History should be fun and enjoyable. It doesn't have to be just about Kings, Queens, castles and battles either. I love finding something that makes me want to get up and go exploring, never mind what we will find. It may be a really nice happy story, a sad story, or a really stunning historic site.
Our June 2016 Shropshire holiday was planned in the usual way and getting the “to do” list completed was going to be a tall order. Not that the to-do list was a finished project. Far from it. Once settled in our holiday cottage, the first thing I do is search through the brochures. This time was no different and one brochure immediately caught my attention and another "to do" was added to the list.
Well how could I resist a description like this ?
“The Broseley Jitties are a maze of narrow lanes and passageways that link together a higgledy-piggledy jumble of old squatter cottages. Each Jitty has a distinct name reflecting its history and folklore and the people who once lived there.”
This quote was from the Jitty Trail brochure from the Broseley local history society. The Broseley Jitties had to be explored…
There are 18 Broseley Jitties.
Maidens Goughs Carters
Pughs Crews Park Gittings
Maypole Simmonds Lloyds
Bradleys Bank Mission Coopers
Jews Ferny Bank Balls
Ding Dong Steps Bosswell Bank Plants
Broseley is a small town of around 5000 people and close to the river Severn. It had a similar number of people back in the late 16th century when mining and clay pipe manufacturing were its industries. It also played its part in the industrial revolution which is claimed to have started in the World Heritige Site of Iron Bridge Gorge. In 1779 the worlds first Iron Bridge was constructed here and connected Broseley with Coalbrookdale and Madeley. Broseley can also claim that the worlds first iron boat was built by John Williamson whilst living here.
The Broseley Jitties came about because of a large influx of immigrant miners to the area in the late 1500’s. The miners lived and worked in squalor and were encouraged to build cottages on the common land on the steep western side of Broseley.
Another quote from the Broseley Local History Society:
"By tradition a man had the right to a house if he could erect a chimney and a hearth in a day.”
So it was that we went to discover the Broseley Jitties huddled under our umbrella on yet another wet English summer's day. A map to help you around the area is available and there are interesting free audio guides downloadable from the Broseley Local History Society.
Ding Dong Steps
You have a choice on how this Jitty got its name. It could be from the sound of hob nailed boots on the stone surface as the workers went off to work, or my favourite, that it was where fights (ding dongs) took place to resolve disputes hidden away from the “Law”.
This jitty got its name from the Jewish Wolfson family who ran a factory making china dolls and plates. They chose to live in the jitties rather than in the more affluent Broseley town. Apparaently, their daughter enjoyed ritual bathing in the local springs which used to keep the local men entertained. The family business went backrupt when members were interned during the 2nd World War.
As you wander around this network of little lanes and paths you have to let your mind drift back to say the early 1600s as people first started to live in this area. The houses would probably been roughly made, perhaps just a room with a fire and candles for lighting. It must have been rough living in the winter, especially after a day working in the darkness of a mine. Then there are the smells, possible of cooking, but certainly of waste. It wasn't until the 1920s that water and sewage systems were put in place.
There were a number of wells and springs around the jitties from which residents had to draw water. As the Broseley Jitties are based on the steep hillside, you have to imagine walking up and down a number of times each day to get your water. Most people living in the jitties would have been poor and couldn't have afforded a donkey or horse to help with the load. And even if they could would they have been able to negotiate the tight and narrow lanes.
Now the jitties wind their way between modern buildings, although you will still find signs of the past. For example, near the junction of Cloughs and Simmonds Jitties you will find that part of the wall is built from ceramic "Sagger" containers used for making clay pipes. The clay pipes were put into Saggers and then into the furnace. Some of these Saggers date back to 1790s.
Broseley was famous for its clay pipes and the term "Will you take a Broseley?" was common in the local inns and taverns.
The Broseley local history society also have a town trail that visits a number of historic buildings. Their web site gives far more information on the Broseley Jitties and Broseley town than included here.
We hope this little story encourages you to go out and discover something that picqued your interest and be surprised at what you can learn, feel, and visualise.
Shropshire is a marvellous place for history and food lovers! There's so much to see and do and taste, that you'll need more than just a short visit. If food is your thing, head to Ludlow and start exploring from there. For history lovers, Shrewsbury makes a great base with many historical sites in very easy reach.
Here are a few places that should go on your must-see list: