Rooted in the Land – Cast iron and pasties

SE Ilkley 2015 alveley fenny bentley ironbridge (55)The sign for Ironbridge had confirmed it… I was right to make the engineering connection with Telford after all. Even though I had been half convinced I was confusing it with Thomas Telford, the civil engineer and architect. As we were, by this time, about ready for breakfast… having been on the road long enough to call it lunch… and as we didn’t fancy Telford in the rush hour, we decided to make a quick detour and see if we could catch a glimpse of the bridge that had given the town its name.

SE Ilkley 2015 alveley fenny bentley ironbridge (34)We didn’t get lost… we just ran out of signposts and took a ridiculously long detour. The sign had pointed one way… the bridge was, it turned out, just a few yards in the other direction. Still, it was a nice drive and we would definitely have missed the morning traffic that had been crawling towards Telford while we drove through leafy tunnels, finally finding the car park at a little before nine. The first thing to greet us was a Saxon warrior sporting the famous helmet of Sutton Hoo, which, in turn, reminded me of the Staffordshire Hoard… that haul of treasure found near Lichfield in 2009 by a metal detectorist that is an incredibly beautiful glimpse of the goldsmith’s art. It seemed fitting that the way should be guarded by a Mercian warrior after our adventures with our Doomsday books.

SE Ilkley 2015 alveley fenny bentley ironbridge (35)We passed the Toll House and wandered into the sunlight on the famous bridge, now part of the World Heritage Site of Ironbridge Gorge. The Toll House was where the price of passage was collected for those wishing to cross the bridge or use the local roads. High under the eaves a sign still displays the tariffs in ‘old money’… the pounds, shillings and pence of my youth. Decimal currency may have brought us into line with most of the rest of the world, but it lacks the charm of the ‘thrupenny bit’, the sixpence and the half-crown that was the best coin a child could find slipped in their pocket by a fond grandparent. Full crowns were reserved for specially minted celebration pieces.

SE Ilkley 2015 alveley fenny bentley ironbridge (57)I can still remember learning the complicated mathematics for adding up costs when there were 12 pennies to the shilling, 20 shillings to the pound … or 21 to the guinea. Ha’pennies were still around then, and though the farthing with its wren design, worth a quarter of a penny, still turned up it had ceased to be legal tender in 1960. The farthing too was Saxon in origin, coming from a feorthing, a fourth part. We were, unbelievably, taught all that at infants school alongside standard decimal maths and I remember quite clearly Miss Howe, the headmistress (who had a passion for painted pottery vases) explaining that the pound, shillings and pennies were written Β£. s. d… with the ‘d’ standing for denarii, from the Roman coinage upon which the system of 240 pennies to the pound was based… I must have been all of seven at the time.

SE Ilkley 2015 alveley fenny bentley ironbridge (38)Beneath us the river Severn flowed calm in the morning sun. The centre of the bridge records the date of its construction 1779, just three years after the American Declaration on Independence and ten years before the start of the French Revolution, when Marie Antoinette was just 24 years old and five years a queen. I don’t know why that particular point of reference came to me… perhaps it was something in the quality of the morning light that reminded me of France.

SE Ilkley 2015 alveley fenny bentley ironbridge (56)The bridge is made of cast iron and spans the river still with grace. It was the first arch bridge in the world to be made of what was then a new material and drew attention worldwide, the innovative structure gaining much praise. The span of the bridge is made from five ribs, each 100ft long. Nearly 1700 components were cast individually to fit with each other rather than as standardised pieces, allowing for some quite considerable discrepancies between seemingly identical pieces. From above the arch reflects into the water as a perfect circle. The Gorge is prone to landslides, however and early in its history this problem had to be addressed when cracks began to appear as the sliding earth pushed the bridge bases closer together.

William_Williams_The_Iron_BridgeThe construction drew many artists to the site. One of the first paint the bridge was William Williams who, in 1780, was commissioned to make an image of the bridge for the princely sum of ten guineas. Looking at his painting and its style perhaps best puts into context the time of the construction… a time that would see the full impact of the Industrial Revolution that is commemorated in the museums of the area.

SE Ilkley 2015 alveley fenny bentley ironbridge (44)We, however, had no time to explore further with a long journey ahead. We did need breakfast though, and found it at the far end of the bridge in Eley’s World famous Pork Pie Shop… though we didn’t go for the pork pies, opting instead for a proper Cornish pasty apiece to eat on the hoof. We couldn’t really linger any more… we needed to get a little closer to our destination, still about a hundred and fifty miles away. That wouldn’t take long on fast roads and motorways, of course, but we weren’t planning on taking them… you miss too much. Who knew what else we would find…?

SE Ilkley 2015 alveley fenny bentley ironbridge (52)

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
This entry was posted in adventure, Don and Wen, Doomsday: The Γ†theling Thing, England, History, Memories, Photography, Rooted in the Land, Stuart France and Sue Vincent, travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to Rooted in the Land – Cast iron and pasties

  1. My, you don’t half get around,Sue.But my ‘proper Cornish friend’, Sharon Tregenza, would say you don’t get a ‘proper Cornish pasty ‘ unless you’re in Cornwall. Wonder if it’s wrong to really , really fancy a Cornish pasty at this time in a morning? Well I have been up a long time. Jx


  2. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    If you are in the UK and can take a trip then this is something not to be missed. My sister-in-law lived close by so we have been a number of times. Stunning and a beautiful part of the country. Thanks Sue for brining back happy memories.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jenanita01 says:

    This is another one of the interesting places I always wanted to see, thanks for letting me tag along, Sue…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. kirizar says:

    I woke to read your lovely travelogue. At first, I struggled to figure out where you were, because pasties are a known delicacy of the U.P. (Upper Peninsula) here in Michigan. Then I remembered a little place called Cornwall that might have a claim to inventing them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Kally says:

    I enjoyed reading your adventures, accompanied by great photos! Looking forward to read more posts from you.


  6. Mary Smith says:

    Great post, Sue. I love the painting of the bridge. I also remember ‘old’ money very well and finding farthings and silver thruppences in my gran’s button box, which was a real treasure trove. I was a Saturday girl in Boots when the change to decimalisation came and we had special training in how to explain to customers how to convert from L.S.D. to decimal and vice versa. I find I still often automatically convert a price into ‘old’ money.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      So do I… especially when the price rises strike me… I had to explain it all to my family, especially the great-grandparents. Miss Howe taught us well early on, but I was glad of the schools teaching us about new money later πŸ™‚


  7. Wonderful pictures and wildflowers, Sue, and interesting facts. A magnificent bridge and I marvel it was built so long ago and such a complicated beauty.
    The bit about the money I would never figure out let alone at such a young age as you did. πŸ˜€


  8. Eliza Waters says:

    Is that the original iron bridge or has it been rebuilt? I would expect that it would rust away over the years. Pretty interesting to see the first iron bridge. I’ve never thought about it, but there had to be a first, didn’t there? πŸ˜‰


  9. raphaela99 says:

    What an amazing place!


  10. laurie27wsmith says:

    Ah the thrill of even finding a penny down the back of the settee was a joy to behold Sue. i remember getting half a crown for xmas in my stocking, tight beneath a huge Jaffa orange. That sock never did fit me again. pounds shillings and pence, real money especially when it was made from silver. Loved the story about the bridge and a pastie would go down a treat right about now.


  11. Helen Jones says:

    Lovely photos of a place I remember visiting many times as a child. Funnily enough, we passed by the turn-off to Ironbridge this weekend, though our destination was further north-west πŸ™‚


  12. macjam47 says:

    I am absolutely hooked on these posts. That bridge is a work of engineering and art. How beautiful! Thanks so much for taking me along on these lovely trips. Hugs.


  13. Robert says:

    I was telling a work colleague about Iron Bridge only last week, a beautiful part of the world. My father’s family are from Shropshire.


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