- All aboard? Not quite! -
The plan in theory was simple - catch the 09:45 number 9 bus straight through from Wolverhampton to Jackfield in readiness for our Ironbridge Museums itinerary. Nick, Ken and I were in position at the bus station well in advance but the Beardsmore contingent were cutting it fine, so fine in fact that (despite a gallant sprint) the bus drove off without them! A car contingency meant all was not lost, but for the three of us who had caught the 9 the journey proved very eventful, taking us through Bridgnorth to Broseley where the narrow lanes saw an encounter with a van's wing mirror that delayed things somewhat.
- Jackfield Tile Museum -
We eventually alight at Jackfield (Black Swan) twenty-odd minutes behind schedule but can at least enjoy the gorge scenery beside the River Severn. Jackfield Tile Museum is the former Craven Dunnill works notable for the manufacture of encaustic and decorative tiles; we pass the museum on Church Road as we make our way towards Coalport, crossing the river at the memorial bridge by the Boat Inn. The Beardsmores have checked in safely at the Blists Hill car park so we hike up the Coalport Road (quite a climb without a pavement) to meet them at the All Nations.
- Birthday Bitter at the All Nations -
With all members now in attendance, we can raise a toast to Nick's significant birthday at one of Shropshire's most cherished pubs. The All Nations is certainly a personal favourite of mine and to be back again is a real delight, sitting outside supping the tasty house bitter and soaking in the unspoiled surroundings. Chatting away in good company is always a pleasure so among our topics of conversation are Jackfield fishing memories, senior railcards and cricket.
- W Corbett & Co. -
Although the All Nations runs it close, the main attraction on our agenda is the Blists Hill Victorian Town, a former industrial area that has been painstakingly turned into a living history environment set at the end of Queen Victoria's reign. Claiming our annual passport tickets, we enter the museum grounds and begin by exploring the various stores of High Street and Canal Street. A Broseley branch of Lloyds Bank has been recreated so that visitors can exchange modern money for replica farthings, threepenny bits and sixpences. Corbett's Ironmerchants has various wares on display while Pritchard's Confectioners allows me to stock up on old-fashioned fudge - yum!
- The Hay Incline -
Canal Street leads to a section of the Shropshire Canal, a tub boat operation that historically supplied the local industries with raw materials. The canal originally ran from Donnington Wood to Coalport (plus a branch to Coalbrookdale) and was notable for the use of inclined planes as a means of transporting the tubs between different water levels. The Hay Incline is a surviving example of such a mechanism and even though it is no longer functional you still have to admire the engineering ingenuity of the structure.
- Blists Hill Blast Furnaces -
Prior to the creation of the open air museum, Blists Hill was predominantly an industrial landscape associated with brick and tile production. The blast furnaces of the Madeley Wood Company have been retained as an original feature and can be found opposite the G R Morton Ironworks down towards The Green. Other exhibits at this end of the site include Stirchley Board School, Forest Glen Refreshment Pavilion and the Victorian fairground. Enamel signs for Wem Ales and Hudson's Soap add further notes of period detail, as do the posters advertising forthcoming meetings of the Women's Suffrage Movement and the embryonic Labour Party.
- Cheers from the New Inn -
One unmissable feature of Blists Hill is the New Inn, a Banks's boozer transplanted from Walsall - my Dad actually remembers drinking in the pub at its original location on the junction of Green Lane and Hospital Street. Our arrival in the tap room coincides with a singalong around the parlour piano, although we wisely refrain from inflicting our limited vocal talents upon the other folk present. Instead we concentrate on conversation and ale, the choice being old faithfuls Banks's Mild and Bitter along with Marston's EPA.
- The Customary Chip Shot -
If the New Inn isn't enough of a thrill, we follow it with some traditional chips from the Fried Fish Dealer on Canal Street. At £2.50 a cone they are not the cheapest but it's worth it for the beef dripping taste, plus you can apply your own salt and vinegar in the time-honoured fashion - culinary nostalgia in one bite (even if Stephen prefers his chips slightly soggier). The tasty treats continue when I pick up some proper pork scratchings from the butchers although I make sure to save those for future consumption.
- McClure's General Drapers Store -
We're wending our way towards the exit now but there is still time to peek inside a few more shops. AF Blakemore's Grocers purveys travel sweets, Bovril and condensed soup (amongst many other items) whereas Bates & Hunt Chemists dispenses curious medical ointments, potions and tinctures - their dentist's chair looks particularly fearsome! We finish in McClure's Outfitters where a fine array of ribbons, fans and millinery is delicately displayed. We may have only scratched the surface of what the museum has to offer but with our passport ticket we have a whole twelve months to return and explore in more detail.
- Coalport Bridge -
We take our leave of Blists Hill because Coalport is calling via a steady stroll along the Silkin Way (a former railway route). Coalport Bridge was constructed in 1818 and is a scheduled ancient monument that connects us to the Woodbridge Inn, a pub with a seemingly idyllic location beside the Severn. Respective halves of assorted blonde persuasions are quaffed (Nick's being Spikey) and then Mr Beardsmore Senior strides forth in leading the return hike to the car park. An excellent day was had by all despite the opening travel tribulations, and we look forward to adding to our Ironbridge investigations over the next twelve months.