The Iron Bridge
In October 1780 Abraham Darby III paid William Williams 10 guineas for this charming view of the Iron Bridge. In a boat there are two ladies in their fine hats and an equally elegant gentleman who appears to be pointed out some detail of the Iron Bridge to them, while a boatman controls the vessel. In the distance can be seen a number of trows and industriousness of others in the painting emphasises the leisurely life of which the gentry in the boat appear to lead. This painting was thought lost for over 150 years until it was finally traced to Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners of Reading in 1974. In 1992 the Museum acquired it with the generous assistance of the V & A Purchase Grant Fund.
The Iron Bridge
Completed in 1779, this world-famous landmark was built not only to allow raw materials and people to get from one side of the river to the other, but also to demonstrate to the world at large that cast iron could be used as a structural material. Closed to road traffic in 1934, it has since been fully restored and stands proudly at the heart of the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site. The former tollhouse on the south side houses a Tourist Information Centre, as well as displays giving the full history of the bridge that has been rightfully described as the "Symbol of the Industrial Revolution".
No modern day visitor can fail to be fascinated by this tiny cottage with only two rooms which dates from the 1840s, and was rescued from a nearby mining district and re-erected on the Museum site. Constructed crudely using local stone and tree trunks for roof timbers, at one time it was occupied by a collier, his wife and seven children. It is called a Squatter Cottage not because it was built illegally, or erected within 24 hours, but because it was on the property of the local lord of the manor, to whom the occupants paid an annual "fine" or rent.
Blists Hill Ironworks
The manufacture of wrought iron, using the traditional "puddling" method, was an old-established process which died out by the 1970’s. Fortunately, the Ironbridge Gorge Museum was able to acquire much of the plant from the last manufacturer – Thomas Walmsley of the Atlas Forge, Bolton – and re-erect it at Blists Hill inside an iron-framed building rescued from Woolwich Dockyard in London. The dramatic sight of red hot iron being passed back and forth through steam-driven rolling mills is a memorable experience and is demonstrated to visitors on a regular basis.
The Tar Tunnel
When driving a horizontal tunnel into the hillside in the 1790s in search of coal, miners working for the industrialist William Reynolds broke into a natural supply of tar. This was subsequently collected in barrels and sold for various purposes. Re-excavated in the 1970s, the original brick-lined tunnel now provides a unique underground experience in the Gorge during the summer months. Tar can still be seen seeping from the rock and collecting in pools as it did when first discovered over 200 years ago.
A china factory was first established at Caughley (pronounced "quot;carfley"), on the south side of the River Severn, in the 1770s. Many of its products, like this jug bearing a picture of the nearby Iron Bridge, were blue and white. Known either as a cabbage leaf jug, due to the moulding on its body, or a mask-head jug, on account of the small face below the spout, it can be seen at the Coalport China Museum, where the country’s finest collection of Caughley is on display. The Caughley works was absorbed into the Coalport concern in the early 1800s, and the original factory demolished.
Coalport Indian Tree
The China Works at Coalport was established in the 1790s, and production continued there until 1926. In addition to the many prestigious pieces produced for its more wealthy customers, the factory also made huge quantities of china for ordinary working people. One of the most popular designs, dating from the early 19th century, was known as "Indian Tree". A printed pattern was painted over with reds and greens by skilled workers, many of whom were young, unmarried women. Demand was so great that, for a while, a whole department of the works was given over to the production of "Indian Tree". Many fine examples can be seen on display in the old factory, now restored as the Coalport China Museum.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the village of Jackfield was the country’s major producer of decorative tiles. The firms of Maw & Co. and Craven Dunnill & Co. established large factories in close proximity to one another, attracted by the local clays and the recently opened Severn Valley Railway. This beautiful tiled panel depicting a peacock is just one example of the superb products they made, and can be seen in the Jackfield Tile Museum, located in the former Craven Dunnill factory. The premises are shared with manufacturers who demonstrate the manufacture of modern tiles in the traditional way.
Cast Iron Pots
It was to manufacture hollow cooking pots such as these that the first Abraham Darby moved from Bristol to Coalbrookdale in 1708. In the following year, he perfected his new method of making iron using coke as fuel instead of charcoal. This led to a huge expansion in the iron industry, a major factor in the early Industrial Revolution. The Old Furnace where Darby’s breakthrough occurred can still be seen in Coalbrookdale, whilst examples of these pots and other displays telling the dramatic story of ironmaking in the area, will be found in the nearby Museum of Iron.
Boy & Swan Fountain
In the 1830s the Coalbrookdale Company decided to expand their range of products to include ornamental castings, which were becoming fashionable on mainland Europe. This fountain, designed for them by the sculptor John Bell, was amongst a number of items which won them acclaim at the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in 1851. Later sold to Wolverhampton Corporation, the fountain was returned to its place of manufacture in 1959, and can now be seen on display in the open air near the Museum of Iron.
In the fashionable coffee houses of 18th century London, the name of "Broseley"was synonymous with the high quality clay tobaccos pipes which had been made there for many years. Extra long ones, known as churchwardens, were particularly popular, and feature in many contemporary engravings and cartoons. The last factory making them closed in the 1960s but survived in Broseley, just south of the Iron Bridge, as a "time capsule"; and has now been restored and converted into a museum which can be visited during the summer months. The abandoned kiln can still be seen, as can the tools and other items which were left lying on the workbenches the day production ceased.