Saggar Maker Bottom Knocker and Ding Dong Steps

Trip Start May 22, 2010
Trip End Oct 31, 2010

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Where I stayed
Allan and Alison's home

Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Saturday, October 23, 2010

We had passports that allow us to visit the Ironbridge museums so decided to go to the Coalport one first then see how we felt. On the way we stopped at a church for a fun cache called 'Grabbed by the Ghoullies'. The cache was attached to a hand that you had to reach into a dark hole to extract!! The Church is called St Eata's after a seventh century saint and is said to be from the Norman period between 1066-1154. We also took photos of the 2 bridges across the river Severn, the oldest being built in 1774.

As we headed for Ironbridge we could see the Power Station appear. We stopped at a viewpoint – where there was a cache – and the view was lovely, which was handy because there was a muggle in just the wrong place so taking lots of photos hid our search.

Once at Ironbridge we stopped first at the old furnaces which are in ruins but were the first coke fired furnaces in the country. The whole Ironbridge area was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution.

We had been told to have ID as well as the passports and to sign in but in fact the people just stamped the cards. The Coalport China museum had a lot of pieces produced over the years on display. The bright blue is still impressive as were the various hand painted pieces. I don’t like the ‘flowerbowl’ pieces but they are well crafted. There were a number of very delicate small cups and vases and miniature houses. They also had some pieces with a gold background and raised dots which just seemed odd.

The notes talked of them trying to emulate Sevres in the early years and then being able to stand on their own reputation. When sales to the USA fell during the Great Depression the factory here closed and production was then all at Stoke on Trent.

The china was glaze dipped after the first (biscuit) firing and transfer printing. It was then fired again before being returned for further decoration and more firing. The famous blue was a black cobalt oxide before it was fired. The main kilns were bottle kilns but here was also a kiln with a roof used for the most expensive items.

The china was put into saggar or tough clay lidless bowls to protect it when it was fired. A top quality saggar would last a year and the makers were paid based on how long their product lasted. The name came from the word safeguard and the clay used was saggar marl. They were made in 2 parts. The base was made by a Saggar Maker Bottom Knocker who used a mallet to beat the base into an iron template. The Frame Filler rolled the saggar marl out evenly and wrapped it around the base. They had some of these on sale as garden ornaments.

The final step was often gilding with gold leaf– this was highly paid job done only by men at Coalport although women did the burnishing or polishing as the gold dulled when fired and had to be reshone.

There was information about the jigger and the jolley. These were more advanced versions of the potters wheel. The reason for the names isn’t known but the jigger was used to produce flatware like plates and the jolley for cups and bowls. There were partially produced flowers (formed but not Coloured) and information about the making of the roses that were on the Coalbrookdale range. They were handmade by women who could make one in 30 seconds, using only a comb and scalpel. The bone china would go off quickly but modern bone china has extra ingredients to make it easier to use.

There were more displays of china, some of the old kilns and also some workshops as well as a children’s area. One area usually had a woman potter working and had some seconds on sale. I really liked one and couldn’t see why it was a second (she was not there to ask) so decided to buy it. When I paid on the way out the woman also looked for the fault and thought it might be a slight gap at the bottom of the colouring.

We then walked by the river along to the Tar Tunnel We were greeted with enthusiasm as the woman here said she had had no visitors for more than one hour. Alison had recommended going here and it was interesting if totally different to Coalport. The tunnel had been dug for mining and then natural tar started to flow, as much as 1000 gallons a week in the early stages. Over time this reduced and the tunnel was used as a link to the mines. It was rediscovered and some tar still seeps through the brick lining. It is not really tar, a byproduct of oil production, but natural bitumen.

We drove to the site of the iron bridge (the first in the world and hence its fame). However, it started to drizzle and the carpark was full so we decided to get food instead. We had just left when the weather go a bit better so we instead to look for 3 caches at ‘jitties’. Especially in Broseley Wood there developed a maze of cottages lining an irregular network of lanes and enclosed footpaths. Locally these are known as ‘jitties’. In recent years the jitties have been restored under a conservation programme.

We drove along some very narrow and steep roads to get the first which was set at a tiny cottage. We then decided to walk to the other 2. One was at the Ding Dong Steps, although there as no information about the name. They certainly were as narrow as the information we had been given suggested. The whole area was attractive but you couldn’t help but notice that a huge number of the houses were for sale.

We had a pub lunch at another Robin Hood pub, not because of the name but because of the number of cars in the car park. There was a good view of another bridge here and lots of interesting old photos of the area in the restaurant. We then tried to visit some restored houses but the parking was full so decided to move on.

John was keen to get another suitcase so we found a mall which gave us a few options. We were back in Shrewsbury in time to do a cache at the Abbey. It was a ‘multi’ which involved us walking around the Abbey outside so getting a good look at the highlights. The former pulpit is in a car park opposite the site – the other thing I most enjoyed was seeing a memorial to the war poet, Wilfred Owen. Allan Wilson had told us he was a former resident but this was the only memorial we saw, and was very well done.

The problem came at the end. We worked out the final placement of the cache but when we went there it was over a fence and we couldn’t see the way in. We emailed the owner who confirmed we had the correct values and told us how to access the site. John cooked up all our leftover food for tea and I caught up on some blog.
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