Ironbridge, Coalbrookdale: The Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution

I just got back from my weekend of studies at Ironbridge. I would like to share some shots of the beautiful bridge itself and fill you in on the history you might be unacquainted with…

Ironbridge sits within a World Heritage Site for it’s unique contribution to the Industrial Revolution which in turn impacted the rest of the world. In 1709 Abraham Darby built the first Blast Furnace and began smelting iron. (The furnace has been preserved and is now open to visitors). The Darby family’s main business was making cast iron goods, namely cooking pots. The first rails were made in Coalbrookdale. The Iron Bridge, the first iron bridge, was erected in 1779, as a clever bit of advertising by Darby; iron founders, industrial spies and artists all flocked to marvel at the engineering.

The geology and landscape in the Gorge was a utilised; the availability of the necessary raw materials was key. Open seams of coal, limestone, clay and of course iron ore and streams for water for the smelting process were all easily available in the Gorge. The steams were dammed to produce little reservoirs and furnaces were built at intervals down the valley. Rails and fine castings were made lower down the hill as they were difficult to transport from the top. High quality iron is very brittle and any cracks in the rails would render them useless.

Wrought iron is no longer produced on a commercial scale in the UK. At Blists Hill one of the furnaces has been brought into use and should you visit you can see iron being extruded as it would have been in 18th Century. Sadly the material produced is rarely used as it’s strength cannot be signed off because the source of the iron (it is salvaged iron re-smelted) is not known and therefore it’s strength cannot be proven.

Designation as a World Heritage Site (The Ironbridge Gorge was the first of 7 sites to be named such in 1986 by UNESCO) comes with a weight responsibility to conserve the heritage but with no associated funding to care for the historical assets. The Ironbridge Museums Trust aims to preserve and interpret the remains of our industrial heritage within the 6 square miles of the site. As well as ten museums open to visit, the sites includes a fantastic research library, a tourist information centre, two youth hostels, archaeological sites, historic woodlands, housing, two chapels, and two Quaker burial grounds.

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