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:

Boat Inn February 2020

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

Pentre Ifan Revisited

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These few massive stones are all that remains of a 5,500 year old chambered tomb. Originally it extended some 120 feet (36 metres), the whole structure covered by an earth mound. It must have looked spectacular, dominating the uplands above Cardigan Bay. When I took this photo I was also taken with the rather searching stance of the man at the fence. I spoke to him later. He told me he had been so keen to reach the monument after parking his car, he had dived across the nearest farm field instead of discovering the official footpath, and thus found himself on the wrong side of a barbed wire fence. He was trying to see if he could climb over. We both decided it looked too risky. And then he told me about his awe-inspiring visit to the Great Pyramid. A man clearly much moved by ancient places.

For more photos: Scenes from the realms of ancestors

 

Cee’s Black & White Challenge: stones or bricks

Look Out! Ghosts On The Line

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Last week the Severn Valley Railway had a fit of the Sleepy Hollows: witches, ghouls and other scary entities popping up all over the place; ghosties wiffling off platform lampposts, skellies rising from station gardens, mega cobwebs and evil pumpkin faces. There was even a huge red devil to give you the willies if you were thinking of catching the train from Kidderminster. It was schools’ half-term holiday of course, so there were plenty of kids ready to go in for some serial screaming at Bewdley Station’s gruesome set pieces. It all added to the fun of trundling along on a steam train. We spent the whole day doing it – up and down the 16 mile line – Bridgnorth, Hampton Loade, Highley, Arley, Bewdley, Kidderminister, and back to Bridgnorth in time for tea.

Here’s a gallery of things we saw on the way, mostly through the train window – a very flooded River Severn for one, and also a most surprising sight in rural Worcestershire. But you’ll have to wait till the end for that.

And last but not least in the way of motley scenes and sightings on the Severn Valey Railway: elephants at Bewdley Safari Park.

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Six Word Saturday

Another Thrown-Away Field Treasure

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I find it hard to credit that this pretty little Victorian ink bottle was a throw-away item, of no more value than the empty juice cartons, tins and the general supermarket packaging trash that we junk attempt to recycle. They were cheap of course, perhaps a penny or two. The base is only 1.5 inches square (4 cms). When it was bought it would have had a cork stopper, suitably sealed. But once opened it was eminently functional. The neck is angled for easier nib dipping and then there are ridges across the top for resting one’s stick pen, and the ridged sides and heavier base would also make spillage less likely.

The one in the photo was found behind our old privies when we were having a hedge of alien snowberry dug out. Graham had a fine time pretending he was on Time Team and excavated quite a little stash – mostly medicine and condiment bottles. But this is my favourite find. It reminds me of Roman glass and I love the colour. I haven’t been able to get its innards quite clean of Silurian clag, but it’s just the thing for a single small flower, a rose bud for instance, one that some careless gardener has knocked off while not paying due care and attention.

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Line Squares #30

Further Lines Of Enquiry In Townsend Meadow

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In the last post I featured the clay tobacco pipe gleanings that I’ve been picking up from Townsend Meadow, the broken stems and bowls of pipes discarded by haymakers, harvesters and ploughmen of times past. Or dropped by lime burners, tanners and quarrymen on their way to restore lost bodily fluids in one of Wenlock’s many inns. But there’s another explanation too, and this could also account for the pot shards I’ve been finding in the field. Up until the not too distant past, broken domestic items were usually thrown into farm cesspits, privies and middens. Later they would end up spread over the fields, mixed in with manure.

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My trek across the field follows a broadly similar route, give or take a metre or two. These shards are all separate finds, though not found too far apart, and I think they could belong to the same dish. My trawl on the internet tells me these are examples of comb decorated slipware. Once they would have made a broadly rectangular loaf or baking dish of a type common in the late 18th century. Very handsome pots in fact.

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The shards with the yellow swirly pattern on a dark ground are also from slipware loaf dishes made in the late 18th century. They come in round and rectangular versions. You can see stunning examples of these and other English pots at the John Howard Gallery.

 

Line Squares #29

Pipe-Lines

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Much to my surprise the field behind our house hasn’t been ploughed yet. This is good news for the birds: lots of wheat gleanings to forage amongst the stubble. And gleanings for the erstwhile archaeology student too (that would be me). Since late September I’ve been walking back and forth to allotment across Townsend Meadow, and as I go I pick up the remains of old clay pipes; the residue of ploughmen-past.

After rain the bowls look like bird skulls emerging from the mud. I dig them out and bring them home to wash. The bits are mostly quite plain, except for indistinct maker’s stamps on the bowl bases. But then, most unusually, I found a stem with a well known manufacturer’s mark  on it: W.Southorn & Co, Broseley.

Clay pipes were made in this corner of Shropshire from the late 1500s when Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the nation to tobacco. In the 17th century there was a pipe works on Much Wenlock’s High Street, but at this period it was the Southorn works in King Street, Broseley, a few miles from Wenlock, that was much more  famous. As well as work-a-day models they produced the most elaborate creations including the delicately long Churchwardens (for a long cool smoke). In fact so great was the international reputation of the factory the pipes themselves came to be known as Broseleys. It was thriving trade too, the fragility of the product doubtless stimulating repeat orders. During the 19th century Southorns employed 90 workers.

The works were still in operation until the early 1950s. The pipe kiln there could hold between 75,000 to 100,000 pipes for each firing which lasted 4 days. When the factory closed, the place was simply left, remaining just as it was when the last worker closed the gate behind him. I remember walking past it in the 1970s and ‘80s. It still belonged to the Southorn family then, but remained, much like Miss Haversham’s wedding breakfast* in a time warp all its own. The premises are now in the care of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.

There is some extraordinary 1938 archive film of the works HERE.

* Great Expectations Charles Dickens

Line Squares #28