A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.
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SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ACTIVITIES.
Early records of secular social activities in the parish are those of perennial efforts to suppress tippling, gaming, and desecration of the Lord's Day. (fn. 1) In the 1660s and 1670s there were 15 or more alesellers, (fn. 2) many of them probably carrying on other occupations too. (fn. 3) About 1762 there were perhaps 20 or 30 'tippling houses' and the vicar, J. W. Fletcher, visited them to attempt the conversion of their habitués. In the late 18th and early 19th century the parish, led at first by Abraham Darby (III) and Richard Reynolds, concerted measures with the Wenlock magistrates to reduce the number of alehouses and to limit their social use. About 1783 there were 18 public houses. One licensee was induced to do away with a fives court c. 1811. (fn. 4)
By 1847 there were 52 public houses. (fn. 5) They had multiplied most where the miners, ironworkers, and bargemen were. Of thirteen 18th-century licences surviving in 1901, eleven were in the Ironbridge and Madeley Wood area; one was for the parish's oldest public house, the Golden Ball (licensed 1728) at Madeley Wood. Before the 1820s Madeley had only the Three Horse Shoes (1749) but in the mid 19th century numbers in and around the town increased greatly; one of the earliest licences was that for the Royal Oak in 1831. (fn. 6) The Earl Grey beerhouse, Coalbrookdale, was bought by Francis Darby in 1839. (fn. 7) Later in the century there were only two or three public houses in the dale, one of them, the Commercial (1839; renamed the Grove c. 1956), eventually acquired by the Coalbrookdale Co. (fn. 8)
The Tontine, built opposite the Iron Bridge in the earlier 1780s, was soon the parish's most imposing inn, widely advertised as a good staging inn and with an assembly room. (fn. 9) In 1851 three of the parish's four posting inns were near the Iron Bridge, (fn. 10) the other on the turnpike road through Coalbrookdale to Wellington. (fn. 11) Some public houses were meeting places for friendly societies (fn. 12) and sporting clubs or teams; (fn. 13) some had clubrooms. In the late 19th century four of the five pubs with the worst police records were in the Ironbridge and Madeley Wood area, though the worst was the Three Furnaces, opened near Madeley Court in 1841. Most pubs had only works, mining, or roadside trade; (fn. 14) in 1901 the impressive, early 19th-century frontage of the Crown, Hodgebower, distinguished the only inn besides the Tontine with any superior custom. (fn. 15)
The closure of eight pubs 1911-21 (four in Ironbridge) and two others in 1926 and 1933 (in Madeley) brought numbers from 50 in 1909 to 40 in 1937. By 1980, though new pubs had opened on the new housing estates in the 1960s and 1970s, there were only 31 in the ancient parish area. (fn. 16) Many of them had bowling greens, social clubs, and regularly organized games, and some raised charitable funds. (fn. 17)
Increasing trade and population bred violence. In Ironbridge colliers and bargemen fought on market day, and by the 1760s the parish wake, held after Michaelmas, was notorious for the drunkenness caused by its shows and bull-baiting. J. W. Fletcher, vicar 1760-85, and Richard Reynolds, lord of the manor, opposed baiting. Reynolds's predecessors had required some of their cottage tenants to keep a dog or fighting cock for them, but Reynolds laid out walks through his woods to provide more civilized recreation for all classes. In 1788 the vestry resolved to withhold poor relief from any who kept a dog or fighting cock. (fn. 18) In 1810 most of the parish's employers announced that they would try to prevent those concerned in a bull-baiting at the recent wake from getting work. (fn. 19) Badgers (fn. 20) and bulls were baited at Ironbridge wake, but bull-baiting there was finally put down by the curate and others c. 1825. (fn. 21) A Primitive Methodist protracted meeting in Ironbridge the week before the 1858 wake (fn. 22) may have been intended to stiffen resistance to the wake's allurements, which by then were probably few. So were, by 1869, those of the annual pleasure fair held at Ironbridge on 29 May. (fn. 23) Other events replaced them. An annual Ironbridge fête, started in 1864, included sports, a high-wire act, and fireworks in 1875. (fn. 24) Regular visits by circuses (fn. 25) and fun fairs (fn. 26) began and, stemming from the celebration of royal events, summer carnivals began to be held at Madeley (fn. 27) and Ironbridge, (fn. 28) and later at Coalport, (fn. 29) where Jackfield wake was held in the late 19th century. (fn. 30)
A friendly society existed by 1794, (fn. 31) and others were later formed at Coalbrookdale, (fn. 32) Ironbridge, (fn. 33) Madeley Wood, (fn. 34) and Park Lane. (fn. 35) Some met at public houses, (fn. 36) others had temperance links. Works and chapels had provident societies, and the Coalbrookdale Co. employees' subscriptions contributed also to their sons' education. Lodges of Odd Fellows, Foresters, freemasons, and others were established during the 19th century, and there was a branch of the Shropshire Provident Society 1853-1945. About 1880 some 3,000 members, subscribing £2,380 a year, were claimed for the parish's provident societies. (fn. 37) The freemasons' lodge was meeting in Wellington by 1969. (fn. 38)
As public houses increased from the 1830s temperance societies opened branches throughout the parish, and there was a 'British Workman' at Ironbridge from c. 1880 to c. 1905, at Coalbrookdale in the 1880s, and at Madeley in 1895. (fn. 39) Libraries were founded from the 1830s, when two church Sunday schools had lending libraries attached. (fn. 40) Reading rooms were opened and literary societies founded. (fn. 41) By 1864 the vicar of Madeley was patron of a working man's subscription library which had 200 members in 1903. (fn. 42) The Ironbridge Reading, Lecture and Billiard Rooms at the Wharfage were recorded from 1885 to 1941; (fn. 43) they were probably the assembly rooms mentioned in 1885 and 1892. (fn. 44) About that time there were also assembly rooms in St. Luke's Road, Ironbridge, sold in 1906 as a Volunteers' armoury. (fn. 45) The Ironbridge parish room, opened c. 1909 in the old infant school, contained a reading room and library. (fn. 46)
The Ironbridge Mechanics' Institution flourished 1840-c. 1852. Alfred Darby (d. 1852) arranged to buy its library for the Coalbrookdale Literary and Scientific Institution, formed in 1853; its officers were largely the Coalbrookdale Co.'s owners and senior staff; there were middleclass and working-class subscriptions. The library opened in the company's boys' school in 1853, a reading room in the girls' church school in 1855. A building (with a librarian's house) was opened in 1859, the Tudor Gothic design by the company manager Charles Crookes being realized in the company's own blue and white brick. Newspapers and periodicals were taken and the library grew to over 3,000 books by 1890. There was an annual lecture programme and, from 1856, a popular day excursion, usually in August. By the 1890s, however, the institution was suffering from the growing popularity of outdoor pursuits with the young. A room was devoted to recreational uses, and the Coalbrookdale Social Club was formed in the institution in 1898. Institution membership was then only 46, and in 1899 it amalgamated with the Club. (fn. 47)
Similar bodies were founded elsewhere. A literary and artistic institute at Coalport, in existence by 1856, (fn. 48) gave way in 1892 to a temperance coffee house, which was associated with the china works and included a newspaper reading room and a small library; it closed soon after 1917. (fn. 49) At Madeley the Anstice Memorial Institute and Workmen's Club was opened in 1869. The Italianate building included a reading room, library, and large lecture hall. Altered over the years, the institute was much used for plays, dances, and many other social gatherings; the library closed in 1942. (fn. 50)
The county library had book centres in the parish from the late 1920s; that at Madeley became a branch in the 1950s. There were branches at Ironbridge 1958-71 and Sutton Hill 1968- 81, and a local-history reference library in the Coalbrookdale Institution annexe was open in 1966 and 1967. (fn. 51)
The Ironbridge Weekly Journal and Borough of Wenlock Advertiser, started in 1868, was sold by the Ironbridge postmaster Joseph Slater in 1874 (fn. 52) to local Conservatives who, stimulated to strengthen their position in the borough that year, formed a company to publish it. (fn. 53) It was retitled the Borough of Wenlock Express and General Advertiser in 1875 and the Wenlock and Ludlow Express and Shropshire Advertiser in 1877. (fn. 54) The paper probably ceased in 1882. (fn. 55) The Shropshire Examiner and All Round the Wrekin Advertiser, started in 1873, proclaimed itself the organ of mining and other industrial interests. (fn. 56) Its owner, the Liberal John Randall, sold it in 1874 to a Wolverhampton man who began to publish it from Wellington. (fn. 57) In 1879 Randall, who had meanwhile brought out a monthly magazine, (fn. 58) started the Wrekin Echo as the 'only recognized organ' of Liberals and nonconformists in mid and south Shropshire. In 1881, the year in which Lord Granville obtained the Madeley postmastership for Randall, the Echo was merged with the new Shropshire Guardian, the Liberals' main county paper. (fn. 59) The Telford Times, a monthly, later three-weekly, free newspaper started in 1982, was published in Ironbridge. (fn. 60)
Movies reached Madeley c. 1903 and there was a cinema in the former Bethesda chapel 1910-58; there were others at Ironbridge c. 1916-1966 and Dale End c. 1933-1959. (fn. 61) A casual mention of an Ironbridge theatre may refer to one of the touring companies which visited the parish at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries; one such used to pitch along Waterloo Street near the old Bedlam furnaces. (fn. 62) Plays were also staged at the Anstice Memorial hall. (fn. 63)
From 1979 to 1983 WSM, a community radio station in Woodside controlled by a board of householders, regularly transmitted music, local news, and other matters of community interest for c. 8 hours daily by cable to Woodside, Sutton Hill, and Madeley. (fn. 64)
As in most 20th-century towns, social life in Madeley was centred on sport and pubs. Nevertheless clubs and societies for other, (fn. 65) more specialized (fn. 66) interests proliferated; those common in mining communities (fn. 67) -choral societies, (fn. 68) brass and silver bands, (fn. 69) and homing-pigeon clubs (fn. 70) - showed particular vitality. St. John Ambulance Brigade, with a unit in the parish from c. 1900, had its own premises, the Lowe Memorial Hall, Park Lane, in the 1950s. (fn. 71) Units of the usual uniformed youth organizations were formed in the 20th century, and there were five youth clubs in 1980. (fn. 72)
Madeley Rest Room, a meeting place for old people, developed out of R. N. Moore's religious and social work in the 1920s. Meetings were weekly in the Anstice Memorial Institute 1929-34 but thereafter every weekday in a new room in Park Avenue and, from 1968, its successor in Church Street. (fn. 73) The Rest Room published a Review from 1930 (fn. 74) and was the precursor of others in Dawley, Oakengates, and Hadley. (fn. 75) The Ironbridge Fellowship Club, formed in the 1950s, had its own premises, and other clubs, including some for old people, met in community centres and similar buildings, which numbered 26 in 1980, half of them publicly provided. (fn. 76)
In 1860 Ironbridge supplied the headquarters, and soon after the designation, of a volunteer rifle corps formed for the borough of Wenlock and represented, from 1888 to 1967, by a company of the Volunteer (from 1908 Territorial) battalion, K.S.L.I. (fn. 77) It had an armoury in St. Luke's Road 1906-26 (fn. 78) and a drill hall in Waterloo Street from the First World War until it was absorbed in 1947 in the Wellington company, which used the T.A. centre at Hill Top in Madeley 1952-67. (fn. 79)
Recreational use of the Severn increased as its commercial traffic declined. Matthew Webb learnt to swim in it, (fn. 80) and a floating bath was in use by 1879. The Ironbridge Rowing Club was formed c. 1870 and held open regattas 1883-91 (usually combined with other sports) and from 1950. (fn. 81) River excursions became popular from the mid 19th century. (fn. 82) Fishing was very popular in the mid 20th century, not only on the Severn but elsewhere, as at Upper furnace pool, New pool, and Madeley Court pool, the last-named stocked by an angling club c. 1958. (fn. 83)
About 1896 the vicar of Madeley counted the main obstacles to his work as indifference, drink, and 'the passion for amusement, especially football'. (fn. 84) Madeley Town F.C. had been formed at the All Nations in 1885 (fn. 85) and Ironbridge United was one of the county's stronger clubs in the 1890s and 1900s. (fn. 86) Regular cricket had been established by 1855, and by the 1890s there were clubs at Coalbrookdale (formed 1882) and Madeley, the latter one of the area's two leading ones. Club cricket and football offered temptations to rowdyism and even corruption in the late 19th and early 20th century, but the clubs were on the whole respectably led. W. G. Dyas captained Ironbridge F.C., was a leading Madeley C.C. player, and advised on the latter club's purchase of its ground in 1925. Despite protests from the clergy Madeley C.C. introduced Sunday cricket to the area in 1940, and a Sunday football league based on Ironbridge was founded in 1973. (fn. 87) By 1980 the only league football played by teams from the area of the ancient parish was in the local Sunday leagues. (fn. 88) Madeley C.C. played league cricket 1948-50 and from 1979. Coalbrookdale C.C. played in the Shropshire Cricket League from its first season in 1949 but in 1959 the club was merged in the Coalbrookdale works sports and social club and the team ceased playing in 1962. Madeley Miners' C.C. ceased in the late 1960s when the Miners' Welfare ground (purchased in 1923 and laid out as sports grounds) was acquired for the Madeley Education and Recreation Centre. (fn. 89)
Few outdoor recreational facilities in the parish were publicly provided before the 1950s. Earlier there had been private efforts on behalf of children's playing fields (fn. 90) but the first in Madeley to be equipped by the local authority was Trevor's Field, Park Street, in 1953; (fn. 91) another was opened at Hill Top c. 1960. (fn. 92) By 1980 there were public football pitches at the Alexander Fleming and Abraham Darby schools, at the Regatta Field recreation ground, Dale End, and at Sunniside. (fn. 93) Madeley Education and Recreation Centre, opened to the public in 1971 on 56 a. between Madeley and Woodside, was created by Telford development corporation and the county and district councils; it had outdoor and indoor sports facilities, a swimming pool, and a theatre and cinema. (fn. 94) Great Hay golf course opened in 1976 (fn. 95) and became private when the Telford Hotel, including a golf and country club, opened in 1981. (fn. 96)
From 1976 Telford development corporation made 200 a. of under-used, industrially derelict land north and west of Woodside into a public recreation area known as Rough Park. (fn. 97) Twenty acres developed by 1980 included 3½ a. of allotments, formed 1976-8, between Beech Road and Woodside Way and an area for children's unsupervised play west of Castlefields Way. A riding school at Rough Park Farm stables continued to use land there. By 1980 the whole area south of the Lightmoor valley and east of Dale Coppice had been reclaimed and seeded as grassland, and there were plans to create woodland, other amenities, and footpaths linking Rough Park via the Silkin Way to Telford town park (fn. 98) and the Severn Gorge.