Coracles and Local Life

Coracles and Local Life

Floods

Coracles come into their own during the regular floods that affect the Gorge. During the great flood of 1946/7 Harry took food and coal to families at Dale End who were marooned in their bedrooms. There was 5ft 6inches of flood water along the Wharfage for 8 days. Harry was interviewed by several national radio and TV programmes and enjoyed the celebrity. It is a joy to hear the rich Shropshire dialect in these early interviews

Fishing

Until 1923 salmon and other fish were legally caught using a coracle and nets on the River Severn at Ironbridge. Landowners along the river would claim the salmon rights where the river came up to their land.

The poachers were licensed to catch trout and eels, but if they caught salmon on a landowner’s stretch of water they were supposed to throw it back. Of course they never did! Unlike the net fishermen of West Wales who fished with a net slung between two coracles, only one coracle was needed at Ironbridge.

One end of the net was pegged to the bank and the other end paddled out to the middle of the river. They would beat the water with a beating pole, which was like a broom stick with a big leather disc on it, to drive the fish into the net.

The other method was to lay eel line. This was set across the river three times with links every four feet with bated hooks on them and left overnight. They would return in the morning and pull the line in across the coracle, removing any eels.

Poacher Dick the Keenun, centre, with his brother and sister.

Poaching

During hard times poaching put food on the plates of starving families.

 Coracles were an essential piece of kit for the local band of poachers, who were all expert coracle men. They hunted for rabbits and pheasants in the woods and fields along the banks of the river using fine nets. The coracle was used to ferry the nets across the river and at the end of the night the catch and nets were loaded into the coracle. One member paddled it home, whilst the rest of the gang walked back into Ironbridge empty handed, much to the frustration of the local police!

Fun and Games

During hard times poaching put food on the plates of starving families.

 Coracles were an essential piece of kit for the local band of poachers, who were all expert coracle men. They hunted for rabbits and pheasants in the woods and fields along the banks of the river using fine nets. The coracle was used to ferry the nets across the river and at the end of the night the catch and nets were loaded into the coracle. One member paddled it home, whilst the rest of the gang walked back into Ironbridge empty handed, much to the frustration of the local police!

In 1959 Harry and his friend Jack Gears from Dawley decided to erected a high wire across the river in front of the Iron Bridge. Jack made two working models, one a witch on a broomstick and the other a man on a unicycle both of which flew across in front of the Iron Bridge, much to the amazement of the visitors.

He also made a working model of two foundrymen powered by the flow of the river as their own ‘event’ to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Coalbrookdale Company.

When the Trust recovered most of the contents of the Old Shed local people started beginning to come forward with some of the stories. The man with a wheel barrow was thought to have been used to help get shopping to a family on the opposite bank of the river when floods prevented them from getting out.
The Foundry men, apparently made to float in the river to mark the workers role in the 250th anniversary of the Coalbrookdale company which built the Iron Bridge.
The unicyclist has not been found again. We are not sure why they chose to make it, probably just for fun!

Some of the mechanical characters they and Jack Gears made hung in the old shed for years. The content of the shed was sold at auction after Eusty died in 2003. The Coracle Trust managed to find it and brought it back to Ironbridge in 2015.

Walking sticks based on natural forms or pub games like billiards and dominoes.
The Foundry men in action.
The coracle men had a witty sense of their direct link with ancient history. Here, Harry dresses as an ancient Briton at a local fete.

Contact

Ironbridge Coracle Trust
The New Coracle Shed
Green Wood Centre
Station Road
Coalbrookdale
TF8 7DR

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