Tommy Rogers – poacher or hero?
Tommy Rogers was born circa 1845, in Ironbridge. In 1871 he was living with his wife Susannah age 21, in Gearys Square, Severnside, Ironbridge. Tommy was a larger than life character, weighing about 20 stones. He was a bargeman, coracle maker, and bricklayers labourer. He was also a well known poacher, and in the local newspaper we have found a number of reports of Tommy appearing in court, on poaching charges. It has been reported that he helped build the new Police Station, cells and court room in Ironbridge, in 1862. Then he was one of the first people to be held in the cells and appear on poaching charges, in the new court room.
Tommy was a prisoner in the Dana prison, Shrewsbury, when the 1881 census was taken. Susannah was living with her uncle John Hill, a widower, in Gearys Square, Ironbridge. There were a number of nephews and nieces of John’s living with him, including the two children of Tommy and Susannah, Ellen age 4 and 1 year old James.
By 1891 Susannah and Tommy had five children living with them, at Severnside. Ellen age 14, James 11, Jeanette 7, Henry 3 and 9 month old Gertrude. Another daughter May was born circa 1892.
Tommy saved eight people from drowning in the river Severn, coming to their aid in his coracle in some cases. He loved boxing, and competed in the many boxing booths that visited Ironbridge in those days. He has gone down in local folk lore as having won most if not all of his fights.
His son Harry also became well known for his skill in his coracle. He is also credited with rescuing many people from drowning, and received a number of awards for this. He followed his father in the traditional craft of making coracles. It was Harry who built the new house in Severn Side for his family, and this was where his son Eustace was born 5th August 1914.
Wenlock Borough Council had placed a demolition order on the house in 1935. Harry challenged the Council who wanted him to move up to Madeley Hill in 1936, where a new housing estate called Wrekin View had been built. Harry vowed no one would evict him from his beloved home and Severnside. After several court hearings planning permission was given for Harry to build his own house. With the help of his brother-in-law a builder, and family members and friends Harry started building. He completed the house in 9 weeks, finishing at the end of March 1938. It is believed he placed a replica of Nelson’s Flagship Victory on his door.
Harry’s son Eustace was probably the best known of Ironbridge’s coracle men. Newspapers and television companies often came to Severn Side, to interview Eustie as he was known. He met Princess Margaret, then Prince Charles, when they visited Ironbridge. He made his coracles in a shed near to his home, on the side of the river Severn, over-looking the Ironbridge. Eustie made coracles until he was over 80 years of age. In 1995 there was a burglary at his workshop, and this made Eustie decide to retire from making his famous river craft. He also helped the local police, going out in his coracle to search for people who were suspected of falling into the Severn. Looking at the flow and speed of the river, he would give advice on where to search the river bank for a body.
Eustace Rogers died 31st January 2004.
Eustace Rogers, The Coracle Man
photographs by Len and Jim.