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The Ironbridge Gorge


Now largely quiet, rural and peaceful (and pretty much off the tourist track) Shropshire once the centre of a technological revolution that was to change the world forever.

This was centred in a steep-sided gorge, formed by melt-waters at the end of the last ice age, which eventually became so famous as the site of the first bridge built of iron, that it came to be called the Ironbridge Gorge.

The combination of coal, iron ore, limestone, lead Abraham Darby I to choose this area to set up the iron foundry where he perfected the art of smelting iron using coke in lace of charcoal.

Bedlam Furnaces

Location

Shropshire Map

OS Ref: SJ 678 033

Last Visited: 2005

The Bedlam Furnaces

The Bedlam Furnaces

One of three furnaces owned by Abraham Darby III, the builder of the Iron Bridge, it famously featured in the painting Coalbrookdale By Night by Philip de Loutherbourg that has come to symbolise the industrial revolution to many people.

It is difficult to relate such a powerful image to what remains left on the ground, shut away behind iron railings in a pleasant wooded river-side spot.

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Coalport China Works

Location

Shropshire Map

OS Ref: SJ 695 024

Last Visited: 2005

Enormous collection of Coalport China if you are interested in that kind of thing. Personally, I preferred looking at the bottle-kilns, and finding out what a Sagger Makerʼs Bottom Knocker did for a living, although I can appreciate the skill that went into producing such fine, albeit gaudy, china.

There is a pleasant walk from here along the old Shropshire Canal to the Tar Tunnel and the foot of the Hey Incline. From there you can go over the river, past the Craft Centre and on to the Jackfield Tile Museum.

Check the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trustʼs website for opening times etc.

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The Iron Bridge

Location

Shropshire Map

OS Ref: SJ 672 033

Last Visited: 2005

Designed by a local joiner turned architect, Thomas Farnolls Pritchard and cast in 1779 by Abraham Darby III, the Iron Bridge soon became one of the wonders of the modern world.

It is difficult to appreciate how, prior to 1709 when Darbyʼs grandfather first smelted iron using coke, iron had been a very expensive material used only for swords, knives, plough shares and military hardware. It must have seemed like a bridge made out of gold.

The Table of Tolls on the side of the old Toll House is interesting, particularly if youʼve been up to Blists Hill and got used to the old money.

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Jackfield Tile Museum and Church

Location

Shropshire Map

OS Ref: SJ 687 029

Last Visited: 2005

Jackfield Tile Museum

Jackfield Tile Museum

More interesting than it sounds but, perhaps, not as interesting as it could be.

The old Board Room, Sample Room and other offices of the Craven Dunhill factory are fascinating, and there are some splendid examples of tile making at its best, but at the end of the day this is a rather museumey museum compared to others in the Gorge, rather reliant on interpretive panels and video installations.

Check the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trustʼs website for opening times etc.

Jackfield Church

Jackfield Church

Still being developed though, so definitely one to go back to.

Just down the hill from the Tile Factory is the fine little Victorian gothic Jackfield Church, designed by Sir Arthur William Blomfield, a prominent victorian architect whose other buildings include Selwyn College Cambridge, the Royal College of Music London and St Maryʼs Portsea (Portsmouth Cathedral).

If youʼve just come from the museum itʼs funny how the tiles round the reredos really stand out. They were made by the Jackfield works in about 1862.

External Links and References

Comments

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Craven Dunnill Jackfield Ltd

Craven Dunnill Jackfield Limited Tours of the award winning Craven Dunnill Jackfield Factory run every Tuesday throughout the year. Starts at 11.30 am (one tour per day). Free of charge but a valid Jackfield Tile Museum ticket per person is required. Factory Tours for group visits can be pre-booked. Further details from Craven Dunnill Jackfield Limited 01952 884124.

The Tar Tunnel

Location

Shropshire Map

OS Ref: SJ 694 025

Last Visited: 2005

Originally built to give the Madeley Mines direct access to Coalport and the Severn, the builders struck it lucky when the roof began to leak bitumen.

Although the supply has virtually dried up, you can still walk along the first one hundred metres or so of the tunnel and peer into pits full of bitumen on either side.

A Pit in the Tar Tunnel

A Pit in the Tar Tunnel

The entrance is right next to the bottom of the Hey Incline (the top end of which is in the Blists Hill Victorian Town site), a short walk along the old Shropshire Canal from the Coalport China works.

Check the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trustʼs website for opening times etc.

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The Severn Warehouse (The Museum of the Gorge)

Location

Shropshire Map

OS Ref: SJ 667 036

Last Visited: 2005

The Severn Warehouse

The Severn Warehouse

Interior

Interior

Built in 1894 by the Coalbrookdale Company, this fine gothic building was originally where iron goods, transported down the valley on plateways, were loaded onto boats known as Severn Trows. From here they were taken down river to Bristol and then across the world.

Check the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trustʼs website for opening times etc.

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