Ironbridge weekend - Friday and Saturday
Friday 8th June 2018
Not a day had passed following the Installation when the Mistress and I went hotfoot to Telford to attend the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Livery Weekend organised by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. In its 35th year, this annual pilgrimage of Livery Companies' Masters and Consorts is one of only two events in the calendar when all Livery Companies can come together. The other occasion is the United Guilds Service.
The journey was much longer than expected with a tiresome detour through Nuneaton. However, all anxiety was dispelled upon our arrival at Hatton Grange, Shifnal, the home of Rupert Kenyon-Slaney, Chairman of the Foundation Committee. The invitation to all of the weekend revellers was a kindness gratefully accepted. It offered the visitors an opportunity to take a stroll in Hatton Grange's beautiful gardens, meet others and enjoy a restorative cup of tea before completing the journey to the Telford Holiday Inn.
As Masters before have recounted, the weekend is set in the World Heritage Site of Ironbridge Gorge, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. The Gorge includes ten museums and key attractions including the Broseley Pipe Works which our Company supports. The organisers lay on coaches for the 200 or so visitors to tour the Gorge and see the principal sites; the Coalbrookedale Museum of Iron, Jackfield Tile Museum, Blists Hill Victorian Town and the Coalport China Museum. We learned many interesting facts from the tour including why Coalport China has its name and the job of a saggarmakers bottom knocker. Ask me next time we meet...
Marking the 100 years since women were given the right to vote, we found an art installation at the Museum of Iron; silhouettes of those women in the Ironbridge Gorge that were eligible to vote at that time. Astonishingly, eligibility was determined not just by age but also by relative wealth and this filter meant that only 37 out of 160 women in the Gorge could vote. Checking the names and occupations of the 37, the Mistress and I found that 8 women were employed in the making of clay pipes; a gratifyingly high percentage. We did not establish exactly why this was the case but suspect that working conditions were somewhat better for this industry compared with others. Perhaps survival rates and the time to accumulate savings were the key.
Livery Companies would not be what they are without formal dinners and the weekend included two! Best bib and tucker. The President's Dinner on the Saturday was graced by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress along with the Sheriffs. It was wonderful to see Past Master Fiona Adler fulfilling her role as Consort to Sheriff Tim Hailes. Standout moments from the first night include sitting next to the Master Pewterer, Ann Buxton for the second time in two days, learning that she is the aunt of Rupert Kenyon-Slaney (Foundation Chairman) in his address and a rousing rendition of 'Any Old Iron' by the Master Mercer. Apart from the wonderful and inspiring speeches of the Foundation President and Lord Mayor at the President's Dinner, there was also a moment of joy with the raffle. With 10 places at each table, the diners were invited to buy tickets representing one of the 10 museums in the Gorge. The Lady Mayoress then pulled the winning name of a museum from a hat...it was Broseley Pipe Works!! Dear readers, your hearts will be warmed to hear that both the Master and Past Master Fiona Adler were winners.
This annual event is truly a remarkable thing, fully bringing together the three pillars that support the activities of the Corporation and the Livery Companies; our role in the City, fellowship and benvolence. The Foundation did a magnificent job organising it and tribute must also go to the participating Masters and Consorts for their goodwill and welcome to those of us newly installed.