History of the Museums

The Ironbridge Gorge Museums are all set in important historic industrial buildings.

Blists Hill Victorian Town

Despite modern appearances, there was never a town here. The original Blists Hill was an iron making, mining & brickmaking site.

Blists Hill Museum was opened to provide a permanent home for important local historic buildings that were being demolished to make way for the development of new town of Telford. It was subsequently named Blists Hill Victorian Town.

Click here for Visitor Information 

In 1786 the Quaker ironmaster William Reynolds tried to connect the Blists Hill mines with the River Severn by tunnelling horizontally through the hill from Coalport. In doing so he discovered a natural source of bitumen which may today be visited as the Tar Tunnel.

This period also saw the construction of the Shropshire Canal through the Blists Hill site, and in 1793 the spectacular 305m (1,000ft) long Hay Inclined Plane.

Reynolds’ revolutionary engineering linked existing mines and ironworks in the area to the transport system of the river, and opened up Blists Hill to further expansion. The Madeley Wood Company built three blast furnaces here, replacing the riverside Bedlam Furnaces.

These new furnaces could be charged with raw materials almost directly from the canal and a small plateway incline raised the pig-iron produced in the furnaces back up to the canal for transportation. By then Blists Hill mines were supplying the blast furnaces with iron ore.

Brick and tile clay was also mined here, and in the 1850s the Madeley Wood Company began to build a large brick and tile works which would eventually occupy all of the top part of this site. In the 1860s the London and North Western Railway constructed a branch link with Wellington, the principal market town.

The Hay Inclined Plane was last used in 1894 and closed officially in 1907. The blast furnaces were finally blown out in 1912, and the canal closed soon after. The mines and the Brick and Tile Works limped along between the two world wars, but in 1941 the mines were abandoned, followed in the 1950s by the Brick and Tile Works. In 1952 railway passenger services ceased, and the last goods train ran in 1960.

Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron

The Museum of Iron is housed in the Grade II listed Great Warehouse of the Coalbrookdale Company, which was originally built in 1838 and used by the Company to store cast iron products until as recently as 1979.

It was here in Coalbrookdale that Abraham Darby I first began smelting iron using coke rather than charcoal, providing a pioneering product that was affordable and high quality – a discovery that helped start the Industrial Revolution.

Click here for Visitor Information.


The Museum of Iron in Coalbrookdale – the name by which the whole area was known before the Iron Bridge was built across the River Severn in Shropshire – stands next to the original furnace in which Abraham Darby I first smelted iron with coke in 1709.  This revolutionary process led to mass industrialisation and resulted in Coalbrookdale becoming the most important iron-making centre in the world. 

Known for being rich in natural resources such as limestone, iron ore, coals and clays, as well as for its easy access to the Severn, Coalbrookdale has been the home of furnaces and ironworks since as long ago as 1545. 

Following Darby’s breakthrough with coke, the Coalbrookdale ironworks went onto pioneer new uses for cast iron including the first iron rail lines and steam railway locomotive. Visitors came to the area from all over the world during the mid-1700’s to learn about these new developments in ironmaking. 

The success of the railways and the expanding canal system led to industries springing up in different areas across the country and Coalbrookdale gradually began to feel the effects of stiff competition. 

Following a period of decline, Francis Darby - younger son of Abraham Darby III who built The Iron Bridge – made the decision to follow the Continental trend for art castings.

He began to manufacture goods of the highest standards, ranging from candlesticks, sculptures and plaques to fountains, gates and garden furniture and by the 1850’s the foundry had been regenerated.  It became the largest of its kind in the world, with an international reputation for fine art castings and architectural ironwork. 

Examples of Coalbrookdale craftsmanship were on display at the Great Exhibition, a showcase for Victorian manufacturing held at the Crystal Palace in 1851.  The Coalbrookdale Company was a major exhibitor and produced the magnificent set of cast iron gates, which were later removed and can be seen today in Kensington Gardens, London.

Darby Houses

Dale House was built for Abraham Darby I as it lies exactly 200 yards away from the Old Furnace. For nearly 200 years, Dale House was home to the managers of the Coalbrookdale Company, subsequently it  was acquired by IGMT in 1985. Rosehill House (next door), was home to other members of the Darby family. Today the houses have been restored and offer visitors an insight into the Quaker lifestyle of the Darby family.

Click here for Visitor Information.

A number of ironmasters’ houses, built close to the ironworks, still remain today.  The most significant are situated on the hill overlooking the Darby Furnace and include two homes which belonged to the Darby family and which are open to visitors.

The first, Dale House, is where Abraham Darby III planned the construction of The Iron Bridge.  The ground floor of the house features the restored panelled study where Darby is likely to have worked and a rich documentary and visual resource through which visitors can browse and discover what it was like to live and work in 18th century Coalbrookdale,

Rosehill House has been restored to reflect life in the 1840’s and contains many of the Darby family’s personal belongings, together with material which relates to their membership of the Society of Friends (the Quakers), covering several generations from 1709 to the early twentieth century. 


This Design and Technology Centre was created within the restored Coalbrookdale buildings including the Company’s old offices, assembly shops  and warehouses.

Enginuity was the first museum in the UK to have a Fab-Lab (Fabrication Lab). The Fab-Lab is used  to develop new products using state of the art digital manufacturing equipment.

Click here for Visitor Information.

Coalport China Museum

Built in 1796 alongside the Shropshire Canal, Coalport China Works occupied this factory until it’s closure in 1926.

Half a century later, The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust bought the site and restored it as a museum, now home to the exquisite collections of Coalport and Caughley China.

Click here for Visitor Information.


John Rose established a china factory at Coalport in 1796 having worked for a time at the nearby Caughley works and across the river in Jackfield.  Located next to a thriving canal system - the Hay Inclined Plane allowed quick transportation of goods and materials between the docks at the top and bottom - Coalport became a major centre for fine quality china during the 1800’s. For more than a century, the works were among the most successful of their kind anywhere in the world.

In its heyday, Coalport won many gold medals and prizes for its work at international exhibitions, including the 1851 Great Exhibition held in the Crystal Palace, Hyde Park.  These successes are reflected in the works of art on display at the Coalport China Museum, which include pieces made specifically for exhibitions, coronations and visits by foreign heads of state, together with collections of Caughley and Coalport China. 

Jackfield Tile Museum

Jackfield Tile Museum is housed in buildings that were originally opened in 1874 as a ‘model’ factory, for the Craven Dunnill company. They specialised in decorative wall and floor tiles, and are still in operation on site today.

Click here for Visitor Information.

Jackfield Tile Museum

Once home to the largest decorative tile works in the world, the small village of Jackfield at the eastern end of the Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire is now the site of a unique museum housing magnificent displays of tiles and ceramics dating back to the 1800’s. 

During the reign of Queen Victoria decorative tiles were produced in their millions by the Craven Dunnill and Maw & Co works in Jackfield.  In fact, such was the extent of the reputation of Jackfield as the centre of the tile manufacturing industry, that its products were sought after both at home and abroad, with clients including dignitaries such as His Imperial Majesty Alexander II of Russia, His Highness the Khedive of Egypt and the Maharajah of Mysore.

The excellent clays around the Ironbridge Gorge attracted Maw & Co to the area during the 1850’s and they soon established a national reputation for the quality of their products. Yorkshireman Henry Powell Dunnill called Jackfield ‘the fag end of the world’, but he too saw the potential in the place and returned in 1871 to establish the Craven Dunnill Encaustic Tile Works. Not to be outdone, Maw & Co moved to Jackfield in 1883 to establish the biggest works in the world.

Today, the Jackfield Tile Museum is housed in the former Craven Dunnill Tile Works, where the Design Studio, Drawing Office and Trade Showroom have all been restored and now display an impressive array of tiles and ceramics reflecting the prestige of British manufacturers during the nineteenth century. 

Museum of The Gorge

Museum of The Gorge

On the banks of the River Severn, the Museum of The Gorge is housed in what was once the Coalbrookdale Company's Severn Warehouse.

Goods were transported here from across the Gorge on small narrow gauge railways.  They were subsequently loaded onto Severn Trows and transported on the River Severn to markets across the country and overseas. 

Click here for Visitor Information.


The history of the World Heritage Site is chronicled in the Museum of the Gorge, an 1840’s converted Gothic warehouse on the banks of the Severn, which once linked the Coalbrookdale Ironworks by plateway to its furnaces, supplying goods to the outside world via the River.  The Museum houses a 40ft model of the valley as it would have looked on 12 August 1796 when the Prince and Princess of Orange visited.  The large number of vessels featured on the model show just how busy the area was during the late 1700’s.

Broseley Pipeworks

Clay Tobacco Pipes once made here were exported around the world, making Broseley one of the most prolific pipe making towns in Britain.

The last workers left the factory in the 1950. The art of pipe-making is kept alive by volunteers who give occasional demonstrations. 

Click here for Visitor Information.

Little has changed at the Broseley Pipeworks since it ceased operating as one of the UK’s last producers of clay tobacco pipes in the late 1950’s.  Untouched for 80 years, and re-opened as a museum in 1996, the Pipeworks is a time capsule depicting perfectly an ancient local industry which spanned 300 years.

Listed as Grade II buildings by English Heritage, the Pipeworks factory was renovated in the early 1990’s to make it structurally sound and then refitted with almost all of its original fixtures and fittings.  It is now the only pipeworks in the country complete with its original equipment.

During its heyday, Broseley was the name associated with the finest quality clay tobacco pipes that money could buy and its products were exported all over the world.  Skilled workers in and around Broseley produced distinctive pipes that became trend-setters and were often copied across the country.

The first clay tobacco pipes manufactured in the area were made using local clays.  However, from the early 1700’s, white Devon clays - brought along the River Severn to be used in the pottery industry - proved to be of superior quality and soon replaced local clay.  

When the Severn Valley line of the Great Western Railway opened in 1862, it became quicker and easier to transport clay from Devon and Cornwall by steam train and to distribute finished pipes across the UK.  New markets became accessible and the reputation of the area’s manufacturers was revitalised.

Tar Tunnel

This 1,000-yard (914 metre) tunnel was dug out in 1786 to bring coal out of the mines at river level. However miners struck a spring of natural bitumen which was then harvested to use in industry.

William Reynolds subsequently built the adjacent Hay Inclined Plane to connects the canal at the top of the Gorge the river level.

Click here for Visitor Information.

The Iron Bridge and Tollhouse

Built by Abraham Darby III in 1779 (and designed by architect Thomas Farnolls Pritchard).  The Iron Bridge cost £6,000 to construct; half of this was financed through share issues and half by Darby from his own pocket.

The toll board still shows the prices set out by the Act of Parliament in 1776, which were never changed.

Click here for Visitor Information.

Get our latest offers

Register your email with us and we’ll keep you up-to-date with news, events and offers.