Whilst occupations were a large part of workers’ identities in the Ironbridge Gorge, the small amounts of leisure time they had were also important to them and shaped how they viewed themselves. The hardships they faced at work and at home also meant that the industrial workers of the Gorge used their leisure time to the fullest.

In the 18th and early 19th century fairs, sometimes locally known as wakes, were highlights in workers’ social calendars but they had a reputation for being rowdy and allowing cruel sports. By the mid-19th century leisure pursuits were often much calmer with social tea parties, pleasure fairs, sports days, and theatrical entertainments being popular.

Pubs were also an important part of workers’ leisure time. They were a social centre for many working men and provided a place for politics, sport, and gaming as well as drink. Perhaps most importantly, they were a warm and welcome escape from the desperately cramped conditions at home.

Leisure time was always important for working people and their opportunities to spend it increased as the 19th century progressed. The 1850 Factory Act catalysed the creation of the ‘English week’ of five and a half working days, and in 1871 the Bank Holiday Act was passed which created four official holidays. By the early 20th century, industrial workers had more leisure time than ever before.

‘Preparing dogs for bull baiting’ from Lucy Cameron’s The Oaken-Gates Wake or The History of Thomas and Mary Cadman, 1824.




Cruel sports like bull baiting and cock fighting were popular amongst industrial workers in the 18th and early 19th century. The last bull baiting match in the Gorge was held in 1831 in Madeley and cruel animal sports were outlawed in 1835, however cockfighting continued covertly as it was easy to conceal.



Travelling fairs and theatres would regularly visit the Gorge and provided a much looked forward to form of entertainment for industrial workers. Albert Davies (1902-1996) remembered visiting a fair at Bedlam where “We used to go and throw at the coconuts and that, and that’s where, the same time, pretty well the same time, Holloway's Theatre used to come down there.”

(From Ken Jones Oral History Archive, 1986)

Travelling fair at Bedlam Furnaces, c.1900.

Yes, we had all the carnivals and all the floats and things dressed up, big long parade straight the way down through Ironbridge to Jackfield and back…. And it was grand to see all the people dressed up in different costumes … it was wonderful in them days.
Albert Davies (1902-1996) (Ken Jones Oral History Archive, 1986).

Carnival parade travelling along Waterloo Street, lronbridge, 1904.



Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, workers looked forward to carnivals that were held in the summer months across the Gorge, and they often took part in the proceedings. The man leading the horse at the head of this carnival parade is William Colley (1861-1925), a fireman at Coalport China Works.

Bridgnorth Road - just past Foundry Lane… that's where the circuses used to come and pitch up… I wouldn't miss that, the clown with the long stilts… they paraded round the town, the clowns and the horses - quite a do.
Len Edwards (1895-1989) (Ken Jones Oral History Archive, 1984).



The General Gordon was one of many pubs that once existed alongside the River Severn. They offered cheap lodgings and plentiful drink to river workers and bargemen who gave the area a similar reputation to a seaport. Some pubs even developed reputations for being brothels.

General Gordon Inn near Jackfield, c.1910.

White Hart Hotel, Ironbridge, c.1900-1905.

We generally play on the Monday after we get the money…most of the men go and drink some drink…There are teetotallers, but not amongst the miners… A miner could not do without drinking beer. It is good for the constitution.
William Sankey (1827-1900) From Report of the Children’s Employment Commission, 1842.
The bottom end of Madeley below our shop was a very, very poor area and the men spent an awful lot of money on beer at the pubs and when they got to the end of the week they'd got no money to give their wives and then there used to be fights and I used to say to my mother “What would you do if that happened to you? She said ‘The first blow would be the last'.
Ethel Hudson (1909-1992), daughter of Annie Perkins and her husband James, a packer for Maw & Co. (Ken Jones Oral History Archive, 1989).

This sketch shows a viewpoint from the Sabbath Walks, a series of walks along the slopes of Lincoln Hill above Coalbrookdale. The walks were designed and laid out between 1782 and 1792 by Richard Reynolds (1735-1816). Reynolds, who was the son-in-law of Abraham Darby II, was a Quaker ironmaster, philanthropist, and former manager of the Coalbrookdale works who took a great interest in workers’ welfare. His aim for these walks was to persuade industrial workers to take their families on walks instead of visiting the pub on a Sunday, their one day off.

Find out more about the Sabbath Walks and have a go at walking them

View of Coalbrookdale from the Rotunda on Lincoln Hill, Joseph Farington (1747-1821), pencil sketch, 1789.

Pitmen Playing at Quoits, Henry Perlee Parker (1795-1873), oil on canvas, c.1840.



Like the rest of Britain, organised sports became increasingly important to the people of the Gorge in the second half of the 19th century, particularly for working men. Formalised rules and official leagues developed, replacing the rougher and more casual approach to the sporting activities of the early 19th century.

Some of the most popular sports in the Gorge were quoits, cricket, and football, with teams often being tied to local pubs, churches, chapels, and industrial works.



Quoits was a very popular sport amongst working people in the Gorge with teams often being associated with pubs. The quoits players in this photo can be seen holding the metal rings that they would use to play the game. The ring would be thrown a set distance to land over or near to a spike. Some local players became national champions, such as William Evans (1871-1932), a roofing tile presser, who was England champion from 1901-1903.

Dawley Quoits team, 1911.

Madeley Cricket Team, c.1910.



Cricket was popular with many local industrial workers, especially in the early 20th century. A locally renowned cricketer was Samuel Gough, who played for Broseley Athletic Cricket Club. Sadly, in 1908 he lost his arm in an industrial accident at one of the decorative tile factories in Jackfield and was no longer able to play.

James Arthur Hartshorne (1873-1936)

James, or Artie as he was more commonly known, was born in Broseley in 1873 to James and Harriet Hartshorne. From 1891 until 1894 Artie attended the Coalbrookdale School of Art and by 1901 he was working for the Benthall Pottery as a draughtsman and eventually became head of design.

In his personal life, Artie was closely connected to the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Broseley. With his family he contributed to the local Sunday School by teaching and fundraising for local causes. He was also the organist and choirmaster for the church, and it was there that he met his wife who was also a member of the choir.

As well as art and religion, cricket also played a big role in Artie’s life. He was involved in setting up the Benthall Pottery’s cricket team and was the club’s secretary. He also played locally for the Willey Wanderers and was noted as a ‘stubborn batsman’.

Artie is just one example of the many workers who had multiple hobbies and interests that were just as much a part of their identity as the work that they did.



Many workers looked forward to ‘outings’. These were usually organised through work or religious groups and became more common as leisure time increased and rail travel became cheaper. They included trips to the seaside, exhibitions in London, and local attractions like the Forest Glen, which is now displayed at Blists Hill Victorian Town.

Forest Glen Refreshment Pavilion at the foot of the Wrekin, c.1895.


Arthur Bland - Chapel Activities

Featuring: Arthur Bland, Ken Jones

Listen to Dawley resident, Arthur Bland (b. 1902), talk about how social life revolve around the chapel.

Some years we went to Dudmaston. Sometimes we went to the Wrekin, and very, very occasionally we could go to Church Stretton.
Elizabeth Davies (1904-2002) (Ken Jones Oral History Archive, 1993).



Extract from the diary of Charles Peskin (1862-1949) describing an outing to Llandudno with “Iron Bridge Church Choir”, 1906.



Brass instruments became more affordable to the working class as manufacturing methods improved during the industrial revolution. From the 1850s, brass bands became increasingly popular in industrial communities and were often associated with industrial works and religious organisations. Several brass bands were active across the Ironbridge Gorge and often soundtracked community events.

Jackfield Brass Band, 1906-1907.