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Shropshire Map

Splendid open air museum based on the site of the old Madeley Mine, Blast Furnace and Brickworks. The Victorian Town has a good range of shops and other buildings rescued from all over the country (including a chemists shop from Bournemouth). You can change your modern money into Victorian token coins at the bank at the top of the village and use it throughout the site - it's quite an eye-opener.

The staff are all in costume and some are in part - there was a nice little scene of a policeman catching a lad who'd stolen a bicycle played out while we were there.

In fact, so good are the reconstructions that it is sometimes difficult to figure out what dates back to the original site, and it is a fascinating site in its own right.

The mine, which is original, produced iron ore and brick clay in addition to the coal needed to fuel the whole site in the early days.

The clay went to the brickworks and the bricks were used to re-line the blast furnaces (something which needed doing every two years). The coal was made into coke and mixed with ironstone and limestone in the furnaces to produce iron. Thus everything needed to make iron was on site apart from the limestone, and that was just across the Gorge on the other side of the Severn.

With the coming of the railways everything changed, and the former Power Station at the far end of the Gorge used to burn South Wales coal, I believe.

But if all the ingredients had not been available in such close proximity in this area, it would not have been possible to produce enough iron to build the railways, and revolutionise the way we do things.

Check the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust's website for opening times etc.

Wrought Iron Works

One of the highlights for me was the wrought iron works. Originally part of G R Morton's Walmsleys Atlas Works in Bolton which closed in 1976, this is now the last working wrought iron works in the world. From the outside it looks like a vast empty draughty shed, it is only when the guide starts to explain the process that you realise why they needed so much space (and ventilation for that matter).

There is some film of the the old works in action down at the Museum of the Gorge in Ironbridge. It's a shame it wasn't available on the Blists Hill site, as far as I could see.

Shropshire Canal

Running through the site is an early example of that essential precursor to the railways, a canal. The Shropshire Canal (not to be confused with the much later Shropshire Union canal) was built using inclines rather than locks to haul the 20 foot long tub boats up the hills.

One of these, the Hay Incline, is at the far end of the site, and there is a pleasant walk through the woods and back along the canal bank to view the remains. Surprisingly, more goods came up the incline on average that down, as most of the trade was in limestone.