Sunday, 9 September 2012


In our household it is not all beer and skittles as the saying goes, but sometimes it may seem to be.  Because The Granddaughter (TG) and her family live a considerable distance away and we cannot visit very often, whenever she is on holiday from school we will try to spend some time with her mum and dad and her.  After our previous holiday with the US contingent of our family in Kent and our trip to Devon, both in June, they had some more time off and wanted to come down to stay with us for a couple of weeks in August.  They also decided that since they were coming down south and they would be passing close to Ironbridge near Telford, they wanted to break their journey and take TG to the Victorian museum there. It was then suggested that we came up and join them there and this evolved into a long weekend and so we drove up to Telford.  TG’s parents had already booked a place at a hotel a little way down the Severn from Ironbridge before suggesting we came too.  By the time it was agreed, their hotel was full, so we found another hotel and stayed in a nice little private hotel right in the middle of Ironbridge itself.
The town of Ironbridge has got its name from the old iron bridge which spans the river Severn, which is the first ever all metal bridge to be erected in the world.  It was erected in 1779 and is still in good use, although motorised traffic is no longer allowed on it.  Before it was built, the only way across the Severn at that point was by ferry, or you had to travel many tens of miles around by road.  Naturally the new bridge proved an immediate success and paid for itself in short order as a toll bridge and it is now a world heritage site. 
Unfortunately this noticeboard showing the tolls has been allowed to fade, so it is hard to see many of the prices.  It seems padestrains had to pay one half penny.  This musty have been quite expensive for many people of the time.
Nowadays there is a newer bridge for modern road traffic, a mile or so further down the river.
Because of its connections with the early industrial revolution in Britain, there are a number of museums and tourist areas around the town and just outside is the Blists Hill Victorian Museum.
This is arranged as a town loosely Victorian in period, with many of the original structures found on the site along with rebuilt properties transported brick by brick there when their original sites were re-developed.  There are several places like this in the UK and they are very popular.   They make an otherwise redundant industrial site, which would become a blot on the landscape as it falls into decay, into a working, and most importantly, money making concern.
We had previously visited one like this further east, but still in the West Midlands to see, follow this link a couple of years ago and you may also have seen Morning AJ’s reference to Blists Hill if you follow her blog. To see follow this link
Ironbridge is very picturesque being situated on the side of the river Severn in a narrow gorge cut out by the river.   The town spreads along the river and was limited in width by the steep gorge and lack of road transport across the river until the Iron Bridge was built. Now there are houses and streets both sides of the river, but sill limited in sideways growth by the sides of the gorge.
Ironbridge from across the river
There people from the Shropshire Wildlife Trust were rowing a currach, a long coracle-type boat made in the centuries-old traditional way of hazel, willow, ash and cowhide

This little dog is taking no chances on the water

Seeing all the cameras this little robin turned up to get in on the photo shoot

He was very tame and posed nicely for a long time

Although a high span, the river flows fast and is ideal for playing high altitude Pooh sticks.   Because of the height, the wind needs to be taken into account for professional players it represents a serious challenge.
We spent the first day walking around the town and the local area and then the second day we went to the Blist Hill museum.
In the Blists Hill Victorian Town museum, we were greeted by the sight of Sherlock Holmes himself walking along the street and later we encountered Dr Watson and Mrs Hudson their housekeeper.   
The man himself
 The three of them performed a cameo during the morning, where they acted out a short scenario where Mrs Hudson and Dr Watson had hidden Holms’ violin as an act of self-defence, since his playing apparently leaves something to be desired.
At one point Holmes suspects, from their behaivour, that Watson and Mrs Hudson are having an affair, much to their obvious horror
He of course solved the case and came to the totally incorrect conclusion that a member of the audience must have stolen it, using his famous observational techniques.
They were very funny and very accomplished actors and of course actress. Later in the day, I encountered them in one of the Blists Hill town’s houses taking tea and scones after having entertained a number of people with a series of Victorian music hall tunes on an old upright piano in one of the houses.

I am quite a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and a lot of my childhood reading was short stories from his Sherlock Holmes series.  I own a number of first printings of his stories, which were printed in the Strand Magazine around the 1890s.   I have a collection of bound sets of Strand magazines from this period, unfortunately none of the first editions of the book publications that followed.  Those are infinitely more valuable for some reason, even though they were printed later than the serialised or short stories printed in the magazines.

Holmes and Watson talking to Mrs Hudson before departing
In these earliest publications of his stories, Sherlock Holmes is illustrated a number of times and for most of the time he wears either a silk top hat, a bowler hat or a boater, depending on where he is going.  I have only ever found one illustration of him wearing a deerstalker hat which has now become his trademark.   As a well rounded and educated Englishman of his times, it would have been considered highly eccentric to wear a tweed great coat and a deerstalker hat for every occasion.  It is interesting that several serious film and TV versions of the stories of this character have in fact not worn the deerstalker and very few people have noticed, but show a picture of a man in a deerstalker smoking a pipe and most people will say it’s Sherlock Holmes. 
One of the orginal illustrations from the Strand magazine.  Holmes is the one in the boater.

 However, I digress, the rest of the museum consisted of shops a post office a school etc all the things you now expect to find in these reproduction museum towns.

It is a sign of getting old when you find things in a museum that you recall from your childhood. More than one of my relations still had a similar range, and one great aunt still cooked on hers.

Another blast from the past. One of my uncles ran the village smithy and there were several of these abandoned to the rear of his forge.  As children my cousin and I played on and around them.  I can confirm that it is quite a challenge to run across six or seven of these ungainly bits of metal without touching the ground and without also hurting yourself, but it was great fun.
At Blist Hill there is also a mine which shows the visitors what it may have been like to work in a cramped space underground and as in all caves and mines opened for tourist, you are plunged into the required total darkness for a while. 
As another digression, I once made a slight faux pa in a Welsh mine I was visiting with my first wife and our family amongst a crowd of other tourists.  We were on a guided tour of a deep slate mine which had a canned commentary going as we all shuffled through the tunnels in semi darkness, lit up with waxwork miners and stories about their exploits at intervals.  Towards the end of the tour, we came to a huge cavern and after the compulsory total darkness experience, the commentary pointed out that we were now hundreds of feet under the ground with tons of rock above us and after a final light show displaying miners in various positions of intense toil, the commentary finished by saying that this huge excavation stood as a monument to the intrepid Welsh miners and how it would stand forever as a reminder of their toil etc. followed by a burst of uplifting music.   As an aside to the wife I whispered ‘well, until the next big earthquake hits this area.’ Just as the music came to an end and in the ensuing silence my stage whisper filled the cavern.  My comment was met with an audible reaction from the people around us and the suddenly nervous crowd hurried to the exit a bit faster than usual, casting the occasional nervous glance up at the roof.

Meanwhile back in the Blists Hill Museum, we watched the demonstrations, went into the mine, talked to the Victorian staff, ate icecream and generally had a good Victorian experience.
On day three, we returned home and the family carried on to our house.   Having survived the odd prang or two in my youth and eventually understood what I was doing wrong, nowadays when driving I do not go as fast as many other drivers do.  So we got home a good few minutes after TG and her parents had arrived.  They had a key to our house, since this is not an unexpected situation.


  1. I LOVE Blists Hill (as you've obviously noticed. Thanks for the mention) We had a season ticket last year and stayed at a lovely little hotel in Coalbrookdale, called the Fat Frog, a couple of times while we visited.

    I've been to the Black Country museum a few times too (it's in the West Midlands, by the way. K works in Dudley so we know they're a bit sensitive about such things there.)

  2. MAJ, oops! I am sure you must have misread it, it clearly says West Midlands...
    - now.

  3. snafu, I'll say it again - you missed your calling. I absolutely love your detailed travalogues. You do such a great job and I really enjoyed this one, too. But two questions: what does 'beer and skittles' mean (don't think I ever heard that one, growing up), and what's that about the 'high altitude Pooh sticks'? I'll check back for your answer later.