Bridge Over The River Teme

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Dinham Bridge in the Shropshire market town of Ludlow is not as old as looks suggest. It was built in 1823 and is sometimes attributed to Thomas Telford, who in earlier decades had been Shropshire’s Surveyor of Public Works. But it seems unlikely that this is one of his bridges; around this time and for several years before he was most often to be found far away in his Scottish homeland, very much taken up with the mammoth enterprise that was the construction of the 60 mile-long Caledonian Canal.

On the other hand, Ludlow Castle, seen here above the bridge, is every bit as old as it looks – over a thousand years old in fact. Work began on the hillside promontory in 1075 and continued over the next hundred years. It was a key defensive position aimed at keeping the nearby rebelling Welsh suitably subdued. The town grew up below its walls from the 12th century onwards, all laid out in the manner typical medieval town planning.

Meanwhile the castle continued to play its part – in the Wars of the Roses, and the English Civil War. It was also the place where, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales and Henry VIII’s older brother died in 1502, a circumstance that later had much to answer for. In the November of the preceding year, Arthur and his new bride, Catherine of Aragon, had gone to Ludlow Castle for their honeymoon. They were both 15 years old, and had been betrothed since infancy. You can read more of that story in an earlier post Honeymoon Destination Anyone?

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: bridges

Tiny Red House

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This week at Travel Words Jude wonders if we have any quirky red subjects. So I thought it was time to reprise ‘Great Britain’s smallest house’, a piece of opportunistic infill building in a space between a cottage row, and the gatehouse tower of Conwy Castle in North Wales. This squeezed-in dwelling is said to have been created in the 16th century. Inside are two rooms, sitting room with bench cum coal store and fire-place downstairs, single bed up.

The overall height is just over 3 metres (122”) and 3 metres deep; width 1.8 metres (72”). It was lived in until 1900 when the then occupant, fisherman, Robert Jones, at 1.9 metres tall (75”) had to do much bending and folding in order to inhabit the space.

The house was declared Britain’s smallest in the 1920s though these days I think its claim to fame might well have been overtaken by many London dwellings, likewise made from opportunistic infill structures – garages, corridors and the like. The guide in the photos is wearing a version of traditional Welsh dress from around the 18th century when red capes and gowns (as well as the distinctive high-rise hats) were also apparently very popular with Celtic womankind.

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Life in Colour: red

Upcycling–Heritage Style: Who Can Spot It?

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Since my yesterday’s post on Wenlock’s old buildings, I’ve been having a chat with Yvette at Priorhouse Blog about recycled parts. And that reminded me of this – the gates to the little village church of St. Andrew, Wroxeter. It lies on the other side of Wenlock Edge from us, the northerly end, just a few miles away as the crow flies.

Wroxeter is famous for its archaeological remains – Viroconium Roman City no less, now in the midst of farm fields. Even Charles Dickens came there to do his own Time-Team-like investigations: the remains were a huge tourist attraction in the late nineteenth century.

The nearby church is now sadly redundant, but you can still visit it. It had its origins in Saxon times but much of the surviving fabric belongs to 17th and 18th century remodelling. The gateway was added in the late 19th century.

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So: have you guessed it?

Roman columns no less, doubtless transported down the lane on the back of a farm cart. The shafts are said to be from the Roman baths, the capitols added from elsewhere among the ruins. But they are very handsome, aren’t they. Well re-purposed. There’s more of the Roman City in the church walls. And inside, the font is made from an upturned column base.

I’m wondering, too, about the little figures mounted high in the tower. They have a Roman shrine look about them. And their recycling here would not be surprising. From earliest prehistoric times humans have adopted, adapted and generally put to their own purposes earlier sacred relics and monuments, well-tended sanctity being a valued resource; the more venerable the better. An interesting thought to ponder upon in increasingly strange times.

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Square Up #27

Wenlock Priory On An Autumn Afternoon

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Autumn somehow seems a fitting season for visiting thousand-year old ruins. These particular ones are practically on my doorstep, but I usually only glimpse them over the perimeter wall. They have anyway been out-of-bounds this last year. As a non-believer, I am never quite sure what to make of such places, though it is a wonderfully tranquil spot and I do like the play of light on the stonework and through the archways. I also like the ruinous shapes, and the sense of antiquity, and the glimpses of the priory parkland. And I especially love the Corsican pines that must have been planted by the Milnes-Gaskells who once lived in the Prior’s House (also known as The Abbey) and had these ruins as their personal garden features. (You can see the gable end of the house just right of centre in the first photo.) And finally there is some personal history, for I have been coming here, on and off, for well over half a century. Gracious, how time flies.

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Life in Colour This month Jude at Travel Words is asking us to consider shades of brown in our photos. This set is from a couple of years ago, but I came across them again recently and thought they fitted the bill.

T-To-Top-Topiary!

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Yes, I know. This shot has featured in another of Becky’s square extravaganzas, but it has to be worth a second look. This is the Cloud Hedge in the Herefordshire village of Brampton Bryan. It is an astonishing 300 yards long, and you can find out more about its history in the (back in) Time Square post: The Ancient Cloud Hedge of Brampton Bryan.

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Square Tops #15

After The Flood ~ The Primrose Path

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After our sunny blue-sky Monday, Tuesday was back to dank and gloom. Undaunted, though, we decided on another local jaunt, this time to the nearby River Severn and the historic settlement of Jackfield, a couple of miles downstream of Ironbridge. This old industrial enclave was once the centre of the 19th century decorative tile manufacture – two vast factories, Maw & Co and Craven Dunnill that once shipped their products down river and thence around the world to grace the walls of palaces and grand public edifices.

These days the remains of the Craven Dunnill works are given over to the Jackfield Tile Museum, part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, while the remnant buildings of Maw & Co house craft workshops and apartments and the very pleasing Tile Press Cafe which was where had lunch – halloumi toasties with lots of salad.

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Part of the former Maw & Co decorative tile factory now used for workshops and small businesses.

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February had seen some massive flooding along the Severn Gorge, and we were glad to see the river was pretty much back in its bed, though still flowing fast and furious and above usual levels. Turbid was the word that came to mind as I took this muddy shot.

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One of the worst and serial casualties of Severn flooding is the traditional old pub,  The Boat Inn.  It stands in a hollow below the footbridge to Coalport, and its front door records nearly a century of flooding. This year’s deluge was one of the worst, making third place under the 19 feet 5 inches of February 1946, and just above the 1947 flood of 19 feet 1 inch. In fact the 1940s saw 4 really bad floods, with the next worst in 1966, so this extreme excess of water is by no means a new event.

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And here’s what it looked like last month, photo courtesy of The Shropshire Star on-line:

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It’s hard to contemplate the horror of being on the receiving end of so much water. The inn sits at the lowest point of the settlement and apparently floods from behind as well as to the front. The flood inside then holds the front doors shut against the outside flood! We felt so sorry for the licensees. There was not much sign of life when we walked by. Hopefully it will be back in action soon.

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The inn sign gives a big clue as to the business of the past. This is one of the big trading barges (Severn trows) that used to ply the River Severn. Until the railway arrived, trows provided ideal means of transport for the Ironbridge Gorge ceramics industries, including porcelain from the Coalport China Works just across the river – much smoother by boat than by 19th century roads.

For some fascinating old photos and more history from Jackfield please visit From Shropshire And My Shins Are Sharp blog.

Wandering back to the car past The Boat Inn’s neighbouring cottages we didn’t see much obvious sign of flood damage there, only the clump of celandines and primroses by a cottage gatepost which seemed like a sign of hopefulness and recovery. Here they are again.

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Yesterday Was A Blue Sky Day

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It seems the hyperactive Polar Jet Stream has been responsible for the last few months excessive weather events in the northern hemisphere. This particular ‘river in the sky’ (there are others) apparently rips across the globe between the Arctic and the sub-tropical zone at the height of a trans-Atlantic plane. It can be up to 3 miles thick and between 1,000-3,000 miles long. And at this time of year it travels between 300 and 400 miles per hour. You can find out all about it at The Jet Stream.

Anyway last week the weather person promised us a break from its more obvious machinations, and said we were in for some bright, cold weather starting Monday.

And so it happened. Yesterday we woke to wall to wall blue sky, sunshine, fluffy clouds and coolly crisp air. And no rain! So to boost any signs of flagging spirits and counteract the effluent spewed daily by our mass media we set off for the wide open loveliness of Attingham Park for a big dose of fresh air and some brisk exercise.

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When we arrived there we found several hundred other people had had the same idea.  Hoards of mothers-and-toddlers, multitudes of dog owners with multiple canines, and a whole bunch of ‘at risk’ age-group folks like us. The several car parks were almost full to bursting.

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The National Trust staff, mostly volunteers, were their usual welcoming selves, and soon all the visitors were well dispersed across the parkland. In places around the deer park, where there are several gates to deal with, I noticed that everyone we met was opening them with their elbows and in like manner holding them open for others. At which point I decided it truly was impossible to get a complete grip on how one should react to this current Covid-19 drama.

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As I’m writing this I can hear the rumble of the farmer’s tractor in the field behind the house, monster arms of the spraying gear outstretched, giving the emerging crop a food boost. At the front of the house the traffic is still dashing by to Telford. Earlier I spotted Mr and Mrs vicar passing by on their daily dog walk. They stopped to chat with other walkers. The postman delivered the post.  People (some exceedingly aged since that’s a significant feature of Wenlock’s demographic) have been walking by into town to do their shopping…

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So yes. I was glad we went out yesterday. There was still quite a lot of flood water standing in the park, but the hawthorns and willows were bursting green. The daffodils were out. I found a crop of violets complete with butterfly. We saw a pair of ravens, making their cronk-cronking calls and doing a spot of aerial somersaulting. Jackdaws were cavorting; blue tits twittering, and the fallow deer looking frisky. And then of course we also saw the 650-year-old Repton Oak (see previous post). So much to be pleased about. Lots to be thankful for and wonder at.

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copyright 2020 Tish Farrell

#EarthMagic

Below The World’s First Cast Iron Bridge: Half ‘n Half-Light

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I admit this is not a great shot of one of industrial history’s key artefacts, though you can just make out  the new rust-red livery of the ironwork. Obviously the thing that caught my eye here was the strange lighting effect between bridge and river.

But for those of you who like a few facts to support ‘first in the world’ claims, the bridge was built in 1779 by Quaker Ironmaster Abraham Darby III. It spans the Severn Gorge in Ironbridge, Shropshire, and was intended to replace a (sometimes treacherous) ferry crossing between Broseley and Coalbrookdale, much used by the local workforce. But most of all it was designed to impress. Not only was it the world’s first cast iron bridge, so demonstrating a pioneering structural material, it was also the first single span bridge on the River Severn (all the other bridges were built of stone and had low arches). This new design meant that the large sailing barges (trows) coming up from Bristol did not have to de-mast to pass under it.

The River Severn trade was a busy one too – all manner of luxury goods coming upstream, locally produced pig iron, castings, ceramics and porcelain going downstream. Inevitably then, word of this daring new structure would quickly spread. People would start thinking of cast iron as a material with prospects. The Coalbrookdale iron masters certainly had plenty of ideas – from the industrial (iron framed factories, wagon wheels, rails, boiler castings) to the decorative and all points in between. The Great Exhibition of 1851 and the world trade fairs that it engendered provided the shop window for their ever more ingenious fabrications.

The Company’s catalogues were the ‘style books’ of the late 19th century. Cast iron was used to make just about everything – glasshouse frames, intricate park gates, garden rollers, seats, horse troughs, statues, fountains, stoves, boot scrapers, fire surrounds, nut crackers, bandstands, lamp posts, fruit bowls, cooking pots, grave memorials and all manner of finials and fancy pieces. Its beauty lay in the fact that once designs had been committed to moulds, pieces could be mass produced, and whether for grand architectural statements for the stately pile or a cauldron for the workman’s home the material was supremely functional (if a little cold to the touch).

So how about one of these to hang your hat on:

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These pieces might seem ‘overdone’ to our eyes, but they involved consummate skill (and physical risk) in their moulding and casting. As to design, the Coalbrookdale Company founded a technical institute for its workforce with the specific aim of nurturing local expertise and innovation in the fields of decorative ironwork.

But these days it is perhaps the enduring and durable ornamental garden seat that is more appealing to us. Here’s one I spotted at Dudmaston Hall back in the summer:

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And now back to where it and I started, but with a better view of the Iron Bridge: Abraham Darby III’s magnificent cast iron PR stunt. And it’s still going strong after 241 years (thanks to some recent rigorous conservation work by English Heritage). And still the tourist attraction it was back then too – even to us locals who like to pay homage to this piece of engineering chutzpah every once in a while.

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January Light #24

Doors, Drawers, Selfie, Some Different Drawers And A Mystery

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These photos were taken in one of the National Trust’s more unusual heritage properties – Sunnycroft in Wellington, Shropshire – an example of an English suburban middle class villa built by a brewer in 1880. To begin with, then, this small-town gentleman’s residence started out fairly modestly but in 1899 a widow, one Mary Jane Slaney, bought the house and set about creating her own miniature version of an upper class estate. This is what the National Trust has to say:

An estate in miniature  (from the National Trust Site)

Mrs Slaney aspired to have a home, garden and estate that had all the essential features of the much larger grand estates of the time, but much smaller in scale. She added a lodge at the top of the drive, a coach house and stables, kennels, glasshouses and an impressive conservatory.

The five acre garden today is half of its original size yet it retains all the key elements of a Victorian garden and grounds such as a paddock, orchard, and formal rose garden as well as herbaceous borders.

But perhaps the most interesting feature of the house, and this is not without a distinct touch of the Miss Havershams, is that it was lived in by three generations of the same family up until 1997 when the whole place plus contents was handed over to the National Trust. It is thus an extraordinary glimpse into family life over 98 years, all the domestic stuff – clothes, personal possessions, contents of the pantry, the medicine cupboard – still to be seen.

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You can see more of Sunnycroft’s family possessions in the National Trust collection here.

Now, since I’m sure you’re curious, here are some views of the house, first showing the 1899 added ‘grand entrance’, and then the side elevation from across the croquet lawn:

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And finally a teaser – who remembers what this is?

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Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Doors and Drawers