The Ironbridge Gorge Museums are actually a collection of ten separate attractions spread out over a small area in Telford. There are all kinds of things there, including tile and china museums, pipeworks and a tar tunnel. I didn’t really fancy visiting all ten of these. In fact, there were only two bits that I was really interested in – the Ironbridge itself, and Blists Hill Victorian Town.
The bridge is really just a bridge. The site says:
Built by Abraham Darby III and now recognised as one of the great symbols of the Industrial Revolution, the remarkable structure still dominates the small town that bears its name.
It was the world’s first cast iron bridge, and it’s very pretty, but definitely just a bridge.
On to the Victorian Town then. I was fascinated by this idea of a living, working town – particularly after my adventures at Hadrian’s Wall where I couldn’t visualise the history I was looking at. This is the direct opposite of that, history brought back to life again.
The first thing that struck me was how clean and smart the buildings were. I don’t know if this is accurate, or if they were new and hadn’t had time to settle in yet. It did take the edge off the realism for me, but even so, it was great fun walking through the town. The first thing you see is the bank, where they will exchange your money for Ye Olde Money. I did not do this, because I can spend enough already, without having the problem of not knowing exactly how much things are.
You walk through the village, peering in some of the windows, walking in to some of the shops. I was curious about the chemists, which was featured on the Victorian Pharmacy programme.
There was a fish and chip shop a little further on, or should I say a Fried Fish & Chipped Potatoes establishment. Some visitors were walking out of it saying: “Well that’s nice but I don’t think fish and chips existed in those days.” Because, of course, the Ironbridge people have spent loads on recreating an entire Victorian village, hired people to dress in the clothes, and even got a horse and buggy travelling around, but they overlooked that little bit of research. Darn it.
Anyway, there were loads of different shops, from the dressmakers, to the tile and brickworks, a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker. I am not even making that up.
I really enjoyed poking around the place. I particularly liked the little things, like walking round the corner and finding a pig in a pen, or the old advertising that was on the fence, or the kitchen garden that was growing some delicious peas. I couldn’t make up my mind whether I liked the cast of characters or not. It was good that some of the shops had people inside, doing the jobs that they would have done, and able to answer the questions of the visitors. That was okay, and the candlemaker was very interesting, talking about how they would give the miners free candles specifically for the mines, and would be very upset if they found them in their house.
I didn’t like the other bits though, like the Doctor’s house, where four people were dressed as Victorians and toasting some teacakes over the fire, laughing and joking about butter. I found it distinctly uncomfortable. I am sure that is just me, though. Everyone else seemed to like it, and laughed at the jokes about butter.
There were some quite surprising things, as you wandered around. Like I mentioned, you could turn a corner and be confronted with a pig. Or a bit further on, there was a big boat. And then there was a fairground.
Beautiful colours, very annoying music. Much like fairgrounds these days.
I really enjoyed my day out at Ironbridge, and spent a long time walking around those dusty Victorian streets. For me, it was a good balance of realistic and not. They could easily take it too far and it would be less accessible, or not try hard enough and it just be a place where they make candles. Highly recommended – although I can’t speak for the other eight attractions.