IRONBRIDGE COALBROOKDALE AND THE SQUATTER'S
As you know on Sat. 2nd. July 1994 your society went on an excurtion to Ironbridge and Coalbrookdale, in Shrop.
it was a beautiful day and our first stop was at the small town of Ironbridge to see the first iron bridge in the world, which was constructed by
Abraham Darby III and erected in 1779. Here my son and I had lunch close to the River Seven where he later found fresh water mussels.
Marion our secretary and a group of other energetic members then decided
to walk it to The Coalport China Museum which until this time I had not realised was so close to Coalbrookdale. It is housed in the former china works where fine porcelain was made from the 1750's until 1927 and its Bottle Shaped Kilns
stand like a pair of upturned funnels against the cloudless sunny summer sky.
The rest of us went with David in the coach to Blists Hill which is a huge open air museum built as an industrial village of I00 years ago.
Our first stop was at Lloyd's Bank to get our money changed into £ d
to purchase items in the shops, where you are spoken to and treat like customers of bygone years can you remember when you were called Sir and Madam and there was a chair to sit on?).
Our next stop was at the chemists with its huge glass jars known as Carboys filled with coloured water to symbolise the elements, green for earth yellow for air, red for fire, and blue for water, and the chemists macabre dental surgery. It sold herbs and spices, such as whole nutmeg, and old fashioned beauty soaps such as hose and Lavender as well as household soaps such as blocks of Fairy and Sunlight. Root liquorice also sold in bundles contained in a large old white pot which sat on the high convex fronted counter.
After the chemists we past the closed doors of The hew Inn then went around the corner to visit the tiny workshops of the tinsmith and plumber, from there to the plasterers shop which sold decorative plasterwork for the home, then the butchers, sweet shop, slaughterhouse, print shop, locksmith's shop, and camdle factory, then when coming around the corner of the pit head winding gear ( remember the bell which rang to tell the man at the pit top to put the gear into operation to wind up the cage from the pit bottom ?) close to the canal a delectable odour began to titillate our nostrils, and we
walked down the slope like two kids from the Bisto add's to the bakery where newly baked bread was being taken from the oven and we bought a small loaf still soft and warm, which was eagerly consumed the following day with butter.
We then past the estate office, doctors surgery, furnaces, wrought iron works with its offices, the blast furnace blowing engines came next, then on to the village green with its swing boats and children playing "Shinty" close to the Board School.
Then came The Squatter's Cottage which taught me more about history and not just social history either than all the others put together. Measuring no more than 24ft by 10ft. in all it was built using pieces of ruble stone and constructed in a similar way to a dry stone wall, with the walls of the inter or covered in white washed wattle and daub and the beams of the ceiling holding up the red tile roof were simple untrimed tree branches. The floor of the
sparsely furnished single bedroom was of brick as was the tiny kitchen, but the larder which was built on the west side of the home ( the coldest side) was dug roughly 3 - 4ft below ground level and had a floor of troden earth. It had three windows the glass of which derived from bottles, it faced south like the one in the kitchen this being the room in the cottage that was used the most it therefore needed the most natural light which this being the largest of the windows gave, there was also another in the bedroom which faced east the rising sun then woke up the sleeping people within and the other was also to be found in this room but this time facing again south. The fireplace was a small
black wrought iron one and awoman in a sack apron sat under the window in a home made chair "Pegging" a rug. The sun shone directly onto the work she was doing from the window with additional light coming through the windows in the window via the goorless gap in the wall betwix the kitchen and bedroom. Food was obtained from the hens in their pen with the rabbits, also from pigs kept in their sty at the side of the midden behind the cottage, and vegetables from the plot to the south and water from a horse trough and pump a few hundred yards away at the side of the road close yo a Toll House.
Prior to this I had studied maps of Mexborough taking note of every building on them, and in my naivety believed our population to live entirely in them,
not knowing that at the beginning of the industrial revolution when workers began to migrate to find work it was both common place and perfectly acceptable for them to obtain what ever building material they could chose a plot of land on the common nearest their work and there build themselves a small cottage similar to the one I have just described in which to live and bring up a family ( the one at Blists Hill in 1861 housed nine people). Therfore in the early I800's when our town first began to be industrialised our commons must have been dotted with them, in particular Dolcliffe Common in such close proximity to both quarries and potteries.
I also now understand more easily why when our commons began to be enclosed it at first created so much hardship in particular to people such as the landless worker as no longer could they freely move from one town to another in order to find work with the surety of knowing accommodation could be found on the commons also this accommodation now had to be paid for and some rents were very high and also don't forget they now had to pay for food which until this time they had grown themselves all of which created even greater hardship.
So when looking at our maps in future look at them afresh and don't forget the people who must have lived in their little Squatter's Cottages on both Dolcliffe and Bull Green Commons, who because their homes were thought to be temp rary do not appear on any of our maps.
There was only one thing which slightly disappointed me about Blists Hill and it wasn't the fault of the managers there at all, and that was that under normal circumstances places such as the ironworks would have been fully operational and we would have been able to watch the full procedure of wrought iron being cast from a viewing platform, also the tinsmith was unable to show us how the completion of his wares was done as the moulten substances used to seal the seams could not be heated on the property. The foundry like the ironworks was also closed, as was the sawmill, and some of the machinery in the locksmiths shop. The reason for this appeared to be a resent visit by The Health and Safety executive who banned the use of some machinery until safety guards were fitted, which is to be a difficult procedure as some of the equipment is nearly 150 years old and of course it haw to be done sympatheticaly or it will look completely out of character.
Before going to Ironbridge, Coalbrookdale, and the Blists Hill Museum heard some people make the comment of what has Coalbrookdale got to do
with our history Y well quite simply if it hadn't been for Abraham Darby inventing an easy way of making coke to smelt iron, then we wouldn't have had either our iron or coal industries and we wouldn't have had the prosperity our town was wilt on and certainly wouldn't have the large market town we have today.
Also when looking around Blists hill it didn't take much imagination to put yourself back to the 1880s in Denaby Main with its pit, the Turnpike Road, Board School Denaby Main Colliery School was opened in I384), cottages, and the multitude of small shops and firms there to serve the workers and their families.
For those who for some reason were unable to come I'm afraid you missed an exceptional day out which was enjoyed by everyone who went.
Your Archivist. J.R.Ashby.