Ironbridge coracle men remembered as sculpture unveiled

The coracle men of Ironbridge are emblematic of a town steeped in history, and now an iconic image from days past has been recreated in a striking riverside sculpture.

The iron sculpture of Ironbridge coracle man Tommy Rodgers with LtoR Marion Blockley,, sculptor Luke Perry, Graham Peet and  Wayne Owen (relative of the Rodgers family) picture by DAVID BAGNALL
The iron sculpture of Ironbridge coracle man Tommy Rodgers with LtoR Marion Blockley,, sculptor Luke Perry, Graham Peet and Wayne Owen (relative of the Rodgers family) picture by DAVID BAGNALL

The banks of the River Severn now feature a celebration of a man synonymous with Ironbridge's past – Tommy Rogers, grandfather to the Gorge's last coracle man, Eustace Rogers, who died in 2002.

An iconic image of Mr Rogers, carrying one of the famous coracles, has been recreated in a 'paper cut' sculpture, thanks to the efforts of the Ironbridge Coracle Trust.

The sculpture of Mr Rogers, created by Black Country artist Luke Perry of IHS Arts, takes pride of place in the flower beds next to the Museum of the Gorge and visitor information centre on the Wharfage.

The image of Tommy Rogers which the sculpture is based on
The iron sculpture of Ironbridge coracle man Tommy Rogers. Picture: David Bagnall

The design of the sculpture was simplified and scaled up to life size from a detailed paper-cut image by Ironbridge resident Dave Fieldhouse.

Installing it has not been simple, with the 228kg (36 stone) monument having to be lifted into position by crane, then bolted to a large concrete block so it can withstand any flooding that might hit the town.

Tommy, who was born in 1843 and died aged 81 in 1924, was the father of Harry Rogers and grandfather of Eustace (Eusty) Rogers.

He was one of the last watermen who hauled the barges and trows up the River Severn.

The sculpture is intended as a key link in the Ironbridge Coracle Trail that stretches from the Old Coracle shed on Severnside just west of the Iron Bridge, to the Green Wood Centre, Coalbrookdale, where the New Coracle Shed houses the coracle collection.

The installation of the sculpture was watched by Wayne Owen a lifelong resident, local historian and relative of Tommy Rogers.

He said: "Over the generations my family has always been connected to the Severn either as barge owners or watermen.

The unveiling of the sculpture. Picture: David Bagnall.

"I can trace my family back in the gorge for over 300 years. My Great Aunt Christianna Owen married Harry Rogers, Tommy’s youngest son. Tommy and his family lived in the old cottages known as the Cooper’s Arms on Severnside. The Coopers Arms was owned by the Owen family who were publicans and maltsters from the early 1800s. It remained in the family until 1939 when it was demolished as a slum.

"The remains of the cottages were recycled to build a new family home for Harry and his family. His son Eusty lived here until his death in 2002."

Mr Fieldhouse said he was honoured to see his creation come to life.

He said: "I’d always loved seeing this iconic image of Tommy Rogers one of the ‘Coracle Men’ of the Ironbridge Gorge, so I felt quite honoured when the Ironbridge Coracle Trust asked me to reproduce it for them as a paper-cut. I thoroughly enjoyed producing it with them and seeing the sculpture itself take shape from the original template."

Mr Perry added: "It’s been fascinating to learn more about Tommy Rogers and to work on such an iconic figure. As a family we are often in Coalbrookdale and it will be a real privilege to be able to see my work in such a picturesque and prestigious location."

The Ironbridge Coracle Trust said it was thrilled to have the sculpture in place as the country emerges from the latest lockdown.

A spokesman said: "We are delighted to install the Coracle Man sculpture along the Wharfage in Ironbridge, ready to welcome back visitors to the World Heritage Site now that Covid restrictions are starting to be lifted.

"We look forward to welcoming families to follow our Coracle Trail from the Old Coracle Shed on Severnside to the New Shed at the Green Wood Centre Coalbrookdale."

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