The birth of the industrial revolution is believed by many to have taken place in the picturesque Ironbridge Gorge, on the banks of the River Severn in Shropshire, England. In his ironworks in nearby Coalbrookdale, in the year 1709, Abraham Darby exchanged coke for charcoal, in the production of iron for making pots, pans, kettles and the like. Darby's Coalbrookdale foundries prospered and diversified. Seventy years later, in 1779, his grandson, Abraham Darby III, built the first iron bridge in the world across the Severn, so the town became Ironbridge.
The iron bridge attracted attention worldwide and was to become a symbol of the industrial revolution that was based on the availability of coal reserves beneath England together with the enthusiasm and ingenuity of the engineers of the day. They produced machines that revolutionised the production of textiles, and they built roads, canals and a network of railways, engines and rolling stock. Over the next century and beyond, this revolution spread from the UK into Europe and around the world.
One of the most famous engineers of the time who was influenced by the iron bridge was Thomas Telford. Born in Scotland in 1757, he trained as a stonemason, wanted to be an architect, but in 1820 was to become a celebrated first President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. During a lengthy stint as Surveyor of Public Works for the county of Shropshire, he became familiar with Ironbridge, and built some iron bridges himself. He is also known for building canals and his projects in London include the St Katherine Docks beside Tower Bridge. He died in 1834 and 134 years later, in 1968, he was commemorated by the naming of a new town in Shropshire – Telford.
To read the rest of this article on Ironbridge, click here.