Travel back to Victorian times with a fun trip to Ironbridge

Simon Calder offers advice on booking staycations for 2021

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It felt like I had stepped into an immersive history lesson as I wandered around Blists Hill Victorian Town in Ironbridge, Shropshire. As Covid travel restrictions continue to change and UK staycations remain popular, Ironbridge is like no other place I have ever been before. It features 10 museums, each focusing on a different part of the area’s past.

Similarly to many other outdoor attractions, Ironbridge was affected by the Covid pandemic, which resulted in an income loss of over £2million.

Karen Davies, the Museum Development Director at Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, had the daunting task of reopening the 10 museums post-Covid lockdown.

“We’re working hard to secure our future but we need the public’s help to keep Ironbridge running. It costs over £10,000 a day to run our 10 museums. The income generated from ticket admission fees is not enough to cover this cost.”

She remained optimistic that the Trust would regain the numbers of visitors they had pre-Covid.

“We were one of the small handful of museums that opened last Christmas and were able to implement Covid measures. We had a lot of positive feedback on how we managed the reopening.

“Yes, capacity was down, but people were loving being outside and having that Christmas experience. It was quite emotional and lovely to see so many people just enjoying themselves and appreciating it”, added Karen.

The hometown of Thomas Parker, the first person to design and build an electric car in 1884, Ironbridge makes learning fun.

Karen added: “Blists Hill is set during an important time and brings that story to life. You can see how passionate the local people are.”

And she was right. As horses and carts casually passed by, I immediately sensed the pride everybody had in providing guests with the ultimate experience.

I met some (almost) real life Victorians in their authentic shops and cottages and watched tradespeople in their workshops and factories.

I sat inside a school classroom where kids as young as five were sent to work in coal mines. It was mind-boggling to think how life would have been for children during the Industrial Revolution.

Lunch consisted of fish and chips cooked the traditional way in beef dripping, followed by a cheeky visit to the old skool candy shop with its 19th Century selection. People can exchange current money for old coins from the Victorian era to purchase goodies or keep them as souvenirs.

I even had a go at the children zipliner – yes, it was sturdy enough to carry adults – which was a lot of fun.

The following day was jam-packed and included visits to Enginuity, an interactive design and technology centre featuring quizzes with lots of fun and interesting facts, I even built my own dam.

Then Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron with a stop off for lunch at The Furnace Kitchen next door. 

Once the heart of British tile production, the Jackfield Tile Museum is huge and showcases stunning pieces from 1840 to 1960. 

A trip to the interactive trails at the Coalport China Museum involved exploring the workshops and kilns where the pieces were made, decorated and fired.

Saving the best to last was the Ironbridge Gorge, an impressive UNESCO World Heritage site. The peaceful valley was once at the forefront of industry and engineering.

The area is also home to the world’s first Iron Bridge, a stunning masterpiece, which was erected over the River Severn at Coalbrookdale in 1779 and influenced the technology and architecture sectors.

Ironbridge is a fantastic place to visit and appeals to all ages. It makes a great day out and weekend getaway for people looking for a trip with a twist.

Getting there: Ironbridge is less than an hour from Birmingham and three hours from London Euston. It is easily accessible from Telford Train station.

Ticket prices: £19 for a child/student, £29 for an adult, £47 for a family ticket (one adult + up to four children and £76 for a family annual pass (two adults + up to four children).

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