Full steam ahead as Blists Hill Victorian Town reopens

It was full steam ahead at one of Shropshire’s best-loved attractions as it reopened for the first time since lockdown.

From left, Kieran Smith, Dale Glover and Steve Ledsham in costume at Blists Hill
From left, Kieran Smith, Dale Glover and Steve Ledsham in costume at Blists Hill

Families basked in glorious sunshine at Blists Hill Victorian Town in Ironbridge as workers in costume wowed youngsters with demonstrations, traction engines chugged along and visitors enjoyed sweets, chips and various other goodies.

Relaxing and educational days out have been much missed by Salopians, demonstrated by long queues to get into the museum in the morning. About 1,500 people were expected to visit on the first day.

The Shore family from Market Drayton were one of the first through the door. Father Nathan and mother Nicky said taking their children Thomas, five, and one-year-old Pippa was one of their favourite family activities.

Nicky and Nathan Shore, with their children Thomas, aged 5, and Pippa, aged 1

Nathan said: “This is our first family outing since lockdown, really. Thomas loves anything with a steam engine.”

Nicky added: “We’ve just bought a family pass. We come quite regularly. There are other museums we want to go to like Enginuity.

"It’s just nice to be able to get out and about again and do things. We’re lucky to have things like this to do on our doorstep in Shropshire.”

Full steam ahead at Blists Hill Victorian Town

Costumed demonstrators Chris Morris and Elizabeth Morgan were thrilled to be back in their Victoria regalia, giving visitors a taste for how life was back in the day.

Elizabeth said: “It’s really good to see so many smiling faces. We get regular customers who we always remember, if not by their names, by their faces.

"For us, our job is part of our identity, so when you’re furloughed, it feels like your purpose has been taken away and you can’t do what you love to do.”

Costumed demonstrators Chris Morris and Elizabeth Morgan

Nick Ralls, CEO of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, which Blists Hill is part of, said it is visitors who make the place special.

“When you’ve been closed for three-and-a-half months, it’s great to have staff, volunteers and members of the public back.

Swinging back into action at Blists Hill Victorian Town, visitor engagement director Justin Tose and CEO Nick Ralls

While we have had to limit how many visitors we can have, we’ve nearly sold out for today. It’s a glorious, sunny day and it’s definitely got that holiday feel about it.

“It’s really refreshing to have people back. You can see how visitors bring the Victorian town to life. It’s their interaction that makes it.

Mini traction engine ride for this dog

"They can experience what life was like in a Victorian Shropshire town. The staff and volunteers are really enthusiastic about being back. It’s something they enjoy doing.”

The trust received £3 million from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund to help alleviate the financial hit caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It also means investments have been able to be made, including new exhibits at Enginuity, fresh decoration at the Coalport China Museum and new activities at the Jackfield Tile Museum.

Crowds at the attraction

Nick added: “We are fortunate that we’ve been able to invest in our other museums thanks to the Culture Recovery Fund, so they will be looking fresh and there will be things people haven’t seen yet.

"We so grateful because it has helped us stay sustainable through this traumatic period of time.”

He is keen to welcome even more people to Blists Hill and the trusts other museums when restrictions are eased, but Nick insists a cautious approach must be taken.

People queue at Blists Hill Victorian Town

“We are taking guidance from the government and are prepared to change if we need to,” he added.

“We don’t want to do anything that will compromise the safety of members of the public or our staff.”

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