Blist’s Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire – St Chad

Last November we purchased an Annual Pass for the Ironbridge Museum in their Black Friday deals. Then came winter, then came Covid. We drove over a few weeks ago to collect it, but it was a wet, horrible day and after a couple of hours at Blist’s Hill we had had enough. On Friday 21 August we booked a 10 am admission, and were there exactly on time. The weather was rather better.

We ambled across to the Canal, and admired Trevithick’s loco which was built here in 1802 (this replica dated 1990 – I would love to see it steam.

We had a lovely walk along the old canal – I’d love to dredge some of that and get some vessels on it – past a fascinating Gospel Car and Sunday School. It was originally built in 1904 as a double-decker tramcar for the Birmingham & Midland Tramways car number 10 in Wolverhampton, then converted to a Sunday School for Bridgnorth People’s Hall Mission at Erdington in 1928. It needs some TLC. There were lots of blackberries as we walked along, and when J is on Morgan she is just the right height.

This part of the canal ends at the top of the Hay Inclined Plane, which operated from 1792 and 1894. It lifted boats through 63 metres (207ft), a height that would normally be achieved by using 25 locks. The original rails were removed in 1910 and the canal basin filled in during the 1920s. Restoration work started in 1969, continuing later with the re-laying of the railway tracks and the clearance of the canal basin. There is a long article The Hay Inclined Plane in Coalbrookdale (Shropshire, England): Geometric Modeling and Virtual Reconstruction, from the journal Symmetry 2019 – which I attach – and I think I now understand how it worked. It is one of those things that needs a bunch of MA students to build a digital recreation of it (Julie and I were so good at that, I don’t think it will be done by us).

Later on we walked to St Chad’s Mission Church. Sadly this was locked – a grill you can look through. Martin, formerly the Diocesan Communications Officer for Newcastle, says he and all the other CE Communication Officers recorded a hymn there for the BBC on one occasion – the obvious one would be “Go forth and tell”, but there must be one about confusion and spin. A google tells me there is one called “God you spin the whirling planets” (though it is not a ditty I have ever sung).

The original building was built at Lodge Bank, close to Granville Colliery (now in Telford), around 1888. These were churches that could be built nice and easily. The majority of the contents are from the original building, moved here in 1977, augmented by various items from St Paul’s church, Aqueduct, Telford, with “pews, offertory plate, hymn and prayer books from Broseley Parochial Church Council.” It was re-consecrated by the Bishop of Hereford, and it is sad you can’t get inside. I don’t know if they ever use it, it should be possible to portray a living faith in a historic reconstruction.

In the Ironworks, and you can imagine some of the congregation working long, dangerous hours here, we joined a guide for a half hour tour. Pig (or cast) iron was the original product, the base of the industrial revolution, but while you can make a bridge out of it, it is basically brittle. They needed something stronger, especially to make rails. By heating the iron to about 1,200 degrees C, puddling it (removing the impurities), then hammering it, you could make wrought iron. The Puddler was paid a good salary, but looking into an oven with a bright white light would cause blindness, and the chemicals were the same as smoking 300 a day. Most were dead by 35. The job passed to the son, who must have realised he would go the same way.

Then it was taken to be hammered, 19 tons every time it came down. The adults kept out of its way, but a child with a brush was expected to sweep the debris away between blows. If they lost a limb, or died, they were dispensable. The hammer was made about 140 years ago, and still works perfectly. Then the metal was rolled and rolled, getting smaller every time. The talk made sense of some of my Panamint films.

We had a really enjoyable day, and walked about 5 miles. I feel we’ve done most of the museum, but I’d like to go back for some of their special events. There are several other Ironbridge Museums that need to be done too. Our pass is valid until July 2021, so we might get to some sort of normality by then.

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