The Iron Bridge by William Williams

Museum Collections

About our collections

All of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust's collections are Designated as being of national significance by Arts Council England.

In addition to collections of national importance in terms of industrial significance, the Library & Archive hold an extensive range of materials relating to local history and ephemera, supported by a rich photographic archive. The collections provide a unique research facility and offer the rare opportunity to undertake studies working alongside the industrial buildings in which they were created, supported in some cases by archaeological sources of evidence.

The Museum's extensive Research Library is open to academics and researchers. Subject coverage embraces all aspects of the Museum’s sites and related fields, with material on iron and steel industries, coal and metal mining, engineering, ceramic industries and the history of art and design. The social history of the East Shropshire coalfield is also covered, and the history of Quakerism and Methodism in the area.

The Library also holds extensive material on the Industrial Revolution and houses one of the best collections on industrial archaeology, including material deposited by the Association of Industrial Archaeology and material on loan from the Historical Metallurgy Society.

Library & Archives - access for research purposes is by appointment only. Please email us with your request and one of the team will come back to you.


The Old Furnace in Coalbrookdale is where Abraham Darby in 1709 first smelted iron on a commercial basis using coke rather than charcoal. It is widely regarded as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and its international importance is recognised by its Grade I Listed status.


The Quaker family’s pioneering work was carried out at their Coalbrookdale Works from 1709 onwards and was a vital ingredient in the industrialisation of this country. Abraham Darby I was the first to successfully smelt iron using coke in 1709, a breakthrough that eventually made iron a cheap and indispensable material. 

Labouchere archives

A direct descendent of Abraham Darby, Lady Labouchere assembled a unique collection of Darby archives which were bequeathed to the Museum. The material includes documents relating to the work and development of the Coalbrookdale Company, as well as Abraham Darby III’s ledger containing all accounts appertaining to the building of the Iron Bridge. The papers also give a detailed social history of Quakerism.

Darby Houses, period gardens and contents

The Museum has restored and opened to the public the house constructed for Abraham Darby I in 1717 – Dale House. It was in this house that his grandson, Abraham Darby III, designed the Iron Bridge. Adjacent is Rosehill House, which was also occupied by members of the Darby family, and now houses the Museum’s collection of Darby furniture, prints, porcelain, silver and ephemera collected and donated by Lady Labouchere. The carefully reinstated early 19th century garden in front of both houses, and the family arboretum behind, place the buildings into an environmental context.

Telford Collection

Thomas Telford (1757 – 1834) was the pre-eminent civil engineer of his generation and was responsible for improving the country’s roads and canals at a time when inadequate communications within Britain were putting a brake on the economic growth of the nation. His most notable work was the improvement of the road between London and Holyhead, which involved the construction of the impressive suspension bridge over the Menai Straits, still in use today. The Telford Collection is the largest source of archive and illustrative material outside London (Institution of Civil Engineers), relating to the life and works of Thomas Telford. The collection includes facsimiles and microfilm copies of all known Telford archival material as well as a large number of books, prints, plans and photographs documenting Telford’s projects. It has unique manuscript versions of Telford’s autobiography and a large amount of original correspondence relating to its publication.

Broseley Pipeworks

Broseley Pipeworks is the only surviving clay tobacco pipe factory complete with its contents anywhere. The 3-storey factory and bottle kiln were in use from 1881 to 1960, after which the factory was abandoned, the contents remaining untouched until the Museum purchased them in 1991.

Quality pipes had by the 18th century become synonymous with the name of the town. A ‘Broseley’ was known to smokers throughout the country and the ‘Churchwarden’ long stemmed pipe became a fashion in the coffee houses of Regency London. The national importance of preserving not only the contents but the original buildings at Broseley had long been recognised.

Caughley Collection

The Museum holds the most comprehensive collection of 18th century Caughley porcelain anywhere. The reference collection includes the pieces, several hundred sherds excavated at the factory site, and plaster moulds, together with a significant paper archive relating to the history and development of the factory and personnel associated with it.

The production of porcelain at Caughley began in 1772 when Thomas Turner, one of the pioneers of porcelain manufacture in this country, took over the works. The factory soon gained an international reputation for wares in imitation of the Chinese blue and white, French Chantilly sprig and Belgian rose. Such was the demand for quality porcelain throughout the country that a major new factory was established in 1796 at nearby Coalport.

Coalport Collection

The Coalport China Manufactory was the largest works of its kind in the mid 19th century. Most of the former works still survive next to the River Severn, including substantial parts of the 1796 factory and 3 impressive bottle kilns. Within these restored buildings is housed the Museum’s unique collection of late 18th, 19th and 20th century Coalport china. The collection of approximately 4,000 pieces is the largest and most comprehensive anywhere and as such has an international standing.

Tile and Architectural Ceramics  Collection

The Museum has an impressive collection of over 23,000 19th century decorative tiles with examples from most of the major Victorian factories in this country. The educational significance of the collection is greatly augmented by housing and displaying it in the most complete surviving Victorian decorative tile factory. The Jackfield Tile Museum also houses a large collection of plaster moulds and patterns, which the Museum believes is already pre-eminent and of national status. In the 1880s Maw and Co. ran the largest tile factory in the world and had an international reputation. Consequently the plaster mould and pattern collection is a unique library of designs of one of the largest 19th century producers of decorative tiles, architectural faience and terracotta.

Decorative Metalwork Collection

The Museum believes that it has the most comprehensive range of the Coalbrookdale Company’s best designs and most accomplished castings. Between the 1840s and the First World War, the quality of Coalbrookdale castings was second to none. Castings range from decorative fire grates, through furniture, household ornaments, to both civic and domestic architectural features and statuary.

The Museum has collected examples of some of the best animal sculptures of noted French artists Pierre-Jules Mene and Christopher Fratin. Other small ornaments include desk sets, candlesticks, hearth furniture, filigree fruit plates, plaques (the most famous being The Last Supper, based on the painting by Leonardo da Vinci), wall cabinets, jardinières, urns, and small statuary. There is a collection of over 100 fireplaces and approaching 100 items of furniture, including coat, umbrella and hat stands, benches and chairs. Most were designed by locally trained artists, but others in the collection were made to the designs of Christopher Dresser. Figurative work is represented by the designs of John Bell. His most famous pieces were made for the Great Exhibition of 1851, a decorative fountain incorporating a life-size boy and swan and a statue of Andromeda. He then went on to design a cast iron table supported by 4 life-size and life-like deerhound dogs, which was exhibited at the 1855 International Exhibition, Paris.

The collection is supported by a full range of lavishly illustrated company catalogues and archive.



Elton Collection

Sir Arthur Elton (1906 - 1973) was one of the early pioneers of documentary film making in the inter-war years and wrote a number of books on technical subjects. During his life he put together a unique collection of paintings, prints, drawings, books and other ephemera relating to the industrial and transport revolution.

In 1968, using his extensive collection as source material, he re-edited the pioneering text on artists’ reactions to the changes brought about by the industry and technology – ‘Art and the Industrial Revolution’ – by Francis Klingender (1947). The Elton Collection was accepted by the Government and allocated in lieu of estate duties and allocated to the Ironbridge Gorge Museum in 1978. The collection consists of over 5,600 items, including 160 original drawings or paintings, several hundred prints (engraving, lithographs, chromolithographs, etchings and mezzotints), 3,000 books and pamphlets, and other printed ephemera. In addition there are approximately 170 commemorative items in glass and china, supplemented with medals and other small objects. The strength of the collection lies in the subject area they all have in common.

As a result the Elton Collection is the best visual source of comparative material for the industrial and technological developments in this country from the 17th to the early 20th centuries.

Library & Archives

The Library contains predominantly secondary published material relating to all areas of the Museum’s collections, as well as industrial and social history, museological and heritage issues. The book collection numbers some 40,000 volumes including a good collection of 19th century trade catalogues (Coalbrookdale Co., Maw and Co., and Craven Dunnill) as well as local directories and other printed ephemera.

The Archive Collection contains mainly primary and unique material including photographic and handwritten records, deeds, correspondence, sound and film/video footage. Our large photographic collection contains approximately 10,000 images of local people, buildings, sites and industrial processes, ranging in date from 1859 to the present. This includes an almost complete set of photographs taken for the Hathern Station Brick & Terracotta Works, Loughborough, of its Victorian, Edwardian and inter-War building ornamentation.

The Museum does not have a fine art collection in the strict sense of the term, but its selection of paintings, prints and drawings are of national importance for the contents of their images. The prints, drawings and paintings collected by Sir Arthur Elton in the early years of the twentieth century form the best single collection of industrial and transport images anywhere. In addition the Museum has original watercolours by Coalport artists and designers ranging from 1800 to 1920, competition pieces by students of the Coalbrookdale Scientific & Literary Institution ranging from 1880 to 1914, and local topographical views including works by Joseph Farington RA (1747-1821) and John Nash (1893-1977) .

Thank you for considering donating an object to the Museum. We consider all objects offered to us on an individual basis. 

In general, we collect material with a strong local connection to the area and its industries, history and people. We also collect items with local, national or international significance to enhance our existing collections. These include decorative arts, fine art, industrial history, ceramics, social history, metalwork and transport history. 

Ideally items offered should be in good condition and with associated information and provenance.

It is not always possible for us to accept everything we are offered

  • We may already hold similar examples of the item in our collections
  • The item may be more appropriate to another museum 
  • There is little associated information with it or no link to our areas of specific interest
  • The item is in poor condition and would be difficult to preserve 
  • It does not fit in with our Collecting Policy

Who to contact about donations

Please email the Collections Team at or download the Collections Enquiry Form here and send via the post to: 

Collections Team
The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust
TF8 7QD 

It would help if you could provide the following information: 

  • A photograph of the object (less than 5MB in size and with no dots in the file name)
  • Date of the object
  • Any maker’s marks on the object
  • Background information 

Unfortunately, we cannot accept walk-in donations or items sent without prior agreement and are unable to offer any valuations on objects.

If you have a question about something you’ve seen on display in one of our museums, an object you own, or historical research then please get in touch with the Collections Team at or phone the museum switchboard on 01952 435900.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions there is currently no access to the Library & Archives. We will update this page when the situation changes.

Alternatively get in touch directly with a member of the team.

Gillian Crumpton
Head of Interpretation & Exhibitons

Click here to email Gillian

Kate Cadman
Curatorial Officer

Kate looks after the collections at Coalport China Museum, Broseley Pipeworks and Jackfield Tile Museum.

Click here to email Kate

Georgina Grant
Senior Curator

Georgina manages the Library & Archive which includes curating the Elton Collection. She also looks after the collections at Coalbrookdale including decorative metalwork, social history and costume.

Click here to email Georgina

Dr Mike Nevell
Industrial Heritage Support Officer

Mike is the IHSO for England and provides information, training and support for industrial heritage sites and the organisations that run them.

Click here to email Mike

Sarah Roberts

Sarah is based in the Library & Archive and looks after all our historical documents and records.

Click here to email Sarah

Joanne Smith

Joanne is based in the Library & Archive and manages the documentation of all our collections.

Click here to email Joanne

Lauren Stephenson
Curatorial Officer

Lauren manages the collection at Blists Hill Victorian Town, and provides curatorial support at our other museum sites.

Click here to email Lauren