Why build an Iron Bridge in Coalbrookdale?
It seems strange that a world famous symbol of the Industrial Revolution stands in rural East Shropshire. Why were pioneers in the use of iron working here, and why build an Iron Bridge?
East Shropshire was an important industrial area thanks to coal deposits near the surface. By 1635 annual production from Broseley and Benthall was around 100,000 tons per year mainly for export, but also for fuelling local clay industries and lead.
View of the mouth of a coal pit near Broseley
Acc No: AE185.770
Chesham, Francis (engraver)
Robertson, George (artist)
In 1776 the nearest bridge was 2 miles away at Buildwas. A ferry crossing carried people and goods over the river, but was difficult and dangerous, especially in winter. The Act to build a bridge remedying the situation received Royal Assent in March 1776.
An Act for building a Bridge across the River Severn from Benthall, in the County of Salop, to the opposite shore at Madeley Wood
Acc No: 1991.785
The Tontine Hotel next to the bridge opened in 1784 and was extended in 1786, and a number of bridge trustees owned shares in the hotel too. As soon as the Bridge was built, tourists were encouraged to come from far and wide to see it.
Acc No: 1984.6350.13
Local printer J. Edmunds of Madeley issued this print, probably immediately after the bridge was constucted as it shows the bottom section of the outer ribs still missing. The bridge stands an 'indisputable proof of the abilities of our mechanics and workmen', a superb advert for Coalbrookdale.
A View of the Iron Bridge erected over the River Severn
Acc No: 1973.132
Edmunds, J. (printer)
Some of the most notable early engineers including Telford, Boulton and Watt and Trevithick were connected with the Ironbridge Gorge. To underline the technical achievements of the bridgebuilders, this engineering drawing was supplied with prints of the Bridge.
The Iron Bridge cast at Coalbrookdale
Acc No: 1973.200
Ellis, William (engraver)
Rooker, Michael Angelo (artist)