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Caught in the web - 25 stories that most captured readers’ imaginations in 2019

By Thom Kennedy | Features | Published:

Historic moments, peculiar incidents, raw human emotion and national news combined to draw readers to shropshirestar.com in 2019.

The towers come down

The final moments of Ironbridge Power Station’s cooling towers, that had loomed large over Ironbridge Gorge for decades, was clearly the story that most struck a chord with our readers over the course of 2019.

Visitors flocked to the Star website to watch video of the towers coming down.

Elsewhere, the world of consumer-facing businesses seemed to interest our readers. Tom Kerridge’s taking over of a Shropshire restaurant and Hobbs’ move into the former McDonald's building on Shrewsbury’s Pride Hill captured the imagination.

Local experts’ views on the problems caused by drones at Heathrow and Gatwick interested a large number of readers.

Human interest stories, as always, demanded attention, including the tale of a would-be police officer who was rejected from various forces because of her tattoos, and the family that was rushed to hospital after being poisoned by their fish tank.

And much as we’d all like to say we aren’t taken in by fame and fortune, the celebrity connections to Shropshire were popular – including Colin Firth’s visit to Shifnal, a mention of a local landmark in a Hollywood movie and a farmer’s television appearance.

1. There they were, gone

Ironbridge cooling towers demolition

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Ironbridge Power Station’s cooling towers, which had stood for 50 years welcoming travellers home to the gorge, fell in just 10 seconds in early December.

They were to make way for a new housing development in Ironbridge, the station having been decommissioned in 2015

2. Poison scare

A family from Newport nearly died breathing in deadly fumes released by coral in their fish tank.

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Katie Stevenson, her husband Mark and three of her four children were rushed to hospital by paramedics wearing protective masks in July after cleaning the coral in their fish tank made it give off palytoxin, the second deadliest poison known to man.

3. Drone alone

After Heathrow and Gatwick airports were brought to a standstill in January because of drone sightings we got the lowdown on the devices from experts in Shropshire and the Midlands.

“Shropshire is a designated military low-flying area which creates additional challenges for drone operators,” said Paul Hutchinson who owns Virtual Shropshire Drone Rangers.

4. Caravans woe

Caravan woe

In September, dozens of caravan owners were ordered to vacate a holiday park near Bridgnorth – or face having their vans sent to the scrapyard.

“We used to spend every weekend here. Some of the people have been here for 40 years,” said Mr John Marshall, 72, who had had a caravan at Butts Farm in Alveley for 10 years.

5. Master chef

In October it was announced that Tom Kerridge, one of Britain’s biggest celebrity chefs, was taking over a Shropshire wedding venue.

Lush by Tom Kerridge, the catering and events company from the team behind Michelin-starred The Hand & Flowers and The Coach, sad it was now working with Shropshire-based Davenport House, a magnificent Grade I-listed Georgian house in the Shropshire countryside.

6. Cheers to that

A beer brewed by a Shrewsbury brewery was named as the best in the world.

Salopian Brewery’s Paper Planes, a New England IPA, was awarded Supreme Champion at the International Beer Challenge in September.

7. Hobbs the job

It was announced in July that high-end fashion chain Hobbs was to be the new tenant at Shrewsbury’s old McDonald’s restaurant, two-and-a-half years after the fast food giant moved out of the town centre.

The restaurant on Pride Hill, one of Shrewsbury’s most prominent buildings, closed in February 2017 and despite the building being extensively renovated, it had stood empty ever since.

8. Tattoo blues

Natalie Westoll, from Newport, was heartbroken when her tattoos stopped her following her dreams of becoming a police officer.

The mother-of-one, who works at McDonald’s, said she had been rejected from various forces – because she is covered in ink. “Individually I’ve lost count, but I am 80 per cent covered,” said the 35-year-old.

9. Divided by floods

In October the south Shropshire town of Clun was left ‘cut in two’ by floods after the River Clun burst its banks.

Drivers in the country were warned to take extra care on the roads as heavy rainfall led to stranded cars, road closures, flooded properties and affected electrics.

10. Top of the class (1)

School sold

A village school near Shrewsbury which closed two-and-a-half years ago sold for £60,000 over the guide price.

St Mary’s Primary School in Westbury – including its playground – sold for £385,000 and the estate agents said the buyer, who wanted to remain anonymous, was “very happy” with their purchase.

11. Jobs lost

There was sad news in the new year as more than 80 jobs were lost after one of the UK’s largest independent plant hire companies, Shropshire-based Hawk Plant (UK), entered administration.

The group, based in Prees, had more than 40 years of experience in the plant hire industry, with its customer base primarily spanning the infrastructure, energy and homebuilding markets.

12. Emily's story

Brave Emily

Emily Monk, from Telford, bravely lifted the lid on the heartbreaking reality of living with the debilitating Ehlers Danlos syndrome, and the terrifying period when she was left without food this summer.

After her weight plummeted to five-and-a-half stone because of the condition, Emily told us: “I studied hard. I worked hard. I’m now 34, jobless and my husband left me and I’m living with my mum and dad. I’m not able to have a family.”

13. Udderly amazing

Cows in Whittington

Moo-ve along, please, nothing to see here. A herd of cows found their way on to a main road through a village in Shropshire in August.

The sight of the animals in Whittington amazing passers-by who posted images on social media.

14. Number's up

The owner of a restaurant was fined £500 after displaying a ‘5’ food hygiene rating instead of the correct ‘1’ rating sticker.

Toshil Miah of The Spice Exchange at the Oak, based at The Oak Inn, Guilsfield, failed to appear before magistrates who found the case proven in his absence.

15. Prime position

People stopping off at the M54 services at Shifnal were surprised when they found themselves in the company of the then Prime Minister.

Visitors to the Welcome Break service station did a double take when Theresa May strode through the services. Is is thought Mrs May was on her way to the mountains of Snowdonia for an Easter walking break.

16. Fitt not Pitt

Printers' error

Shoppers in Shrewsbury thought they were in for a treat when banners for the annual pantomime went up in the town. For it seemed that Hollywood royalty was heading for Shropshire.

According to a promotional banner, heart throb Brad Pitt was set to star in Aladdin. Instead, it was a mistake by the printers and should have read Brad Fitt.

17. Stars hit road

Top Gear stars explored Shropshire ahead of their appearance at a business show in the county in February.

Paddy McGuinness was staying in Telford alongside Freddie Flintoff and Chris Harris, and the Take Me Out presenter amused himself in Wellington with a post to his Instagram account.

18. Top of the class (2)

Students at a Newport Girls’ High School were celebrating last month after being named the best secondary school in the West Midlands.

The school was named West Midlands State Secondary School of the Year in The Sunday Times’s Schools Guide for 2020.

19. Regaled by Bale

Matt Damon and Christian Bale in Le Mans '66

Film lovers heading to see a new Hollywood blockbuster may have been surprised by a reference to one of Shropshire’s most beloved locations.

Christian Bale, star of Le Mans ’66, revealed his dialect coach had been teaching him the phrase “Going round the Wrekin”.

20. Blues for Corbyn

In April we had a world exclusive . . . when we published a November 1971 picture which shows Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, in the heart of enemy territory – at the Tory Party headquarters in Wellington.

And, as we also revealed, it was not unknown back then for him to have a sociable pint or two with a local Tory.

21 Digging into castle's past

The first-ever excavation of Shrewsbury Castle was hailed a huge success after producing finds of national significance.

The excavation ran from July 22 to August 2, and was a partnership project between Shropshire Council and University Centre Shrewsbury, funded by the Castle Studies Trust.

22. Star power

In August, Bridget Jones actor Colin Firth was spotted in Shropshire when he stopped off in Shifnal.

The star, had his photo taken with staff and visitors at Park House Hotel. Staff took to Facebook to share the news, and said that Mr Firth had been a gentleman.

23. Crowd sourced for funeral

Couple's funeral

More than 300 people turned out for the funeral of a Telford couple who were married for nearly 70 years and died within just 10 days of each other.

Friends of Victor and Edna Barnett were worried that there would be a low turnout for their funeral in January, because they had no surviving family – but the RAF community made sure that didn’t happen.

24. Mystery in the sky

A couple from Shrewsbury were left scratching their heads after spotting a mysterious object hovering in the skies back in August. Gary Lewis and Molly Casey were at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital when they spotted the object in the clouds in the direction of Shawbury.

“It looked like a long narrow black cylinder,” said Gary. “It remained still for several minutes in a vertical position, it then went horizontally through a cloud then it resumed its vertical position. It stayed static for another minute or so then went horizontal and disappeared off away from us.”

25. Amazing Grace

Grace Edwards

A star of a TV dating show, who farms on the Shropshire border, spoke of her time on the series Love in the Countryside.

Grace Edwards, 24, who lives between Ellesmere and Whitchurch, she said she was “gutted” when the date she picked on the programme chose texting to tell her he didn’t want to see her again.

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