Shedload of ghostly reminders of Ironbridge coracle tradition

By Toby Neal | Ironbridge | Attractions | Published: | Last Updated:

The spirit of the traditional coracle makers of the Ironbridge Gorge is to be magically recreated using a Victorian special effect by enthusiasts working to showcase and preserve the coracle heritage of the area.

Graham Peet at the new coracle centre which is taking shape.

Their plans to open a coracle museum at Coalbrookdale and bring back to life the shed where Eustace Rogers famously toiled and made his coracles have moved into the final stages.

And the Ironbridge Coracle Trust is seeking to tap into the memories and knowledge of local people as it tells the story of the coracle makers and men of the river, including the poachers.

Already it has acquired a host of artefacts including coracles and tools which were once crammed into Eustace's shed on the riverbank at Ironbridge, but there are a couple in particular which were used in spectacular stunts in the 1950s which have disappeared off the radar and the trust would like to track down.

One is the witch which was rigged up to "fly" across the River Severn – the trust only has a miniature version of it – and the other is a model unicyclist which performed on a high wire, both of which were among items sold at auction in 2004 after Eustace's death.

Graham Peet, of the trust, says they were the work of Jack Gears of Dawley, a big pal of Eustace's dad Harry Rogers.

"Our understanding is that the witch was simply a Halloween idea," he said.

The whereabouts of this unicyclist – seen here at the time it was auctioned in 2004 – are not known

"I know that it went to the Coracle Cafe in Ironbridge. They sold up and moved on and we have lost track of it."


Eustace's shed is now completely empty, but the trust is looking to revive it as an unusual attraction opening next Easter.

"There's an ancient Victorian stage magic trick called the Pepper's Ghost Effect," he added.

"People will be able to look through the window and see that the shed is completely empty, except for the dust and spiders' webs, and then they can walk a little further along and look through some peep holes and will see magical images of the things which were once in the shed floating in mid air.

"It's quite astonishing, and people who see it think it's a hologram and wonder how it's done."


Graham says the shed, to which there will be no access, really will be empty, and no computers or projectors are involved in creating the optical illusion.

The "flying witch" in Ironbridge action around 60 years ago

Also on track for an Easter opening is a brand new coracle centre – the name has yet to be finalised – which has been built from scratch at the Green Wood Centre in Coalbrookdale.

It will tell the story of the local coracle tradition and the men behind it, and is intended to be infused with the spirit of Eustace and his dad Harry.

"We are making this museum as if we were Harry and Eustace making a museum," said Graham.

"It will be free, as they would certainly not have wanted people to pay to see their own history."

The wooden building, which is intended to look like a working coracle shed, has now been completed, and work to kit it out is progressing.

The whereabouts of this unicyclist – seen here at the time it was auctioned in 2004 – are not known

A key feature will be a display behind glass which is a replica of Eustace's riverside shed, including original items from it like coracles, traps, old walking sticks, tools, rope, netting equipment, and so on.

The rest of the centre will comprise various photos and information displays, some of them told on makeshift television sets, with those TVs deliberately created in a Heath Robinson fashion as Eustace or his dad might have done.

"We are going into a period of working with local people to finally get the content right," added Graham.

"And we are looking for people to volunteer to help look after the building, meet people, and continue to record memories, because we want to record the recent social history of Ironbridge and Coalbrookdale as part of this ongoing work.

"History from our point of view starts today, not 100 years ago."

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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