Blists Hill marks 50th birthday with day of celebrations
It specialises in taking visitors back in time but a hugely popular heritage attraction has been celebrating its own history.
Blists Hill Victorian Town, one of 10 museums operated by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, marked its 50th birthday today – half a century on from its creation in 1973.
The museum is set across a massive site, transporting people back in time, amongst authentic historic buildings, sounds, smells, and costumed performers, all designed to faithfully recreate the Victorian experience of 1900.
Some of the buildings existed on the site originally, and some have been moved there as part of efforts to preserve history that might have otherwise have been lost to the tide of modern development.
Amongst a huge programme of anniversary events hundreds of people were welcomed into the town with a rousing performance from the Wellington Brass Band, wearing flat caps and overcoats, while the immaculately-costumed 'Sergeant Harry Jarrett' oversaw proceedings – compete with authentic hobnail boots.
Sgt Jarrett, played by Guy Rowland, led the band – and a host of authentic costumed performers, joined by visitors enjoying their historic day out, on a procession through the town and down to the fairground, where the Mayor of Blists Hill 'Albert William Purkiss' led the crowd in a rendition of Happy Birthday.
The day featured a host of special events and celebrations, with Kay Whitehouse, events officer at the museum, revealing it had been months in the planning.
Crowds were treated to a spectacular casting at the foundry of the number 50 – while there were scores of demonstrations, ranging from coracle making to laundry.
Mr Rowland, 58, who has worked at the site for 24 years, said they were delighted to be celebrating the anniversary, with the museum's continuing attraction down to its ability to provide "something for everyone".
He said: "Youngsters are discovering all this stuff for the first time and it is quite remarkable, for the middle aged and the elderly it can remind them of their childhood. It works two ways, it educates and it is an exercise in nostalgia.
"Everyone who works here is very knowledgeable so people can feel they are going back in time so it gives youngsters an all-together different slant on life. It is like the original concept of the BBC – to educate, inform and also entertain."
Keith Minshull, 78, another long-standing employee, who was taking on the role of Mayor Purkiss, said they were delighted to see so many people celebrating the occasion.
He said: "It is lovely to see the town so busy. It is hard to believe it has been 50 years since it started and it has grown so much."
Ms Whitehouse said the museum had grown into a hugely successful and popular attraction, but said it was important not to lose sight of what it was doing – preserving vital and valuable history.
She said: "It is so important. When Telford Development Corporation decided to make a New Town lots of buildings had to come down for new roads, networks, and the people in the community thought they would be losing their heritage so Blists Hill is a promise to those people that their history is important, and preserving that story is important.
"So it is wonderful today to be able to celebrate the achievements of those pioneers in 1973. It is just a privilege to be marking it and remembering that it is still important."