Blists Hill Victorian Town
Coordinates: Blists Hill is an open air museum, one of ten museums operated by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, built on a former industrial complex located in the Madeley area of Telford, Shropshire, England. The museum attempts to recreate the sights, sounds and smells of a Victorian Shropshire town in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
History of the site
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Blists Hill was an industrial region consisting of a brick and tile works, blast furnaces and coal, iron and fire clay mines operated by the Madeley Wood Company. A short section of the Shropshire Canal ran across the site to the Hay Inclined Plane, which transported boats up and down the 207 ft (63 m) tall incline from Blists Hill to Coalport.
Open air museum
Blists Hill Victorian Town, originally called Blists Hill Open Air Museum, was opened in 1973, and has been slowly growing ever since. The museum's buildings fall into one of three categories: buildings that were already part of the industrial site (e.g. the brickworks); buildings that simply represent a generic type (e.g. the sweet shop), some adaptively reusing existing premises on site or being replicas of those still standing elsewhere; and original buildings that have been relocated to the museum (e.g. The New Inn public house, which originally stood between Green Lane and Hospital Street in Walsall).
Each building is manned by one or more costumed demonstrators, who have been trained in the skills and history of the profession they re-enact. For example, in the printshop, visitors can watch posters and newssheets being printed. The demonstrators normally talk in the third person, referring to the Victorians as "they" or "them" (rather than in the first person "I" or "we" which some similar museums employ): the museum management believes that this allows greater scope for comparing modern techniques with those re-enacted at the museum. Staff may also be seen performing such diverse tasks as operating stationary steam engines, iron founding and mucking out pigs.
The first building visitors see in the museum is the bank (modelled on the still-standing Lloyds Bank branch in Broseley), at which they can change modern coinage into token coinage that represents the predecimal farthings, halfpennies, pennies, threepenny bits and sixpences, at an exchange rate of 40 new pence to 1 old penny. They can then use the token coins as an alternative to modern currency for buying goods whilst visiting the museum (the gift shop at the museum entrance operates only in modern currency).
The High Street area of the Upper Town has been developed around a London and North Western Railway interchange siding with a plateway which is an original feature of the site. Shops erected on the site include a chemist (with fittings from Bournemouth), butcher (from Ironbridge), grocer (replica of a building from Oakengates), and printer (with equipment from Kington, Herefordshire). Small crafts include an iron foundry, a shoeing smith, bootmaker, locksmith, decorative plasterer (with equipment from Burton upon Trent), builder, and sawmill.
Premises in Quarry Bank include a tallow candle manufactory (from Madeley), a bakery (from Dawley), a physician’s surgery (in a Sutherland Estate cottage from Donnington), and a Board School (from Stirchley).
Recent new developments have included the addition of 'Canal Street', which was a new build closely modelled on extant and historic buildings in the Telford area. This area includes a new Fish and Chip Shop, Drapers shop and Post Office, as well as an enlarged Sweet Shop.
The original Madeley Wood Company blast furnaces produced pig iron from 1832 to 1911. Their remains have been conserved and a blowing engine from the Lilleshall Company’s Priorslee Ironworks installed in one of the houses. Nearby are displayed a pair of beam engines from the same location, alongside a working wrought iron works using equipment from Thomas Walmsley's Atlas Forge in Bolton in an iron-framed building designed by Rennie for Woolwich Dockyard.
The more remote parts of the site demonstrate natural recolonisation of an industrial landscape. Amongst buildings re-erected in this area are a corrugated iron tin tabernacle, (St Chad's Mission Church from Lodge Bank), a squatter cottage (from Dawley), and a toll house (designed by Telford for the Holyhead Road at Shelton).
In 2009 a £12 million programme of redevelopment was completed which included new buildings on Canal Street, a new World Heritage Visitor Centre, a mine railway and an inclined lift. The lift and mine railway have been subject to criticism on the grounds of authenticity, since they fall outside the former curatorial policy of maintaining the appearance of an industrial town in c.1900. The mine railway is intended to represent a 1920s clay mine, although the rolling stock is modern and the mine is formed by a concrete bunker. The inclined lift is entirely modern, and enables visitors with restricted mobility to access the lower part of the site. The inclined lift is out of operation until 2011 pending modifications to enable it to comply with Mines Inspectorate regulations. The project did not fund the restoration of the Scheduled Ancient Monuments and associated archaeological features on the site.
An episode of Antiques Roadshow was filmed here on 16 September 2009 and subsequently shown on BBC1 on 14 February 2010.
- Trinder, Barrie (1986). Blists Hill Open Air Museum: a guide to the museum and exhibits. Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.
- Herbert, Tony (1986). The unnatural history of Blists Hill: a guide to the plants and wildlife of the museum site. Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.
- West, Bob (1988). "The making of the English working past: a critical view of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum". In Lumley, Robert (ed.). The Museum Time-Machine: putting cultures on display. London: Routledge. pp. 36–62. ISBN 0-415-00651-1.
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