If you have ever wondered what it would have been like to live in Britain during the Industrial Revolution, then visit Blists Hill Victorian Town in Shropshire, England.
You can truly step back in time at Blists Hill. It’s just one of nine museums in the Ironbridge area — including the Jackfield Tile Museum, Coalport China Museum, Museum of Iron and the Iron Bridge itself, the world’s first cast iron bridge, built in 1779 over the River Severn — that showcase the best of the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Located in the heart of England, the area is considered so historically important that it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Each building in the Victorian town dates from the 1800s and has been carefully transported to the village and reconstructed brick by brick to recreate a small industrial town toward the end of Queen Victoria’s reign.
Guides in costume and in character breathe life into these immaculately recreated shops, workplaces and homes, offering an astounding insight into what life was like more than 100 years ago.
Turn your pounds into shillings in the Victorian Lloyds bank and leave contemporary England behind. Treat yourself to a bag of candy from the sweet shop, buy some freshly baked bread and see what’s on offer in the grocers, chemist, candle makers and printers for all your turn of the century needs.
At lunchtime, you can send your children off to the school, where they will be taught a lesson, Victorian-style, with chalk and blackboard, by a strict and smartly-dressed head teacher. Meanwhile, you can nip off for a pint of traditional ale in the wood-panelled Victorian pub, where the locals gather round the piano for an old-fashioned singalong.
If you want you can even be Victorian and actively participate in the experience. Enrol in the blacksmithing course — the wrought iron works at Blists Hill is the only working iron foundry in Europe — and you’ll be taught how to heat iron and steel until it is white hot before hammering it into shape on the anvil. Using traditional blacksmithing skills you’ll be taught how to make objects including a fire poker, leaf key ring and coat hook. It’s serious work, though, with amateur blacksmiths feeling the heat and developing giant blisters on their hands as they hammer repeatedly at the iron rod to knock it into shape.
Despite the hard labour, it’s a course people find creative, inspiring and rewarding. As most of us urban types don’t actually get to make anything after school age — we just buy things then throw them away — most people find it satisfying to put time into producing something useful and durable in the blacksmithing course.
And with the world’s current problems of environmental sustainability in mind, it’s also one of the interesting things about visiting Blists Hill, and learning about how the Victorians lived.