Changing tastes, two world wars, and competition from other industrial areas caused the industries of the Ironbridge Gorge to decline in the 20th century.

The last blast furnaces in the Gorge were blown out at Blists Hill in 1912, and although the Coalbrookdale Company’s ironworks continued operating in the Gorge, the business was taken over by other organisations from 1929. From 1947 its foundry was used to produce AGA cookers.

The First World War and changing fashions also presented Coalport China Works and the decorative tile industry with a declining market. Coalport China Works closed in 1926 and the business moved to Stoke-on-Trent. Craven Dunnill & Co. and Maw & Co. continued to produce a limited ranges of tiles but in 1951 Craven Dunnill & Co. moved production to Bridgnorth, and Maw & Co. ceased production in 1969.

Maw & Co. workers on the last day before closure, 1969.

Despite the decline in local industry by the mid-20th century, it has not left the Gorge altogether. In 1930 Merrythought began to produce soft toys in a former Coalbrookdale Company foundry building and has continued production there to this day. Craven Dunnill & Co. also moved production back into their original factory in Jackfield in 2000 and are known today for the quality of their products and skill of their work force. Ironworking was also present in the Gorge until 2017 when AGA’s Coalbrookdale foundry closed.

Whilst the scale of industry has declined over the last century, industrial workers, artisans, and designers are still a vital and active part of the Gorge’s community and are an essential part of its ongoing story.



Coalport China Works suffered more than most pottery firms during a decline in trade because it was so isolated. Cutbacks and wage reductions after the First World War led to industrial unrest and the works was sold to Cauldon Potteries in 1925. When the factory closed the following year about 250 locals became unemployed.

Workers at Coalport China Works on the day that it closed, April 1926.

All Coalport China Work’s employees were given notices like this when the factory shut down in 1926. This notice was  given to Gertrude Beddow (1897-1990), who had been a china painter for more than 15 years. Coalport workers were offered jobs at the new factory in Stoke-on-Trent but many workers, including Gertrude, refused the offer. It would mean uprooting their families and leaving everything they knew behind or travelling daily to Stoke-on-Trent by bus.

Merrythought Factory Employees, 1930s.


Merrythought opened its factory in Ironbridge in late 1930. Within two years more than 200 people, mostly women, were employed there.

The first catalogue that went out in 1930 I think contained about forty lines. There were about two kinds of Teddy Bears … and about thirty other toys - dogs, cats, dogs in baskets and that sort of thing… The second catalogue contained about a hundred lines so there was a good assortment and a Toy Firm could stock itself fully from the choice that Merrythought gave them.
Elizabeth Davies, who remembered the types of toys that were made at the Merrythought Factory (From Ken Jones Oral History Archive, 1993).



On 30th November 2017 the Aga Rangemaster foundry, which operated on one of the former sites of the Coalbrookdale Company, closed its doors. This ended more than 300 years of continuous ironworking at Coalbrookdale. In a long-standing tradition, workers hung their boots on the gates on their final day.