Last Night In Downtown Oakengates, Looking For Roofs, Real Ale, And Having A Slight Fit Of The Edward Hoppers

Just in case you think Shropshire is all ‘blue remembered hills’, we do have our urban quarters. Oakengates in Telford (New Town) to the east of the county has ancient roots. The Romans came marching through these parts in their bid to quell the Welsh, leaving us the remains of a military fort – that’s to say an on-the-hoof marcher camp (nicely squared earthen ramparts reduced to a field crop mark). Then there was a lot of monkish settlement (physical evidence obliterated), but it was during the C19th that the town truly came to prominence and prosperity, its coal and clay deposits making it one of the key settlements of Shropshire’s Industrial Revolution.

Since then, though, the once traditional street scene has somehow had its heart ripped out. Well, mostly. There are still some good old pubs. In particular the  Crown InnTHE watering hole for real ale lovers, and the place where we were heading last night to meet good chum Andy. And just by chance I had taken my camera, and I was struck by the evening light, and the strangely compelling surrealism of the streets that someone had kindly tried to prettify with bunting, and there were a few rooftops too and I had that feeling that I get when I look at Edward Hopper’s paintings: a spinal twinge of fascinated  displacement and disquiet (for his work is nothing if not about light and shadow in all connotations) – hence this set of photos, taken before and after a glass of good Mild Ale…

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Roof Squares

Summer came back on Saturday and took us to the fair…



…to the Bishop’s Castle Michaelmas Fair, to be precise. And not only did summer come back to us after a week of dreary coldness, it was warm, and bright and stayed ALL day.

The fair was to be found in every quarter of the town, from St John the Baptist Church at the bottom of the hill to the Three Tuns Inn at the top of the hill, and with here-and-there enclaves in between.


This shot of the High Street looking towards the church was taken from the window from the Town Hall. This handsome civic building (coming up next) has recently been refurbished and doubles up as the town’s market. This year it is celebrating its 250th  birthday…


Wending on upwards past the Town Hall, and bearing to the right, you come to the Three Tuns Inn. It is one of Shropshire’s real ale treasures. They’ve been brewing beer there since 1642, so they must be doing something right. It’s apparently the oldest licensed brewery in Britain, but…


…it is not the only  micro-brewery in this small town. For those who don’t care to climb hills for a pint, you can sample the Six Bells’ Cloud Nine, a piece of real ale heaven, down on the corner of Church Street.


A nice set of wheels, chaps?

Which brings me to another big excitement of the day – the Michaelmas Fair Parade. Not only did we have beer, bubbles, folk songs, indie rock, ballads and wall to wall bonhomie, there were also classic cars, tractors, and steam powered vehicles. But before all that we had…

Oh ye, oh ye. Make way for the Bishop’s Castle Elephant…



He’s called Clive, and was created by local maker, Bamber Hawes, with help from the town’s Community College students. Bishop’s Castle artist, Esther Thorpe designed Clive’s ‘skin’, and the primary school children did the printing. And if you want to know why Bishop’s Castle has an elephant on parade, I’ll explain later.

For now, watch your toes, here comes a huge steam roller…


…and Peterkin the Fool on his stilts. He nearly trod on me…



…and then there were tractors (I remember when farmers had these)…


…and cool types in classic cars…


Then there were owls to hold, alpacas with socks to sample, more bubbles from the world’s tallest bubbleologist. We were so excited we had to resort to the Church Barn for soothing tea and brownies. After all, no good English ‘do’ is complete without afternoon tea…


And now as promised, a bit of a yarn about Clive the Elephant. It’s a tale of dirty dogs and political shenanigans of 250 years ago. These were the days when Bishop’s Castle was a notorious Rotten Borough. There were two Members of Parliament, and only 150 people with the right to vote. How people cast their vote was a matter of public record, and this meant voters could be intimidated into supporting particular candidates.

Enter Shropshire-born Robert Clive, aka First Baron Clive aka Clive of India.  He was on a mission to build political power, and had the money to buy it. He had used his position in the (also notorious) British East India Company not only to found the British Empire in India, but also to return from the Sub-Continent with shiploads of loot. He then set about buying votes for the  men he wished to have as MPs. As part of his scheme of self-aggrandizement he added an elephant to his coat arms. It symbolized India, and his personal power. Today, a stone carved version may still be seen in Bishop’s Castle’s old market place…


The reason Clive wanted power was so he could set about reforming the East India Company, and get rid of corruption in the administration. This did not come to much. Pots and kettles come to mind here. He died at the age of 49. All sorts of allegations were made as to cause of death – that he stabbed himself, cut his throat with a penknife, died of an opium overdose. It seems he suffered from gallstones, and was using the drug to deaden the pain. A more recent interpretation of events concludes he died of a heart attack due to the over-use of opium.

However you look at it, this is not a good elephant story. Far more heartening is the fact that during World War 2, a circus elephant was looked after in the town, and  lived quietly in the stable of the Castle Hotel.

Finally a few more scenes of fun and jollification. I should also say that if I didn’t live in Much Wenlock, Bishop’s Castle would be the place I would most like to live – no longer a rotten borough, but a place bursting with community good spirits…

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Even though it was a Saturday, I’m linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk

Please visit her blog. There is no better place to be inspired to get out and about with your camera.

sunday stills: Get your pumpkinhead now



We had left Maine in late September sunshine, heading for Boston on the last leg of our journey before returning to the UK. We arrived mid-afternoon after mooching around Portsmouth. The sun lasted long enough for a fine view of Jamaica Pond, and then the rain moved in. By supper time it was cold and dreary and we did not feel like walking far from our B & B. We wandered a couple of blocks up and down Centre Street, looking for somewhere to eat. Nowhere beckoned, but at least the red glow of Costello’s sports bar looked welcoming. And it was welcoming. A query about the best brew on offer very quickly led to this:


DA-DAAH! A round of applause for Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale.

I have to tell you that this was a whole-body experience. The rim of the glass came coated in caramel, sugar and cinnamon, which then proceeded to dribble down the sides. And all over our hands, which then required clean-up trips to the rest-room. But never mind. The ale was delicious, and required further sampling, and more de-sticking, and finger-licking. To hell with it. Who needs supper.

I now discover that this ale was created first in 2002, and that the Shipyard Brewing Company had its beginnings in Kennebunkport Harbor ME. In 1992 entrepreneur Fred Forsley joined forces with English master brewer, Alan Pugsley and started Federal Jack’s Restaurant & Brew Pub. This was the birthplace of Shipyard ales, but so popular were their English and seasonal ales, they soon had to move production to bigger premises in Portland ME.


The other thing you need to know is that Pumpkinhead Ale is strictly seasonal, and only available between August and November. So get yours now. It is described as “a crisp and refreshing wheat ale with delightful aromatics and subtle spiced flavor”. 

I’ll second that, or even third it. But just to finish off, and continue in the seasonal vein  (since autumn has definitely come to England a month early), this last photo was taken at a farm shop just outside Kennebunkport. It’s the sort of quite understandable confusion that might arise after a beer or two. Chin-chin!



copyright 2014 Tish Farrell



Sunday Stills