I have to say that on the presentation front the cloud gods have truly upped their game this year. Even in the stormy wet and frigid months that were supposed to be spring, but weren’t, we were treated to some magnificent cloudscapes. And lately too, during our present hot spell, we’ve had some stunningly captivating creations. There’s much to be said for cloud watching. In fact I think this huge job spotted over the barley field the other afternoon could well be the Starship Enterprise in disguise.
Telford is Much Wenlock’s closest town, just a few miles away across the River Severn. It’s a new town in fact, begun in the 1960s when its developers laid claim to the brownfield land between the traditional coalfield communities of Wellington, Madeley, Ironbridge, Dawley and Oakengates, places whose inhabitants had played their part in Britain’s industrial revolution from at least the 17th century.
One new-town aim was to provide fresh work opportunities and decent housing for families of the ever-expanding West Midlands (Birmingham-Wolverhampton) conurbations. Another was to revive the old Shropshire coalfield towns and villages, including Ironbridge, which by the 1960s, with their declining local industries, appeared to have lost the will to live. Back then I recall visiting Ironbridge on a school history trip. We peered at the decaying bottle kilns of the Coalport China Works through a jungle of waste-ground weeds and wondered why on earth Miss Price had brought us to such a dreary place.
From the start, then, Telford Development Corporation (TDC) panjandrums had a mission: their new town had heritage. They chose to name it after a man of vision: Thomas Telford 1757-1843, father of modern civil engineering and a man with strong local connections. At the start of his career, after leaving his Scottish homeland, he had been Surveyor and Engineer for Shropshire. He left us many striking landmarks too, including the breath-taking Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
The ‘new town with a past’ message was not simply a piece of window-dressing. TDC committed huge resources to saving the historic industrial fabric of the coalfield settlements, deploying teams of conservation architects and builders across the district, restoring everything from workers’ cottages and toll houses, to ironworks warehouses and riverside tile factories. It is probably fair to say that without all the new-town investment in conservation, the internationally famous Ironbridge Gorge Museums might never have made it off the starting blocks.
This particular high-rise, Darby House, is also a nod to the past. HQ for the Telford and Wrekin Council, it rises above one of town centre’s notoriously numerous traffic islands, and salutes the ingenuity of the Darby ironmasters of Coalbrookdale. (Abraham Darby I invented the means to smelt iron using coke instead of charcoal, and Abraham Darby III built the world’s first cast iron bridge over the River Severn).
One can’t help but wonder though what Thomas Telford and the Darbys would think of these tributes – the new-fangled new-town architecture, the dizzying, multiplying networks of roads, shops, business parks and housing. But then you could say these were men who started it all; played their part in the pioneering of cast-iron construction which gave rise to the high-rise and more besides.
Anyway, here, by contrast, is a building that the Coalbrookdale ironmasters considered ‘just the thing’ in its day. Designed in the Gothic style around 1840, it was the riverside warehouse for the despatch cast iron goods down the River Severn to Bristol. It is also one of the many buildings saved from decay by Telford Development Corporation and now part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum complex.
And finally the Iron Bridge (1779) (restored and owned by English Heritage).
For those of us who tend to think the modern more ugly than picturesque and prefer to take comfort in the ‘antique’, it is worth remembering that in its day, this bridge, the manner of its construction, was unthinkable for most people. There it was, replacing the stalwart, heavily buttressed stone bridges that everyone had used for hundreds of years. It literally was ‘the shock of the new’, a daring piece of pioneering technology designed to show off and sell a concept. In this respect then, you could say it has very much in common with the enterprise and entrepreneurial zeal that gave rise to Telford ‘new town’. Surprising or no, the connections are real ones.
Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Buildings
Every gardener has their treasures season to season. The Evereste crab apple tree probably tops my favourites list because she covers all of them. Here she is, caught this week in the evening sun after a day of buffet and bluster, hail, wind and downpour. Already much of the blossom is ‘blown’, and whether any fruit has set, we’ll have to wait and see. The apples that come in the autumn are small and russet-blushed, an inch or two centimetres at most, but each one image perfect; doll’s house apples in other words. And after we have admired them for many weeks, the winter weather then softens them enough to make them a valuable food store for the blackbirds and pigeons. We watch them from the kitchen door.
A tree of many pleasures then. Here she is a couple of weeks ago, the blossom just opening:
And this was last September (in the midst of an early autumn gale), the apples freshly formed:
Evereste is also queen of that unruly quarter, the-garden-over-the-fence aka the guerrilla garden, caught here early one summer’s morning. Its content changes every year:
And in winter there are many new scenes:
And so yes, the apple of my eye:
Lens-Artists: Gardens Please visit Amy’s very lovely gardens. She is hosting this week’s theme.
No alliums out in our part of Shropshire yet, though there are frosted leaf tips and a few tightly closed buds just showing. Still, when they do come, they really can’t be beaten for early season purple, and purple is this month’s Life in Colour choice at Jude’s Travel Words blog (link below).
Jude and I have also been muttering about the weather in April. At one point we both wondered whether it was growing older than made us think it was colder. But no! Now we have the evidence. The UK Met Office report:
April 2021 had the lowest average minimum temperatures for April in the UK since 1922, as air frost and clear conditions combined for a frost-laden, chilly month, despite long hours of sunshine.
Early provisional figures from the Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre indicate that April had the third lowest average UK minimum temperature for the month since records began in 1884, while Wales, Scotland and England all reported their figures in their top five lowest ever recorded. Average daily maximum temperatures were also below normal, but not by as much as the minimum temperatures.
It had already been reported that April had seen its highest level of air frost in 60 years, with an average of 13 days of air frost topping the previous record figure of 11 days in 1970 (records for air frost go back to 1960). This number of air frosts is more typical for December, January or February, whereas the average number of air frosts in April is five days. For gardeners and growers there were also a record high number of ground frosts with 22 days this month compared to an average of 12 days.
And so while we’re waiting for warmer days and nights and for the alliums to happen, here are some archive allium shots to be going on with:
I took this photo last Sunday: lunch on my sister’s terrace and the Shropshire hills all around. It was the first home ground meet-up since Christmas and so a big and bright occasion for this last April square.
Many thanks to Becky for keeping us thinking brightly all this month. More bright times ahead.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
A E Housman A Shropshire Lad
The Loveliest of Trees is the second poem from the Shropshire Lad cycle, and probably the one best known. It is easy from today’s perspective to dismiss the apparent simplicity, sometimes ditty-like quality of these poems. But Housman was a scholar of Olympian proportions, an atheist too and, it is said, suffering in love for a man who could never love him in return. Sensibilities run deep here.
The verses speak of love and loss and going to war; the fleetingness of things; all set against landscapes seen only in the mind’s eye, or as if looking from a long way off across time and space. There are many voices too, even ghostly ones, the sense of old country airs remembered. It is not surprising that they spoke so compellingly to composers who then set many of the poems to music: George Butterworth (Bredon Hill and Other Songs), Ralph Vaughan Williams (On Wenlock Edge), Ivor Gurney (The Western Playland), Samuel Barber (With rue my heart is laden ) to name a few.
Here is Butterworth’s evocation of the cherry tree, sung with perfect poise by Roderick Williams. If you choose to listen you may imagine Shropshire here today. As I write this we are having flurries of light snow just like falling cherry blossom.
This month Jude at Travel Words asks us to explore the colour green. So I thought I’d start with our home landscapes. Here in the English countryside we perhaps take greenness for granted. Even our over-wintering fields are bright with sprouting wheat and pasture grass. The header shot is a December view, looking across Shropshire from Wenlock Edge.
Closer to home is the long-shot view I see whenever I go to the allotment: Callaughton Ash on the southerly edge of Much Wenlock. It’s one I never tire of – those sky-line ash trees with their ivy cladding.
Then behind our house is Townsend Meadow. Wheat has been grown along the flanks of Wenlock Edge for centuries, and as proof has left its name ‘The Wheatlands’ in part of it. These days the crop is sown in October-November and is usually well sprouted by Christmas. I like the corduroy effect.
By summer, after serial dosing, the field looks like this:
And on our side of the fence, thanks to home-made compost:
Meanwhile my summer route across the field to the allotment used to look like this – before the farmer cut the ‘wildlife’ reserve back to the ‘path’:
And when things go well on the plot:
… we get other ‘greens’:
Winter – spring – winter: we have been sorely teased over the past weeks, though it’s true that February may often prove contrary, breaking out in fleeting intervals of unexpected warmth. This year, after hard-frost beginnings, we had several days of sudden spring, and he who is old enough to be more weather-wise started casting clouts and layers with abandon. Too soon, I told him. Winter’s not done. And besides, March can be cruel. Hang on, good sir, to fleecy vests and quilted combinations.
And so here we are, the first days of the new month with much sky-gloom and creeping dankness, again the pressing need for woolly gloves and hats, and that’s just indoors. I joke. Well almost. But in spite of the cold, there are signs of spring: the blackbird singing its heart out just now in the Station Road holly tree, doves on the church tower in close-canoodling-cooing huddles, daffodils fast opening. Reasons to be cheerful. Absolutely!
It is rather strange, but when you are wandering round Much Wenlock you are hardly ever aware of its upland surroundings. Yet it sits in a steep-sided bowl between the upthrust strata of Wenlock Edge and various residual hills and hummocks from Ice Age days. It is a place of natural springs and erstwhile saintly wells, with hints, too, from ancient finds that its waters may well have been venerated in Roman times. It was doubtless the reason why the Saxon Princess Milburga established her convent here around 670 CE, ‘cleanliness being next to godliness’ and so on. She was the subject of many local legends, most of them relating to her fleeing the unwanted attentions or lusty males, while conjuring protective streams and rivers to thwart her pursuers. The water from the town well named after her was believed to restore poor eyesight.
The priory ruins and parish church you see in these photos date from six and more centuries after Milburga, belonging mostly to the Norman era wherein the invaders sought to dominate the local populace with overbearing architecture. Wenlockians, though, knew how to take some advantage from the situation. It was said that the best ale in town was brewed from rainwater collected from the church roof.
This month Jude at Travel Words is asking us to consider the beauty of BROWN – earth colours.
In recent days there has been a bit of a coup over in the crab apple at the top of the garden. Mama Blackbird has staked her claim to the crop. In fact the other morning I caught her seeing off the male blackbird in a most aggressive manner. No quarter given there then. He went off in a fluster.
Back in early December it was he who was King of the Crab Apples. There had been no frost or snow to soften the fruit, and he was finding the going tough, adopting a fencer’s lunging stroke to slice off shreds of fruity flesh. Once in a while he’d (accidently) end up with a whole mini-apple wedged in his beak, too hard to scrunch in one pincer movement. Next would come a rapid descent to the garden path to sort himself out. Once or twice I thought he was in danger of choking, and wondered what the procedure might be – to unchoke a blackbird. But then he hopped back on the fence and, if birds can cough, he coughed a few times and returned to lunging.
And so now all is clear. There was naturally a very good reason why Mama Blackbird was biding her time, waiting for wintery weather to make easy pickings of the apples .
Apple Sorbet on a stalk. Mine! All mine! says Mama Merle.