Blists Hill Victorian town is an open air museum, recreated in painstaking detail to transport you back to the age of steam and give visitors a glimpse into what life was like at the dawn of the industrial revolution. Part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums in Shropshire, it makes for a perfect UK Day out.
This is a paid article written in partnership with Ironbridge Gorge Museums, with products or services supplied by them. Full editorial integrity is maintained at all times. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.
If you are taking a staycation in Shropshire or visiting the historical quaintness of Shrewsbury and are looking for a great UK day out, you would be hard pressed to find anything better than the Ironbridge Gorge Museums, and the Blists Hill Victorian Village is the jewel in this impressive industrial crown.
As a lover of history in all forms, historical sites and museums have always formed a large part of most of my travels but I have never been able to actually experience a slice of history in the way I did at Blists Hill Victorian Town. This huge town, authentically rebuilt around original and reconstructed buildings, is one of 10 museums that make up the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage site, and is one of the most unique museums in the UK, making it an ideal day out for everyone.
Immediately on arrival visitors are primed for a taste of the past with a visit to the main exhibition hall at the visitors centre. The undercurrent of education is more pronounced here where interactive displays tell the story of Ironbridge’s role in the birth of the industrial revolution and the personal stories of the harsh mining and forging industries are explored before they come to life as you enter the town itself. The emphasis on education here is palpable as well as important to give you a sense of appreciation for just how hard life was just a hundred or so years ago. The parallels between the industrial revolution and life today gives you a sense of perspective on your own life that stays with you as you enter Blists Hill proper and lose yourself in the wonder of a town where time has stood still.
Entering Blists Hill is truly an experience in and of itself and it really is like entering another world. You walk out into the station cafe, complete with the facade of a Victorian steam train that complements the illusion that you are stepping back in time, and you are instantly greeted by a vision of Victorian Britain in the form of the magnificent High Street.
The laughing policeman, dressed of course in full Victorian uniform is often the first character people will meet, if they don’t hear his dulcet tones singing a song or careenining down the street on his bicycle of course, but every visitors first real stop has to be the bank!
Expertly reconstructed with reclaimed decor and vintage props, the bank is where you can get a glimpse of the more respectable side of the Industrial Revolution. No coal smudged shirts and sweat here, this is where those who had the rare commodity of an education came to learn a respectable trade and where you can come to change your currency into pennies and shillings, making your immersion into Victorian life complete.
More Victorian characters greet you on leaving the bank as they go about their daily lives, carrying stock to and from the old market located in the large goods shed or simply walking down the street, but it is the details that hit you the most as you start to walk around. The realistic shop fronts create broad brush strokes of an authentic atmosphere, but it is the little things that really make a difference, the tiny details that really make the town come alive. The authentic printed newspapers that are just left casually on a desk or a counter, the carefully designed window displays, the Victorian style paper posters plastered to the walls that tell their own interwoven story. The sheer level of detail is truly astounding and I was left with a huge amount of respect for the effort and work that had gone into it.
Even the temporary signs that have been placed to advise people of new ‘Covid Safe’ regulations have been given an authentically industrial makeover and are worth seeking out just to admire the artwork. It is easy to imagine this is how it would have been at the turn of the 20th Century and how outbreaks of cholera or tuberculosis may have been dealt with!
Due to current covid19 restrictions not all facilities at Blists Hill are available for the time being, but where possible alternative arrangements have been put in place to minimise the impact on visitors and maintain high standards of clinical infection prevention control. Government guidelines are being implemented and Blists Hill have taken above and beyond, robust clinical infection prevention control procedures to ensure you can visit safely and healthily and still have an amazing time.
Just off the high street is the parade of Victorian era shops that greet you as you walk down canal street, all wonderfully atmospheric and lined with little details that can keep you entertained for hours as you explore what it would be like to shop during the industrial revolution.
The townfolk are all there in full character of course to add to the atmosphere and create a uniquely interactive experience, but they are full of information too and are happy to chat away and tell you the history of the era or of the town itself. Ask them about the painstakingly put together shop windows and displays, the explanations alone give you such a deeper understanding and appreciation of the level of detail that has gone into the work here, and on top of that if you don’t feel like talking, Blists Hill has also added a lot more visual educational aids and written signs, obstensibly to help with social distancing, but personally I think it adds an extra layer of fascination to the place, and the way they are designed does not detract from the authentic atmosphere at all.
I loved poking my nose into the ‘druggists’, I suppose pharmacies were a lot more literal back in the Victorian era, admiring the drapers and outfitters display and exploring the post office. By this time I was really hungry and the smell from the fish and chip shop across the road was just too good to resist, especially as it was cooked with authentic beef dripping! Not a great place for vegans or veggies I’m afraid, or gluten intolerance sufferers either as everything is cooked in the same fryers, it is a shame but this is the only place where everyone isn’t catered for.
And not to worry, because next door is the good old traditional sweet shop! The queue was out of the door here as everyone wanted a piece of traditional fudge or a boiled sweet! A perfect little energy boost as you walk around to the fascinating artisans corner.
The bellowing steam whistles echoed through the streets as I entered the artisans workshops and the demonstrations of how bone china and plasterwork was an interesting way to learn about the various industries that cropped up alongside the mining and metalworking in the industrial era. It was just a real shame to learn that original Shropshire tea sets with designs that originated here aren’t worth any more than the millions of copies they spawned. I guess my mum’s attic is safe from the Antiques Roadshow for a while longer at least.
After a short stop to finish our sweets we carried on slowly strolling through the picturesque town and enjoying the views along the canal. Taking things slow is the only way to see Blists Hill, don’t rush through it from shop to shop or display to display like I saw many people do, you will miss out on so much of the incredible detail here.
The long, steep hill leading down past the visiting doctor’s house thankfully provided a little respite in the form of a small garden and a pig pen, which was a nice place to sit and take it all in, and a chance for the Constable to come free wheeling past on his old bicycle looking like a ten year old full of the joys of summer, but it was the visiting fair at the bottom of the hill that really surprised me!
I had seen it on the map when I entered but didn’t pay it much mind until I actually saw it! A true Victorian travelling steam fair, complete with traditional shooting games, carousels and showman engines! You could almost imagine P.T. Barnum popping up, if he was English. The steam organ music piped out old traditional tunes as we headed over to the cafe at the Forest Glen Pavilion (and don’t worry, any veggies, vegans and gluten free visitors are well catered for here)!
I had spent most of the day here at this point and if the town ended here I would have left feeling completely satisfied, but there was still more to see.
A long queue greeted us at the old schoolhouse, with a stern headmistress inside giving everyone strict instructions on when to enter and where to sit. Her severe looking character slipped slightly as she chatted and laughed about schooling in the Victorian era, with little glimpses of the actually really nice lady she is slipping through, and her tales made me think that my own school experience wasn’t so bad after all, before the sternness returned as she whacked the huge cane on the desk!
I scuttled out of there quickly before I got detention again and carried on toward the edge of the town. It felt like this part of Blists Hill was a little forgotten about as the town and the crowds petered off into the woods, but don’t let that fool you. The miners walk, as it is known, is simply nature reclaiming her land. This peaceful spot of land is directly above the old mining tunnels where Victorian miners would be working to supply the nearby furnaces, and if you look closely you will see glimmers of blue and black rock amongst the greenery, remnants of slag, the waste material produced by the nearby furnaces and now taken back by mother nature. But Blists Hill still had a few little surprises up her sleeve and there were still little pockets of attractions to find as we walked through the pictureque woods toward the large Hay Inclined Plane.
The squatters cottage and the tiny but very sought after at the time toll house were hidden away a little and I got the impression most visitors didn’t get down this far as we had the place all to ourselves! I do love the fact that there is a little forest walk at the end of the village though, on such a sunny and bright day the stroll through the woodland felt like the perfect end to our visit before we looped back around and walked back up through the town again toward the exit, and of course the gift shop!
Blists Hill is great value for money for a single day trip, but a years pass is just a little more and you get to come back as often as you like! You only have to come once more and you will have save yourself almost the full cost of a ticket already! They also have a family pass available which covers either one or two adults with up to 4 children and is even better value for money!
Given how much fun I had simply walking round Blists Hill and soaking up the atmosphere it is very easy to forget that this is also a living museum and an educational charity too.
Blists Hill is just one of ten museums that form the UNESCO Heritage site of Ironbridge Gorge, and they are recognised globally for Ironbridge’s essential contribution to the industrial revolution. They are also part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, a registered charity that delivers educational programmes and preserves not just the physical sites themselves, but the social and economic history of these significant sites.
This is exactly why I love attractions like this, yes they are fun and a great day out, but they are also an essential part in keeping our heritage and history alive. The love that the people who work here have for Blists Hill is actually palpable and you can see just how passionate they are about this place when you talk to them. It is essential that Blists Hill and the Ironbridge Gorge Museums remain open, and it is your tourism money that does that. This is the positive impact that tourism should be having, and by doing so this truly amazing and unique attraction can do so much more than just entertain travellers.
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