Power Lines ~ Ironbridge Switch-Off

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Ironbridge Power Station has run out of steam, its huge cooling towers presently stark monuments to the era of dirty energy, an era that kicked off in this very valley, the Ironbridge Gorge, where in millennia past the River Severn turned its back on the north and, turbo-charged by glacial melt-water, drilled its way through inconvenient uplands and headed south, thereby exposing strata whose properties ingenious humankind would one day find well suited to industrial enterprise.

Limestone. Ironstone. Coal. Fire and brick clay. These were the materials revealed by Severn’s pre-emptive workings. They provided the means for the building and fuelling of blast furnaces. The first iron works in nearby Coalbrookdale were run by monks and lay workers of Wenlock Priory. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, there was a massive sell-off of monastic land and facilities around the Gorge to London merchants and get-rich-quick gentry all keen to make iron; or mine coal; or extract natural bitumen that also occurs here.

The Gorge and its tributary valleys were, in their way, covert places, and later proved attractive locations for 17th century iron masters set on pioneering new technologies: coke-fired casting; fine boring of cannon; trialling of new materials in new constructions that would astonish the world and change it and us forever.

But back to the power station that now no longer burns trainloads of coal to feed the national grid. It sits on a floodplain at the head of the Gorge, a World Heritage Site no less, the Ironbridge Gorge. A local lordly landowner once observed to me that the discharges of warm water from the cooling towers heated up the river along his stretch of bank by one degree, thus ruining his salmon fishing; the salmon, he said, did not care for warmth and rushed on by. To his credit his lordship did not seem too bothered. At least for now the river is subject only to natural forces when it comes to temperature.

Soon the demolition teams will move in, and trainloads of furnace ash will be shipped out along with countless tons of strategic reserves of gravel which happen to occur on the site. And down will come the four cooling towers – and what a sight that will be. Then the plan is to build 1,000 homes and create a business park to create thousands of jobs, and all beside a river with a history of monumental flooding, and on a site with all manner of embedded pollutants, and in a geographical cul de sac with only two narrow lanes either side the river by which to access the outside world. The head of our local authority that is championing the scheme is on record saying that he won’t let considerations of climate emergency get in the way of the county’s need for economic growth.

It takes one’s breath away – this Age of Bonkers!

Line Squares #23

Wenlock Priory ~ Ruined Lines

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It’s almost always the case with things on your doorstep: you forget to visit them, or even to appreciate their handy existence. I’ve known Wenlock Priory for over half a century which possibly adds its own miniscule historical dimension to this most ancient Shropshire site. Anyway, a few weeks ago I took myself off there for a long-postponed visit. It’s only a short walk down the Cutlins path past the MacMoo clan. I quite enjoyed playing tourist in my own town.

The photo shows the remnant south aisle of the once vastly prestigious monastic edifice built in the 12th century CE to house monks from their mother foundation in Cluny, France. But then that’s only half the story.

We need to wind the time-machine clock back another thousand years. The Romans were here too, though what they left behind has been hard to interpret: villa, bathhouse, shrine – all, or only one of these. The remains anyway survived into Saxon times and were apparently repurposed in the building of a double convent i.e. for both monks and nuns (in separate quarters). This work was commissioned by King Merewald of Mercia (basically the English Midlands) in the 600s CE.

His daughter Milburga (later to be sanctified and made pilgrimage-worthy) served as abbess once she had been sufficiently well educated over in France. Her two sisters were also similarly educated to be abbesses of other religious houses. Their mother too, left Mercia and her marriage, to become abbess down in Kent. Such positions entrusted to royal woman allowed them to control extensive landed estates along with their agricultural and mineral assets, as well as to look to the spiritual welfare of the land’s lowly inhabitants.

Over succeeding centuries, Milburga’s convent underwent various phases of redevelopment. When the Normans arrived in the 11th century the site was re-dedicated to the Cluniac (monks only) monastic order. But after the finding of what were believed to be Milburga’s bones in 1101, the priory received a very big upgrade, along with a saintly shrine and the patronage of the King of England. So began the era of pilgrim-tourism and the up-sprouting of Wenlock town to cater for the influx. In fact two of our well-loved public houses – the George and Dragon and the Talbot  have their origins in these times. So much history then in one small place. So many long-established ties with Europe. Makes you wonder what our forebears would have thought of Brexit.

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Doorway from the south aisle to the now roofless cloister.

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For Historic England’s schedule summary of the Priory’s history please go HERE.

 

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Indoor walkways, hallways, elevators

Line Squares #19

Fancy Living Along Iron Age Lines?

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And surely a query worth contemplating. For instance, how would we get on without all our high-techery and labour-saving homes? Or fare without the daily multiple-choice comestibles. Or the mass entertainment streams. Or the means to travel where and when we want and in great comfort. Or the shopping opportunities by land, air and internet.  Would we think it a life worth living without plumbing and waste management systems? Would we feel ourselves utterly impoverished? Could we even survive as our ancestors survived over tens of thousands of years?

Of course by the time we in Britain reached the era of technological development that archaeologists call the Iron Age (c. 800 BCE to 43 CE and the Roman invasion), the manner of existence is at least broadly recognisable to us. People lived in farmsteads and fortified villages and belonged to regional tribal groups ruled by individual chiefs (men or women). These people were horse-riding, chariot-driving warriors as well as farmers. They also had specialist metal workers, potters, and weavers. They built hillforts on a monumental scale (e.g. Maiden Castle, Danebury, Old Oswestry). Some were inhabited. Some were not. Some were elaborations of earlier earthworks begun in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. Their exact purpose is often unclear – tribal prestige, defence, seasonal market and ritual gathering places. All of these.

Some things we do know about Britain’s Iron Age people – they were prosperous farming folk employing improved methods of agriculture (iron-tipped ploughs and new strains of barley and wheat; they cultivated peas, flax, beans; they raised pigs, sheep and cattle). The great numbers of Iron Age sites suggest that the population was on the rise. Nor in Britain were they isolated islanders. They traded with continental Europe, exporting (in particular) grain, hunting dogs and rain-repellent woollen capes, possibly also slaves, and importing wine in return. At least three to four hundred years before the Romans arrived, Greek, Phoenician and Carthaginian traders were coming to Britain for Cornish tin.

The southern British tribes had their own coinage. Iron Age smiths worked in gold as well as iron and created torques, brooches and bracelets of unsurpassed beauty as well as magnificently wrought swords and shields. Many that have survived appear to have been votive offerings, placed in lakes and rivers. Roman historians write of druidic cults and of human sacrifice and other deemed dark Celtic practices.

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The photos here were taken at Castell Henllys, a promontory fort in the uplands between Newport and Cardigan. Excavations have been continuing on this small hillfort site since the 1980s, and for the last twenty years it has served as a training ground for York University archaeology students. The reconstructions are based on the excavations and occupy parts of the site where there is no archaeology. The outlines of the original excavated homes of these Iron Age Celts are marked with posts. When we were there some primary school children were using them to weave willow panels – the basis of Iron Age wattle and daub house wall construction. (Seen in the distance in the next photo; also the reconstructed fort gateway).

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The main frame of the houses (20-30 feet in diameter) comprises some pretty heavy duty posts, the roof thatched with grasses laid on cross laths. There is no chimney, but the smoke from the central cooking hearth would have risen through the rafters and helped to seal the thatch. It would have been pretty fumy, but also draughty too with a wide gated entrance.

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As you can see, the houses were spacious inside, probably catering for one family unit while the settlement as a whole would be made up of extended family members. The primary school children were having a fine time learning domestic skills.

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Iron Age cookery lesson.

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The Granary

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Artist’s impression: Castell Henllys in around 300 BCE

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The fortifications around the houses certainly suggest their inhabitants were well prepared for marauding invaders. Archaeologists uncovered an unusual feature in the outermost line of defence – a ‘cheveaux-de-frise’ – a formation of embedded rocks placed to stop chariots in their tracks, and within sling-shot range. And to go with it, a large hoard of slingshots was also discovered, placed in readiness behind the rampart. Both finds are more commonly known from European and Irish sites.

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And what happened here after the Romans invaded? It seems the people adapted. Just north of the hillfort there are remains of a Romano-British farmstead. Life goes on then, but not always as we expect it to.

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Related: https://tishfarrell.com/2013/06/18/the-great-earthly-curves-mystery-what-when-and-why/

Line Squares #18

Atmospheric Lines

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Mist, mountain, dune grass, sand – with a touch more abstraction it might have the makings of a seaside Rothko. Artworks apart though, it wasn’t a very promising start to our short  break in Newport. A Monday morning feeling made manifest by land, sky and sea.

But there again if you have taken the trouble to get yourself to the beach in the face of unpromising conditions, and have the trusty little camera to hand, there’s usually something to spot. So I had a happy half hour scrambling around in misty sand dunes. And the camera enjoyed itself too, taking some of the below on its own mysterious potluck settings. Carpe diem and all that.

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Line Squares #15

* Latin tag: ‘seize the day’

Sticks, Clogs, Ribbons And Bells ~ Yesterday Was A Big Hurrah For Apples At Coalbrookdale’s Greenwood Trust

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The Ironmen lining up.

And the Severn Gilders Morris doing their stuff:

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While the band played:

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And apples were pressed:

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And unusual varieties identified:

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And home-made cakes and roast pork buns scoffed, stories told, local makers’ wares displayed, and all matters relating to trees and woodland widely shared, and then bottles of fresh-pressed juice to take home…

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And all in celebration of the apple whose magnificent variety and native seasonal range has been much undermined since the advent of supermarkets which managed to reduce a possible choice of 750 cultivars to half a dozen. But things are changing. Old apple trees are being rediscovered and nurtured, and orchards replanted. Nor could there be a better time to be planting them. Trees absorb carbon and we need to plant three trillion fairly fast. Apart from which, there is much to be said for the old saying: an apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Line Squares #13

Squarely Filling The Frame In Townsend Meadow

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Today by way of an intermission from Two Go Pottering About In Pembroke, I’m back on home ground here – the field behind our house just after the wheat was cut in early September. It’s nice to recall the glorious sunshine too (since we returned from Wales it has been wet, wet, wet, the country locked inside jet stream weather effects). Also I thought I’d combine Becky’s line squares with Patti’s challenge to fill the frame. So here goes: bales, stubble, light and shadow, false horizons, landscapes and cloudscapes, textures and colour blocks. And lots of stalks.

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Lens-Artists ~ Filling the Frame

Line Squares #11

Who Needs CSI Forensics? Though You may need your Glasses ~ A Welsh Potter’s Thumbprint circa 1530

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It was an extraordinary find, so tucked away. For a couple of days we’d been reading the signs to Kiln Odyn, but the message had not been sinking in. And then it did. And off we went – a short walk from the Castle Inn where we were staying, and up a little alley beside the old Memorial Hall and there it was: the best surviving medieval pottery kiln in the United Kingdom.

Stranger still was the story of its discovery. In 1921 the people of Newport began work on the building of a Memorial Hall in remembrance of community members who had died in the Great War. In the midst of digging the foundations, builders uncovered two medieval kilns. The National Museum of Wales was alerted. Its director, Dr. Mortimer Wheeler, so-called ‘father of British archaeology, was swift to ensure the site was preserved. This included having the National Museum put up the £20 he said was needed to adapt the building plans and so keep the archaeological site intact within the new Hall’s basement. A trap door would provide access to the remains..

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And so it remained for nearly a century until 2016 when the community decided the Memorial Hall facilities were badly in need of an update. There followed a scheme of creative refurbishment and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which meant the kilns, by now a Scheduled Ancient Monument, could also be re-excavated, conserved and put on permanent view. All it took was the installation of a very big window in the side of the building and some heavy-duty spotlights.

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Also added were some very thoughtful outdoor information panels designed by students of Carmarthen College. Their artwork brings medieval Newport to life. We meet the master potter and his family and see how they might have lived and worked.

We’re also told what a busy market town Newport would have been during the lifetime of the kilns (c1470-1530); not only a port exporting goods, which may well have included the jars and jugs from the pottery, but also a stopping place on the pilgrims’ route to St. David’s in south Pembrokeshire. And in 1485 we are also told there was a very particular event: Henry Tudor passed by the town, and what a sight that would have been – an army 2,000 strong, marching on to Bosworth to win the English crown and found a new royal dynasty. One of the panels further conjectures that the potter’s son might have gone off to join the army, escaping the hard work of digging, potting and firing for the thrill of battle and adventures in foreign parts.

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Kiln Odyn produced high quality domestic wares of the day: cooking pots and pitchers, alembics for lotions and potions, ridge roof tiles for high status buildings. The work, from digging the clay to selling the pots would have involved the whole family, skills passed down the generations. The Lord Marcher, who owned all the lands, took his cut of the potter’s profits instead of charging him rent.

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Credit: artwork by the students of Carmarthen College.

Accounts of the 2016 archaeological excavations HERE and HERE and some details about the pottery shards recovered with reconstructions of jars and jugs HERE

Line Squares #9

 

 

Marriage Lines*

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From yesterday’s communing with seals to today’s ‘sealing the knot’ – Pembrokeshire’s beaches certainly provided us with plenty of interest. It was our last afternoon and we had been lounging for an hour or so on Newport Sands, soaking up the last of the Indian Summer sunshine, an activity we rarely go in for, when the urge to have a seaside ice cream came upon us. As we headed for the cafe behind the beach, we bumped into this couple who had just got married. They and their dog were going down to the sea to make their wedding film. It made us a smile and smile and we wished them our very best good luck wishes.

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*marriage lines another term for a marriage certificate –  Collins English Dictionary

Line Squares #7

Abermawr Cove ~ It’s The Seal’s Whiskers

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It was hard to tear myself away from Tregwynt Mill; unexpected burst of hot September sun or no, there was a strong inclination to curl up among Welsh tweed quilts and cushions on the showroom bed. To distract myself from wool-lust I suggested we walked down to the sea. It’s not far, I tell Graham, he who too often suspects me of total map-reader-error. I was surprised when he agreed.

We followed the course of the stream that had once powered several mills in the valley. The lane was bosky, enclaves of deep and mossy shade, then sudden sprinkles of sunlight through sycamore, ash and alder. There were old walls, built in the local style of vertically laid stones wherein strap ferns and pennywort had found a root-hold.

After about half a mile we found the sign to the coastal path, and almost at once, there we were, looking down on Abermawr beach. The cove itself was sparse in humanity, and we found out why when we got down there. The pebbles were so heaped up and huge they were almost impossible to walk over. Most people were passing by, following the cliff trail that crossed at the back of the cove.  We perched on some rounded rocks and tried to locate the source of the strange barking calls to seaward. And then we saw it. And it saw us. And in between sunning its face, it watched me taking its photo. Nor was it alone. Its partner (parent perhaps) was somewhere out in the bay, doubtless doing some fishing, but whenever it returned to the cove it did not seem keen to show much of itself.

And so a chance walk proved to be one of life’s blissful moments, a piece of happenstance that won’t be forgotten, sitting by a blue sea, under blue sky, dreamy warmth, blue coastline of Llyn Peninsula barely there on the sea-line, and now and then meeting the eye of a sun-bathing seal.

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Line Squares #6