A Healthy Fascination.
Sunrise: 05.07 Sunset: 09.23
I have had a deep fascination with Wilden Marsh for many years. A new story seems to present itself with every visit.
Moonlit evenings provide the best atmosphere. I’m never lonely or afraid when walking through the blackness of the nighttime marsh, with its strange noises, fleeting shadows, and darting will o the wisps. I am often accompanied by ghosts from its near and distant past, showing and telling me the most interesting things about everyday life in bygone times. Sometimes a miasma lifts off the river giving the impression that a corpse might be floating by or, even more distressing, caught up in one of the rubbish rafts. The miasma is a drawback of having an old sewage works high up on the river bank. I dread the thought of finding a dead body in the river.
From the instant I set foot in the meadows and pastures, the ghosts begin their whispering. In fact, I don’t know of another place that is so eager to give up its colourful secrets in such detail. No, I am not deluded or suffering from a schizoaffective disorder. I am receptive to the lay of the land and what it can tell me. I also have a vivid imagination, and a strong interest in local history.
Standing close to the Riverside Pasture stock fence, at the point where Hoo Brook rushes into the River Stour, I look across to the stark, sharp-edged, relatively modern buildings of the Hoo Brook Sewage Pumping Station. Sometimes, in the right light, the area melts to a vision, set some 150 years ago, of the dark, satanic, hotchpotch buildings that were the Falling Sands Rolling Mill and Cottages. In fact, the industrial buildings weren’t placed randomly at all; they were placed at the precise angles necessary for the efficient operation of their waterwheels. There were four industrial buildings. The site was then owned by Lydia Barnett, and the tenant was Samuel Barnett.
I hear grinding and creaking of waterwheels, rushing water, clanking of loose gear wheels, hissing of water quenching red-hot metal passing through steel rolls, and rhythmic ringing of 20 lbs sledge hammers striking iron. My nose tingles at the smell of high sulphur coal used to fuel the mill furnaces. All these noises, sounds and smells are memories of visits to my grandparents house, on the edge of the Abergavenny steam railway junction, way back in the 1950s. We have a steam train railway crossing the marsh on the Falling Sands Viaduct.
A leat allowed the river water to bypass the waterwheels that spanned the full width of the river and provided power for the rolling mills. To stop the waterwheels, a gate lowered into the river cuts the water flow. The river water was then diverted into the leat at a point close to where the Falling Sands Viaduct is now, and exited 700 metres downstream into Hoo Brook.
The time I imagined was 1840. The Staffordshire and Worcester Canal opened in 1770 and the Severn Valley Railway in 1862.
Urgent shouts of the mill workers going about their daily business filled the air, as did excited screams of dirty little urchins playing around stacks of metal and redundant machinery spread haphazardly around the rolling mill stockyard. These urchins were the children of the mill workers, and they lived on-site in company cottages.
I don’t know why I am affected so by Wilden Marsh, its history, its fauna and flora, and its geology, but I’m glad I am.