Ironbridge Gorge, Shropshire

The Iron Bridge, Shropshire

The Ironbridge Gorge is a deep gorge formed by the river Severn in Shropshire, England. Ironbridge Gorge became a World Heritage site in 1987. The area made a big contribution to the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. Pioneering industrialists like Abraham Darby, William Reynolds, Thomas Telford and John Wilkinson led to the Ironbridge Gorge becoming the most technologically advanced area in the world at the end of the 18th century. The eponymous Iron Bridge of 1779 still exists today - it was the first bridge in the world to be made of iron.

Ironbridge contains all the elements that fueled the Industrial Revolution. Mines for the iron, coke for the blast furnaces, sand for moulding cast iron, limestone to flux the slag in the blast-furnaces, and clay to make tiles and bricks, railways and rivers for transport. Plus men with ideas, and the ability to push those ideas to fruition.

It was originally known as the Severn Gorge, but now takes its name from the famous Iron Bridge. The iron bridge was built to link the industrial town of Broseley with the smaller mining town of Madeley and the industrial centre of Coalbrookdale.

It all started in Coalbrookdale with Abraham Darby's invention of coke smelting for producing high quality iron. Broseley, Coalport and Jackfield, developed their own industries and made the whole the area a new industrial centre.

The gorge was formed during the last ice age. Materials for industrial production had left either been exposed or close to the surface. Coal, iron ore, limestone and clay, were available for the manufacture of iron and porcelain . The deep, wide River Severn allowed easy transport to Bristol and the sea. Ironbridge Gorge developed around mining, iron and ceramics, but these industries have all disappeared from the area by today, and the gorge has returned to its peaceful pre-industrial days.

The Iron Bridge Opened in 1781 to a design by Shrewsbury architect Thomas Farnolls Pritchard and cast at the Coalbrookdale ironworks of Abraham Darby. In 1773, Thomas Pritchard suggested to a local ironmaster, John Wilkinson that a bridge made of cast iron could span the gorge. The volume of river traffic meant that a bridge with a single arch was necessary. Pritchard proposed a revolutionary iron structure that would span 120ft.

In 1775, Pritchard commissioned Abraham Darby III, an ironmaster from Coalbrookdale to cast and build the bridge. Darby carried the risk of overspending, and ended in debt for the rest of his life.

The whole project was on a massive scale and embraced completely new technology. The bridge was made of more than 800 castings. The largest parts were 70 ft long and weighed 5.25 tons. The construction method was based on woodworking joints like mortise and tenon, and blind dovetail joints. Bolts were used to fasten the half-ribs together at the crown of the arch.

As early as 1784 there were reports of cracks in the Southern abutments caused by ground movement. There were cracks in the cast iron which may have been casting cracks. These cracks were pinned with wrought iron straps.The miscreant southern stone abutment was demolished in 1802 and replaced by iron arches.

The bridge was over-designed, and therefore very heavy. Designers learnt from Iron Bridge, and later bridges like as those built by Thomas Telford used much less cast iron. His cast iron arch bridge at Build was used less than half the weight for a greater span, but it did suffer from movement problems too, and was replaced in 1902. The cast iron bridge at Coalport built in 1818, is even lighter, and is still in use today.

Iron Bridge's foundations were strengthened in 1972 by the creation of a ferro-concrete counter arch under the river. The bridge was renovated again in 1999-2002.

The Museum of the Gorge
On the bank of the Severn close to the Iron Bridge. Ten Museums spread along the valley beside the River Severn. Tells you all about the Gorge. An audio-video presentation and scale model showing the area in Victorian times are among the exhibits.

In Coalbrookdale on the same site as the Museum of Iron. Enginuity is an interactive design and technology centre telling you how things are made and how they work.

Museum of Iron & Darby Houses
In Coalbrookdale. On view is the original Darby furnace where he first used his coke fired iron smelter. Abraham Darby I's discovery of the use of coke, rather than charcoal, to fuel blast furnaces, was one of the most important technological breakthrough's ever discovered. Charcoal, even in prodigious quantities, could only fuel output of a few tons of iron a day which was made from timber, was the only source of fuel used by the iron industry, which had resulted in large areas of deforestation. In order to fuel a single blast-furnace that produces only a few tons of iron each day, several tons of timber was needed each day. The coke fired process produced substantially more high-quality iron than traditional charcoal smelting. This process formed the basis of the industrial revolution.

Blists Hill Victorian Town
A living outdoor museum where all the staff dress in period costume. You can visit restored Victorian buildings, shops, factories, schools.

The Coalport China Museum
The former Coalport china works has now been converted into an exhibition area to display the National Collections of Caughley and Coalport china. Demonstration workshops and shop.

The Tar Tunnel
A short distance from the China Museum, the tunnel is a source of natural bitumen.

Jackfield Tile Museum
Displays of decorative tiles, geological exhibitions, workshops and shop.

Broseley Pipeworks
Restored tobacco pipe-making works

Ironbridge Gorge Museums

Ironbridge Gorge - Wikipedia

Ironbridge Gorge from the air

Abraham Darby



World Heritage Sites in Britain