Last weekend my wife and I joined the Lord Mayor, the Sheriffs and the Masters, Prime Wardens and Upper Bailiff of 95 other Livery Companies and their partners at the Ironbridge Livery weekend, one of the highlights of the Master’s year. This was the 34th such weekend but the attendance has never been so good and for the first time both the Masters of the Mercers and the Grocers attended together with seven other Masters and Prime Warden of the Great Twelve.
The tradition was started by the late Sir Peter Gadsden who was Lord Mayor of London 1979-80. Having grown up in Shropshire, Sir Peter undertook a visit to the county as part of his Mayoral year which included a visit to the Museum where he became fascinated by the story of Ironbridge as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
He subsequently founded the London Committee of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Development Trust which aimed to fundraise and support the Museum through City and Livery connections. He went on to become President of the Development Trust in 1983 and started the Livery Day that year as a one day visit to the Museums on a Saturday in June. This developed over the years and as word spread more Companies started to attend and the event expanded to become the full weekend of activities that it is today.
Connections between Ironbridge and the City date back much further than this recent development. Abraham Darby III, the Quaker Ironmaster who built the actual Iron Bridge was given the Freedom of the City in 1775. In 1709 his grandfather Quaker ironmaster Abraham I perfected a revolutionary technique of smelting iron with coke instead of charcoal. From this moment the flame of industry burned bright in Coalbrookdale, where over the next century innovations in engineering, metallurgy and manufacturing were developed. The Industrial Revolution took place in Britain due to the stable social and political conditions, the availability of key raw materials, mercantile power and available capital. To this could be added the genius of invention and an abundance of skills nurtured by the Guilds and Livery Companies.
The development of iron as a viable construction material was demonstrated by Abraham Darby III with the Iron Bridge, opened in 1781, and it was soon being used in many other structures. The first iron rails, wheels, boats and ships such as Brunel’s SS Great Britain, steam engines and buildings were all made using cast-iron forged in Ironbridge Gorge. Beautiful decorative cast-iron made at Coalbrookdale won many medals at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in the ‘Crystal Palace’. Coalport China and tiles made by Maw & Co were exported to many parts of the world.
We had the chance to see some of the ten interactive, hands on museums that together make up a UNESCO World Heritage site. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the award of World Heritage Trust status. We saw the Blists Hill Victorian Town which opened in 2009 with substantial help from the Livery Companies. This consists of a reconstructed town with shops, homes and workshops. In the tallow chandler’s shop we saw how candles are made from mutton tallow. I could not resist buying four candles in memory of Ronnie Barker. We also saw the Museum of Iron, the Jackfield Tile Museum, the Enginuity workshops and the Coalport China museum. And, of course, we walked over the Iron Bridge across the Severn River and learnt that even Royalty would have to pay for such a passage. The only people who did not have to pay were the ferrymen who had been put out of business.
Since the beginning of the Livery Weekends the Livery Companies have donated over £560,000 to Ironbridge in cash and in-kind donations. In 2014 when Past Master Michael Harrison attended he and two other Masters, with whom he had coincidentally been to the same school, decided to support the Museum with a joint project. As Middle Warden then I oversaw our Outreach efforts and I asked Liveryman Glyn Cartwright to represent us. Glyn lives in Shropshire and gave the new CEO Anna Brennand a great deal of time and support helping her to develop her marketing plan for the museum.
On the Friday night after a fine dinner in the museum Anna gave an excellent presentation of their work and told us that the Museum had won a VisitEngland Gold Award for Excellence in 2015. I like to think that this was partly down to the Marketors’ contribution through Glyn. Anna and other members of staff and of the Committee told me how much they appreciated the work that Glyn had done.
But of course the contribution of the Marketors preceded Glyn because Sir Peter Gadsden had been an Honorary Liveryman and Court Assistant of the Company. He had offered tremendous aid, advice and support over many years. In 1977 he donated a Silver Inkstand and Pen, one of the first pieces of Treasure owned by the Company, and then in 1980 he donated a valuable Plate with Armourial Bearings. During his year as Lord Mayor, by fortuitous circumstance, he unveiled the Marketors’ shield in the Guildhall, as one of six newly formed Companies. The shield is located fourth on the right in the second row as you face the platform. His career was in marketing minerals and so he had a strong interest in marketing and was a President of the Publicity Club of London for nearly 20 years. He was also a Past Master Clothworker and it was at his suggestion again during his Mayoral year that the Guild of World Traders was formed. He became Master of that Guild and Founder Master of the Engineers.
Sir Peter died in 2006 but I was delighted to meet his widow Lady Gadsden at lunch on the Saturday as a guest of the Trust of which he had been such an energetic President. His motto was “Thoroughly with Enthusiasm” and it lives on in many ways in the organisations and people he knew, including his Livery Companies and the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.