The first bridge constructed of cast iron, the Iron Bridge has a very sinister ghost which floats below its span of the River Severn, dating from several hundred years before the bridge was built.
Silently, shrouded in a mist, a boat similar to a severn trow glides slowly down towards Jackfield and its plague pits where it is also seen unloading.
At the helm stands a tall figure with a hood covering his features. Upon the boat deck lie bodies.
During the plagues of the 15th-16th century many bodies were moved this way and then buried in plague pits to prevent the spread of the disease.
Unfortunately there was no protection for those, like the boatman, who came into contact with the bodies, and many of them also died of plague.
Perhaps the ghostly boatman of Ironbridge is one of these victims.
Bubonic plague in Shropshire
It is possible that Shropshire escaped the worst of the Black Death because of its rural nature; the fact that a majority of people didn’t live in urban communities must have helped to reduce the death toll. But, the River Severn acted as an artery, bringing the infestation up river.
There are around 100 known Deserted Medieval Villages in Shropshire. The Black Death, which accounted for the deaths of up to a quarter of the population of England in 1348-9, has been blamed for the presence of so many of these settlements. However, village abandonment was more probably due to the reaction of changing economic and social conditions.
Widespread changes in employment occurred in the countryside with the movement away from the labour intensive open field system of agriculture to predominantly pastoral activities. Sheep farming became more and more important with the growth of the wool industry which required far fewer people to work the land.
Encaustic tiles were being made in the medieval times, however, the Black Death in the 14th century killed many tile makers and the technology was practically lost for 500 years until manufacture recommenced in the 1840s.
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