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Lots of interest to cherish Eustace's coracle legacy

By Toby Neal | Features | Published:

2004 - Buyers came from far and wide to grab a bit of Ironbridge history as the coracles and possessions of famed coracle maker Eustace Rogers went under the hammer.

One of the more unusual lots was this dummy unicyclist, who was rigged up to perform a "high wire act" over the River Severn. It is seen here with Gemma Noble from Job Dunn who cleared Eustace Rogers' house.

Everything from bags of nets, vicious-looking poacher’s traps, umpteen tools, loose rope, ancient lawnmowers and, above all, several of Rogers’ coracles, were sold at auction on November 3, 2004, at Nock Deighton’s sale room at Tasley, Bridgnorth.

More than 150 people packed into the auction room and there were fierce bidding wars for the star items – coracles made by Rogers, who was the last of a long line of traditional coracle makers in the Ironbridge Gorge whose death in January the previous year signalled the end of an era.

Top price went for a calico coracle and paddle, which sold for £575. Hide coracles complete with paddles went for £475, £325, and £300, and a coracle frame fetched £290.

Buyers included Chris Partington acquiring items for his new coracle museum at Mortimers Cross Mill near Leominster, which had started up a few months before; a hush-hush team acquiring material for a “secret” project; and a dad buying a Christmas present for his river-loving son.

The sale under way, with auctioneer James McIntyre.

Eustace’s “shed sale” – many of the items were from his riverside shed – also solved the riddle of what had happened to some artefacts which caused a stir in Ironbridge over 40 years previously in still-remembered stunts. It turned out they had been in his shed ever since.

A witch figure on a broomstick, which Eustace’s dad Harry rigged up to “fly” across the River Severn around 1959, fetched £290, while a dummy high-wire unicyclist, used in another stunt dreamed up by Harry and Dawley’s Jack Gears, made £190.

There were about 70 lots of Eustace’s possessions which went under the hammer as part of a larger sale.

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Various tools, paddles, chests, ropes and traps were sold as part of one auction at 1pm, with the coracles and paintings, photographs, and other bits and pieces being sold in an auction starting at 4pm.

When Eustace retired after a burglary at his workshop in 1995, it brought to an end a family tradition of making coracles at Ironbridge which had been passed down from generation to generation for over 300 years.

One of the more unusual lots was this dummy unicyclist, who was rigged up to perform a "high wire act" over the River Severn. It is seen here with Gemma Noble from Job Dunn who cleared Eustace Rogers' house.

Born in 1914, Eustace, a bachelor, lived on the banks of the River Severn and his knowledge of the river's moods and currents was legendary.

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Police would often turn to his help if somebody was missing in the river and film makers and travel programmes would seek him out for the quintessential image of the river – Eustace paddling his coracle in the shadow of the Iron Bridge.

An oracle on the coracle, he had made them, essentially as a hobby, for museums and people all over the world.

The legacy of Eustace and the traditional coracle makers lives on and continues to be cherished in the Ironbridge Gorge through the Ironbridge Coracle Trust, a charity founded in 2014.

The Rogers' family coracle shed was bought by the trust in 2017 with the help of funding from Telford & Wrekin Council’s Community Pride Fund, with the aim of preserving it for the future.

New coracle centre planned

The contents from the original shed, however, cannot be safely displayed or stored within it and it would not be accessible to visitors, so the plan is for a new Coracle Centre to be built at Coalbrookdale.

And as for those items which went under the hammer all those years ago, where are they now?

As there were various buyers, tracking them all down would be difficult.

However we do know that one of Eustace's coracles sat at the top of the stairs of the now-disappeared Coracle Restaurant on Tontine Hill in Ironbridge, and the "flying witch" figure hung from the ceiling there.

At least Chris Partington can update us on the things he bought that day, at a total cost of around £2,500, which included coracles, coracle frames, poles, a knife grinder, paddles, as well as some unusual artefacts.

Chris, who abandoned his own coracle museum idea, said: "The Rogers family used to carry a pedal organ on to the top of the Iron Bridge and sing Christmas carols. I also got a double bed where Eustace was conceived.

"These people in Ironbridge (Chris means by this the Coracle Trust) have got the whole lot now – they bought the whole lot from me."

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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