The daily grind

Coalbrookdale’s Museum of Iron has launched an exhibition showcasing the industrial workers of the Ironbridge Gorge. Daniel Morris takes a closer look.
Famed for the part it played in the Industrial Revolution, Shropshire has never been shy of flying the flag for the role that it has had over the last 250 years in shaping the Britain we know.
A seat of innovation and ingenuity, our county was a stage upon which some of the country’s greatest industrial achievements were showcased to the rest of the world. From miners to porcelain crafters, the workers of our region were a consummate force in the Industrial Revolution’s success, and the generations that followed in their work continued in this great contribution to Britain’s economic fabric into the modern day. This year, these men and women of two different ages have been rightly honoured with equal applause, and now the public can truly appreciate their story.
Currently running at Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, ‘The Daily Grind: The Industrial Workers of the Ironbridge Gorge’ is an exhibition which shines a spotlight on the lives and voices of the ordinary working people who toiled in the industries of the Gorge from the early days of the 18th century until the end of the First World War.
Drawing on the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust’s extensive archive collections – including oral histories, diaries, and photographs – The Daily Grind explores who these people were, the work that they did, and the part they played in the area’s world-changing history.
“Across our museums there was a general feeling that we should have an exhibition focussing on the ordinary working people of the Gorge,” said curator Lauren Collier.
“The stories of the Industrial Revolution that people tell can focus on big names like Abraham Darby, Thomas Telford and Isambard Brunel.
That means that we often end up overlooking the really vital contributions of these ordinary workers who were lower down in society.
“The aim of this exhibition was really to shine a spotlight on these people, bring their stories back to life, give them back their own voices, and recognise their skills and their talents whilst also acknowledging the hardships they faced and the dangers of the industry.”

Lauren and the team at the trust were, however, keen that the exhibition did not reflect only the often-harsh realities of the workers’ labours, but also their lives beyond their employment and the important role that religion, hobbies and leisure pursuits played in their identity.
“So that it wasn’t all quite so gloomy, we also wanted to acknowledge that these people weren’t just miners, or iron moulders, or pit girls,” said Lauren. “They were also lay preachers and footballers, they sang in choirs, they enjoyed going to the pub for a pint after work and going for walks on a Sunday. These were aspects of their personalities and their identities and their lives that were just as important as the work that they did.”
Through the exhibition the museum trust is showcasing the fascinating stories of particular individuals – one of which being the oft-untold tale of a woman who was able to rise up the Victorian career ladder.
“Julia Salmon worked at Coalport and she was a mother, but she also had to work,” said Lauren. “She went to work at Coalport, starting out as a labourer which is the lowest-skilled work she could get. Over the next three decades of the census you can see she progresses up the ranks at Coalport – almost what we would consider a career today. She goes from being a labourer to being a pottery wheel turner. And then, 10 years later, she herself is making that pottery on that wheel, which is very skilled work.”
Another tale unearthed by Lauren and the team continues to illuminate the diversity in the local workforce of the age.
“Probably one of the most interesting stories that we found was the story of John Peters,” Lauren said. “He appears very briefly in the 1808 diary of a woman called Elizabeth Poole. She was the mother-in-law of William Anstice, who owned the Madeley Wood Company.
“John Peters was a miner. But the interesting thing about John Peters is he was black. His story is that he came from America on a ship that was shipwrecked. He made his way from Liverpool to the Gorge, where he was employed in one of the local mines.
“We often think of miners as being people who were born locally, whose fathers and grandfathers were miners, but the John Peters story shows you this wasn’t necessarily the case.
“So many of the people that worked here had migrated from the Black Country, from Wales, and even, like Peters, from as far afield as America.

Not everybody had the same background so it’s a really lovely story showing the diversity of the workers.”
The mining industry was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, and for many centuries before it, coal had been dug in the region that would become Telford.
Fast-forwarding to the modern day, the 1979 closure of Granville Colliery brought an end to 700 years of coal mining in the area. This year the industry’s local legacy has been fittingly commemorated in Telford Town Park.
Unveiled this March, the town park Mining Memorial has been a labour of commitment and love pursued by three former local pit men.
Dubbed ‘The Granville Boys’, Cliff Hewitt, Malcolm Peel and Stewart Braddock had been diligently spreading the word about Telford’s mining past among local schools, when their memorial dream finally moved close to fruition.
“An advert had been put on social media asking for any ex-miners to come to schools to talk to the children about their heritage, going back to mining in the Victorian period,” said Stewart. “I put my name forward, Cliff Hewitt did the same, and then we introduced Malcolm Peel.
“We were all ex-Granville miners. We started going round the schools and we realised that a lot of these children hadn’t got any idea that there had been coal mines in the area – some had actually never even seen coal.
“We had decided before that we needed a memorial – every other area has got them. We’d applied for lottery funding and they turned us down, so what we started doing was going to other groups to do talks, charging £40-£50 a time to raise money.”
Eventually fundraising for the memorial was complete, and The Granville Boys could look at bringing the stunning sculpture that resides in the town park today to life.
“Cath Peel designed the memorial. We bought the featured pit wheel ourselves, and then we had a lot of people help us in various ways, including with casting models and making the plaques.”
As far as the memorial’s location, Telford Town Park was recognised as the perfect choice.
“The Granville Boys wanted to have a memorial to this really important part of our heritage,” said Telford & Wrekin Council cabinet member, Carolyn Healy. “They felt the town park would be the best place for it – a central location where lots of people and families go and the story can be passed on. They approached us and we were absolutely delighted to be able to support the project and find a place for the sculpture.
“We had a really lovely unveiling ceremony with lots and lots of local people of all ages – it was really nice to see people come and be interested in what is a really important part of Telford’s story.”
Sadly, Malcolm Peel passed away before he could see the memorial unveiled, yet Stewart is certain his pride would mirror his own.
“I feel very proud to have been part of the mining industry, and very proud on behalf of all the families that we have represented with the memorial,” he said. “A lady phoned me up just to say thank you that we had put something up that she could show her grandchildren and relate to her husband, and I feel very proud that we have helped her and others to be able to do that.”
So far, both the Mining Memorial and The Daily Grind have received high praise from locals and visitors alike.
“The feedback from the public on the memorial has been fantastic,” said Councillor Healy. I think it really helps people understand the history of the borough, and it really looks like it was always meant to be there.”
“People are really enjoying visiting the exhibition,” added Lauren. “One of the things we try to do, in particular with this exhibition, is really engage the local community in the stories that we’re telling. We’re trying to help people look at these industrial workers in a more detailed light. The exhibition is about bringing these people back to life, and reminding our visitors that they existed, and so far it’s been overwhelmingly positive.”
In celebrating its proud industrial legacy, Shropshire is once again putting more than just its best foot forward.
-The Daily Grind is running at Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron until November 5. For more information, visit

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