Coalbrookdale – Where it all began

Forgive me if I speak to you with the benefit of my three score years and fifteen! I’ll try not to patronise, but it’s difficult not to feel a certain smugness having reached this time in my life with my intellect more or less in tact.

I have reached a plateau of contentment, where I no longer feel the need to compete for survival. Of course, I realise this is largely due to an accident of birth. Born into the United Kingdom, one of the richest countries on the planet was a great start and a privilege. Not that there were any silver spoons around, you understand.

So here I find myself, after pursuing multiple careers as well as actual pathways throughout my life, quietly wondering what it was all about. More than that, I now find myself looking back not only over my own life, but over the many lives that went before, leading to that one concurrence of coincidences culminating in the single moment of conception when I came into existence.

I think back to the moment when I asked my Grandad where our family had come from. I was ten years old and in my favourite place – on the hearthrug by Grandad Bangham’s knee. Every now and then a spurt of gas from the coal would ignite and flare into life. The light outside was fading as I looked up at him and asked where our family had come from. He smiled down at me and in his broad Lancashire accent told me he understood that two hundred years ago our family lived in Shropshire, in a place called Coalbrookdale.

At the time, I had never heard of Coalbrookdale, and I found the name confusing. Was this a place like Oldham, where I was growing up, where the smoke from the coal fires and mill chimneys hung in the air, diluting the sunshine, even in the middle of summer?  Or was it a beautiful place, in a green valley with a brook running through?

I asked him how we got from Shropshire to Oldham, but he didn’t know when or why the family had left that place to move to the industrial towns of the North of England. All he knew, was that his father Edwin had always told him the family was from Coalbrookdale. I determined that one day, I would find the answers.

It was some years later that I became seriously interested in researching the family tree. Eventually I traced the Bangham line back to 1652 and Walter Bangome, living in the Severn Gorge area of Shropshire. In the course of my research, I was fascinated to learn that one of Walter’s sons, Joseph, my fifth great grandfather, had worked for Abraham Darby, at his ironworks in Coalbrookdale. I was even able to locate references to Joseph and his brother William in the surviving accounts books of the Darby works.

Abraham Darby and his descendants were responsible for developing a way of making iron using coke made from coal, rather than charcoal made from wood. Unlike wood, coal was plentiful. With a ready supply in the area of the other raw materials, namely limestone and ironstone, there was virtually no limit to the amount of iron which could be smelted in the Coalbrookdale furnaces. As the process was adopted across the country the unlimited supply of iron fuelled the Industrial Revolution, by providing the raw material for building machinery and engines for the mills and railways of Great Britain and beyond. Over the 18th and 19th centuries, the first iron rails were cast in the Coalbrookdale works, as were cylinders for the first Newcomen steam engines, parts for the first iron ship, the S.S. Great Britain now restored and sitting alongside the docks in Bristol, and the world’s first bridge made of iron, which still stands today at Ironbridge in the Severn Gorge, now a World Heritage Site.

Over the years I have often imagined what life may have been like for Joseph and his family. Did he realise, as he worked at the furnace, that he was involved in events that were to change the world? I have visited the Severn Gorge many times and it never fails to move me just as strongly as it did on the first day I stood in the churchyard of Holy Trinity on the steep slopes of the Coalbrookdale valley, gazing to the south, across the Gorge towards Bangham’s Wood.

Is there such a thing as ‘folk memory?’ That I cannot tell, I only know that as I surveyed the valley I felt at a connection with the place. It felt like home. This was in the 1970’s and the name Coalbrookdale still confused me. This was certainly a beautiful dale, with steep sided, thickly wooded slopes, and a brook running along the valley floor toward the River Severn. There was just a hint as to the origin of the reference to ‘coal’, in the partially derelict industrial buildings standing beside a railway viaduct.

So, this is where my story begins, in Bangham’s Wood, over three hundred years ago. Now in my seventh decade I am able to add the perspective of my own life to that of the Bangham family. I can see and understand more fully the impact of those changes witnessed and, yes, implemented by Joseph Bangham and his workmates. Were those changes for the better? Given the problems of climate change caused by industrialisation which also prompted rapid population growth, the jury is still out.

However, I see the story of our family as a microcosm of so many family stories, as the agricultural gave way to the industrial way of life. Whatever the final outcome for humanity, I do feel it’s a story worth telling. Coalbrookdale, the first book in what I hope will become The Bangham Trilogy, is a fictional story covering the period 1713 to 1759, about the life of Joseph Bangham and his family.

Over this period their lives in the peaceful rural hamlet in Bangham’s Wood must have changed fundamentally as industry came to the Gorge. Working in the fields and coppicing in the woods would have given way to days and nights of toil in the hot, dirty and dangerous world of the smelting and forging of iron. The fresh air and sweet scent of wildflowers was to be replaced by smoke and fumes from the furnaces. Soot and dust must have eventually covered everything, and the sound of birdsong would have been drowned out by the roar of the furnaces and the hammering of metal on metal at the forges.

When Joseph started out at the Darby Works, I have imagined that he was probably excited at the prospect of change coming to the Gorge. I wonder, when he looked back on his life, whether he felt the change had been for the better, or whether something of the old life had been lost? These are the kind of thoughts many of us have as we look at the world today and contemplate whether our civilisation will survive the effects of industrialisation and the resultant climatic changes it has brought about. The problem is, a lifetime just isn’t long enough to find those answers, is it?

I hope to release Coalbrookdale, Book One of the Bangham Trilogy later this year.

Marilyn Freeman

3rd September 2021

UPDATE: Coalbrookdale; The Bangham Family Story is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Release date is 10th March 2022.

1st February 2022

Learning Curves by Marilyn Freeman

You would think that at my age, I would have learned enough to get me through life, but maybe not quite – yet!

My whole life seems to have been one long learning curve. When I left school and entered the world of work as an experimental officer in the Research Department of I.C.I. I was convinced that after 13 years of education, I knew it all. Of course, it didn’t take long for me to discover that I actually knew very little that could possibly be of use in the development of Gas Liquid Chromatography!

I’d just about got to grips with that when I was faced with the delights of Mass Spectroscopy, then on to the formulation and manufacture toiletry products such as shampoos and hair conditioners.

At this stage in my life, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. I actually enjoyed gaining new knowledge and skills. Due to my husband being made redundant I then became a shopkeeper for three mind-numbing years. Not the most exciting time of my life, I have to admit. Things got a little more exciting when hubby was offered a job in Nigeria. This move found me playing ‘madame’ on the old colonial circuit in a supporting role to my then husband as he nurtured his career. That was definitely a sharp learning curve. I hadn’t had much opportunity to manage servants and organise majong sessions or coffee mornings, in Hollinwood, on the outskirts of a smokey northern town, but I did my best.

On returning to the UK, fate led me to a part time job in a company selling carpets – I know – what did that have to do with shampoo? Well, nothing, but with a couple of children to look after, I could only take a part time job, which were pretty rare in laboratories in those days. Anyway, I digress. While at the carpet warehouse I resumed my self-development programme by taking a touch typing course. Over the years, this skill has been more useful than all my other acquired skills put together!

Another family move when I once again took up a supporting role to my successful husband, now found us in a small village in Bedfordshire, with few opportunities for self-development, although I did try my hand at selling jewelry by holding little parties for bored housewives. Not a great way to earn a living, I’m afraid, but quite enjoyable at the time.

Fate took a hand again when I found a part-time job at a small engineering company in Bedford and I met my now husband. We were both made redundant as the firm moved out of the area. Both needing a job, we set up a company manufacturing – yes, you’ve got it – toiletries! Now I had several learning curves to climb all at once – business management, marketing and sales, company accounting and product development. We had some great contracts including one to supply the QE2 with giveaway packs for the bathrooms. Over the next six years there was plenty of opportunity for self-development, but perhaps I didn’t learn some things well enough, as the business eventually failed, sadly.

Now divorced and remarried, it was back to shop life, I’m afraid – needs must! This time, with aging parents needing support, after divorce and remarriage to my business partner, we headed north to Burnley. There we ran an ‘open all hours’ shop for the next few years while at the same time developing yet another business – ironing! I know what you’re thinking – why would anyone want to make a living ironing other people’s clothes? If only you knew how often I asked myselft that question!

Eventually liberated from the daily grind, my husband, always the inventor and entrepreneur, and after watching myself and my ironing ladies slaving away with smoothing irons, developed an idea for an ironing machine. This was an exciting time. The idea was unique and found enthusiasm in many quarters, eventually winning an innovation competition, the prize being an office facility within Manchester University, assistance to develop the idea and a laptop computer. Once more I hit the learning curve. This time I had to hone my computer skills, sales technique, presentation skills and accounting nonce. I think one could call this venture a success as we were able to sell over 100 machines before, sadly, the company who had been supporting us went bust and took us with it!

Well, in 2004 that just about ended the story of my chequered business career, but not, I hasten to add, an end to the learning curves. Since then, I have discovered the world of self-publishing. My husband had been writing books for children for many years and now we set about getting them into print. This meant finding my way around editing, proofing and creating books, then formatting and publishing them. Along the way I did the same for a few private clients which was very enjoyable.

So, was I finally done with learning stuff? Well, no, actually. In my wisdom I decided to ‘become’ a counsellor and embarked on three years of training at Bedford College before discovering that to be a counsellor means volunteering for years before there is any chance of finding paid work. It’s a bit of a closed shop, like so many professions. I did put my counselling skills to use though, by becoming a bereavement support volunteer for three years. During this time I learned not only about counselling, but more importantly, much about myself.

Surely, this must be it now. Surely I have done learning? Well, no, actually, fate had one last throw of the dice in the shape of the Corona Virus pandemic. Stuck in lockdown with little to do, the thought struck me that now was the time to write that novel I had been thinking about for some time. One last learning curve then, how to write a novel! I took a couple of short online writing courses but didn’t really enjoy them, finding them rather restricting. So, ironically the final chapter of my life to date had no learning curve to it at all! I simply sat at my computer and started to write, drawing on all the varied experiences of my life.

Having said that, I guess every learning curve I’ve ever been on has contributed in some way to the life experiences I now draw upon. And who knows, this may not even be the last chapter!

There may yet be time for more learning!

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Bringing My Story to Life!

Karma: A Mystery in Paris

As I was writing Karma, in my imagination, I was strolling through the streets of Paris, surrounded by all the unique sights, smells and sounds of that exciting city. I had hoped to be able to convey to my readers all that my senses were experiencing in my imagination, and to make my story as real for them as it was for me.

When it was finished and I proudly received and read that first copy, it was exciting to see the words that had been born inside my head actually there on the page in front of me. I have been thrilled by the response from everyone who has read it and am able to feel fairly satisfied that I must have created a reasonable approximation to the world of my imagination.

I was saddened though, that several of the people I know were excluded from the experience because their inability, for various reasons, to be able read it. It was then that I began to explore the possibility of creating an audiobook. To my delight it turns out that this is easier and less expensive than one might think.

Using, within hours I had commissioned my audio producer, a lovely lady called Virginia Ferguson, whose narrating skills are excellent. She brings my characters to life and suddenly Karma is no longer only in my imagination. Furthermore, my work will now be accessible to everyone, regardless of their ability to hear or see clearly.

In this extract, Adrienne, having just reached a dead end in her quest to discover what happened to her mother after she left home ten years ago, is distraught, until Paris works its magic and she begins to see exactly what she must do next.

The audiobook is still in production but I am so excited that soon it will be available online.

For any authors who would like to turn their work into an audiobook, I would say go for it and bring your story to life! It is easier than you think!

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Marilyn Freeman, Author

The nerves are kicking in!

I spent eight months or so during the past year of lockdown revisiting the Paris I knew on a school holiday in 1962 – the most exciting week of my life up to that point. I poured many precious memories of that wonderful city into the creation of Karma: A Mystery in Paris.

I’ve polished Karma to within an inch of its life, re-designed the cover until it’s the best I can make it. From the manuscript I’ve created an ebook on Amazon and also on Smashwords to reach the widest possible market worldwide. I’ve created the print book in paperback format on Ingramspark to make copies available across the world at the click of a mouse at most book retailers, including Waterstones and Barnes & Noble.

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I’ve now spent the last couple of months preparing to launch it onto a waiting world. To that end, I’ve read all the blogs and viewed all the videos I could find, explaining to the rookie self-publishing author how to create a ‘buzz’, as they put it, to give it the best chance of making an impression in this volatile and crowded market. I even succeeded in getting an article published on the Bedford Today website. Mind you, I had to gain some kudos by confessing my age and the number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren I have. Still, we all have to make sacrifices!

I’ve created my Author Page on Facebook, set up an Instagram account, I’ve sent out several group emails to spread the word, and I’ve given away copies of Karma to friends and family to gain valuable feedback, which I have to say has all, without exception, been pretty positive.

Having tested the strength of my friendships to the limit by pestering everyone for their support, I fear I must now take a deep breath and serenade myself with a rendition of Que Sera, which my children would testify has always been my mantra in time of stress!

However, I have to confess to a serious bout of self-doubt right now. What if the unthinkable happens and the book falls short of all the hype I have painstakenly created? What if pre-orders amount to virtually nil? What then? A re-write? The dustbin?

Well, I can do no more than await my fate. In a few short days I will have my answer. Wish me luck!

Marilyn Freeman, author of Karma: A Mystery in Paris

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