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  • ( ♪ Four Loom Weaver, Abel Selaocoe ♪)

  • Deep in the West Midlands, the River Severn carves its way through the Shropshire countryside.

  • It's the longest river in Great Britain and its name is thought to be derived from a mythical

  • nymph, Sabrina.

  • Shropshire is peppered with the stunning Blue Remembered Hills that inspired the poet A.

  • E. Housman but this landscape is also the crucible where the industrial revolution was

  • forged.

  • As the River Severn cuts a path through a deep gorge, a monument to that tumultous era

  • looms over the water. The Iron Bridge. The stately arches of cast iron gracefully belie

  • the fire and force that went into smelting the structure into shape. The bridge was the

  • first of its kind in the world, standing in testament to Britian's pioneering of industry

  • on a mass scale.

  • It's hard to believe that this is the cradle of the industrial revolution. Today it feels

  • like a peaceful green haven. The Iron Bridge straddles the steep sides of the Severn Gorge

  • and it's a testament to the ingenuity of the ironmasters who worked here for centuries.

  • All of the raw materials required to produce iron can be found here: iron ore, limestone

  • and coal. But it's not just the raw materials. The actual shape of the landscape played its

  • part. The steep sides of the gorge meant that water could easily be harnessed to power the

  • water wheels that in turn provided blast for the furnaces. And then there's the River Severn

  • and this was the super-highway of its day. It enabled finished products to be taken away

  • to market.

  • Coal has been mined here since the middle ages but it was directly after the reformation

  • when land owned by monasteries came into the hands of entrepreneurs that industry really

  • began to take off. That great symbol of the age of industry, the Iron Bridge, was begun

  • in 1777 and finally opened to traffic on New Year's Day 1781 and it's remained open more

  • or less every since.

  • The bridge had a revolutionary impact on both

  • technology and architecture and UNESCO declared it a masterpiece of man's creativity when

  • they granted Iron Bridge Gorge world heritage site status in 1986. The visitors who come

  • here today are only the latest in a long line of people who have been awed by this incredible

  • structure. Few records exist about how the bridge was actually built but some interesting

  • experiments have been undertaken in recent times. But we know that a large wooden scaffold

  • was erected and that the majority of the work was undertaken in a few short months and without

  • any major incidents. It was truly a marvel of its age. Abraham Derby III, one of the

  • most important ironmasters in the area and one of a long line of Derbys to work here,

  • oversaw the work and it quickly became something of a tourist attraction with people coming

  • from throughout the country and even abroad to see it. Writers, artists and poets were

  • all struck by it and many fell back on the language of mythology to describe the bridge

  • in this environment of industry. Gods and demons were described as being at work among

  • the smoke and flames of the furnaces. At this time, iron founding demanded huge skill and

  • strength. But as the industrial revolution developed machines increasingly took over

  • from people.

  • Iron Bridge is a potent reminder of how industry transformed England and this imposing structure

  • deserves a song which also has its roots in the industrial era. The Four Loom Weaver,

  • sung for us by Abel Selaocoe, is one of our most iconic industrial ballads and it tells

  • the human story that lies behind the mighty feats of engineering and manufacturing like

  • the Iron Bridge. It features the lament of a poor weaver reduced to starvation and eating

  • nettles. Originally derived from a song called the Poor Cotton Weaver, it was rewritten as

  • this version during the economic downturn at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, at a time

  • when many hand weavers were losing their jobs due to the rise of the steam-driven weaving

  • machines. It's a poignant document of the inequality that was rife in the industrial

  • era and the sense of dispossession people felt as the onward march of progress reduced

  • them to units

  • of production.

( ♪ Four Loom Weaver, Abel Selaocoe ♪)

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The Four Loom Weaver | Songs of England #5 | Iron Bridge, Shropshire

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    Summer posted on 2021/06/21
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