Living up to it’s name in every way, Ironbridge Gorge features both a gorge and an Iron Bridge. In fact, the bridge located at the Iron Bridge Gorge museums was the first to be built ever in the world, back in 1779. Since then, it’s been a global attraction and no fewer than nine additional attractions are available for you to visit in the immediate area.
However, for this article, we’re focusing on Blists Hill Victorian town. That was the location of The Town That Never Was steampunk event in June. Blists Hill is an open air museum which recreates the look and feel of a Victorian era town. It has a mixture of buildings and businesses. Some are originals, some recreations, some featuring parts from Victorian buildings and some are actual relocated buildings from other parts of the country.
Blists Hill layout
The Visitor’s Centre is located at the base of a hill below the open air museum. Upon paying for entry, you make your way through a small portion of the museum before ascending a spiral staircase. The room opens out at the Steam Engine rail track. Progressing down the main road, the town opens out from the incredibly detailed Chemist on the first corner – with its small Dentist room to the side – to the pub on the opposing corner. The pub sells a limited range of drinks including draught beers and authentic cloudy cider. There’s also a Fish & Chip shop which fries in beef fat, a photographer, Outfitters, Cobbler and Sweet shop in the first section.
One of the more interesting things about Blists Hill is that you can exchange your modern money for Victorian equivalents of Pounds, Shillings and Pence. All the retail outlets will accept either modern or the Victorian money and have prices listed with both.
Towards the back of the site is one of the original features. The derelict Tile and Brick works stands alone across the canal. It provides a gorgeous backdrop for the Trevithick Shed and replica engine that runs seasonally. It’s said that the Trevithick engine was the first locomotive on rails in the world, designed by Richard Trevithick in 1802.
Moving further into the site, more of the industrial businesses are located, such as the Print Works, Blacksmiths, Mine Shaft and Candle Factory. These businesses actually work and you can buy products made from them by traditional methods.
Things to see and do at Ironbridge
Heading down the hill, there’s a Doctor’s Office. It was originally the cottage where the foreman of the Iron Works would have lived. But the museum has transformed it. This leads to the Ironworks and the Blast Furnaces – the latter being an original feature of the location. The Ironworks was the location of some of the features that took place that weekend. The Belly Fusion Dance Collective were present. They had featured at TimeQuake – another Ministry of Steampunk event.
There was also Tea Duelling and performances by Scarlet Butterfly and Alice’s Night Circus. On the Sunday, there was the added drama of and Illicit Market. For those that are unacquainted with the latter, it’s a secretive market that lasts for around half an hour. Traders bring their wares into the area and have to sell as much as they can for cash only and as quietly as possible so the local law enforcement don’t hear them. Should the market be rumbled, you need to get out quickly. It’s incredible fun.
Several people gave speeches such as the Flat World Society, Cthulhu’s Witnesses, the Sufferjets (Votes For Women!). As well as a recruitment drive from the 3rd Foot and Mouth and the Martian Expeditionary Force.
The Ministry of Steamwizards was in attendance along with Aethelred the Pigeon of Pigeonholeing for the Sorting Ceremony. You could also get involved with the Nerf Gun shoot out, parade with everyone and watch for the outlaws robbing the bank to claim a reward!
Interestingly there was loads for the kids to do. Along with the Ministry of Steamwizards, there was a Monster’s Garden. Upon collecting a record sheet from the Hopeless, Maine pitch kids could record the monsters they see and return it for a Monster Hunter badge.
The Town That Never Was is one of the better events that I’ve been to. It’s very easy to fall into the same routine of a market and some entertainment. So it’s nice to find an event that does something a little different. There was only a few steampunk stands there, situated at the far end of the site next to the fairground and around the retail area across from the Brick & Tile Works.
As a Ministry of Steampunk event, it was bound to have a lot of things to do and the organisers didn’t disappoint. If you wanted to get involved you could, if you wanted to shop you could. But the great thing about Blists Hill is if you just want to be Victorian for the day, you can. It’s a stunning location and even more appropriate to our subculture than The Asylum. While it’s not as big as The Asylum, it’s constructed in a different way. It has a lot more for children to do which makes it much more accessible for all steampunks. There’s some beautiful walks for those who like to meander and stroll. And there’s loads to see for those who like to learn about things.
If you’ve ever heard of The Town That Never Was (sometimes referred to as simply “Ironbridge”) but you’ve never thought it worth going, then I would highly recommend you do so. You won’t be disappointed.
To see the full set of images, visit the album on our Facebook page: The Town That Never Was full album
For more information on the superb work that the Ironbridge charity does, you can follow this link: Blists Hill Museum website
Keep up to date on the next Town That Never Was event by following the Facebook page: The Town That Never Was Facebook page