Friday, 21 July 2017

Exploring Ironbridge, the beginning of the Industrial Revolution

Ironbridge 
Back in 2015 Dave and I began our thirteenth year together by visiting a historic bridge in Northumberland. At the time of its construction in 1820, the Chain Bridge was the longest carriage-carrying suspension bridge in the world. This year, entirely unintentionally, we spent the first day of our fifteenth year together strolling around the village of Ironbridge near Telford in Shropshire - the site of the world's first cast iron bridge.

Now preserved as a historic monument by English Heritage, the bridge itself was originally basically a giant advertisement! It was constructed over the River Severn in 1779 to prove the point that iron was perfectly suited as a material for large scale architectural projects. Local foundry owner Abraham Darby III had the bridge built and, from a promotional point of view, it was a roaring success as people straight away began travelling to Coalbrookdale to see it and iron became a popular choice for further bridge manufacture. We had even seen a quartet of small iron houses a few days previously at the Black Country Living Museum. A village grew up around the bridge, Ironbridge, and the new name is now used to encompass the incredible industrial heritage trail along this short section of the River Severn.

Ironbridge Gorge model 
We visited the Darby Houses situated uphill from the bridge itself and home to several generations of Abraham Darby III's family. These two buildings, side by side, were rescued for preservation pretty much in the nick of time as they had been allowed to get into a very poor state of repair. Now partially renovated (and with more work planned) the houses host a small museum to the influential family and their Quaker faith. It was very interesting and a well laid out museum with helpful staff. There is even a dressing-up room where we tried on period clothes of both society and Quaker fashion. It turns out a bonnet rather suits me!

One of my favourite exhibits was down in Ironbridge itself at the Museum Of The Gorge. There an intricately detailed  twelve-metre-long model of the Gorge as it was in 1796 shows the various industries concentrated there, how the River Severn was vital to their success and how they interlinked. The Ironbridge can be seen in the centre.

Ironbridge Gorge model 
Of course most of the industry that made Ironbridge famous has now gone so the Gorge we visited is once again a clean, peaceful place. Paintings up at the Darby Houses showed images of the valley partially obscured by smoke or with the polluted night sky glowing orange. I imagine it is a far more pleasant place to visit these days - and certainly a healthier one in which to live! The main business these days seems to be Afternoon Teas and we did partake in a cuppa and a slice. Eighty Six'd is an independent cafe uphill and a little away from the main tourist street. There's slate art on the walls and I loved their brightly coloured crockery! We can certainly recommend you to the Coffee And Walnut Cake (pictured) and the warm Apple Cake With Ice Cream. Sitting up in the bay window watching the world pass by made for a reflective end to our Ironbridge day.

Tea and cake at Eighty Six'd 

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