The Ironbridge Gorge was the innovative center for iron making during the First Industrial Revolution in England.
In 1709 iron production became serious here after Abraham Darby I started using the plentiful coke instead of more costly charcoal to fuel his furnace to produce iron. Subsequently, iron, tiles and porcelain were made here on an industrial scale.
The gorge takes its name from its famous Iron Bridge, the first iron bridge of its kind in the world. The bridge was built in 1779 to link the industrial town of Broseley with the smaller mining town of Madeley and the growing industrial centre of Coalbrookdale. The deep gorge was formed by the river Severn in Shropshire. The area was rich in raw materials, and the river made transport easy.
Remains of the industrial era are spread out over 3,6 kilometers in the Severn Valley. They include mines, factories, warehouses, canals, railroads, housing and public buildings. They are concentrated in five spots:
- Coalbrookdale (home of the coke iron production technique & Darby residences)
- Ironbridge (the bridge and two blast furnaces)
- Hay Brook Valley (Hay Inclined Plane and Victorian Town Open Air Museum)
- Jackfield (tile factories and port)
- Coalport (porcelaine and tile facturing)
Visit August 2011
I visited the Ironbridge Gorge on a day trip from Llangollen, just over the border in Wales. My rental Ford Focus got me there via narrow, winding roads just before 10 a.m.. I was early enough to get a parking spot in the center of Ironbridge town. I had printed out a hiking map beforehand (the South Telford Heritage Trail), and set out on foot to at least walk part of it.
The main focus at first is the Iron Bridge itself. It’s an imposing structure for its age, and pretty photogenic too. I crossed it, and walked on the other side of the river Severn to Jackfield and Coalport. The walking trail here lies between the river and the main road, but the shrubs are too thick to see anything worthwhile. It is actually just the sort of path you see at BBC Crimewatch when someone is suddenly attacked by a stranger. Fortunately nothing happened to me, I only encountered some fellow hikers.
The path ends near the former tile factories of Jackfield, and then I crossed the river again via the footbridge. This is where the Tar Tunnel lies, and also the Hay Inclined Plane (a lift or funicular for ships). Only the tracks remain. I walked back along the main road to Ironbridge.
After my walk, I tried two of the Ironbridge Gorge museums. You can visit all 10 of them for a rather steep 22.5 pounds (they’re not exactly the Uffizi or the Hermitage so I think that is a lot of money). The Ironbridge Museum’s main feature is a 10 minute video that shows the basic history of the area. The Iron Museum in Coalbrookdale is a larger complex, with an indoor exhibition and outdoor structures like the Old Furnace. Both museums failed to inspire me, they are pretty much a collection of display boards and parafernalia. The Ironbridge museums have won the European Museum of the Year award in 1977, but are not up to what a museum can be in 2011. Earlier this summer I visited the Gallo-Roman Museum in Tongres (Belgium) and the Laténium in Neuchatel (Switzerland), where much better presentations are made out of much less history.
As will be clear by now, I was quite disappointed with Ironbridge though I like industrial heritage in general. It's more the age of things that is remarkable here, than the physical remains. The little towns hold some very pretty cottages, and the river Severn now flows peacefully through this green landscape where nature has taken over again from heavy industry.
Jay T - December 2016
When I was planning a trip to Wales in 2005, I realized I would be traveling very close to Ironbridge Gorge, widely recognized as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. With my interest in world history, there was no way I could bypass this site, so I arranged for a day trip detour. The Severn River flows through the gorge, which is named for the famed Iron Bridge detailed in other reviews. I enjoyed walking over this remarkable piece of engineering, as well as viewing it from the trails on both banks of the river. Just as fascinating was the Blists Hill open-air museum, which included examples of the coal and iron mines involved in making this valley so important to the Industrial Revolution. In the early 18th century, Abraham Darby used coke, derived from coal, to fuel blast furnaces along the gorge. This created a less expensive source of cast iron and revolutionized the iron-making industry. Blast furnaces from the Madeley Wood Company are still on display at Blists Hill, and I was impressed by their conservation. Blists Hill also offers examples of a Victorian-era town, which I enjoyed exploring. I highly recommend this site for anyone with any interest in technological innovations in world history.
Logistics: An automobile is probably the easiest way to arrive at Ironbridge Gorge, as well as to navigate to the
multiple museums. There is also a train station at Telford, to the north of the gorge.
Clyde - July 2016
I visited this WHS in June 2016. Arriving from South Wales by car, I drove through several rural roads to get to Ironbrige. I parked at the pay and display car park next to the Ironbridge Gorge Museum (worth visiting) which is just a short walk away from the symbol of Industrial Revolution. Although there is a National Heritage sign just in front of the bridge, hidden just behind it in a corner with a dustbin strapped to the railings in front of it (not impressed at all!!!) was the official UNESCO plaque. Just a small trivia; apparently in 1987, the UK company in charge of producing the UNESCO plaques for the UK WH sites inscribed in 1986, made a mistake and all these signs have the same mistake "inscribed in 1987" or "1987" instead of 1986. In fact, the manager at Caernafon Castle in Wales (who told me about this!) removed the sign which is now hidden in the castle's multimedia room until new plaques arrive. Anyhow, apart from the several museums and a pleasant walk by the river just below the old tollhouse, there isn't much to entertain a longer visit. The village itself is very touristy and although I tried Eley's world famous hand raised pork pies (the small ones are more than enough!), I very much preferred Eley's hot pastries which I ate on the bench just opposite while enjoying the view. Considering the link with Blaenavon's industrial heritage for example, I think it would have made much more sense in terms of OUV to have one WHS inscription in the UK linked to the industrial heritage of iron production which would include both sites.
Tom Livesey - May 2016
I visited Ironbridge with my grandparents in August 2013. Although there are something like 14 distinct things to see/museums in the vicinity, the eponymous Iron Bridge is the focal point. Whilst it isn’t particularly impressive when compared to modern bridges like Millau, at the time it was groundbreaking.
The bridge served two purposes: one, of course, was as a means of crossing the River Severn. This was an important thing for the town as it was at the epicentre of the early Industrial Revolution and was rapidly ramping up production of cast iron for export throughout the country and across the world. The second use of the bridge, however, was to serve as an audacious advert for the load-bearing properties of Shropshire steel. Anybody who didn’t believe the early claims of the steel barons had only to come to Ironbridge and see it himself.
Elsewhere in the vicinity of Ironbridge there are museums such as Blists Hill Victorian Town Be warned – the museums are not free like in Blaenavon. It costs £8.25 to get into the China museum, for example, and a pass to all the museums is £24!
The bridge is free, of course, and I satisfied myself by also visiting the Tar Tunnel (£3). This is a 3000 foot, 225 year old tunnel dug into the hillside by miners who struck natural bitumen. You can go about 50 metres into it, and see for yourself the tar oozing through the walls.
Frederik Dawson - May 2013
When my taxi driver pointed me to see the famous Ironbridge, the symbol of the Industrial Revolution, I felt quite underwhelmed with the appearance of the bridge which was very different from my imagination. The bridge was located in the middle of a very touristy village with many shops and restaurants that far from my ideal industrial valley. It seemed to me that apart from the modern power plant, the industry legacy of this valley was indeed a history.
After ate a piece of pork pie which claimed by owner to be the best in the world! It was time for me to see the bridge. I found that crossing the bridge was not quite a comfortable experience as the bridge was quite steep than normal pedestal bridge in the present time; however the view of the village and gorge as well as the details of the bridge decorations were quite lovely. The number of 1779, the year that the bridge was erected was stamped in the middle of the bridge railings showing its historical significance. All in all, a fine place to visit for 15-20 minutes!
I decided not to visit any museum except the Ironbridge George Museum which had well stock of souvenirs. The friendly museum staff advised me how to go back to Telford where the nearest train station located. Two Korean tourists and I were very confused with two bus stops located in both side of the street in front of the bridge indicating that both directions can go to Telford! At the end I was able to reach Telford but have to change bus again in the town center.
Steve Miller - August 2011
I have the pleasure of both working for the Ironbridge Gorge Museums and being a local resident, so I hope that you can accept my short review!
Founded in 1967, the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust is a registered charity whose twin aims are education and heritage conservation.
The Trust cares for 36 scheduled monuments and listed buildings within the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site and operates 10 museums which collectively tell the story of the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. These museums received 567,000 visits in 2010, including around 70,000 school visits.
The largest of our sites is Blists Hill Victorian Town, which in 2009 saw the completion of a £12m development, supported by Advantage West Midlands and European Regional Development Funding. Following this generational investment, Blists Hill Victorian Town received 9 major regional and national awards including reaching the final of the Art Fund Prize for Museums & Galleries 2010, the largest arts prize in the United Kingdom.
As well as 10 museums, the sites in the Trust’s care include a research library, a tourist information centre, two youth hostels, archaeological monuments, historic woodlands, housing, two chapels, and two Quaker burial grounds.
In 2011 Ironbridge celebrated its 25th anniversary as one of the UK's first World Heritage Sites. We hope that many people take the opportunity to discover the many charms of this beautiful and historic site for themselves.
For more details visit www.ironbridge.org.uk
Ian Cade - August 2005
This was one of the original group of UK entries to the list, the site is essentially the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. It was here that coke was first used on a large scale to produce iron, speeding up the process and making this town the industrial heart of the world for about a decade. The British list is quite heavy on Industrial heritage, and I think quite rightly so, as they are of massive global importance.
The town itself now is an idyllic little town, which is kept immaculately without being too sterile. The centre of the town is on one side of the river Severn, which is crossed by the Ironbridge (pictured) this was the first bridge to be made of this material in the world. It is an impressive piece of engineering and is a fantastic symbol for this period of history.
The site also includes neighbouring towns and their foundries, the most famous one is at Coalbrookedale and this is now a museum. The museum was nicely laid out, and if you want an introduction to the Iron making process then this is a great place to start. At the back of the forecourt are the remains of the first furnace to use coke, which I found to be a little more interesting than the museum itself.
Overall there are about 10 different museums in the area and you could easily spend a full day here going from one to the other. The distance to some of the museums can slow down progress unless you have your own transport, but there were a few buses running around.
The nearest main towns are Telford and Shrewsbury, which have train links to the major cities (mostly via Birmingham)and buses running down to Ironbridge
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Full name: Ironbridge Gorge
1986 - InscribedReasons for inscription
The site has 19 connections. Show all
- Iron Structures Cast Iron
- Canals Shropshire Canal
- Funiculars Hay Inclined Plane ("It can be considered a specialised type of funicular railway")
- Glazed tiles Tile factory in Jackfield
- Notable Bridges the world's first iron bridge (1779)
- Tunnels Tar Tunnel: "Miners struck a gushing spring of natural bitumen, a black treacle-like substance, when digging the tunnel in 1787, probably in connection with the nearby coal mine workings. It was a great curiosity in the 18th century and bitumen still oozes from the wall today." (wiki)
- Otters a swiftly flowing river in which salmon, otter and kingfishers are thriving once again (sse link)
- Built in the 18th century The Coalbrookdale blast furnace perpetuates in situ the creative effort of Abraham Darby I who discovered coke iron in 1709. It is a masterpiece of man's creative genius in the same way as the Iron Bridge, which is the first known metal bridge. It was built in 1779 (AB ev)