of queue to see the in-coming ferry, it was all change. Suddenly the excitement hit. This place was Africa with bells and whistles, and in every sense. All of life swarmed by as the ferry spilled out its trucks, multi-coloured matatus and crowds and crowds of humanity. The burst of colours under the tropic sun set the brain afire – the women in their vibrant kanga wraps, men in kanzus and embroidered kofia caps, the youth sporting the rich world’s recycled tee-shirts with every imaginable corporate slogan draped from skinny shoulders.

There was always a frisson of anxiety as we boarded. Would we make it to the other side? After all, the ferry had been known to cut loose and drift off towards the Indian Ocean. But no. It never happened to us.

Even so, the final glide up the mainland slipway always seemed a minor miracle. We’re here! And here was Likoni market – throbbing with rhumba rhythms, and hooting-whistling matatu crews. Ramshackle stalls line the road – hoteli, hair salons, tailors’, fruit and veg sellers, Chinese multi-coloured enamel ware and plastics. There are smells of steaming market waste, hot mandazi donuts, joss sticks, cheap perfume, diesel and dust.

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The foot passengers poured around us. We crawled through the melee. Until – at  last – the open road – the long straight causeway that runs south through Kwale District to  Lunga Lunga, the last town in Kenya before the Tanzanian border.

This road is lined with coconut plantations, the palms all leaning with the sea breeze.  Cattle graze beneath baobabs and kapok trees. There are guest houses, and small-holdings, schools and tiny mosques. The homes have corrugated iron or palm thatch makuti roofs. The walls are coral rag or wattle and daub. Verandahs feature. There are more trading centres, curio carvers, furniture makers, general stores, charcoal sellers, second hand clothes, kangas flying in the breeze like flags.

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We never went as far as Lunga Lunga. Tiwi was far enough. To arrive at Maweni, the little beach village perched above the Indian Ocean, to immerse in clear waters, and finally unblur with bottle of Tusker beer – bliss.

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

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The Poetree at Much Wenlock’s Poetry Festival

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 the perfect place for poetry

And that would be Much Wenlock, or so says Carol Ann Duffy, Britain’s Poet Laureate, and the festival’s founding patron. Not only that, Wenlock’s Poetry Festival is one of the best of its kind in the UK. Now into its sixth year, it was the creation of Anna Dreda, owner of the town’s lovely Wenlock Books, and in a few weeks’ time our streets will be teeming with poets and poetry lovers. For three whole days there will be events of all kinds and for all ages and tastes. There poems in shop windows, poetry breakfasts, and readings of their work by some of the best British poets of our time. This year there will be a closing gala event with Dame Carol Ann Duffy, Imtiaz Dharker, Jean Atkin & Little Machine. One of the side-show attractions is always the Poetree on the Church Green. Every year people can break briefly into verse and hang their words on the tree for others to read. Last year the tree was so happy it reciprocated by bursting into bloom. What more can one ask for? IMG_1050 IMG_1042 You can find out more about events at this year’s Much Wenlock Poetry Festival   It takes place all over the town on Friday 24th to Sunday 26th April 2015. And now here’s a poem I found while out window shopping at last year’s festival: IMG_1026 Jennifer Nichole Wells One Word Photo Challenge: shamrock   #WenlockPoetryFestival

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Reflected glory? Putting myself in the picture

P1000801 P1000806 - Copy Well it had to be done, didn’t it – that selfie. Besides which, my hat matched the reflected paintings. Anyway, this is the wonderful work of  Jacob Chandler Shropshire Artist and Sculptor, and it’s on show at Jenny Gunning’s  gallery, Ironbridge Fine Arts and Framing Limited.

Jenny has recently moved into these new premises, one of the nineteenth century warehouses on the banks of the River Severn in Ironbridge, home of the world’s first cast iron bridge (see previous post). It’s actually on the site of another world wonder, the Merrythought Teddy Bear Factory, the family-run business that since the 1930s has been making the best bears ever. But that story will have to wait.

For now please enjoy Jacob Chandler’s Layers of the Mind complete with passing strange woman in a hat. Also, if you can, visit Jenny’s gallery. Not only does it show the work of local artists, but Jenny and her father, David Gunning are both famous print makers. You can see their latest work there, and buy one of David Gunning’s bespoke printing presses.

This week at Lost in Translation Paula’s Thursday’s Special challenge is reflection.

 

#JacobChandler  #JennyGunning  #DavidGunning

Bridge, what bridge? Only the world’s first cast iron one

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I love the way this little girl is much happier to play on  the railings than notice the wonder of this bridge,  a bridge that in its day was considered a world wonder. Nothing like it had been constructed before. It was opened to the public on New Year’s Day 1781, and right from the start was a visitor attraction, seized on by both coach operators and hotel proprietors to boost their trade. In the summer of that year The Swan Inn (which is still in business today, and for much the same reason) pronounced in an advertisement that is was:

situate near the most incomparable piece of architecture, the Iron Bridge.

One of the companies for the Shrewsbury to London route also made much of the fact that travellers would be passing:

that striking specimen of Art and so much admired object of travellers.

Today the bridge may seem quaint, and the manner of its construction somewhat bizarre, since it utilises wood joinery techniques in its iron rib-work.  But for all that, we are talking major, life-changing innovation: something akin to the technology boot-up begun in Silicon Valley. Here, though, we have a rural Shropshire valley, otherwise known as the Severn or Ironbridge Gorge in Coabrookdale. It is just a few miles from my house and, with its steep banks of hanging woodlands, and the mostly tranquil river below, it seems an unlikely location for epoch-changing events.

Yet this bridge was the first of its kind in the world, and thus a proving ground for what could be achieved with hitherto untried applications of cast iron.  It led to the iron framed factories of the Industrial Revolution, and was a step on the way to the sky scraper. The growth in demand for iron and steel products for shipping and steam engines and weapons put the great in Great Britain. Iron made the country rich, and gave it the wherewithal to set off conquering the planet.

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From the outset then, the Iron Bridge was very much as a PR stunt, and although there were practical considerations – including replacing a very dangerous ferry crossing wherein Severn coracles were used to transport people (mostly large numbers of workers) between the town of Broseley on one bank and Coalbrookdale on the other, the main object was to prove the worth and usefulness of cast iron. Its builder was Abraham Darby III, the third generation of the Quaker iron founding dynasty that operated in Coalbrookdale from the early 1700s . The other Darby family claim to fame was Abraham I’s discovery of how to cast iron using coke instead of charcoal, which did much to halt the decimation of the nation’s forests, and was a piece of technological mastery that had been called for back in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. In fact she offered a prize for anyone who could do it. She needed timber for her navy. She did not want it going up in smoke in furnaces and forges.

But back to the Iron Bridge. The design was roughly based on drawings by Shropshire architect Thomas Farnolls Pritchard, but there were many changes in the course of construction, and he did not live to see the finished project.  The site was not only difficult, but the bridge builders had further set themselves the task of creating a single span that was high enough to allow large Severn sailing trows to pass beneath without the nuisance of lowering their masts as they had to do for all the River Severn’s other bridges. This objective alone could have scuppered the project. The raising of the iron ribs proved an epic undertaking on a river that is prone to massive floods, and whose banks are not stable.

Visitors came from all over Europe to see the finished product. They included artists, princes and Swedish industrial spies. The Severn Gorge was likened to Hell with its burning lime and coke kilns, furnaces and forges. The eighteenth century tourists came and gawped with horrid fascination. I will leave you with one such response made in 1801 by popular song writer, Charles Dibdin:

…if an atheist , who had never heard of Colebrook Dale, could be transported there in a dream, and left to wake at the mouth of one of those furnaces, surrounded on all sides by such infernal objects, though he has been all his life the most profligate unbeliever that ever added blasphemy to incredulity, he would infallibly tremble at the last judgment that in imagination would appear to await him.

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This post was prompted by Sally at Lens and Pens Phoneography & Non-SLR Digital Devices Challenge. Week 5 of any given month is about editing/processing images on a theme of choice, in this case architecture. The first image was cropped and  then played with in Windows Photo Gallery. I rather like the sepia version. I included the final image to show the construction techniques in more detail. It was taken in ‘Dynamic Monochrome’ on my  Lumix point and shoot, and then cropped and histogrammed to achieve this final look. Given the subject, it thus makes a virtue, I think, of the sunburst on the bridge parapet. It makes me think of blast furnaces and the way the iron was produced.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell