Winterscapes on Wenlock Edge: Thursday’s Special

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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.

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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.

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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

34 thoughts on “Winterscapes on Wenlock Edge: Thursday’s Special

  1. Fabulous article Tish! As for the photos I don’t know which one of these says cold most, but I am most impressed with the last one. It’s not a scene one sees every day. Fascinating post that makes one think!

  2. I love the combination of your writing and description of the place, alongside the photos. I like the writing more to be honest because I’m that way! But the two together really paint a picture of a lovely, unusual place. Cheers to you, Tish.

    1. Nice of you to drop into Wenlock, Bill. You’re always most welcome. I quite understand that you prefer writing to pics. I think my writing to images comes of years spent working in museums, but the blog format encourages me too. I’m not good at reading a lot of text on screen, and so tend to assume everyone else needs a picture break 🙂

  3. I REMEMBER! “I have said elsewhere (In the old stones of Wenlock) how our cottage in Much Wenlock is built from a recycled fossil seabed – the stony remnants of the 400 million year old Silurian Sea that once lay in the tropics off East Africa.”

    1. Yes, especially as in recent times it has been running off coal imported from Australia. It is hard to get one’s head around such a situation. They have also been trialling wood chip fuel, but I’m not sure that’s economic either, although at least it was more locally produced.

    1. That’s a very interesting observation. Now you mention it, I like collapsing time. Also I think every place has its stories, although sometimes they are difficult to excavate, or get hold of. I suppose I’m also thinking of indigenous Australians’ ‘Dream Time’. I like the notion of the ground beneath our feet having layers of stories. Glad you enjoyed the post.

      1. We had a five-acre market garden once, and digging it up also dug up bottles and coins from the late 19th century gold rush days (it was the site of a pub) and also stones shaped by the ancestors.

      2. Oh now that sounds quite fantastic. There have to be several stories there – a memory garden – ghosts of the past drifting among the lettuces and tomatoes – the last hopes of a prospector drowned in booze, fortunes made and lost, ancestral spirits’ dismay…

  4. I’m fascinated every time you describe the history of your surroundings – and your house. And I try to imagine how this precious earth might have looked in those days. Very intriguing!

    1. There are so many strata, aren’t there: layers of changes wrought by climate, earth forces, human forces – and each one with many stories to tell. Happy to intrigue you, Tiny. Thank you.

    1. Yes, I’m wishing you a bit of warmth. That dump of snow you’ve had is too much. I haven’t yet dared to discover what a giant water scorpion would have looked like. I think I remember reading they were 4 feet long. Yikes. Deal-breaker indeed.

  5. Oh, to hear tropical waters wash gently against the palm-studded beach near the house, no polluting power stations in sight, no harsh winter weather, no spewing transport vehicles…..well, the fantasy counts, doesn’t it?! It is intriguing to wonder what the life of the former inhabitants of your house looked like.

    1. That would be interesting to know. My off-the-cuff response is that they would be a rather dusty off-white most of the time 🙂
      Apparently In the days when they were still blasting limestone in the quarries the whole town was coated in a limey shroud. Pollution in another form then. There were also all sorts of unsavoury tanning yards in the town, and clay pipe kilns too. The main culvert through the town called the Shitte Brook was an open sewer until Victorian times. Visitors in the early 19th century complained what a filthy place it was, despite the presence of many prosperous workshops, emporia and smart houses of the local gentry. All fascinating though.

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