Community Activities

Away from work miners engaged in a whole range of activities. Many were involved in Friendly Societies such as The Buffaloes which met for a time at The Commercial Inn (Park Avenue) and The Oddfellows which met at The Barley Mow in Court Street. Friendly Societies offered insurance cover such as injury and old age benefits and enabled members to save for burial fees to ensure that funeral costs would be covered and the earliest recorded locally existed by 1794.

Wakes, fairs and carnivals seem always to have been popular and many of these were associated with sporting and sometimes less salubrious activities. An annual Ironbridge fete, started in 1864, included sports, a high-wire act and fireworks in 1875. Visits by circuses and travelling fun fairs became popular.

Early records refer to bull-baiting and dog- and cockfighting in Madeley but such activities were increasingly frowned upon by the clergy and the gentry. In 1788 the vestry resolved to withhold poor relief from any who kept a dog or fighting cock. Both bull-baiting and cockfighting were made illegal in 1835 but the latter was easier to conceal and continued well into the 19th century. The last recorded bull-baiting in the parish took place on The Green at Madeley in 1827.

Boxing and prize-fighting (bare-knuckle fighting) were both widespread as was pigeon racing and quoit playing. Early quoits were generally made from poor-quality leftover metal from mine forges which perhaps explains why the main quoit-playing areas centred on mining communities. Around the pit-heads men often played pitch-and-toss and the boys all seem to have played marbles. Many of these activities were associated with gambling and drunkenness and, by 1847, Madeley had fifty-two public houses most of which listed mining as at least part of their trade and drunkenness was always seen as a problem. In the 1840s one young miner was recorded as saying (rather contemptuously) ‘There are teetotallers, but not amongst the miners. We call the teetotallers ‘water-bellies’. A miner could not do without drinking beer. It is good for the constitution’!

Some locals kept greyhounds, whippets or lurchers and horse-racing was enjoyed by many. Local race meetings often included ‘Chartermasters’ Stakes’. The Shropshire Conservative for 5th October 1850 reported one such event at Pain’s Lane Races (St. Georges) and recorded that the landlords of both The Barley Mow Inn and The Park Inn public houses erected ‘booths’ (presumably beer tents). Fox hunting was a popular spectator sport and Madeley Wood Pit later became famous being one of the few to have its own ‘Hunt’ in which groups of miners hunted, on foot, with hounds.

In the latter part of the 19th century miners’ football and cricket teams were formed and recreational use of the Severn increased.

Around 1896 the vicar of Madeley counted the main obstacles to his work as indifference, drink and ‘the passion for amusement, especially football’!

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