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  • Writer's pictureMichal Halasa

Bank Holiday trip to Victorian times - Ironbridge Gorge

It's funny how visiting the same places at different stages of life and with different people can completely change your perspective.

I always appreciated the beauty of the Ironbridge Gorge and the walks around it, but it was only recently when my partner suggested getting the Pass Plus (which, by the way, is an incredible value—this isn't sponsored or an advertisement, but here is the link to explore more about what it offers. Don’t bother with the other one; the Plus is not much more expensive but offers significantly more in terms of services, parking, etc.) that I thought, "Okay, sounds good," but I was not expecting how good it actually would be!

Blists Hill Victorian Town

When I saw this was the first place on our plan, I thought, "A couple of hours and out." Well...

Photo of an entrance building to the Victorian Town museum.

First, it's the setting—visiting in early spring made it look extra special (despite the usual light rain). When we got out of the car, one of the first thing noticed was the smell of chips fried in beef drippings (old school, baby, sorry vegan friends!) and the enormous entrance building. Stunning!

Pass collection and setup were smooth. They took a photo (get a haircut for it so you look dashing) and explained what is what. If you decide to get the Pass Plus—the main car parks in town (next to the Ironbridge Gorge Museum and the Ironbridge itself) are not part of it, so you have to pay. However, the Museum of Iron car park is a nice 15-20 minute walk into town from Coalbrookdale, where the museum is (I recommend going on the main road to town past the old iron factory buildings and returning via the Paradise shortcut!).

Back to the Victorian Town.

The best part, in my opinion, is the employees and volunteers in character in different "businesses" throughout the town who can tell you about life in the Victorian era. From the bank manager, chemist, and housemaid to the candle makers, all of them are fountains of knowledge and they are not boring! (Be careful with the candle maker lady though; I am sure she used to be a teacher as she doesn’t like to be interrupted!)

All of the exhibits have been moved to Blists Hill brick by brick to replicate the Victorian high street. You will notice, for example, that the chemist's labels and advertisements are from Bournemouth and the toll cottage is from Shrewsbury. They did an amazing job scouring the country to find the best possible exhibits.

Selection of photos of exhibits in the Victorian Town.

And there are plenty of them! From Lloyds Bank (where you can swap your modern pennies for old currency to use around the town) with a full set of ledgers and a letter copy book (the oldest dating back to the early 1900s), to the wonderful chemist (where you can buy some fancy soap and other smellies) with separate torture (dentist) room, the post office with stationery items (clever design replicated to this day with WHSmith and the like) and examples of old telegrams and letters, and the photography studio where you can see examples of old photographs and the setup to take them (they were a cheaper alternative to paintings and, surprise surprise, were done to show off to others—nothing has changed here).

In every building, you can see, experience, and learn about the olden days and how inventive and clever people from that era were.

Photos of buildings in Victorian Town.

Everywhere around the town, you can see old posters stuck on the walls and the occasional passing horse with a cart, making it feel like you have gone back in time. There is, of course, a pub where you can pop in for a drink and a singalong (times are listed on the posters).

From this part, it is a quick walk to the original brickwork factory that has been on-site (unfortunately not in use anymore), and then you can follow the canal that will take you to the plain, which was a really clever and ingenious way of transporting products and goods across the country.

Photo of Victorian posters.

At the back of Canal Street, you will find more gorgeous exhibits—the plasterer's being my favourite as they make beautiful cast ornaments that you can purchase and take home to decorate yourself (and by the way, we expected the prices to be really high being a tourist attraction, but surprisingly, that was not the case—£12 spent on 6 items!). You can see the old coal house, mine shaft, and a variety of workshops.

More photographs from the Victorian museum.

From there, you can nip to the bakery for freshly baked goods (aim to get there early as by the time we got there—around 3 PM—all that was left was a beautiful smell!) and continue your journey in time past the manager’s house where you can learn about the typical day of the maids, go past the original ironworks factory—with beautifully reclaimed by nature kilns, the refreshment pavilion, shipyard, and off towards the toll cottage (where you might think you are being greeted by an impeccable robot that recites all the information and must not be stopped!).

Photo of the delapidated kilns.

Well, now, the best ones:

Printers—an amazing workshop with lots of machines and absolutely superb and helpful employees who will tell you and show you how things were printed! Another really good thing is that all of the paper bags, posters, and small confectionery bags that you will see across the town have been printed there! Resourceful! Don’t forget to get some greeting cards as they are immaculate.

Squatter’s Cottage—hands down the best exhibit. Lots of history within that you will learn from the volunteers, but on top of that, it is a very special place and feels so homely and just right despite having not much in it. If your life, like mine, forced you to leave your motherland, this place might get you right in the heart. Something impossible to describe.

Photos of printers workshop and squatters cottage.

I am sure I have missed some of the exhibits and activities that you can partake in, but the ones above are my memories from this incredible place (which I will most likely be visiting again!). Definitely not a couple of hours in and out, and that is what it should be. If you are there for only an hour, you are doing it wrong. Plan a day around it!

There is food, there are drinks, there is fun, and most importantly, there are incredible employees and volunteers who will share with you all of their knowledge about the place and the old ways of living. And they will do it with passion because what makes this place stand out is the fact that it is run by people who genuinely care and are inspired by that era. Impeccable.

Click here for the official link that will give you all the information that you need.

So don’t wait, book a trip and enjoy it!

M x

PS. I have condensed quite a lot (we have spent over 5 hours there!) purely because it is not as exciting in writing (or at least I dunno how to make it exciting and the overenthusiastic American AI doesn't help) so if you can, just go there.

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