Whilst the abundance of raw materials and the innovations of industrialists and entrepreneurs sparked industry in the Gorge, it was the ordinary workers who drove it forward and made it possible for this area to become ‘the most extraordinary district in the world’.

This neighbourhood is uncommonly full of manufactures, among the principal are the potteries, pipe makers, colliers and iron works.
Description of Coalbrookdale by Arthur Young (1741-1820), an agriculturalist, during a tour of England and Wales, 1776.

A Trow on the River Severn moored outside the Severn Warehouse in Ironbridge, c.1860-1870.




The communities of the Ironbridge Gorge developed around three types of industry – mining, ironworking, and clay working.

In addition to the natural resources of the area, another vital factor in the growth of the Gorge's industries was the River Severn. It enabled local businesses to transport their products to distant markets.



Mining was the first of the three industries to develop when nearby religious houses were granted permission to mine for coal in 1250. By the 16th century coal mining was thriving.

Miners at Blists Hill Mine, c1900


The success of coal mining in this area provided the fuel necessary for the iron industry to boom after 1709, when Abraham Darby I used coal heated to a very high temperature, known as coke, to develop a successful method for mass producing iron.

The Inside of a Smelting House at Broseley Shropshire, 1788.

Engraving showing workers at the Coalbrookdale Company’s Horsehay Forge, from Illustration of Useful Arts and Manufactures by Charles Tomlinson, 1858.



Several blast furnaces were later erected across the Gorge and a world-leading foundry developed in Coalbrookdale.




Abraham Darby worked with several key workers to develop his world-changing innovations in the iron industry. They included Richard Beard, the mine-burner, Richard Knowles, who stocked the charging house with raw materials, Richard Hart, the filler, John Felton, the furnace keeper, and John Tyler, the founder.

Engraving showing workers filling blast furnaces at Coalbrookdale, from Illustration of Useful Arts and Manufactures by Charles Tomlinson, 1858.

Clay Working

The abundance of clay mined in the Gorge also led to thriving pottery, brick, and tobacco pipe industries developing in Jackfield and Broseley from the 17th century. In 1796 a china works opened at Coalport and from the 1850s the decorative tile industry developed in Jackfield, all relying on hundreds of workers for their success.

Main entrance of the Craven Dunnill Tile Factory, c.1890.

Engraving showing brickmakers at work, from Illustration of Trades by Charles Tomlinson, 1867.



Alongside mining, brick and tile making was one of the biggest industries in the Gorge and employed thousands of people. The industry was also known for having notoriously bad working conditions.



In the 1790s Coalport developed as a small riverside port where the Shropshire Canal ran alongside the River Severn. In 1796, John Rose founded the Coalport China Works in this new community. The works soon had an international reputation for the quality ceramics it produced.

Engraving of Coalport China Works from a painting by Charles Muss, early 19th century.

Maw & Co.'s original tile works at Benthall, 1859.



In 1853, brothers George and Arthur Maw moved their decorative tile business from Worcester to the Ironbridge Gorge. Their flair for design, sound manufacturing practices, and the skill of their workers soon propelled their company to the forefront of an expanding and competitive industry.



In 1874 a decorative tile factory was opened by Craven Dunnill & Co. at Jackfield. This factory was of a cutting-edge design and soon prompted their rivals, Maw & Co., to build a new factory in a similar style. These two tile factories were the largest in the world and were internationally renowned for their decorative tiles.

Engraving of Craven Dunnill & Co. Encaustic Tile Works, 1878.

A letterhead showing William Southorn and Co. tobacco pipeworks, Broseley, c.1850s.



The tobacco pipe industry developed in Broseley in the 17th century. Originally manufactured in family workshops, in the mid-19th century larger factories, like William Southorn’s, began to develop.