On my walk from Newport I come across the village of Lilleshall. The first thing of note is a hill with a monument on the top of it and then what looks like a small community garden or an allotment patch at the side of the road with a large stone in front of it with a plaque that informs passersby of the wonderful work of those official bodies who have paid to have this site of a limestone quarry filled in with 21 metres depth of grout in the years 1995-96. I rather cynically cannot help wondering if the hill of the monument is manmade; I seem to have come across rather a lot of them in recent weeks, these products of humankind’s shifting of bits of the earth from one spot to another as their whims dictate.
There seems no way of knowing though and I walk on with vague images of dentistry in my mind’s eye, and a not altogether comfortable feeling about the filling in though I do some research later to find out what grout is composed of and find out it is a mixture of cement and sand and that cement is made from crushed limestone so I suppose the right kind of stuff is going back in. Maybe it’s the best thing to be done now that the damage has been done.
I take a short detour around the village to follow the old road and come to the church. As very often when I do this, I am rewarded.
I walk in to the churchyard, there is something going on and stalls are being set up, but I seem to be attracted for another reason; church fetes do not normally appeal to me, and in any case I have stopped going anywhere to browse, for I have no space to carry an extra bean, and have now discovered the wonders of not being seduced by consumerism at all, going out only to seek what I need, when I need it. It is a wonderful feeling of freedom from bondage; I can recommend it!
I am admiring the bronze (?) plaque high on the church wall which tells the time here according to GMT and translating it to 16 minutes further on here in Lilleshall at this time of the year, and reaching exact GMT on the 4th December at this latitude. I am delighted having never seen one of these timetables before, and step further back to look at the sundial above it higher up the wall.
“Hey man in a hat with a pack” calls a voice from behind me…
and I meet the fascinating Geoff Lott, not at all perturbed by finding a woman under the hat, and who starts to tell me all he knows about the clock, and the village.
The plaque is a railway timetable; when the trains started running no one knew what time they would come for all the timetables were printed in GMT which was no use if you didn’t live in Greenwich, so the timetable translated this into local time. Previous to that people had known what time it was according to the position of the sun, and anyway the church bells would ring on the hour. As I walk through the birth county of the Industrial Revolution I am beginning to get quite a clear picture of the damage the coming of the railways, steam power, and then coal, did to local culture and community; jobs lost in every area that couldn’t compete with the speed, and local knowledge of even time, and understanding our relationship with the sun became secondary to a human created artificial time; we have been a on a slippery slope ever since.
Geoff knows everybody, greets them as they arrive, I do not discover what his role is in the church community but he is clearly holding a key role. I ask him about the monument I was curious about on my walk through the village and I get to hear all about the duke of Sutherland and his lady who hailed, not surprisingly from Sutherland…
They came one day and liked the look of the countryside and set about buying it all up from the farmers and acquiring it from the peasants so they could go after grouse in their leisure time. They had so much fun they took a house in the village as a hunting lodge and gradually started to pay attention to what the farmers were doing with limestone. They were taking the limestone and slaking it; using the powdered lime to add alkaline to the acid soil. They got talking to the makers of iron and discovered that lime csan be used to take away the impurities from the iron ore by smelting it together until the impurities came away as slag with the lime. The Sutherlands were excited; they bought up all the rest of the land in the region, and soon put the now landless peasants to work mining the lime.
Eventually they settled a little way from the village in Lilleshall Hall, which can normally be seen from the church grounds but for the tree cover at this time of year, and at night, for it is floodlit, something I cannot see continuing for too many more years as we start to think about what constitutes a useful use of our resources; I doubt flood lights will make it on to the list of priorities somehow.
The Sutherlands are buried in state with large marble effigies above them in the front of the church by the altar. They can hardly be blamed for this, it is the blind adoration of others rather than seeing our own potential that lies at the root of every mistake we have ever made in history.
Geoff tells me that Lilleshall is a royalist town as can be seen by the plaque for Charles II in the church that miraculously survived the coming of Cromwell and his troops. I am curious as I walk about how often I walk in into a town where the Roundheads and Cavaliers fought, and how the town remember it and whether or not Cromwell or Charles II were the victors.
We meet another Jeff, a larger rounder one, and the two good humourly tell me how they are known as the two Mad Jeffs. It is the occasion of St Mary’s Summer Fair and everyone is in high spirits. They tell me I should have let them know I was coming through and that in future they would gladly offer me hospitality in the village.
Geoff points me on my way to Telford, which, he tells me, you can usually identify on the horizon by the plumes of smoke rising from the power station….
And so it is that I leave St Marys & All Angels, first consecrated by St Chad when it was a wattle and daub building in c 670 CE, feeling like I have met people who understand Christianity in the true meaning of the word.
I find my way into Telford, and negotiate my way along Priorslee Road, no easy task as it has been covered over by the M54 in places, and runs alongside the Stafford Park for a good long stretch, and so though it still exists for walkers and is a designated cycle path running from the university to the train station and onwards towards Shifnall it takes a bit of detective work to recognise it beside the motorway and the imprint of all that stands for etched onto the landscapes and all around.
In Stafford Park, an industrial park, not the green leafy variety, I come across the most incongruous sight yet; a giant gleaming pagoda! This is the proud headqurters of a Taiwanese internet company; it wealth besides the tnearby towns and villages deprived of their identities feels almost obscene.
I meet a young Ukranian woman who came to England for love of a man and who now lives, works, and is settled here. She tells me about Telford, town with no centre, purpose built in 1968 and named for the man who played such a big part in the Industrial Revolution, It really is the conglomerate I have describes it as; a big sprawling mass of housing and roads subsuming all the surrounding villages for miles around, killing their local communities and shops, and driving everyone American style to their cars and to the mall that has been created instead of a town centre for the worship of the god Consumerism.
My guide is proud of her adopted town’s industrial heritage, tells me about Ironbridge, to the south of the conglomerate, I remember this place; I was taken as a young girl on a school field trip to honour the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution here. I simply feel sad; grieve at the loss of the greater, ancient heritage that lies buried beneath, the Priorslees and other settlements that were destroyed by the new society, not gently incorporated into it, with reverence for what was of value in what had gone before, and herein for me lies the mistakes that were made; to assume that what is gone is bad and what comes new is good, and not to honour the potential for good and bad that everything and everybody possesses, and to thoughtfully blend the two with love and respect for the intrinsic value that everything and everybody has.
It should not have taken me long, this 11 mile walk from Newport to Telford, but it takes most of the day, and I haven’t even stopped to eat. I check into the soulless comfort barrier of the Welcome Break Days Inn and eat my only meal of the day in a motorway service restaurant; weird. I watch the assorted travellers come in and how road weary they seem and smile to myself at the paradox; it is I who have arrived with the dust of the road on my feet, yet it is they who deserve to be called travel weary, arriving crumpled and disorientated, desperate to use the toilet, and eagerly searching about for distractions, the gaming room, the shop, the TV, and burgers. It is pervasive, this industrial disease, it masks the symptoms of malaise with comforting distractions that indoctrinate further under the guise of soothing.