End of the AGA Saga

On Sunday afternoons, Mrs Thurlow used to read the newspapers she would collect carefully over the week. It was her way of living other lives. She of the ‘flat heavy feet pounding painfully along under mud-stained skirts, her face and body ugly with lumpy angles of bone’, so much so that she is likened to a ‘beast of burden’ by the writer H.E. Bates in his short story ‘The Ox’. Like Mrs Thurlow, we live other lives and our collective imagination, I would think, goes into a tizzy when we read our instalment of news. Mine is at the end of every day, when I am tucked into the duvet, comfortable and ready to dive into these other worlds. I do not wait till Sunday because the world moves fast. I would be left far behind. Plus there is the habit of reading 20 newspapers ingrained into me by one of my bosses who used to stomp into the newspaper office early in the afternoon and quiz us about the news we had not covered in our paper (because it prided itself on being the best in the city of Delhi) and importantly Why we had missed it. With a fluttering heart, because it was my first job, I would sit and scan each and every news item like my life depended upon it. Now, I like to read only those pieces that make me sit up. The rest are merely headlines to be skimmed.

You must be thinking, ‘What, no more waffling about the autumnal colours of Bayonne?’ I would clobber myself if I bang on about it in one more post. As I was reading the news last night, you know drivel about how Meghan Markle who has just scored a prince may not be so all out there as she seems, I spotted a news item about a historic foundry shutting its doors on Thursday — a couple of days later in fact. The newspaper photos looked familiar. I peered into my phone in the dark of the night and realised, why we had been there earlier this year. I remembered the derelict foundry, careworn and in a shambles. Places that look like they have been left to their own devices tend to excite the imagination, don’t they? To add to which, it had been a rather dramatic walk.

On a brooding English morning in March, we were in the town of Ironbridge in Shropshire, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. As you can imagine, everything in England is antiquated. So is the bridge here from which the town derives its name. Across the muddy River Severn and a deep gorge spans the world’s first iron bridge which was opened to the public in 1781. Naturally it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You might possibly like to ink it in if you find yourself romping around the county of Shropshire.

Traditional dark pubs with low-hanging wooden beams, winding roads into the bleak countryside, sepia-tinted churches and hotels, towns and villages built under the aegis of ironworks and coal. A hearty pub lunch after a fight over my insistence upon a walk in the woods, one of the few ideas I had culled from the woman at the old tollhouse in Ironbridge. Smouldering skies and husband. Utter nonchalance on my part. Every walk has to after all begin with a fight. Traditions are not to be scoffed at, after all.

That’s how we sauntered into the village of Coalbrookdale, the home of the British AGA cast iron cooker which is synonymous with country living in the UK. The cast iron for the cookers were so long manufactured in the foundry at Coalbrookdale. Now, it shall be shut forever. The end of an era and of 300 years of ironwork in the village. Actually if I confess, I had already imagined it to be an abandoned factory. Why else would there be cracked and boarded-up windows, gaping holes in the exterior…? A clutch of farmhouses with plots of garden behind them, and a brooding church looming high above the village, line up across the foundry.

Once, it would have been dark and grimy, a place enveloped by the sulfurous fumes of coal released from the ironworks. People in the hamlet of Coalbrookdale would have had great difficulty breathing in its sooty air, I would imagine. And yet there lay the beginnings of a dynasty of ironmasters, the Darby family who owned the foundry. But today it rests quiet and green, a hamlet marked by industrial cottages and elegant country homes where the Quaker Darbys lived. I did find an approximation of how it would have looked – through the painting of a Franco-British painter called Philip James de Loutherbourg. This portly artist toured England and Wales during the Industrial Revolution to capture the misery of the times in his paintings.

Back in the present, we passed by some old women in their wellies caked with mud — this made me look at my polka-dotted trainers in alarm. The unsuitability of my footwear was driven further home when it started pouring and I fell into a smelly bog — Adi laughing helplessly the entire way because the walk had been my idea and he found deep comfort in the retribution that fate holds in its fists. And it was not once that I tumbled into the bog. Yes, it happened again, much to the delight of my husband.

The day somehow (don’t ask me how) brightened, and the skies turned beautifully blue, but the smell, oh that ghastly smell, how it clung to me. That smell came back to me yesterday night, ripe and robust, along with the memories of our rambles around Coalbrookdale.

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The 1801 Loutherbourg painting, Coalbrookdale by Night.

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44 thoughts on “End of the AGA Saga

  1. As soon as I opened this post and saw the bridge I knew where you were and my own memories flooded in. When I was first rowing, Ironbridge Regatta was one of the weekend trips my club would take. I can still remember pulling some pretty tidy puddles under that bridge with clear water the boat behind as we took both the 4s and 8s pots that year (don’t ask me for the year, I can’t *coughs decorously* quite recall 😉) Its the only time I have been, after that I was snaffled by Team GB and my regattas were only Henley and International where I can report Romanian women when very fit are very very scary! Back to the here. Your evocative writing really shines and I was gripped by every word, your pictures are, as ever wonderfully textured and full of interest. So I will end with three things – first …. dotty trainers on a dank day will never do. Wellie’s, my girl – Wellie’s are the thing for a sensible British gal! Second ….. the door knocker shop reminds me that my mother-in-law worked for many years for the gloriously named ‘Knobs and Knockers’ which still makes me snicker and third – is the US in a frenzy at the prospect of one of theirs becoming a real life British Princess and what are her dark tales, pray tell (and why would anyone be surprised 😉) xx

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    1. Oh gosh you were on Team GB and jostling (so to say) with Romanian women (I had to google them to spot bulked-up arms and gams) …I am a bit lost for words. You rowed in the Severn then under the very Iron Bridge I was examining that day. I am picturing the scene in my mind’s eye, Osyth 🙂 And Henley too. When I was there a couple of years ago, I was struck by its prettiness and wondered what it would have been like to see it during the Royal Regatta. Inevitably more charming?
      Knobs and Knockers! 😀 😀 That is a sure-shot winner. Your mother-in-law chose well. Or was it the other around?
      It was a dry day which turned upon me but I should have known, you are right. I have done this twice over now. The first time was in an Ugg boots in a field in Cornwall. I shiver at the memory.
      And about the last en vogue matter, maybe Meghan can do what Wallis could not? I think all the American mamas be sighing and simpering 😉 xx

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      1. Rowing was my passion for a while. I have two gold medals from Henley. The regatta is wonderful but only if you fork out for the enclosure. Then you get the glorious English uppers dressed appropriately. A stroll along the bank is difficult with so many people on the towpath but on a fine day nothing beats it. We also had a branch of our cheeseshop in Henley many years ago. It’s a lovely place. I’m now fully up to speed with Meghan … I guess this is a good example of times changing and even Royalty having to change their attitude. I wonder if she also believes you can never be to rich not too thin …. I do hope not. Though if she chooses to have pugs like Wallis I will applaud. Or any dog actually. But probably not Corgis …. wouldn’t want to upset Granny 😂😂😂 xx

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      2. I wish I could have walked into your cheeseshop and nom nom-ed my around it along with Adi who is quite the mouse in a cheese cave too. Your father-in-law might have chased us out but we would take the chance. As for the glorious English uppers with the fancy fascinators and hats, why not? Some eye candy and giggling.
        Meghan…the way they are digging into her past, passing the minutest hair on her body under the microscope for inspection…I do pity her. Wallis was such a dashing woman that my sympathy tilts towards her. I am sure Meghan has got both under her belt now — rich and thin. Between Kate and her, they could probably have annual competitions, Who Be More Thin, non? 😀

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      3. Kate is certainly thin …. like turn sideways and disappear thin! My father in law would have adored you both and spent hours squealing with glee ((literally he did this when he savourer a flavour) and telling you to ‘even up the odds’ by taking more and more. He and his monacle remain some of the enduring delights of my life. I hanker to do it all again ….. Snap! Back to reality – I have a high regard for Wallis. Really the old ways were foolish … she’d have been a fantastic Queen Consort to a King who needed that support. What we ended up with was also marvellous but poor old George VI suffered for having the crown thrust upon him and was not really cut out for the role – thank heavens for the Queen Mother but it was sad that he had the burden and I think it was a burden for him xx

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      4. Like a thin slab of chocolate because men seem to swoon over her 😉 We would have squealed together, us three then. A monocle thrown into the bargain is all too delightful. I have memories of my grandfather’s monocle as a child and hiding it in nooks and corners. I doubt that would have sat well with your father-in-law …
        Good ol’ Bertie heading it all. A king with no aspirations, right? Strange are the ways of this world and its conventions 🙂 xx

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      5. None stranger than British Royalty. FiL was adored by his grandchildren but it was actually Granny that engineered the delights. Your observation about his monacle is well found but well hidden. He also used to collect the morning papers wearing only his striped nightshirt and leather mule slippers from the bus-shelter opposite the house. xx

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  2. You’re post has brought back memories of a school trip to Coalbrookdale and Ironbridge. The old printing press there did me a motto I can still remember: “it’s better to understand a little than to misunderstand a lot”. By the way, I don’t think I’d get away with laughing if my wife fell in a blog!! 😉

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    1. That is a printing press that spread wisdom, eh? A trip to the area would have been fascinating through the eyes of a schoolboy. I wonder what you thought of it then.
      From the last remark, I would declare you a wise one, Obi-Wan.

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      1. I had no interest in industrial history before that visit. It was impressed on me what a huge impact on the world such a small place can have – and that I could get my own pressed coin and a printed poster! *Bog! What a mistake to make 🙂 !

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      2. Aptly put. That is exactly the kind of impression that they would want to make on a young child and an adult, I am sure. I would have loved to explore the foundry. Maybe the English Heritage will take over and preserve it well? I hope they do.

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    1. Dunked-in-the-bog I had a terrible time not to feel ill with the stench of it! Only a dung bomb (Harry Potter-ish) could make you appreciate its potency.
      Now now Jen, could I make fun of these grave royal matters or call them drivel? 🙂 xx

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  3. What an irresistible place to wander around. The surrounding buildings, river and landscape have so much character. I feel like I’ve walked into the village near Downton Abbey (shameless plug of my favorite show!). Sorry to hear about your misadventure with a bog. Adi should be hit with a wet noodle for laughing at you 😉

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    1. Now that is a rum matter that it reminds you of Downton. A wet noodle. Adi would slap hot sauce on it and slurp. But I wholly agree with you. I might have used a wooden ladle if I had one at han though (inspired by my mother – what do they say about all women growing into their mothers!).

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