Articles on the History of Essex, Researching your Ancestors, and British History

Ironbridge Gorge and the industrial revolution

view of the Ironbridge
Ironbridge, Ironbridge Gorge.
© Copyright Christine Matthews contributor to the Geograph Project and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

At the heart of the industrial revolution.

The Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire, England, during the 18th and 19th centuries was at the very heart of the Industrial Revolution. Nowadays, looking at the Severn River valley with its woods on either side and Georgian houses, it is difficult to believe that here was the birth of iron smelting technology, extensive coal and tar mining, tile and china manufacture, and the world's first cast-iron bridge. Each of these industries bringing with them their accompanying noise, pollution, and unhealthy and cramped housing for its workers.

There are now ten museums in the area, and industrial archaeology has revealed many artefacts, industrial workings, and buildings from the very beginnings of the industrial revolution. The area is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There is more than enough to see on a day trip including:

The world's first cast iron bridge built over the River Severn. Opened in 1781 it incorporated many woodworking techniques and joints in the construction of its graceful arches. The bridge survived a great flood in 1795 which showed that cast iron was a strong and reliable material to use in bridges. Take a walk over and under the bridge. From below, try a spy the face in the iron work. If viewed from a certain angle, there is the silhouette of a face.

The Coalport China Museum which stands on the site of the Coalport China Works which produced its world famous fine bone china and porcelain from 1796 until 1926. The museum displays a rich array of china and ceramics with its rich colours, bright glazes and exquisite decoration. There are many practical demonstrations of ceramic making, pot throwing and flower painting.

The Jackfield Tile Museum displays the vast range of tiles and bricks made by various factories which were based in the Gorge. Examples of tiles produced include majolica tiles; the wall tiles designed by Pugin for the Houses of Parliament; tiles for the splash-backs of washstands and the sides of fireplaces which were found in millions of Victorian homes and which are now highly collectable; tiles for shop interiors; and mosaic floors.

The Tar Tunnel was originally dug to transport coal, but the tunnellers discovered a stream of natural bitumen seeping into the tunnel. Commercially valuable, extraction of this bitumen lasted for about 60 years until it ran out. However, modern-day visitors can still walk down the tunnel and see the bitumen seeping through the brick walls.

Other places to visit include the homes of the Darby family who managed the Coalbrookdale Ironworks, the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, and Blists Hill Victorian Town, a recreation of the Victorian period which uses many buildings from the period.

More information on all these can be found on the Ironbridge Gorge Museums' website.

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