On a beautiful sunny Thursday evening last week, a large group of enthusiasts were treated to some riveting talks by a series of specialists in slag, iron industry, metal working and post-industrial ecology. Together they revealed a fascinating insight into some of the hidden aspects rarely discussed at the Blists Hill Victorian Town, part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums. The event was one of many being staged during the Festival of Imagination in Ironbridge.
First of all, we saw the huge “boulders” in the woodland on the edge of the main site and learnt how these “slag bears”, weighing many tonnes, came about as a waste product from the ironmaking process.
Ecologist John Box explained how the slag becomes colonised with ferns and other vegetation and eventually trees. He explained how it is possible to tell the origin of various industrial pit mounds from the type of vegetation that gets established on them.
Mike Dobby and Andrew Naylor, curators of the National Slag Collection stored at the Ironbridge Museum, discussed the metallurgy and chemistry of slag, and how it is possible to determine much about the original iron production process (temperature, raw material composition, furnace type/construction etc) by analysing the slag.
Next, Andrew Naylor and blacksmith Paul Ashmore talked about the great significance of the iron tub-boat at the museum. The boat was salvaged derelict and rusting from farmland, for display at the museum. Used for many years on the canals from the 18th Century into the 20th Century, the boat reveals much about the development of iron working and ship building techniques.
Finally, Pete Jackson talked about the kind of real working conditions experienced by the people who would have lived in a town like that portrayed at Blists Hill.
A big thank you to the Ironbridge Museums staff for facilitating the event and arranging for a great fish and chip supper to round off the evening.