For many country people life was hard and poaching was one of the most important ways of getting food for the family. Coracles played a crucal part of the activitiy in Ironbridge, they were excellent means of travelling at night without attracting the attention of the police!


In 1840 cholera broke out in the district and in one part of lronbridge, 32 people died.

With bad housing conditions, disease and unemployment it was a depressing time for the poorer families of the area, but there was always a great community spirit and they helped each other whenever possible.


Eventually the situation became desperate and in order to provide food for the large families a band of poachers was formed.


Their names conjure up some very colourful characters: Fussler Potts, Bunkus Owen, Hell Fire Jack, Timmy Lynall, Dick the Keen-Un, Gambler Baugh, Big Neddy, Little Neddy, Gunner Boden, Bill Humphries, Johnny Thompson, Trevis, Pottery George, Nacky Brady, and John (The Major) Goodwin.


There were Broseley and Much Wenlock poachers also, as there was poverty on either side of the river.


From Gentlemen of the River by Phyllis Blakemore





Interviewed in 1975 by Graham Woodruff of Telford Community Arts


"Ironbridge was notorious for poachers.  Real poachers!  Being nothing else whatsoever.  Only poaching.  And in and out of jail all the while.  Never altering their way of life."


"Now – the main way of poaching was by nets at night.  But the poacher, he’d got the policeman breathing down his neck, the gamekeepers, the farmers, anybody, and he’d got to outwit the lot of them like.  Well, now, he was perhaps safer when he was ‘getting’ – doing his poaching.  His hardest job was getting the stuff home, because the policemen knew the poacher well and they would be waiting for him to come."


"The way they used to get the stuff home was chiefly by coracle.  See, the coracle is the small boat that a man puts on his back and away he goes.  He goes up the river and lets the water bring him back, bringing his cargo as well."


"There would be perhaps six of these men going out at night, six of this gang. Now they couldn’t go in a gang, making it too obvious. So they would start off in the afternoon.  One man would walk up with a coracle on his back, which was thought nothing of because it was common.  Then he’d leave this coracle perhaps at Cressage, which is five mile upstream and then he would make for the meeting place.  Then a couple would go that way, a couple this way, making all for the same spot.  They knew exactly where they were going to meet in the hours of darkness, perhaps ten o’clock at night. This is winter time, see. And they would meet, as I say, at ten o’clock in some wood because they knew the country like the back of their hand, better."


"They would do their netting.  Then, they’d come back with their haul to the coracle – perhaps fifty or sixty or eighty rabbits – and load it on the coracle and me grandfather would bring the stuff back, with all their nets as well."


"Now, these other – I said six – these other five men would walk home as if they’d been out for the good of their health.  The policemen would meet them, of course, he’d have them because they weren’t trying to avoid him - they’d got nothing!"


"See, my grandfather would land here (he points to the river) and he’d only got to get up the bank and into the house.  Right.  But the police knew the drift.  There’s no doubt about that.  They knew the drift.  So sometimes they would be waiting here.  So the poachers would shout ‘Keep on going, Tommy!’.  And away me granddad would go - down to Jackfield where Fursley lived down there and Bunkers lived down there, see, and land them at their place."


"And the biggest penalty for poaching I’ve heard of has been seven years."