I woke up Saturday morning and looked out of the window hoping that the weather man was wrong and that I would see bright sunny skies, but no, it would appear that Saturday 22nd June 2013 was a momentous day in the history of the world – it was the one day where the weather man got it right! It was raining – heavily!!
The wonderful thing about archaeologists is that no matter what the weather, we’ll always brave the elements and Saturday was not going to be an exception. We arrived at Coalbrookdale and by 10am we had 15 people and 1 dog ready to embark on this adventure whether the rain poured or the sun shone. Luckily as we set off on our walk the clouds started to depart and the sun guided our way.
We started at Coalbrookdale, the site of a munitions factory during the First World War and from there visited the Lancaster bomber wing shop and the Coalbrookdale War Memorial where I told the story of the tragic death of Maurice AA Darby, the great-great-great-grandson of Abraham Darby I, at the battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915. From there we visited the Ironbridge War Memorial and everyone heard the tale of when they Nazi’s nearly blew up the Iron Bridge. We also visited anti-tank defences in Jackfield, a Gun Emplacement or Pillbox at Coalport East station and the group were told about the various buildings used as Air Raid Shelters during the Second World War, including pub cellars, a drying kiln at Doughty Tile Works and the famous Tar Tunnel at Coalport. I’m not sure which of those I’d least like to have been in if there had been a direct hit!! I also told the story of local hero, George Gough, who on the night of 15th October 1940 risked his life to remove incendiary bombs from the roof of Gitchfield Tile Works, which during the war was being used at an ammunition store. If that place had gone up it would probably have taken the whole of Coalport with it, if not the entire Gorge! We finished our walk on the Jackfield and Coalport memorial bridge, the only war memorial I know of that is a bridge! It was a fantastic couple of hours, the rain stayed away and I think everyone, including Sally the dog, really enjoyed it.
After the end of the walk my day was not done however. From Jackfield I headed up to Blists’s Hill Victorian Town as that evening IGMT were going to create Blitz Hill. All evidence of Queen Victoria needed to be removed and so between 3pm and 6pm staff and volunteers at IGMT entered the time warp and Blist’s Hill was catapulted 40 years into the future to become 1941 Blitz Hill. We had the Home Guard on site training up recruits, there was also a concert which replicated the BBC’s Workers Playtime. We had so many visitors once the doors opened at 6pm the town was buzzing, and many of them had even made the effort to come fully dressed in 1940’s attire – including many of the staff! It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening!
Pictures will follow.
With the World War Walk planned for this Saturday I thought I’d make the most of the beautiful weather this afternoon and go out for a trial run, making sure that I knew the route, and assessing any places that might need to be altered for the safety of the group. I set off from Coalbrookdale, having just said goodbye to my volunteers who had been in working on the Craven Dunnill tile moulds again this morning, and headed down the dale, along the Wharfage and over the Iron Bridge. From there I followed the Severn Valley Way all the way to Coalport, crossed the bridge and then continued back along the Silkin Way until I reached Coalport China Museum. Finally I finished with a stroll along the canal, and across the footbridge to Jackfield.
The weather is absolutley gorgeous, with the sun shining and temperatures reaching around 22 degrees…so about half way around I found myself asking the all important question – why on earth am I wearing jeans?? (Note to self, if it’s hot on Saturday don’t make the same mistake twice!!). At least as I walked down the Severn Valley Way it was cooler in the shade. I even saw a buzzard which flew up in front of me about halfway between Jackfield and Coalport. With the sun shining on his back he looked almost magical. It’s at times like that when I consider myself pretty lucky to be living and working in such an amazing county. Just under 300 years ago this place was the birth place of industry, and over the centuries that followed the Ironbridge Gorge has been hugely influencial not just in the iron industry, but also in mining raw materials such as coal, limestone and clay, as well as being at the forefront of the ceramics industry with companies such as Caughley, Coalport, Craven Dunnill and Maws all once based here in the Gorge. There were also two key railway lines that followed the River Severn, with the London and North Western Railway on the northern bank, and the Severn Valley Railway (part of the Great Western Railway) on the south side of the river. Yet today much of this industry has gone, leaving behind a mixture of archaeology and nature that is accessible and available for all to see. It couldn’t be any more different from the noise, smells and sights that were associated with the many and varied industrial activities that were once going on here. Now its a very peaceful landscape with spectacular views, beauty spots galore and the peace and tranquility that can be found along the river bank in the sunshine. Yet if you look closely there are still many hints and reminders of the industrial past that are well worth a look if you can find them. It truely is a very special place to be.
This saturday (22nd June) I will be leading a 4 mile walk from Coalbrookdale to the Coalport and Jackfield memorial bridge that will coincide with the museum’s 1940s event Blitz Hill. The walk will take us on a jounrey through the events and sites of both the first and second world wars in the Ironbridge Gorge including sites such as munition factories, the Wing Shop, the Ironbridge war memorial and the defensive features in both Jackfield and Coalport that were put in place to defend against any possible Nazi invasion. The walk will start at 10am, meeting outside of the Museum at Coalbrookdale, and will finish on the memorial bridge at about 1pm (I hope). Places are limited so if you want to come along please contact me in order to book your place.
On Saturday 22nd June, IGMT are hosting a 1940’s themed event at Blist’s Hill Victorian Town, and as part of those celebrations the archaeology department are going to be running a World Wars guided walk through the Severn Gorge which will visit a range of sites from war memorials to the wing shop at Coalbrookdale, and the sites of numerous near misses including the time they nearly blew up the Ironbridge. I’m actually going to be leading this walk, so in preparation I thought I ought to do a bit of research. Now of course in most cases this would involve a day in the library or even a detailed internet search, however, with a subject such as this the best facts are to be gathered from those that lived through the events and remember first hand what Ironbridge was like during the wars, and events that took place.
So yesterday afternoon I met with Ron Miles for precisely that reason. Ron is in his early 80s and is still a guide here at IMGT. He grew up here in the Gorge and has some absolutley fantastic memories from the time of World War II. He’s fascinating to listen to and has some wonderful stories that he’s more than happy to share. He also knows the geography of the area better than most, so took me off to visit some second world war related archaeology including an series of anti-convoy defences. As a result I’ve got some great material for my walk and have learnt so much.
If you’re interested in taking part in my walk, places are limited so make sure you book with me via the contact me box on this website. Big thanks to Ron for all his help on this.
So after spending last Wednesday morning carefully packing up all the moulds at Jackfield to bring to Coalbrookdale, members of IAVG actually managed to make a start on the mammouth task that is recording these beautiful and fascinating objects. There must literally be thousands of fragments to record but we’ve made a good start today with over 50 examples now having been recorded and photographed. There were also some really nice examples including this stunning celtic knot design. All the information has also been entered into an excel spreadsheet as well so that we’ll have both a paper and digital copy that with then be put together to form the catalogue towards the end of the project. It’s going to be a long project but I can’t wait to see the different patterns and forms of decoration that are on these moulds along the way.
Last night was the launch of the Ironbridge Archaeology Seminar Series or IASS as I’m now calling it. Despite the sunny evening and the traffic gridlock in Ironbridge (all because of a bus) we had a fairly good turn out with approximately 15 people attending. I even managed to keep my talk to time (I do have a tendancy to ramble on a bit sometimes) and judging by the questions that followed everybody seemed to follow the content and may even have found it interesting. I’m hoping that this will be a series that will grow, with a programme quickly booking up nearly a year in advance. The next talk will be on Tuesday 6th August by Dr Ian West from Leicester University and an active member of IAVG, on the subject of technology in the country house – an archaeological perspective. Lets aim to double the attendance on this one and see a few more new faces in the audience, after all this series is open to anybody and everybody and aims to make archaeological research accessible to all.