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Mill-to-mill tour of the English Midlands.

Mill-to-mill tour of the English Midlands A revolution that reshaped the world took place in the 18 century--but neither the United States nor France can claim it. This revolution--not of politics but of technology--led to the virtual creationof the modern industrial world.

It began in England with the perfection of the process of making cast iron--whose strength, in everything from machinery to shipbuilding, enabled industry to progress by previously unimaginable leaps.

It progressed to the development of mass-production techniques, particularly for cotton cloth. In a relatively short time (about 1750 to 1840), large urban markets, new products, and increased trade--along with some auspicious inventions and the rise of enterpreneurs and capitalists--made Great Britain the world's most powerful nation. And England's Midlands region was at the center of this prosperity. After two centuries, the dark satanic mills are mostly quiet, though many still stand. Some are being re-created to show tourists what mill life was like--though without polluting smoke and deafening noise. Two particularly worthwhile destinations are close to the main north-south highway through England, the M6 motorway.

Ironbridge: cradle of iron making

In the narrow valley of the Severn River, in shropshire, six main sites of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust bring back the era of early iron smelting. The 100-foot Iron Bridge itself was the first major construction to use iron structurally. It was restrored in 1972-75. The gorge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Start at the museum visitor center, in an 1840s riverside warehouse just west of the town of Ironbridge> displays and a slide show give a good overall view. Then drive 3/4 mile uphill to the Museum of Iron, an old warehouse with two floors or historical exhibits. Nearby, like a Roman ruin, the remains of Abraham Darby's 1709 blast furnace are protected under a glass-and-brick shelter.

Park again at the visitor center and walk a short distance along the Severn to enjoy the bridge. With every glimpse through the trees, you see its revolutionary form and utilitarian beauty. Notice how its dovetailed iron joints mimic wood joinery. Blists Hill Open Air Museum's 50 acres contain elements of an industrial village of the 1890s--bank, bakery, houses, lumber mill, ironwork, and railyards.

At the Coalport China Museum, a shop sells modern Coalport designs. (The factory moved to Stoke-on-Trent in the 1920s.) The Jackfield tile Museum shows decorative wall and floor tiles like ones produced in two of the world's biggest tile workd from the mid-19th century until 20 years ago. A gaslit Victorian showroom recetnly opened.

Hours at all sites ar 10 to 5 daily. Admission to all sites is about $14, $9 children and students, $40 families (up to five children). Tickets are available at any of the sites and valid until all sites have been visited (no time limit). To reach the area, exit the M54 (Birmingham-Shrewsbury) Motorway at junction 4> head south, following signs.

Quarry Bank Mill: when

English cotton ruled the world

One of the first water-powered cotton mills--and one of the best survivors--Quarry Bank Mill was built in 1784 along the River Bollin, south of Manchester.

Owned since 1939 by the National Trust, Quarry Bank gives you a feeling for milltown life. As well, it describes the evolution of the textile industry from domestic production to highly mechanized waterand, later, steam-powered machines.

The mill's setting, in a pretty wooded valley, includes the village of Styal and some of the original worker' houses, still inhabited. The Greg family, owners through eight generations, had a strong interest in worker welfare. In contrast to wretched conditions in industrial cities, rural Styal was exemplary. Workers' cottages were airy and relatively roomy> the village had a library> and apprentices were housed, educated, and cared for.

Allow at least 2 hours to wander through the mill and its exhibits. A visit is a copiously illustrated crash course in social history as well as in spinning and weaving technology. Many of the guides are former millworkers> their descriptions are moving and informative.

Signs guide you, starting at a model highlighted by a recorded history of the village's construction and the shift from water to steam power.

Display boards describe 19th-century sources of cotton--including the U.S. (whose embargoed supply during the Civil War led to a collapse of the English market) and later competitors (worry about cheap Japanese exports predates World War I).

In another room, a guide demonstrates spinning by spindle and spinning wheels, and clearly shows why and how new technology (the spinning jenny, water frame, spinning mule) was needed to supply fabrics for an expanding population.

Working machines expose visitos to the noise of weaving and hum of spinning. The restored 100-horsepower waterwheel is to replace electric power for the machines, and a display illustrates printing and finishing of cloth.

A tearoom serves lunches and teas, and a shop sells cotton goods--some with patterns inspired by early output. A good selection of books can widen your knowledge of industrial archeology.

Mill hours ar 11 to 5 daily April to September, shorter hours and closed Mondays in winter. Admission is about $8, $3 students and over age 5, $20 families. From the M56 Motorway, take junction 5 (Manchester Airport) and go south about 2 1/2 miles.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Beyond the West
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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