Journal of the Wilkinson Society Issue No.18, 1996

Broseley Local History Society Journal No 18 1996



The Year’s Activities, 1995-1996

Programme of Events, 1996-1997

The Journal




Map of Shropshire (1752), covering the area between Bridgnorth and Much Wenlock





The Year’s Activities, 1995—1996


It is not unusual when secretaries of societies such as ours come to record the happenings since the previous report that they find themselves hard pressed. Happily, I am not in that position. Each year since the Society was revived has been marked by at least one memorable event.  The first year saw us visiting the Wilkinson sites in Bersham and thereabouts. The enjoyment was enhanced because of our travelling in a 1950sVauxhall bus.  

Last year we had the honour of hosting a visit from the Friends of Shropshire Records and Research. Members from across the County joined us for a series of talks and a walk around sites of interest in Broseley. It was a glorious sunny day, and a highlight was lunch in the open air at the Foresters' Arms. 

We were singularly fortunate to acquire a large quantity of ephemera, amassed by Mrs Smith, formerly a Broseley resident. These were chiefly bills from traders in the town, but the winter and early spring of 1996 saw an excited band of enthusiastic members and others assembling each week to sort these papers. There was a great deal of good humour on those evenings, and much unrecorded history came to light. It is true that much of this did not relate to John Wilkinson, but it gave us a fascinating insight into pre-war Broseley and it had an enormous benefit in cementing the membership of our Society. 

In our lecture series we have had the good fortune to secure the services of a number of excellent speakers. We have learned con­siderably more about the history of railways in this country, and we were treated to an outstanding lecture from Dr Paul Stamper on the formal gardens of Shropshire. 

Of somewhat less high profile is that the Committee has met each quarter. We have now received from the former committee the tokens in their possession. These are Wilkinson halfpenny tokens for 1790 (two), 1791 and 1792; a Coalbrookdale halfpenny token of 1789 in ‘good’ condition and a cartwheel halfpenny which is sadly not even ‘fair.’ Mr Tony Mugridge has very generously donated a number of artefacts to the Society, including a bowler hat belonging to a foreman at Broseley Tileries, a print box formerly the property of the late Jack Dixon, and a number of Jackfield tiles. The Society is much indebted to donors for all such items, which we catalogue. 

David Shinton, Secretary


Programme of Events, 1996-1997

(Note—indoor meetings are held at The Pipeworks Museum, Broseley).

21 September:  

Annual General Meeting, 2.30 pm.

9—10 November:  

Photographs of Broseley Weekend, 12.30—4.00 pm. each day.

17 January:  

Visit of replica Trevithick Steam Carriage, Blists Hill Museum, 7.30 pm (jointly with Friends of Ironbridge Gorge Museum).


14 March:  

A talk on Researching John Wilkinson (Neil Clarke), 7.30 pm.

11 May:  

Coach trip to Matthew Boulton’s Soho House, departs Broseley Square, 12.30 pm.

11 July:  

A guided tour of industrial archaeology sites in North Telford associated with John Wilkinson; cars to meet at Telford CentralStation car park at 7.30 pm.

3 October:  

Annual General Meeting.


Further details will appear in the Newsletter and the local press.

                        Eric Cox, Chairman


The Journal

It gives me great pleasure, after nine years, to resume the editorship of the Journal of the Wilkinson Society. May I add my thanks to Maurice Hawes and Rex Key for their work in 1988 and 1995 respectively.  

The main articles from journals between 1973 and 1988 (Nos. 1-16), now termed first series, are being put together by Peter Cooper in one volume which will be available shortly. The ‘Journal’, second series, begins with No. 17 (1995).

In this issue there is the first part of a stimulating analysis of John Wilkinson’s part in the Iron Bridge project; a commentary on the account of a group of early eighteenth century visitors who passed through this area on their tour of England; and a photographic survey of an industrial archaeology mystery in West Africa.  

Contributions to the next issue of the Journal would be welcome and should be sent to me (by July 1997) at Cranleigh, Wellington Road, Little Wenlock, Telford TF6 5BH. 

Neil Clarke, Editor




by Neil Clarke


We have learned a lot about the important developments in the Ironbridge Gorge area in the late 18th and early 19th centuries from those who visited East Shropshire at the time and recorded their impressions.(1) Earlier visitors were fewer in number but their observations make a valuable contribution to our knowledge of the area on the eve of the Industrial Revolution. One such group passed through Willey on their tour of England in 1735.(2) In this paper I intend to examine what the writer of their account tells us about the area in the period before the arrival of John Wilkinson.  

Both Celia Fiennes and Daniel Defoe had visited East Shropshire on their respective tours of 1698 and 1723.(3) Travelling from Shrewsbury (‘a pleasant town to live in’) to Patshull Park, Celia Fiennes noted the coal pits operating in the Oakengates area (‘there are great hills all about which I pass’d over full of coale pitts’)(4) and the condition of the roads along which she passed (‘here I came into the Whatling  Streete which is one of the great roads of England.. .the roads are pretty good but the miles are long’).(5)  

Daniel Defoe, taking the same route as far as Whiteladies and Boscobel, also commented on ‘the great antient road or way call’d Wailing Street which comes from London to this town [Shrewsbury] and goes on from hence to the utmost coast of Wales’.(6) Later he explained how the road between Bridgnorth and Shrewsbury was part of a postal route, ‘a cross-post thro’ all the western part of England ... to maintain the correspon­dence of merchants and men of business, of which all this side of the island is so full’.(7) The writer of the 1735 account showed a similar interest in trade and industry, roads, towns, natural features and the estates of landed gentry: 

'Sept. 30 We left Bridgnorth8 and went through Willey (9) to some coal pits belonging to Mr Weld, who has a very good house in the last mentioned place.’(10) The manner of drawing up coal from the pits and of draining the water from them is well worth seeing. (11) From the pits we went through a village called Barrow to Wenlock, a very paltry, dirty town and corporation, its present members being Samuel Edwards and Win. Forester Esquires.’ (12) Two miles from this town on a hill called Wenlock Edge we had an extensive and very pleasant view of Shropshire and Shrewsbury; at 10 miles distant; but we may truly be said to have paid for our peeping. For the descent of this hill for a mile to a village called Harley is so steep, stony and slippery that we were an hour walking and leading our horses down it. (13) Four miles'.

'beyond this we saw at Cund [Cound] an exceedingly pretty house and park, belonging to Dr Cresset, Dean of Clogher in Ireland, (14) and opposite to it on the other side of the Severn is Ighton [Eyton] in the parish of Wroxeter, a good old house, situate in a very pleasant wood, belonging to the Earl of Bradford.(15) About a mi!e and a half from Cund we crossed the Watling Street (16) and at 2 miles and half further, came to Shrewsbury to the Talbot. (17)'. 

It issignificant that this group of travellers chose to make a detour from the main route between Bridgnorth and Much Wenlock in order to visit Wiley. The brief description of what they saw there confirms that coal mining was a well-established industry in the area by that date, but the failure to mention iron making is both puzzling and disappointing. The reference to local road conditions in the period immediately prior to tumpiking is also of interest. We should be grateful to the Rev, Cole for preserving this little gem. (18)   


1.      An anthology of visitors’ impressions of Ironbridge, Coalbrookdale and the Shropshire Coalfield appears in Barrie Trinder, ed., The Most Extraordinary District in the World (1977). 

2.      Additional MS, 5842, British Library. This is one of almost 100 folio volumes containing a collection of manuscripts compiled by the Rev. William Cole (1714-82), the Cambridge antiquary. On p. 244, under the heading, ‘Tour of England in 1735’, he wrote: 

‘The following journal was lent to me in 1775 by Mr Alderman Bentham of Cambridge who married the only sister and heir of Mr. Riste, one of the party in the expedition. It is all written in Mr. Whaley’s hand, who was the writer of it and went as tutor and companion to John Dodd of Swallowfield in Berkshire, Esq. then a ftllow­commoner of King ‘s College in Cambridge, where Mr. Whaley was then Fellow. Mr. Riste went as companion and governor to Francis Shepheard Esq., son to Francis Shepheard of Exning in Suffolk Esq. and then a fellow-commoner of Clare Hall, who died soon after his return. Although a great part of the journal seems to be mere common place and trite observations, I shall nevertheless transcribe the whole as I shall find it.’ 

3.         Celia Fiennes, The Journeys of Celia Fiennes, ed. Christopher Morris (1947); Daniel Defoe, A Tour Through the Whole Island of GreatBritain(Everyman edn., vol. 2, 1927). 

4.         Celia Fiennes, Journeys p.228. In fact, coal was being mined in the Wombridge priory demesne in the early 16th century; both Leland (1586) and Camden (1586) mentioned the mines, by then firmly established; and by the third quarter of the 17th century mining was also established at Coalpit (later Ketley) Bank and probably at Snedshi]l (Victoria County History of Shropshire, vol. xi, 1985, p.292) 

5.         Celia Fiennes travelled along Watling Street and the road to Shifnal some 28 years before the first major attempt to improve them. By the Act of 12 Geo. I, c, 9 (1726), Watling Street was turnpiked between Crackley Bank and Shrewsbury, together with the connecting road from Oakengates to Shifnal (Barrie Trinder, The Industrial Revolution in Shropshire, 1973, pp. 142-43). 

6.         Defoe, Tour, p. 77, In the appendix to volume 2 of the Tour, Defoe referred to the ‘wonderful improvements’ made to the London end of Watling Street by the setting up of turnpikes (p.124). As noted above, the Shropshire section was turnpiked at about the same time as the publication of Defoe’s Tour.

7.         Ibid. p. 188. A cross-post was a postal route running from one major mute to another, as opposed to bye-posts, which followed major roads which did not run to and from London. The cross-post from Bristol to Exeter was set up in 1696 and that from Bristol to Chester, via Worcester, Bridgnorth and Shrewsbury in 1700. The notable Ralph Allen of Bath offered to farm the cross-and bye-posts in 1720, after which there was a steady growth in these services (Pat Rogers, ed. Penguin Edition of Defoe’s Tour, 1971, p. 712). 

8.         The four companions had set out from London on Monday, 28 July 1735 and journeyed through southern and western counties of England before arriving at Bridgnorth (‘a large and handsome town and burgh, situated on a very high rock.. .populous but of no great trade’) on 29 September. 

9.         The journey to Willey would most probably have been via Nordley, and beyond Willey to Much Wenlock via Barrow. In fact, this route across Willey Park was later turnpiked by the Wenlock Trustees (18 Geo. III, c, 91, 1778), and then closed to the public early in the 19th century when a new road was built from Broseley past (New) Willey Furnace towards Barrow (Trinder, md. Rev. Shrops, pp, 144-46). 

10.       The Weld family had been at Willey since 1618 when John Weld purchased the manor from Francis Lacon. Their mansion, referred to in this passage, later became known as the Uld Hall, tollowing the building of the new Hall in 1813-15. It was mainly Jacobean in structure (H.E.Forrest, The Old Houses of Wenlock, 19 15,pp. 95-96). The owner of the estate at the time of this visit was George Weld, great grandson of John. 

11.       For over 100 years the Welds had successfully exploited the mineral wealth of their estates (which also included the Marsh and part of Broseley), particularly coal and ironstone (M.D.G. Wanklyn, ‘John Weld of Willey, 1585-1665: an enterprising landowner of the early 17th century’, in West Midland Studies, vol. 3, 1969, pp. 88-99; Trinder, pp. 10-12, 110-11).  Coal was mined by using either adits or shafts, and depth was mainly determined by drainage considerations. In this passage, the writer appears to be referring to mining shafts, with possibly a horse-worked system of drainage. As for the number of pits operated by the Welds and the amount of coal mined, evidence for the early 1750’s suggests about 20 pits working in Willey and Broseley: in 1752 these produced 3,676 tons of coal, of which 762 tons were delivered to the Old Wiley Furnace: in 1753 4,360 tons were mined, of which 1,002 tons went to the furnace; the bulk of the output was for the Severn coal trade (Wanklyn, pp. 96-97;             Trinder, pp. 13-14, 90). 

Intriguingly, there is no mention in the passage of the ironworks at Wiley. Located on the Linley Brook, ¾ mile to the South of the Old Hall, an earlier furnace had been rebuilt by John Weld when he bought the estate in 1618. There are references to its operation in 1657, 1687-88 and 1717. In 1733 Richard Ford and Thomas Goidney leased Willey Furnace to help Coalbrookdale meet the demands of its Bristol customers for pig iron; and in 1735, for example, the blast furnace made 92 tons. On the expiry of this lease (probably in 1754), the furnace appears to have fallen into disrepair, but was eventually taken over by the New Willey Company in 1757 and operated by them until final closure in 1774. Throughout its working life the Old Furnace was dogged by an inadequate water supply, particularly in dry seasons. When operated by Ford and Goidney, it was never able to keep in blast for more than 40 weeks in the year (Ralph Pee and Maurice Hawes, ‘John Wilkinson and the two Willey Ironworks’, in The Journal of the Wilkinson Society, no. 16, 1988, p. 7; Arthur Raistrick, Dynasty of Ironfounders, 1953, pp, 59-62). Is it therefore not possible that the travellers who visited Willey in 1735 (at the end of September, traditionally a fairly dry month) may not have mentioned an ironworks there because they did not see one operating at that particular time?

12. Much Wenlock clearly did not impress our visitors. Incorporated by a charter of Edward IV in 1468, the borough at first returned one member of Parliament but by 1491 there were two, and this representation continued until the borough was disfranchised in 1885 (W.E Mumford,Wenlock in the Middle Ages, 1977, pp. 13 1-34). The M.P.s named in 1735 had been elected by the burgesses in the previous year, William Forester of Dothill was the father of Brooke Forester, who in 1734 had married Elizabeth, daughter and heir of George Weld of Wiley.  

13.       The travellers were impressed by the panorama presented by Wenlock Edge, but not by the effect of the latter on their route to Cound. Two centuries earlier Leland had recorded the ‘roughe ground, passynge ovar an hiqhe rocky hill caulyd Wenlok Egge’ (Leland, Itinerary, ed. L. Toulmin Smith, 1908, vol. ii, p. 84). Seventeen years after the journey described in the passage, the road between Shrewsbury, Much Wenlock and Bridgnorth was turnpiked (25 Geo. II, c, 40), but in 1778 the Wenlock Trustees turnpiked the road from Cressage through Sheinton to Much Wenlock in order to avoid that very disagreeable part of the old road well known by the name of Wenlock Edge’ (18 Geo. III, c, 91).  

14.       Cound Hall had been built in 1704 for Edward Cressett. Designed by John Prince of Sbrewsbury, it was of classical style with three storeys and a basement and divided by tall Corinthian pilasters. Its owner at the time of this visit was Edward Cressett’s son, also named Edward, who was to become Bishop of Llandaff in 1749 (Jonathan Humphries, Cound Hall Past and Present, 1989). 

15.       The mansion at Eyton was built by Sir Francis Newport of High Ercall in 1607. Its owner at the time of this visit was his great, great grandson, Thomas, 4th (and last Newport) Earl of Bradford. Following the destruction of most of the building by fire, the Shrewsbury architect Thomas Famous Pritchard acquired the ban­queting house and converted it into a house for his own occupation in 1767-69 (Department of the Environment: List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest —Borough of Shrewsbury and Atchain, Parish of Wroxeter~ 1986).

16.       This was not the section of Watling Street between Crackley Bank and Shrewsbury tumpiked in 1726, but the route across the River Severn at Wroxeter which was later turnpiked when the powers of the Watling Street Trustees were extended in 1764 (4 Geo. ifi c, 70). It linked themain road with Pitchford, Acton Burnell and Frodesley. There was no bridge at Wroxeter at this time, but trav­ellers obviously forded the Severn when conditions allowed. The road ceased to be a turnpike route in 1829 (VC.H. Shrops., vol. viii, 1965, pp. 15-16).

17.       The final stage of the travellers’ journey on 30 September 1735 was the (not 2 1/2) miles to Shrewsbury, They spent four nights at the Talbot, then an inn in Market Street just off the Square and 4one of the chief posting establishments here in the days of the stagecoaches’ (H.E. Forrest, The Old Houses of Shrewsbury 1912, p49). Leaving Shrewsbury (‘the pleasantest situated I ever saw’) on 4 October, the four companions travelled via Chester, Manchester, Derby, Nottingham and Peterborough to Cambridge, where they arrived on 19 October. 

18.       The whole tour took almost 3 months to complete (28 July-19 October 1735). It cost a total of £232 12s. lOd. which included the purchase of ‘three books and a map for the journey’, accommodation, letters and washing. Commenting on this, the Rev. Cole concluded: 

'At the end of the book is an account of the expenses for the journey which for four gentlemen and probably two servants, at least one, with their horses, at 10 shillings for each person a day, with money given to see places, seems to be very reasonable and would not be so easy at this time' (1775)(MS. 5842, Brit. Lib.). 


A portion of John Rocque ~c Map of Shropshire (1752), covering the area between Bridgnorth and Much Wenlock and clearly showing 

the main route between the two towns via Morville and Muckley Cross (turnpiked in 1752) 

the route taken by the four travellers in 1735, via Nordley (probably), Willey and Barrow 

the coal pits in the vicinity of Willey described in the passage (marked as small lumps of coal to the south, north east and east of Broseley) 

the location of Willey Old Hall (the largest of the three buildings shown to the north of the pool on the Linley Brook) 

the ironworks complex at Willey (shown immediately to the south-east of the pool, with the word ‘Furnace’ printed to the right), in operation at the time of the visit but not mentioned in the passage.


Map of Shropshire (1752), covering the area between Bridgnorth and Much Wenlock

  (To be added if available)




By Margaret Barrett

The Gambia, West Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world. It has few natural resources, and its only cash crop is literally peanuts. The country itself is a strategic construct, and this has deter­mined its linear configuration (see map). It is seven miles wide (in places) for a distance of 292 miles along the Gambia river and the boundaries were supposedly deter­mined by the distance a cannon ball could be fired to north and south from the middle of the river. 

Which brings me to cannon. . . nearly. To get to the cannon you need first to catch the ferry from Banjul, the capital (Bathurst before independence in 1965) to the opposite side of the mouth of the Gambia river, Barra. If you’ve read anything about travel in Africa you’ll have some idea of this ferry; oily, smelly, packed with people and produce. There is nowhere to sit for what is a journey of about three quarters of an hour. Poverty spawns lots of things, but not health and safety regulations. 

The journey is worth it. Some distance from the dock is a fort. I don’t know the date of the founding of this fort, or its purpose. From one person I heard that slaves were held there prior to their shipment to America. From another that it was built in the middle of the nineteenth century, and slaves were never taken there. The Gambian who takes dalasi (the local currency—Ed.) in exchange for unlocking the fort gate preferred the former explanation.

Outside the fort, and some distance away, near to the compound where this man lives with his family, are the cannon. There are three of them, and they really are huge. They’re still there by virtue of the fact that the Gambia has no iron smelting facilities. Most Gambians are very poor, and everything is utilised. For example, steel runway matting used by the British in World War II appears throughout the country variously disguised as fence posts, smoked fIsh racks, etc. These cannon are too heavy to shift and impossible for the Gambians to make ploughshares of, so to speak. 

I first discovered these cannon about 18 months ago when visiting my son, Aaron, who was doing a year’s volunteered teaching in the Gambia. I didn’t have a camera at the time and so the following photographs were taken when his brother went to visit him two months later. I cannot therefore always be completely confident about which markings belong to which cannon. 

I hope that this information will be of interest to the Wilkinson Society. I would be very grateful if members could throw any light on the origin of the cannon as well as on the history of the fort at Barra.



BROSELEY                        ::                        ::__ Shropshire


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Established 1823  Tel.: Ironbridge 3109

 Diversification at the pipeworks! This advertisement in the official guide to the Borough of Wenlock published in the 1940s shows that Broseley’s traditional clay pipe industry was feeling the cold wind of change. The works closed suddenly during the ‘50s and the building and its contents were left as if in a time-warp. In September the pipeworks came to life again as Broseley Pipe Museum, boasting 600 visitors during its first weekend.