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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.
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.
Coalport China Works
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.
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.
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.
Still being developed though, so definitely one to go back to.
Just down the hill from the Tile Factory is the fine little Victorian gothicJackfield 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.
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.