Length: 30.6 metres. Height: 16.75 metres. Weight: 378 tons. These are the basic facts about the Iron Bridge, which spans the Severn Valley in Telford. But who can regard the history of the first ever iron bridge in mere statistics? It is universally recognised as the symbol of the industrial revolution which began in the neighbouring iron works belonging to the Coalbrookdale Company. Its factory buildings set milestones along the path of industrial progress from cast iron production to the pioneering engineering achievements in railway technology. Later other important industrial enterprises were set up in the neighbourhood. Today the old factory sites offer a fascinating tour through a total of no less than ten museums. This includes a complete town in the style of the 19th century populated by costumed performers who live and work as they would have done in Victorian England. A trip to the Ironbridge Gorge is an exciting journey into the pioneering past of the industrial era. The monuments to this unique breakthrough have now been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Early portraits of the Severn Valley painted a gloomy picture. Black swathes of smoke dominated the scene, glowing furnaces perched like monsters on the river banks seeming to set alight the surrounding hillsides in flames. Nowadays flora and fauna are growing everywhere in the valley and the wooded hillsides overlook a swiftly flowing river in which salmon, otter and kingfishers are thriving once again. A filigree iron bridge leads over the river. By modern standards it is small, if not to say tiny. But appearances can be deceptive. For what the pyramids were to Ancient Times was this bridge to the Modern Age: a worldwide miracle. Since it was constructed in 1779 it has attracted hordes of admiring pilgrims. In 1709 Abraham Darby, a resourceful factory owner who set up the Coalbrookdale Company was the first person to succeed in smelting iron with coke instead of wood. This not only gave birth to the modern blast furnace but offered the opportunity of casting huge sections of building material from iron. In the following decades the region developed into the “most extraordinary area of land in the world” according to a contemporary witness. For cast iron belonged to the future. The proof of this can be seen in the famous Iron Bridge, the first iron wheels, boats, rails and the first ever steam locomotive in the history of mankind. They all came from the busy factories on the River Severn. The dynamic of the early industrial nucleus exerted an enormous attraction. A famous china works was set up in neighbouring Coalport and in nearby Jackfield there was an internationally renowned tile works whose finely adorned products were to decorate the walls of noble buildings throughout the British Empire. 300 years after the start of the industrial revolution all these plants which made up the cradle of the industrial revolution - the Silicone Valley of the 18th century - lay still. There were no end of ideas on how to pay tribute to the historic significance of these few square miles. And now the ten museums belonging to the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust are refilling this glorious past with vigorous life.
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The main museums are open daily from 10am-5pm
apart from December 24 and 25 and January 1;
though a few smaller ones are closed over the winter
(see website for details)