The Coracle Men

Tommy Rogers

Coracles have been made in Ironbridge for more than 300 years, often with the tradition being passed on through the generations. The Rogers family is probably the most well known.

Three generations of one family

The Rogers family are typical of the many generations of coracle men who knew the river like the back of their hand. Tommy Rogers, born in 1843 and died in 1924, was one of the last generation of watermen who worked the barges and Trows that plied their trade on the river. He was a larger than life character, and great bear of a man, who had several brushes with the law. A strong swimmer and boxer he was also a friend of Captain Matthew Webb the first man to swim the English Channel.


Harry with ‘Billy’ in 1944

Tommy had two sons Jimmy and Harry who carried on the family coracle-making tradition. Jimmy was employed full time at the Coalbrookdale ironworks and Harry worked at a sawmill. Both were countrymen who gained a living from the river in their spare time and were celebrated for their expertise in times of flood or when someone had to undertake the grim task of fishing bodies from the river. They learnt country skills, including how to make a net, splice rope, trap game and make and handle a coracle.

When the family were under threat of eviction from their condemned cottage on Severnside Harry, his brother in law and friends worked through the three months of winter 1938 to build a new larger house on Severnside, with its distinctive arched doorway looking out on Harry’s coracle shed.

Harry had a succession of pet foxes, all of which seem to have been called Billy. In 1967 he was being interviewed when a fox walked into the house

“Hello Billy, he said, anything up? The fox rubbed his mask against his master’s legs, as if it were a terrier…. he owned a succession of foxes and as each one died he replaced it with another, and each one of them lived in the kennel… Billy used to roam one or two miles down-river… but he usually came back at night.. “Faithful as a dog, aren’t you Billy?”

Christiana with the cat and Billy the fox outside the Old Shed.

Harry Rogers married Christiana Owen, (Chrissie) from Church Hill Ironbridge, in 1909 . They had three children, one son and two daughters. Their son Eustace (Eusty) was born the day before war was declared in 1914. 

Eusty

Eustace ‘Eusty’ Rogers was born in 1914. He lived alone at the family home on Severnside when his father Harry died in 1967 and his mother Chrissie died 18 months later.

Eusty worked full time at Ironbridge Power Station but he also carried on the family tradition of country pursuits, coracle making and handling. He even had a go at making several prehistoric-style coracles from bullock hide over a woven willow frame, tied together with horse-hair.

During the winter months he made miniature model coracles which were given to family and friends. A great raconteur, he continued the family tradition of sharing his coracle stories down at the old coracle shed. Eusty died in 2003 aged 88, fittingly one of his model coracles took pride of place on his coffin.

.