33. Ironbridge, plus a flying visit to Wroxeter.



2nd November 2010. A visit to Ironbridge, Shropshire (or Salop, as that county was long called). The picturesque situation of the town in the Severn Gorge, plus the pretty Autumn foliage creates an idyllic scene. But 200-odd years ago it would have been quite different! For Ironbridge was a centre of mining, furnaces and iron works in those days. Indeed, it may fairly lay claim to being the Cradle of the ‘Industrial Revolution’. You can read about it on-line, if you wish. The very name of the town was given by the bridge over the River Severn you see here. The ‘iron bridge’ itself.



It is now closed to all but pedestrians, however. Here you see over the bridge, into the town, which lies mainly on the north side of the river. The Toll House is on the left. More on that later.



Here is the bridge, in all its simple grandeur. It is the first iron bridge in the world, having been erected from pre-cast components in 1779-1781.



Here it is from upstream.



The River Severn in Ironbridge, a little further upstream.



These are some old lime-kilns.



Looking back over the bridge, to the Toll House.



Here are the charges you had to pay to cross the bridge. They were enshrined in the 1776 Act of Parliament which was necessary to allow the construction of the bridge, and apparently remained fixed indefinitely. At least the notice itself must be later, because the ‘long s’ is nowhere used, as it surely would have been in 1781 when the bridge finally opened for traffic. Still, two shillings (10p) would have been quite a large amount to pay to get your carriage over; but then, if you could afford to have it drawn by as many as six Horses (or mares &c.,) then you must have been well off, so two shillings was probably neither here nor there. The last paragraph reads: “N.B. This Bridge being private property, every Officer or Soldier, whether on duty or not, is liable to pay toll for passing over, as well as any baggage wagon, Mail coaches(,) the Royal Family.” H’mm; those were evidently egalitarian times, when the rich in their six-horse carriage had to pay 24 times as much as a pedestrian, and even the Royal Family were not immune from the Toll! Parliament had spoken, and knew what it was talking about!



Though the day was drawing on, we hastened a few miles up the Severn valley to the ancient Roman Legionary fortress of Wroxeter, which we had long intended to visit. Above you see the Severn peacefully meandering, a few miles upstream from Ironbridge.



Alas, the Autumn season had just started, and the Wroxeter site was closed. But here is (as far as I know) the tallest bit of Roman wall standing in the Midlands of England – we just couldn’t get any closer to it than this. The hill known as the Wellington Wrekin broods a few miles away on the right of the shot. Wroxeter, or Viroconium Cornoviorum, to give it its original name, had the 14th Roman Legion based there from about 58 AD – which is very early in the Roman conquest of Britain; that had only ‘officially’ begun in 43 AD. A Roman Legion was supposed to consist of about 5,000 men. Later the 20th Legion was there, but according to Wikipedia, they withdrew around 88 AD. But a significant town had grown up around the military fort, as usually happened, and the settlement remained, and grew, for a long period. It may have grown to have as many as 15,000 inhabitants; if so, it might then have been the fourth largest city in Britain. However, it later died out and was totally abandoned. Usually, sites adopted by the Romans developed and remained in use forever after: Chester, Leicester, London &c. But these usually already existed as British towns, and so the Romans occupied sites that had already been proved satisfactory, since remote times. To found an ambitious new settlement (or to base one on a small ‘unproven’ British site) might have carried unanticipated risk. It has been suggested that Wroxeter was prone to flooding from the river Severn; and that part of its name may refer to an earlier British hill fort resourcefully situated on the hill called the Wrekin, to be seen in the above image. In that case, the Britons knew better than the Romans as regards the risk of floods. But  who knows? The only other known significant Roman settlement that was also totally abandoned was Silchester; but that need not concern us here. (Though it would be fun to Google around a bit on that subject…) 8^)



Here you see a replica Roman building that has been constructed at Wroxeter. It will be good to go back in 2011 and see how it’s getting on, and what it represents, &c.




Page written 2nd January 2011.