Near the English village of Ironbridge in Shropshire, the River Severn cuts a particularly beautiful gorge. Lush, deep green forests tumble down the steep river banks and the occasional white washed cottage peeks through the foliage, as if placed there for special effect by Constable. A single kayaker slices silently across the dark green water, barely leaving a ripple on the surface. It's hard to believe that this peaceful spot was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
A graceful single arch span, 100 feet wide, carries a road 60 feet above the river. The British public voted this bridge, the Iron Bridge, one of 21 new English icons in 2006. It has given its name to the village, to the gorge and to the UNESCO World Heritage site that surrounds it. Hard as it is to imagine in this quiet, bucolic place, the Ironbridge Gorge was one of the earliest centers of industry in the world and the place where the seeds of the Industrial Revolution were sown.
The Ingredients Were Here
Plentiful iron, limestone and coal brought individual craftsmen and cottage industries to the region for hundreds of years. Iron and steel were made in the region from about 1615. Charcoal was used which involved felling large numbers of trees, so iron making was expensive. Then in 1709, Abraham Darby came to the region and began making iron with coke, produced from coking coal, readily available in the gorge. The method was cheaper, the fuel burned hotter and large iron castings - for rail tracks, machinery and, eventually the arches of the Iron Bridge (the world's first arched bridge made of cast iron) could be more easily made.
Soon, a range of industrial activites were attracted to the area including a clay pipe works, a brick factory, tile and porcelain factories. Today ten museums, most in original buildings and all within a few miles of each other, make up the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site.
Even if you think you have no interest in industrial history. the Ironbridge Gorge Museums will surprise and fascinate you. Plan on spending at least two days in the area as there is far too much to see in one. Follow my visit to:
- Blists Hill Victorian Town
- The Museum of Iron and The Old Furnace
- The Iron Bridge and Toll House
- The Coalport China Museum
Visiting Iron Bridge Gorge
- Where: The museums are located off Junction 4 of the M54 motorway, about 6 miles southwest of Telford and 17 miles east of Shrewsbury. All the museums are in an area of about six square miles beside a four mile reach of the Severn.
- Hours: All the museums are open every day, year round, between 10 am and 4 or 5 pm, with some seasonal variations.
- Admission: Although visitors can choose to pay separately for each museum, an annual passport for unlimited daytime admission to all ten museums is better value if you plan to visit more than one. Adult, 60 Plus, Child/Student and Family tickets are available.
- Telephone: +44 (0)1952 433 424
- Find a visitor recommended place to stay in Ironbridge Gorge
- Official website