I have said elsewhere (In the old stones of Wenlock) how our cottage in Much Wenlock is built from a recycled fossil sea bed – the stony remnants of the 400 million year old Silurian Sea that once lay in the tropics off East Africa. If you want to know more of this extraordinary geological phenomenon, please follow the link.
Here in the midst of northern hemisphere weather, a warm sea in Shropshire is a hard concept to grasp, but then Shropshire was south of the equator back then. All the same, I would give much at this moment to soak myself in clear tropical waters – as long as giant Silurian water scorpions are not included.
Anyway, this is the rear view from our cottage window. At the front we look at oversized passing heavy goods vehicles. In some ways I like the ambiguity of our position, poised between the rush and rumble of commercial imperative, and the monumental immanence of Wenlock Edge – between the speeding trucks and a hard, quiet place. The Edge of course is mostly made of limestone – the compressed remains dead sea creatures. At some point the sea bed was shunted upwards to make the long escarpment that is now a striking landmark across the south east of the county.
From our house we look towards the back of the Edge. Some undulating ‘foothills’ obscure an actual view of it, but we see the big sky above the escarpment, and have a sense of weather always moving behind the horizon. The cottage, then, is not only on the Edge and of the Edge, the Edge is the reason why it is here at all.
So far our researches have been rather patchy, but we think the house was built around 1830. It was probably a squatter cottage, meaning that it was built on the local landowner’s property, and a rent or fine was paid to him by the inhabitants. The first occupants appear to have been lime burners, working at nearby limekilns. The limestone was burned to make quick lime that was used for fertilizer, for building mortar, and for lime wash for walls inside and out . It was an immensely important commodity.
It is hard to imagine, though, what the atmosphere of Much Wenlock would have been like in lime burning days. The town sits in a hollow, a frost pocket. On cold winter’s days one imagines a fog of fumes from roasted limestone shrouding the rooftops. Doubtless it would have been corrosive on the lungs too.
This last shot was taken in January from the top of Wenlock Edge. Here we have the cooling towers of Ironbridge coal-fired Power Station (its days are numbered), and the Ironbridge Gorge beyond. Limestone once played a crucial role in that locality too, used as a flux in the iron masters’ blast furnaces in Coalbrookdale. Along the River Severn just south of these steaming towers, the Industrial Revolution began with the first casting of iron using coke as a fuel. It is hard to picture I know, much like a fossil tropical ocean in Shropshire, but the technological breakthroughs made in this English backwater spurred on the world’s drive to industrialisation.
It would seem that the Silurian Sea and its petrified molluscs and sea lilies have much to answer for.
copyright 2015 Tish Farrell
Inspired by Paula’s Thursday’s Special: cold