Tommy Rogers, the family and Harry Rogers
Tommy Rogers, the family and Harry Rogers2
Eustace, Tommy Rogers, and members of the the family and Harry Rogers. Photos: IGMT
Harry and Billy Cox in 1993
The name Harry, scratched on a window pane in the shed, it could be Harry's? Photo: Graham Peet
Shropshire Records, Needs permission and title
Harry Rogers 1935 IGMT
Shropshire Records, Needs permission and title.
The Rogers family had been building and using coracles on the River Severn at Ironbridge for at least 250 years.
Born 1778 Died 1827
Born 1804 Died 1848
Born 1843 Died 1924
The Rogers family
From Gentlemen of the River by Phyllis Blakemore.
Jimmy was born in 1886, his younger son Harry in 1887
Harry Rogers 1887 - 1967
Proud to follow in his father's footsteps.
Eustace Rogers, the last coracle maker in the family, died in 2003.
The unique Tommy Rogers. When Tommy Rogers was born in 1843 the famous bridge was just 64 years old. People were still coming to see it and admire its elegant structure. Tommy was one of the several sons of Ben and Mary Rogers of Severnside and he was to become one of Ironbridge’ s most colourful and respected characters.
By the time Tommy was 21 he knew more about the river and the surrounding countryside than anyone. He grew up to be a strong fearless man, able to tackle anything. It was said he weighed nearly 20 stone. He carried on the family tradition of coracle making and was not only an expert in the handling of this craft; he also navigated the river on barges, trows, punts and rowing boats. His rivercraft was learned from his family and from the old watermen who thronged the Ironbridge area in those days. He married and he, with his wife Susannah and their children, lived in the family cottage on Severnside, home to many generations of Rogers coracle men.
During his lifetime. Tommy saved eight people from drowning and had recovered 30 bodies from the treacherous waters of the Severn Gorge. To these unfortunate victims the river must have looked very inviting on a hot summer’s day. They did not realise that there were dangerous undercurrents, and they would soon get into difficulties. The Rogers men knew every yard of the river, where it was shallow or deep and where the undercurrents were. Their knowledge of the river was phenomenal.
Japanese battleship. After the war Jimmy worked at the Coalbrookdale Ironworks in addition to his commitment to the river and to coracle making. His countryside skills and love of nature was widely known and the late H S Lloyd, a countryman himself and a breeder of gun dogs said this of Jimmy Rogers: “A great sportsman, a true friend, and a gentleman to his fingertips. An admirer of beauty and a lover of nature. May his kind never die out.” Jimmy married and had children and grandchildren. They must be very proud of him. When Jimmy died his ashes were scattered from the Ironbridge on to the waters of the river he knew so well.
James Rogers, born 1886. (Jimmy, also called ‘Dibo’) Jimmy Rogers, Tommy’s eldest son, was one of lronbridge’s best loved and highly respected characters. His skill in making and handling the coracle was legendary. He used to show people how to manage the little boat; they could not have found a better tutor. He was also an expert swimmer, and carried on the family tradition of saving people from drowning. For this he received an official Life Saving Award. In World War One, Jimmy was in the navy. His ship was torpedoed in the Gulf of Genoa, and many lives were lost. Swimming for over seven hours. Jimmy and another Ironbridge man, named Luther Bennett, were eventually rescued by a
Harry Rogers 1887 – 1967 After the death of their father, Jimmy and Harry carried on the tradition of coracle making and helping people when the river was in flood. Harry was a bit of a joker too. Due to a shortage of jobs in Ironbridge before World War One, Harry went to work in a coal mine near Wrexham. He did not stay very long; he missed the river and Ironbridge too much. While he was there he heard about some coracle racing that was to take place one Saturday on the River Dee. He did not have one of his own boats with him, but he was told he could hire one of the Welsh coracles. These are different from the Ironbridge coracle in that they are pear shaped, while the Ironbridge coracle is round. The broad part of the Welsh coracle is used as the front, with the narrow part of the ‘pear’ at the back. Harry looked at the coracle and his quick mind got to work. He considered that a Welsh coracle could be propelled through the water ‘back to front’, i.e. with the narrow part at the front. He went off to find an official who loaned him a coracle and also entered him into the first race at one o’clock. Here Harry’s sense of humour took over. He walked with an awkward gait and struggled to carry the coracle, launching it on the water and pretending to have difficulties in controlling it. The spectators laughed at Harry’s attempt to manage the craft. He did everything wrong and even capsized several times. One man asked if he could swim. “I con swim mate” replied Harry. At one o’clock, the twenty contestants lined up. The starter’s gun went off and Harry with his ‘back to front’ coracle lost all signs of pretence. He was away, the spectators were amazed at the speed he paddled the coracle. He crossed the winning line well ahead of his nearest rival, a smile on his weather beaten face. He jumped on shore and walked through the crowds to receive First Prize.
They cheered him all the way. One man was angry with him for pretending to be a novice, when he was obviously the most skilful coracle man who had ever entered in a Bangor coracle race. Harry laughed. “Don’t count your chickens before the eggs have hatched next time, mate.”
When Eusty died on January 31st 2003 aged 88. He was the last coracle man of Ironbridge. St. Luke’s Church, high above the town, was filled to capacity. His coffin, on which was placed one of his miniature coracles, was followed by his sisters, and other family members. Not just family and local friends attended, but people from other parts of Shropshire’s countryside came to pay their respects. Eusty was held in high esteem as was his grandfather, Tommy, and father Harry, and Uncle Jimmy. From the churchyard the mourners could see the thickly wooded slopes of Benthall and Ladywood. These woods, the old Bridge and the Severn were an important part of Eusty’s life. Now he was gone from them. Visitors to Ironbridge will never again see Eusty in his garden on a summer’s day, making a coracle a smile on his humorous face and ready to talk about life by the Severn. No more will the fearless brothers. Jimmy and Harry, launch their coracles on the river, and set off on the treacherous water to rescue people from drowning or to take provisions to those cut off by the flood.