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

Caught In The FogLight – Ghosts Of Cooling Towers Past

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This photo was taken at the end of November not long before Ironbridge Power Station was spectacularly demolished. I’ve always been drawn to the epic quality of the cooling towers, though not necessarily always in a comfortable way.  I’m ever a sucker for earthenware and the smooth curves of the terracotta brickwork, and the way it caught the light, certainly did appeal. I’ve not yet been back to Dale End Park in Coalbrookdale to see what the Severn Gorge looks like without the towers. I’m thinking a loss of grandeur.

The CGI below envisages a complete small town of 1000 houses plus community infrastructure for this riverside cul de sac, though there is the surprising inclusion of a steam railway. You can see the recently submitted plans HERE and HERE. The cooling towers occupied the area above the far left-hand bridge. The bridge on the far right is the Buildwas Bridge. This is the road to Much Wenlock a few miles away. The road to Telford (a new town with massive ongoing housing development, plus well planned existent infrastructure, schools, shopping centres, station, motorway and industrial complexes) runs along the bottom of the photo. Access to it from the Power Station site is over the narrow Buildwas Bridge (???)

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Photo: Harworth Group Ironbridge Power Station Proposed Development Plan

January Light #15

Wildegoose Rooflights

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Discovering Wildegoose Nursery was one of the high spots of 2019 – a plantsperson’s paradise set in an old walled garden on the edge of Corvedale in Shropshire.

We went there first in high summer, wandered through drifts of verbena, phlox, day lilies, cone flowers, alliums, grasses. The place was alive with butterflies and bee-hum. Buzzards mewed overhead and nearby, harvesters throbbed – the Corvedale farmers cutting their wheat. Far away over the wall, Clee Hill lay in a haze. A dreaming day.

We went again in November, and in its way, the garden was no less beautiful, the plants and grasses settled in muted tones, and the 1830’s glasshouse looking as magnificent as ever, the low light glancing off its 12,000 postcard-sized panes. It just goes to show – there’s treasure to be found on one’s doorstep. We’ll be back there in spring.

For now a pot pourri of summer and autumn views:

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Lens-Artists: special spot shots

January Light #8

November On And Over The Edge: The Changing Seasons

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For  most of November it’s been rain and gloom on the weather front, and hate and smear in the mass media. When it comes to the upcoming general election it feels like a no-win situation. We’re dying for it to be done with, but horrified by the possible result. I further give my position away when I say the only bright spot this last week was when Channel 4 ‘emptied chaired’ Boris Johnson who refused to take part in the leaders’ climate crisis debate and replaced him, as they said they would do, with an ice sculpture. This served to generate the Twitter hashtag #BorisIsAMelt which in turn made me laugh out loud, and briefly lifted the spirits.

And then on Friday the sun came out so we popped over to nearby Ironbridge and turned it into a proper outing, mooching and lunching. And then yesterday, though Wenlock was again lost in murk, when we drove out of town into Corvedale there was the sun floodlighting the valley through a thin gauze of mist. Goodness! Sun – two days running. So we went to the off-season opening at Wildegoose Nursery where we had last been in August when the walled garden was alive with butterflies and all round floral brilliance. Yesterday it was transformed to muted tones, here and there lit up by plumes of ornamental grasses as they caught the sun. The place is pure magic however it comes, and especially its magnificent glasshouse. Yesterday it was hosting a special course of Christmas wreath making plus some arty works from our much loved 2020 Gallery (even though it’s moved from Wenlock to Ludlow).

And so making the most of November’s sunny intervals, the following photos are mostly from the last couple of days: first off, yesterday at Wildegoose Nursery:

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Ironbridge 29th November:

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And on home territory earlier in the month: fog over the garden fence and brighter vistas in and around the Linden Walk and Wenlock Priory parkland…

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

The Changing Seasons: November 2019

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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

Of Winter Past ~ Windmill Hill 2017

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Some forecasters are telling us to look out, bad weather is on the way, and especially come UK election day on the 12th December. I’m hoping they’ll be wrong. Meanwhile, and in response to Tina’s cold  theme @Lens-Artists, here are views around Wenlock taken in early December two years ago. It had its scenic moments, but caught us out too. We’ve grown rather used to mild, wet winters. The header photo was taken in a bit of blizzard, as was the next photo on the Linden Walk.

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But there were ‘Christmas Card’ vistas too – and especially out in the Wenlock Priory parkland:

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And all was very quiet around the town:

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And along the old railway line:

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Lens-Artists: Cold

The Night Ploughing

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It was the strangest thing – to look out on the nightscape behind the house where there are no roads or houses as far as the Edge, which itself drops a thousand feet through near vertical woodland to farm fields below on the Shropshire flatlands, and see what looked like searchlights moving doggedly through the darkness. The sight induces a frisson of fear. Iron Curtain watch towers spring to mind; H.G. Wells and War of the Worlds: are these Martian invaders patrolling the hinterland? Have the Thought Police hacked into my anti-establishment cogitations and are now tracking me down?

Of course a second later, common sense regained, I knew exactly what was going on, though it was still surprising – this spot of nocturnal November farming, presumably intent on finishing the job before the next round of deluge. The two tractors had been out working on Townsend Meadow since early afternoon. One tractor was ploughing. I watched it moving up and down the field, the glint of steel blades, the rig periodically disappearing from view over the brow of the hill. The other tractor was working back and forth across the ploughed-in wheat stubble, it equipped with high-tech agri-gear fore and aft – (and I’m assuming) seed drilling and then harrowing.  I’ve yet to discover what crop was being sown. Doubtless there will be shoots any time now.

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But in the meantime, on my most-days slither and slide along the path to the allotment, I’m astonished how very spirit-lowering is the lustreless expanse of darkly sodden earth after months of pale and textured gold. No more taking short cuts across the field or fossicking for pot shards and clay pipe bits either. I’ve also noticed that the tenant who currently has the field in hand, has reduced the strip of uncultivated headland between our home boundaries and the crop by a good 2 or 3 metres. We always understood that the headland was there as a flash-flood reducing measure, to say nothing of providing a swath of bio-diversity. Only time and heavy rainstorms will reveal the consequences or not of this little development.

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The day before ploughing and drilling – 3rd November.

 

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Shropshire’s Most Unsettling Hillscape: The Stiperstones

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Well, the name alone is enough to set the nerves jangling. Stiperstones. There’s more than a hint of menace here, and local Shropshire folk will tell you exactly what that menace is. They will say that when the mist settles on this ridge of strange and craggy outcrops, that the devil has come, returned to his quartzite throne to preside over a gathering of witches and evil spirits.

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These photos were all taken on a summer’s day, though it’s hard to believe looking at them here. For more about that particular visit and more about the Stiperstones go here.

Lens-Artists: creepy  Ann-Christine has set the challenge this week. She has posted some marvellously creepy images. Please take a look.