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A Step back in time
Blists Hill Victorian Town Heritage Site (Ironbridge Gorge)
Member Name: arnoldhenryrufus
Blists Hill Victorian Town Heritage Site (Ironbridge Gorge)
Advantages: A fantastic family day out
Disadvantages: I think you need a good weather day to visit
After we had to cancel our main two week holiday, we decided to visit our local tourist attractions. We are lucky enough to live in a small village just outside Ironbridge which is a large tourist attraction and hosts at least 10 museums. Blists Hill A Victorian Town being the biggest of all of them. I have personally lived here for over 20 years and I have only once visited here previously and that was a long time ago, it has been improved greatly since that first visit. My husband has never visited it before now, isn't it amazing how you something wonderful on your own doorstep and it takes you years to get around to visiting it.
~~A little History~~
We can trace it back to the late 18th century when the mining industry was well established here; the local Ironmaster William Reynolds tried to link the mine with the River Severn by tunnelling through the hill and by doing this he discovered a natural source of bitumen (this is now known as Tar Tunnel and is also open to the public). The Shropshire Canal was built instead and was used for many years until progress bought along the railways. Blists Hill had the brickworks and the blast furnaces working on the site either side of the canal for the transport links. For years brick and tiles, plus pig-iron were produced here; in its hay day there were over 500 people working here, so it was a prominent business at that time keeping local people employed (probably even some of my relatives as my sister traced our family tree back to this area). It was 1860 when the new rail link was built, which was just as well as the ground here was a little unstable and caused problems with the canal.
The blast furnaces finally closed down in 1912 and the canal closed down soon after; the brick and tile factory lasted a while longer and closed down in 1960. Blists Hill was now totally closed down and its slag was quarried to make new roads in the area. The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust was set up in 1967 and they started the Blists Hill Open Air Museum which opened its doors to the public for the first time in 1973. Today Blists Hill has been turned into a Victorian town where buildings have been moved here from various locations brick by brick and recreated to make this town. The majority have been moved and are the original buildings and some are replicas. You will find that all the staff working in the town will be in Victorian costume.
It was the first sunny day of my leave from work, when we decided to visit the Victorian town, as the majority of the town involves walking from building to building a dry day is a very good idea. My day was made more special as my daughter decided to take a day off from her studies and join us for the trip. As it was a Saturday the car park was already getting full and we had to join the queue to enter; my husband and I had our passport tickets, my daughter had to purchase her ticket, but as she had her student ID she did get a good discount.
To gain entry once you have your ticket you go into a little room where they play an introduction video on Blists Hill and its history, you then take the stairs to the town; there is a lift for people with mobility problems. On the day of our visit the lift was temporary out of order, wheelchair users were getting assistance from members of staff and pushed around the outskirts of the entrance building and up the hill into the town. My husband helped me up the stairs and then we rested in the
café next door to the entrance with a cup of tea, whilst I got my energy back ready for the walk around the town.
We took this time to have a look at the guide book and the scale map of the town to see where we were going and what there was to see. Also making sure we didn't anything. I also noted that I was sitting in the perfect position to get a lovely picture of the town, so out came my camera and I clicked away for a little while, until my family urged me to stop so we could actually move on and take a look around. Our next stop was to go to Lloyds Bank, this is a must place to visit especially if you want to make this visit special for both you and your children. Blists Hill has its own currency it is actually old money that was around before we went decimal in 1971. The coins all have Blists Hill Museum on them, but you can spend them in the shops as you go round making it more authentic and fun (for those that don't want to join in you can also spend 'real' money).
The bank teller dressed in Victorian costume advised us that exchanging £10.00 would be more than enough to enjoy ourselves with, so my daughter and I did just that, and our money was given to us in a little brown envelope so we could keep it separate from modern coins. They gave us a sheet of paper with this explaining the exchange rate for example 1 shilling (a bob) is equivalent to £4.80; 2 shillings and sixpence (half a crown, which used to be how much my pocket money was when I was a little girl) is equal to £12.00. Don't worry if you lose this as all the shop keepers will help you sort your money if you wish to buy and they do display prices in old and decimal currency.
The street was crowded with people when we left the bank, it looks like a real street with the staff walking about and playing in period costume amongst all the visitors that is; the atmosphere was electric as people walked about taking a look at everything and getting involved. A horse and carriage rode up the street and people had to get out of its way; all this added to the authenticity of the place. Young children were yelling to clean your shoes for a penny, and other were selling you the local (Victorian) paper as a souvenir, everything here is set out to be as realistic as possible and I am I still only in the street, I haven't entered any of the shops yet. My hubby and my daughter mock my enthusiasm as once again I am like a child in a toy shop getting excited and carried away.
I'd like to say I dash into each shop, but in truth I enter the first shop and take my time as I stand there absorbing the atmosphere and looking at the ornate old fashioned till which looks all shiny and pretty, I look at all the items on sale wanting to buy half of the store as a memory, but my daughter makes me be an adult again and treats me to a lovely china tea strainer which I now use most days.
The chemist shop was great to see and even had a dentist/doctors chair complete with straps to tie you down, ouch I'm glad I didn't have to go through with dental work in those days. Going up a side street we saw the haberdashery where you could purchase lace, everything looked so pretty and tempting. There was also and old fashioned chip shop which my daughter really fancied trying but the queue went on 'forever' (ok, I exaggerate, but it was really long). We settled for a little sweetshop and bought some good old fashioned sweets; my mother-in-laws favourites' rhubarb and custard sweets were there.
After pleasing my daughter with the sweets, I went and upset her by arranging to have our picture taken in Victorian attire, (she doesn't like having her photo taken); our appointment was for approx 1 hour later, so we went to see some more of the town and then went to the pub, we all sat on the stiff wooden benches with the cast iron tables; if we had been able to stay there we would have got to see some singers which were the 'Victorian' entertainment; but our appointment had been made for the same time. The pub was called The New Inn and it sold Bank's beer, it was once located in the centre of Walsall in the West Midlands until it arrived at Blists Hill in 1981.
On leaving the pub I had to try the toilets, they too were authentic except for the toilet paper, which thankfully was very 21st century I was so pleased it wasn't the old Izal toilet paper which was hard and awful to use. As we came out of the rear yard you could smell and see the smoke coming from a local workshop in the town. We moved on to investigate what else there was to see and we saw many people showing their trades, you could actually see them working you could see them filling moulds to make Ironwork or clay, you could watch a tinsmith working or a carpenter, there were so many you could go and see.
It was time to go and have our photographs taken, on arrival at the shop we were asked what we would like and then shown into a back room which contained cubicles (a very modern changing room), my daughter and I shared one and my husband went into another one, we were all given the choice of a couple of outfits each to choose from. The costumes were great and they tied around the back so they could be adjusted to fit the fuller figure. With our costumes on and looking very smart and Victorian we were led into the studio, which is on display to the public so they will see you posing for your photographs. The photographs are taken by a very modern digital camera set up to a computer which generates an image which is then printed off for you. The young girl offered us various Victorian accessories including glasses, head wear and purses for our photographs, she took a couple of us smiling and some more natural ones; at the end of the shoot we got to have a look at the photos to decide which one we wanted. We only bought the one photo which was an 8 x 10 for £15.00 but they did have more offers available. We were very pleased with the photo which is now framed and hanging up in my living room.
I am a happy bear as we leave the photographers and move on to see the rest of the town. We walked up the hill, but half way up I stopped to take a look at the Duke of Sutherlands' cottage and Doctors Surgery. The Duke was one of the largest landowners in East Shropshire and the cottage was moved to this site from Donnington, Telford; it is dressed with all period features, but what made it even more special was they had the family (dressed in character) in the living room enjoying a hot cup of tea, the lady of the house was addressing the visitors providing information of the history of the property.
Hubby and my daughter had stayed outside and I found them looking at the pigs in the plot next to the house when I came out. We carried on then past the old brick works and onto the old fair, the Forest Glen (which I remember when it was at the bottom of the Wrekin) and the Victorian school. We stopped and had a rest at the Forest Glen which was moved here in 1993; we had a hot drink and a snack, which my husband wasn't that impressed with, saying there was a large queue for food, but all the food looked dry and unappetising and the staff appeared to be struggling to keep up. This was obvious by the amount for uncleared tables when we finally found an empty one. It was nice to sit and watch the Victorian fair working and that wonderful big carousel.
After a rest it was the long walk back through the town and back to the entrance which is also where the exit is, we stopped half way and enjoyed the pleasures of a little resting area in a small park whilst my husband went off to the one and only smoking station. Whilst we sat there we did notice that some people were having sneaky cigarettes, but they shouldn't be as there was only one designated smoking area.
Very tired and very happy we ended our trip and exchanged what money we hadn't spent back to decimal currency and then left via the gift shop, where my daughter treated my hubby to a gift to say thank you for the day out which we all enjoyed.
I have to mention the guide book is most definitely worth buying as it is full of pictures and information about all the properties and where they were moved from and when; even giving you useful bits of information like where the word 'grocer' comes from.
The Chemist shop here was a reconstruction, but the fittings used in it have come from a shop in Bournemouth.
In the Post Office the assistant gave a demonstration on how letters had a wax seal and showed us how it was done. On top of all the ones I have already mentioned you could also purchase fresh food from the bakery on site.
There is a tour bus in operation for all the Ironbridge attractions, this is one of those attractions that it stops at, but if you do decide to use it I would give yourself at least half a day to visit here, if you interact well you could easily get a full day out of it.
They do hold events here so it may be worth checking this out before your visit; one of the annual events is the firework display, I would like to go one of the years to this, you can't use your passport ticket to the special events.
~~How to get here~~
Post code for your sat nav - TF7 4DU
Directions M54 Junction 4, coming from Shrewsbury you need to go round the island and take the 3rd exit towards Stafford Park (If you come from Wolverhampton side then it is the first exit off Junction 4 sign posted Stafford Park) then take the A442 towards Madeley and follow the brown information signs.
Adult Passport Ticket - £19.95
Over 60's passport ticket - £15.95
Child and Student ticket - £12.95
Family Ticket (2 adults and 2 children I believe) - £54.95
All these tickets last you for 12 months and let you return as many times as you like and allow you access to all 10 Ironbridge Gorge Trust attractions, I could not find individual prices to see it as a one and only.
It is open 7 days a week between 1000hrs and 1700hrs
I cannot recommend this place enough it really is a fantastic day out and ticks all the boxes to meet everyone's needs both young and old. It is educational and fun bringing history to life, the time and effort with attention to detail makes this an award winning attraction and Shropshire should be very proud to have it. Anyone can look at an old building dressed for the time period and imagine what it would be like, but to have staff dressed in period costume there to serve you and having old currency brings a little more reality to it and will certainly help you to remember your visit. Seeing craftsman showing you their trade which is sadly a dying art these days is also brilliant and will keep young and old minds entertained. They even had a member of staff dressed as a teacher in the old school teaching people to draw; his classroom was full when I watched him working. It was truly a wonderful day out and I look forward to visiting it again one day as it is still growing.
Thank you so much for reading
Summary: A fantastic family day out, most definitely worth a visit
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