JOURNAL OF THE WILKINSON SOCIETY No. 9: 1981
Broseley Local History Society Journal No 9 1981
The Society was formed in 1972 to meet the demand for an organisation to preserve the material and documentary evidence of Broseley's industrial past. Since an important part in this industrial past was played by John Wilkinson, who lived for a time at "The Lawns", it was decided that the organisation should be known as The Wilkinson Society.
The aims of the Society are :
(i) to act as custodian of any relevant material and information and to make such material and information available to interested individuals and organisations ;
(ii) to promote any relevant preservation activity and to assist individuals or organisations in such activity where deemed appropriate ;
(iii) to provide a link with the community of Broseley for individuals or organisations undertaking local historical research.
Any available material will be added to the existing collection of Broseley and Wilkinson relics at "The Lawns", Church Street, Broseley. This collection is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays between Easter and September, from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m., or at other times by appointment.
Administration of the Society is by an annually elected committee. Membership is open to anyone interested in the Society's aims and activities. These activities include illustrated lectures, social evenings, researching and exhibiting the collection, field trips and coach tours. Members are kept informed by newsletters, and this annual Journal presents articles on the history of the Broseley area, John Wilkinson, and industrial archaeology in general.
The Year's Activities (1979 - 80)
The seventh Annual General Meeting was held at "The Lawns" on 12th October, 1979. Mr. Ralph Pee was elected Chairman and also agreed to continue as Curator. The remaining officers and committee members offered to continue to serve and were unanimously re-elected. After the close of business Mr. Ralph Pee gave a talk in which he put forward his very interesting views on the reasons for building the Iron Bridge.
The next meeting was on 9th November, 1979 at "The Lawns". Mr. Ernie Harris, of Benthall, gave us his long-awaited personal recollections entitled "Broseley as I remember it" (an occasion postponed from 16th March, 1979, due to a sudden heavy snowstorm on that date).
The joint meeting with the Friends of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum took place at the Severn Warehouse on 13th December, 1979. The entertainment comprised three films, the most interesting being "The Steel Bridge", a film about the construction of a very large modern steel road bridge in the United States.
The annual Social Evening was held at "The Lawns" on 15th February, 1980. The theme was "Things dug up" and the meeting was very well supported.
The next indoor meeting was held at "The Lawns" on 7th March, 1980. Mr.James Lawson gave a most scholarly illustrated talk on "The Work of Thomas Farnolls Pritchard in Shropshire".
The Summer Excursion was once again planned jointly with the Friends of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum. This year it was to the Model Industrial Village of Styal, in Cheshire, and The Anderton Boat Lift, on Sunday 27th April, 1980. All but one of the spare seats on the Friends' coach were taken up by members of the Wilkinson Society, which made the trip financially successful as well as socially and intellectually enjoyable. Our thanks are due to the organiser, Mr. J. Torr.
A Special Event was held on Saturday, 7th June 1980, to mark the Re-opening of the Society's museum for 1980. The day's programme included morning coffee; talks on John Wilkinson, The Museum, and the Wilkinson Sites in Broseley; lunch; a tour of the sites in the afternoon; and a final discussion session at "The Lawns". 17 members/guests attended what turned out to be quite a successful event.
The Sixth Annual Anniversary Lecture (previously known as the "Celebrity Lecture was held on 26th September, 1980 at "The Lawns". The speaker was Mr. Ian Lawley and his topic, "Quakerism in Broseley", provided one of the most interesting talks of the season, much appreciated by all who attended.
In addition to the above, officers of the Society held meetings with officers of The Broseley Society (11th March, 1980) and with The Broseley Society, Bridgnorth District Council Planning Staff and representatives of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum (1st May, 1980) to discuss matters of common interest concerning Broseley's heritage.
Other Committee Meetings were held informally during May 1980 to plan the Special Event, and on 14th October, 1980.
Programme of Events for 1980 - 81.
24th October (1980) Recent discoveries at the New Willey Ironworks site - talk by Mr. Ralph Pee.
28th November 'Eighth A.G.M., followed by a joint meeting with the Broseley Society and an illustrated talk - "Broseley Tiles" - by Mr. Mike Stratton.
17th December Joint meeting with the Friends of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum at the Severn Warehouse - film evening.
27th February (1981) Members' social evening at "The Lawns"
11th July Annual summer outing - joint visit with the I.G.M.T. Friends to Bristol and Bath.
9th October "The Industrialisation of Broseley, 1570 - 1700" - talk by Dr. Malcolm Wanklyn.
6th November : Ninth A.G.M., followed by an illustrated talk - "John Rose and Edward Blakeway" - by Mr. Roger Edmundson.
16th December Joint meeting with I.G.M.T. Friends at the Severn Warehouse - film evening.
Increased production costs have forced us to raise the price of the Journal to 45 pence with this enlarged issue.
Further copies of. the Journal and back numbers can be obtained from the Assistant Secretary, Mrs. Freda Spickernell, 11 High Street, Broseley, Shropshire.
Contributions to future issues would be welcome, and should be sent to the Editor, N.J. Clarke, 'Cranleigh', Little Wenlock, Telford, Shropshire.
by Ron Miles
Erected at the time of a distant war in the 18th century, remote from the centre of the major European war of the 19th century and untouched by the first global war at the beginning of this century, the Iron Bridge first 'saw action' some 40 years ago. In this personal account of the incident, RON MILES conveys the war--time atmosphere of the period and reminds us that our famous bridge almost did not attain its bicentenary
To me it seems like only yesterday, and yet the following event took place when. I was just 11½ years old. It was a dull and slightly damp Saturday morning, the ninth day of November, 1940. The War was just warming up and we had all been warned to expect the enemy at any time. Little did I realise that before noon on that fateful day I would come face to face with the dreaded Nazis.
We lived at 57 Lloyds Head, Jackfield. The house is still standing: it is situated almost exactly one mile downstream from the Iron Bridge, and is about 40 yards from the river bank on the Broseley side of the river. Our garden was in front of the house, which itself faced up river towards Ironbridge. I was sent out to play that morning in the garden. I was completely alone and as far as I can recall was amusing myself by chopping sticks for the fire, for our house, like most others of that period, contained a cast iron grate made at nearby Coalbrookdale. About two and a half miles upstream from our cottage stood Buildwas Power Station. It was painted all over with camouflage and was guarded by Lewis guns atop of it and anti- aircraft guns in the meadows and on the hills around it.
I had recently left Jackfield village school and was now attending the new senior school at Hill Top, Madeley. Partly from leaflets issued at school and partly from reading the Wizard and Hotspur comics, I was fully acquainted with aircraft identification and could tell exactly one plane from another, both British and American. I was also familiar with the design and shape of several German aircraft, although at that time I had yet to see one. The nearest I had actually been to German planes was to hear them at night as they flew very high on their way to their bombing missions over Liverpool and Manchester. Little did I realise that I was about to put my knowledge to the test.
At that time the sky was full of planes every day, I found them all quite fascinating and would always run out of the house at the sound of one passing overhead. I could even tell just by their distinctive engine noises one plane from another. Suddenly, I heard the sound of an aircraft approaching. The sound was corning from the direction of Coalport, or down river, and as it was quite loud I knew before seeing it that this plane was flying extremely low, and also that it was not a sound that was familiar to me. The noise got louder and I slowly turned towards the direction that it was coming from, which was to my right; and there suddenly, at no more than 700 feet and following the course of the river up-stream, was this German bomber, a "Junkers 88". The first thing I saw was the marking of a black cross on its side and the swastika on its tail. I must have been rooted to the spot, but my eyes turned to follow its progress.
Before you could count three, it was level with the Bedlam furnaces and its speed was not excessive. I watched totally hypnotized by it, and saw to my amazement that its bomb doors were opening, and out fell three bombs in what was known as "a stick". This meant that as they fell each bomb was not directly above another. The bombs soon disappeared from my sight. I estimated that as they started to leave the plane it was right above the Iron Bridge, in fact, directly over the two smaller arches of the bridge. I was still rooted to the spot, and a second or so later I saw a huge orange coloured flash, just in front of Patins Rock on Benthall Edge, and again a second later heard a loud noise that I can only describe as a "crump".
The street in front of our house had until that time been deserted and then, as if by magic, it became full as people started to emerge, one after another, to see what had caused the big bang. I immediately informed my mother that it was a "Jerry" plane and that it had dropped three bombs at Ironbridge. She quickly dragged me into the house, informing me that it might come back and drop more bombs on us. I stood in the doorway listening to all the different theories that were being aired by all the neighbours. Some people suggested land mines and others said maybe it had got Buildwas Power Station; others thought the plane had crashed. My mother told me to stay indoors, but I knew quite clearly where my duty lay. This was the first time I had come into contact with the enemy and my job was to obtain proof to show the lads at school on Monday morning. All I needed in the world that day was a fragment of one of those three bombs. The evidence I needed was shrapnel.
As my father was away at the War, I felt a certain duty towards my mother. So for the rest of the day I stayed at home as she requested and contented myself by giving eye witness accounts of the bombing to all the neighbours and especially to the other boys in the vicinity. I knew that by Sunday morning the heat would be off and hopefully my chance would come to achieve my new found ambition.
Sunday morning was still dull, and by then we had heard stories that the bombs had gone off on Benthall Edge, a place I knew like the back of my hand. Rumour had it that the whole of this area was sealed off by the police and air raid wardens. We also heard that the Wharfage was littered with broken bits of mud; and that windows there were shattered, including one in St Luke’s Church. A fairly strong rumour going about was that only two bombs had exploded on Benthall Edge and one had supposedly landed in the river and not gone off. This was, of course, a possibility, especially in view of the fact that the three had left the plane in the grouping with two slightly left of the other. Another rumour was that a Mr. Finch was at work with horses near the railway bridge at the foot of Benthall Edge, very near to the site of the explosion, and that one of his horses was wounded, if not killed. Finally, information was received that the bombs had actually fallen right on top of a dynamite store situated at the foot of the inclined plane that ran down from Patins Rock.
All this information only served to impress on me the urgency of getting the lads and making an on the spot investigation. And so on the Sunday afternoon we made our way to Ironbridge Railway Station, which was the entrance gateway to Benthall Edge. We found our path was well and truly barred by huge notices proclaiming "Danger - unexploded Bombs”. The sight of policemen in steel helmets served to put us off our planned expedition so we spent the afternoon on the nearby station platform counting our halfpennies to see if we had enough money between us to obtain a packet of two Kensitas cigarettes. (The name of this railway station, by the way, was "Ironbridge and Broseley").
One whole agonizing week was to elapse before we had another chance to visit this spot, but by then we had thought up a plan of making our approach to Benthall Edge by way of Benthall itself, the long way round. About four of us made the trek downhill through the wood and we eventually arrived at the huge crater that the bombs had made. It was on a slope and just above the brick dynamite hut with its now buckled steel door. The crater was just about large enough to take a normal sized cottage. The trees each side of it were shorn bare of bark and branches and we were soon at work digging furiously to see who would be first to obtain the much sought shrapnel. We discovered several chunks of it, the thickest being about ¾” and the largest in size about four inches by five, very jagged and the surface being slightly milled. The eldest of our company, a boy named Tom Roberts, who lived near the Robin Hood, kept his pieces for some years and mounted them each side of his mother's fireplace, displaying the date that he had discovered them and the letters "H.E.", high explosive. I often wonder if he still has them. You could see the scarred trees from across the Wharfage for many years after, until finally nature healed the wounds.
There were, of course, several other eye witnesses to this historical event and naturally reports varied slightly. People who were at Hill Top, Madeley, thought that the plane was over Broseley, and people in that town were sure it was over Madeley. Two eye witnesses whose names I recall were Mr. Len Beeston, who saw it from Madeley Wood, and Mr. Charlie Bagley, who saw it from Coalbrookdale, where he lived. The latter described the path of the plane as making a slight arc towards Benthall Edge. It was rumoured afterwards that as the plane approached the Power Station the Lewis guns were trained on it but could not actual fire because the ammunition for the weapons was locked away for security
Mr. Hayward, who was landlord of the "Swan Hotel", also remembered the big bang. He was in the bar at the time and the bombs fell directly opposite his place, shattering some windows and almost lifting a wooden door from the floor. He also recalled that thirty tiles were broken on his roof and that the blast caused a clock on the wall of the bar to fall off its nail and become wedged behind a bench seat. He calmly put the clock back on the nail and was delighted to find it still ticking happily away. He used to point at it from behind the bar occasionally and say to customers, "Even old Jerry couldn'a stop that old clock".
But what of the plane itself ? It was, after all, a daylight raid and there was an American Air Base at Atcham. Well, it was said that the plane was not shot down but got clean away. It was spotted flying towards Shrewsbury because that town had been warned by telephone to look out for it. It was then reported to be heading for Whitchurch and it is said that near there it dropped one more bomb in an attempt on a petrol storage dump, which it also machine-gunned. The bomb dropped harmlessly in a farmer's field neatly emptying a duck pond.
The war memorial in Broseley
The raid on Ironbridge was reported to be the second of three alternative Saturday morning raids. The first one, two weeks before the one I experienced, was when an enemy plane was seen approaching the Sugar Beet Factory at Allscot, near Wellington. Some little time before the above raid, the Germans also dropped 300 incendiary bombs on and near the Gitchfield Tileries just down river from Coalport Bridge. This was a night raid and I have seen the "Certificate of Courage", signed by Winston Churchill, which was awarded to a Mr. George Gough of Coalport, who gallantly lifted a live incendiary bomb from the roof of the tileries at the height of the raid, whilst fires were raging all round him. He did this by running up special cat-walks that were in position specially for the purpose.
Summing up the raid that I saw take place, it is interesting to note that had that German pilot released those three bombs (probably 500 pounders) just a few seconds earlier they would almost certainly have destroyed the famous Iron Bridge. It is highly improbable that it would have been repaired, as test borings had already been taking place regarding a possible new one.
In a paragraph headed "Sympathy with our Gallant soldiers', The Bridgnorth Beacon and South Shropshire Advertiser of 9th December, 1854 inform" its readers that a lady in our neighbourhood was sending a quantity of Broseley pipes to our brave soldiers in the Crimea.
In September 1878, the Windermere Steamboat Museum initiated a search for the 'first iron boat' at Helton Tarn.
The boat was reputed to have been built in 1750 under the auspices of John Wilkinson, to carry peat from Helton Tarn down river to his foundry at Castlehead. The boat was in use for only a short time, probably because peat was an unsatisfactory form of fuel for the furnace. Wilkinson had even built a short canal for the boat, which may have been built on the lines of eighteenth century canal barges. If so, then the dimensions of the boat would have been about 10’ x 6’, with squared ends and weighing 3 - 5 tons.
Local reports placed the 'first iron boat' in Helton Tarn. The search for the boat was made possible by the kind permission of Capt. Stanley and Mr. Cavendish and the patience of their farmers.
A proton magnetometer and an underwater version were used (loaned to the museum by Professor Hall of Oxford). The magnetometer measures any disturbances in the earth's natural magnetic field, which iron can affect locally, up to 15 metres. The search took place over a period of six months, following a regular grid pattern. The tarn and surrounding area were scanned but unfortunately results proved negative.
WINDERMERE STEAMBOAT MUSEUM,
May 1980 .
(The significance of this report and other evidence relating to Wilkinson's iron boats will be examined in the next issue of the Journal. Ed.)
Ron Miles, Jackfield, writes (June 1980)
"Having lived alongside the River Severn for nearly fifty years, I was most interested in the information in recent Journals about the barges that are still lying in the river directly opposite the Coalport China Works.
The information I have was obtained from a Mr. George Harrington who at the time 25 years ago, was living at the Tuckies, Jackfield. He told me that they were called lighters and were to do with barges, although he could not remember their actual use. He was over eighty at that time and informed me that they were filled with stones and rubble and sunk at the same spot by the G.W.R. Company to help prevent subsidence of the bank of the river between the Werps and Preens Eddy Jackfield. They were put there about 86 years ago and have never moved from that spot which, as stated, is opposite the China Works. I took pictures of them when they became visible during a very dry summer in 1958 and had one of the shots and a small article published in the Express and Star that year. I also measured one of them and found it to be 35 feet in length and six feet wide.
Mr. Harrington was the owner of a photograph of a very different river craft: this was the last barge, "William", photographed at the Werps just above the General Gordon pub. He was pictured on that barge as a small boy. He loaned the photo to me and that is how it finally came to be widely published over the years.
Regarding the area near the Half Moon pub, Jackfield, where the lighters certainly were never used: yes, there are iron piles here and they too are in the same position as they were placed in about 1936. They are on the opposite bank to the pub and some way upstream. They were placed there in connection with a case that went all the way to the House of Lords. It was nothing whatever to do with Jackfield but quite a lot to do with the area directly fronting the river at the site of the Lloyds Beam Engine. A local firm extracted minerals at this point from slag put there many years previously by the Madeley Wood Co. from Blists Hill. They caused the main Ironbridge to Coalport road to be seriously undermined by their action and the piling was carried out, I believe, at their expense to try to remedy their mistake. The piling has worked very well, hence the Lloyds school (closed 1927) still being used as a dwelling for two families to this day.
The General Gordon, by the way, was the twelfth pub in our village, if you started at the Station Hotel, which is also in the parish."
Richard Barker, Borrowash, writes (July 1980)
"May I comment on three items in Journal No. 8 (1980) on the subject of barges.
1. Mr. Waterhouse raises the possibility of a Wilkinson connection for four barge names. (p. 15). They are derived from a source which cannot prove or disprove the case - the Customs Registers - but which show that all four were first registered (i.e. were to trade beyond Gloucester, if their first owners were based in Shropshire), perhaps on change of ownership, in the period 1805-9, three in the period 17th April-29th July, 1805 the "Joseph" alone in 1809. That may be pure coincidence in relation to Wilkinson's death in 1808.
However, the evidence of the names alone is flimsy. "William" is too common to be significant, and even "Brothers" and "John and Mary" each occur at least four times in the Severn and Wye Registers over a longer period. Clearly we need the missing 1795 (Admiralty) Registers, such as survive for Staffordshire. Until then the matter is pure speculation.
Incidentally, John Jones, builder of the "Trial", was surely a blacksmith.
2. Coalport Barge Graveyard, (p.ll). If the vessels examined by the divers are some distance downstream of the site of the "pontoons", might they not be different vessels altogether ? I ask because my own observations in 1974 convinced me that two vessels accessible from the bank in that general area were without doubt wooden canal narrow boats - length, beam, scantlings, form of bow and stern. They were also in a neat row with the traces of ironwork of two other vessels : they had all been deliberately placed there and two were intact, albeit eroded. They had certainly not been moved by the river in flood.
I also suspect that the general purpose in that section of the river is more likely to have been to confine the channel and increase the depth in the rapids - assuming that they were placed in the last century. There is every chance that the hulk of the old Coalport ferry could survive, if there are indeed eight vessels : IGMT photograph A 1481 suggests the possibility, for example. We have a surfeit of local rumours about sunken barges in the area : have the divers' actual findings been recorded ? (Findings recorded, but not yet published - Ed.)
3. The crux of the matter of Sails on Shropshire barges (p.17-18) is our expectation of what is likely. In the age of the motor car we have forgotten what a boon a river navigation was, and the lengths to which society would go to move barges on seemingly impossible waters.
Above Gloucester sails would tend to become auxiliary: the rig could not be used to sail under bridges going upstream, or round meander bends, for example. They could nonetheless be the principal motive power, depending on wind strength and direction. (I imagine that a wind rose for bank level in the Gorge area might be very revealing - rather different from that in the surrounding plains, with a natural funnelling into the most useful directions ?)
The greatest issue between Ralph Pee and myself is that of free sailing downstream (wind direction permitting), which he cannot accept as possible. Pictorial evidence abounds, however crude; documentary evidence exists for other rivers. I have a recent photograph of Portuguese rabelos sailing hell-for-leather round a sharp bend in a rocky stretch of the Douro much like the Jackfield rapids, for example. They are much the same size as our barges, fully laden, a mere boat's length apart, too, and have foam around their bows. It is not the case that these things could not be done : merely that we have forgotten how, together with most other details of the navigation in practical terms.
If we reject sails, what is left ? Laden barges moved downstream during freshes in the river : could even horses reliably and safely tow fast enough to give steerage way in those conditions? The risks of a fouled towline (to mention but one possible hazard to boat and men and horses) are to my mind not preferable to the risk of grounding under sail alone. Who opened the field gates along the towpath, what happened when other barges, or bridges, were passed ? I think it is clear that the motive power was aboard the barges going downstream - sail, pole and sweep. More pertinent than the question of how the sails were then used is that of what was used as a brake. (I know of no evidence at all for the Severn, though other navigations used drag-chains). The questions are endless.
Incidentally, a square sail need not be so "simple" in any derisory sense : the ancients found it fairly versatile, and it survived to the end in Shropshire."
A s t.