The mid-Victorian period was the age of imitation and reproduction. Every style from naturalism to Gothic and Classicism was revived in art, furnishings, metalwork and ceramics.

Displays at the Great Exhibition, held in London in 1851, showcased these styles in a staggering array of objects. While some British exhibition entries did prove to be successful, the design of many British products drew criticism when compared with those of other countries. The comparatively lower standard of home-produced design was blamed on ‘uneducated’ designers, and the mass production of goods. Calls for an improvement in design education resulted in the creation of new schools to teach art and design, specifically for manufacturing purposes.

It was this aim, combined with the long tradition of skilled work in the area if the Ironbridge Gorge, which led to the opening of a School of Art in Coalbrookdale in 1856. The industries of the Gorge, including the Coalbrookdale Company, Craven Dunnill & Co. and Maw & Co., often paid for their employees to attend art classes and develop their craft. Records show that students went on to work in the local industries of china making, tile making and iron production, as well as industries further afield. Others became professional artists in their own right.

This online exhibition showcases examples of original student artworks, design material, and examination pieces produced as part of the curriculum requirements. The students' output demonstrates a range of different styles and techniques, and many of their designs directly influenced the commercial outputs of local industries.