Abiah Darby (1716–94)

Abiah Darby (nee Maude, other married name Sinclair) was the wife of Abraham Darby II (1711-63) of Coalbrookdale, the ironmaster who, in the 1750s, established a pattern of management in the iron industry that was followed in other parts of Britain and in other European countries. Her diaries provide a copious record of aspects of an ironworking community during a period of rapid expansion and technological innovation.

She was born Abiah Maude, daughter of a wealthy family of Quakers at Bishopswearmouth, Sunderland. Her first marriage, to John Sinclair, ended with the death of her husband in 1737. She met Abraham Darby in 1745 and married him the following year. She experienced a spiritual awakening in 1748 after the birth of her daughter, Mary, and devoted much of the remainder of her life to journeys as a Quaker minister. At Coalbrookdale she and her husband lived first at Dale House, which is now conserved, and from 1750 at a new, larger house in a park, called Sunniside, after the Maude family home at Bishopwearmouth, which was demolished in the mid-19th century. 

Her journals, principally covering the years 1752-69 are particularly valuable to historians as a record of the many visitors who were entertained at Coalbrookdale, fellow-Quakers, many of them Americans, and non-Quakers, whom she called ‘Company not Friends’. They also include accounts of religious meetings in the ironworks conducted by Quaker evangelists, descriptions of journeys on passenger boats on the River Severn, comments on food riots in 1756, and several revealing comments on building of new furnaces in 1750s, and on the wooden railways on which they were dependent. A letter of circa 1775 detailed her reminiscences of changes in the iron trade in the time of her father-in-law, Abraham Darby I (1678-1717), who first successfully smelted iron ore with coke at Coalbrookdale in 1709, as well as what had happened during her own lifetime.

She had many contacts with John Fletcher (Jean Guillaume de la Flechere, 1729-1785), vicar of Madeley, and John Wesley’s designated successor as leader of the Wesleyan Methodist Connexion, and made available her carriage to another leading Evangelical, Selina, Countess of Huntingdon (1707-91), who visited Fletcher in 1768. 

She often visited prisons, and advocated the establishment of Sunday Schools. She was involved in the management of the ironworks after the death of her husband until the marriages in 1776 of her two sons, Abraham Darby III (1750-89), builder of the Iron Bridge, and Samuel Darby (1755-96). 

Her journals and other writings are summarised in a biography.