I was delighted to be asked to be the Blue Badge Tour Guide for a holiday group from Kent who had booked a short break holiday in the Midlands. This was a great opportunity to show them some of the most interesting landmarks and developments of the Industrial Revolution in Central England.
Staying in a hotel close to the River Severn in the canal town of Stourport, we started our tour looking at the development of the canal system which revolutionised transport from the mid 18th century. Stourport was built approximately 250 years ago as an inland port where the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal joined the River Severn. As such, Stourport was a pioneer town of the canal age and is the only town in the country to have been built as a result of a canal.
|Steam train on the Severn Valley |
After our stop in Stourport we travelled on to Kidderminster to enjoy a scenic journey on a steam hauled train along the Severn Valley Heritage Railway. Railways were to transform Britain in the 19th century. They were originally developed to move raw materials and finished goods to and from the factories in Victorian times. The railways greatly expanded the economy and stimulated the iron and steel industry. As railways developed, they opened up a new world of travel for everyone.
The River Severn as seen from
the Iron Bridge
The highlight of the group holiday was a visit to the World Heritage site of Ironbridge. We drove alongside the picturesque tree-lined gorge. In the 18th century the landscape would have looked very different, it would have been blackened and scarred by heavy industry; you'd see blast furnaces producing iron; factories manufacturing bricks, tiles and ceramics. There were deep shafts for coal, clay and ironstone mines lining the banks of the gorge. Forges would have been belching forth smoke and noxious fumes and the noise of machinery would have filled the air. Now, a very different view presented itself to us; nature had reclaimed the gorge, the industrial buildings had disappeared, and the wooded banks of the river Severn looked lush and green. We visited the Ironbridge Gorge museum to give us the history and show us what the area was like back in the 18th and 19th centuries. This was fascinating. There was a very large model of the gorge and the surrounding area showing us the industrial sites. More models, photographs, explanations and a video helped to recreate the time of Ironbridge's heyday in Victorian times.
|Ironbridge - A World Heritage Site|
We moved on to continue our tour. We went to the historic iron bridge itself to take photographs, to walk across it, to look down on the River Severn and to visit the Toll House at the far end of the bridge.
This was the first iron bridge in the world, built in 1777-1779 by Abraham Darby III. It was intended to demonstrate the expertise of the ironmasters of the area and it was a spectacular success. This was the cutting edge technology of its time, and artists and engineers came from all over the world to see it. Even today, with great advancement in modern technology, it's impressive.
|A Street Scene at Blist Hill Museum|
We continued to Blist Hill Museum, where a Victorian town has been recreated and where we could experience the sites, sounds and even smells of a bygone era. We exchanged some of our money into £.s.d, and were able to shop using old money again. It made us realise how shops had changed and how different window displays and advertising was, a hundred or so years ago. I bought some freshly baked bread rolls from the small bakery, whilst others bought traditionally cooked fish and chips for their lunch. We wandered in and out of the old fashioned shops.
|Taking a ride at Blist Hill Museum|
We experienced all sorts of activities. We travelled on the mine railway into a clay mine, we went up the incline lift and travelled along the streets on a horse and cart. We had a guided tour around a blast furnace.
|A Squatters Cottage, Blist Hill |
Museum c 1820
We explored various cottages and even saw and squeezed our way around a two roomed Squatter's cottage, which in those days had to be built in a day, have a lighted fire in the hearth with smoke rising up through the chimney for the Squatter and his family to be able to have permanent residence there. I was surprised there was one still in existence, but the remains of this one had been found nearby and transferred to Blist Hill. It once belonged to a family with ten children.
The group had a very enjoyable time and their holiday in the Midlands exceeded all expectations.
For guided coach tours around the Midlands including a day at Ironbridge.
Contact: Blue Badge Tour Guide - Anne Bartlett