Many industrial workers living in the Gorge throughout the 18th and 19th centuries would disagree with this observation. Consistently poor conditions and wages resulted in strikes and riots as workers fought to improve conditions.

...the lower class of People who are very numerous here, are enabled to live comfortably…chearfulness and contentment are not more visible in any other place.
From A Description of Coalbrookdale by George Perry (1719-1771), 1758.

In the 18th century the rising cost of food was the most common reason for unrest as people struggled to feed their families, whilst in later years it was more often caused by reductions in wages. In all, the workers who instigated the action would be harshly punished with some facing prison sentences, transportation or even execution.

Early industrial action was often riotous and disorderly, but as the 19th century progressed it became more organised. With growing literacy rates and improving communication technology, workers became more politically aware. At the same time, the basic and strict conditions in large foundries, brickworks and ironworks encouraged a growing labour movement against unfair practices.

View of the Upper Works at Coalbrookdale, in the County of Salop, Francois Vivares (1709-1780), hand coloured engraving, 1758.


This engraving shows an idealised view of industry in Coalbrookdale. However, we know that just two years before this print was created, riots broke out across Coalbrookdale and the Gorge. The cost of food had risen to a point where many industrial workers struggled to feed their families. They marched on local markets with horns and trumpets, demanding to buy food at lower prices, and to the homes of the Darby family, the owners of the Coalbrookdale works, where they demanded meat and drink. The Darbys provided this ‘to keep them quiet’. The riots were eventually stopped by a posse of farmers – ten of the rioters were arrested, two were executed and four transported.

Thomas Palin (1794-1821)

Thomas Palin was a miner who was involved in the Cinderloo Uprising of 1821. The uprising took place over the area now known as Telford and was triggered when the employers of local miners and ironworkers tried to reduce their wages by 6d a day (equivalent to about £23.62 today). Many workers were already struggling financially, and this extra cut was a step too far.

The miners and ironworkers, including Thomas, went on strike and on 2nd February 1821 marched from Donnington Wood, in north Telford, to various ironworks where they stopped production. They gathered supporters as they headed for Coalbrookdale but the crowd of 3000 protestors ended up gathering near two industrial spoil heaps, known as the Cinder Hills. The Riot Act, which demanded that they stop protesting and disperse, was read by a local magistrate and the yeoman cavalry was called in. However, the crowd refused and several protestors were arrested.

Thomas successfully led an attempt to free the prisoners but the cavalry opened fire on the crowd, killing two miners and injuring many, including Thomas. Some of the prisoners were retaken and many more were arrested in the days that followed the protest.

Thomas was amongst those arrested. Most were imprisoned but because Thomas had led the attempt to rescue the prisoners, he was seen as a ringleader and was sentenced to death. He was hanged on the 7th April 1821 at Shrewsbury Gaol. The reduction in wages went ahead but at 4d a day instead of 6d.

Local landowners, ironmasters and tradesmen tried to prevent rioting in the Gorge by subsidising food prices and purchasing rice to feed the poorest. Advice tracts suggested how the poor could eat imported rice, which was cheaper than flour, but reveals their reluctance to do so.




Organised industrial action didn’t always result in strikes and riots, especially as literacy rates improved. This letter, written by a group of local industrial workers to their employer, demands a shorter working day and improved conditions. They not only threaten to damage the work’s machinery but also advise the employer to send his wife away to keep her safe from violence. The scale of these threats shows the anger amongst these workers, but its anonymous nature suggests that they couldn’t risk openly showing their opposition to their treatment as they might be branded as troublemakers.

Anonymous letter to a local employer, 1869.

Miners at Benthall Edge during the 1912 National Coal Strike.


In 1912 nearly one million coal miners went on strike, including miners in the Ironbridge Gorge, to fight for a national minimum wage. This was Britain’s first national miners’ strike. It ended successfully for the miners after 37 days as the government passed the Coal Mines Act, which provided minimum wage protection.

I'd got relatives who were miners - they were on strike and there were meetings all up and down the country … [I] remember going to school one morning … it was announced would the children of miners who were on strike come out and stand in a row and they did and then a few mornings after they were told they could go to school for their breakfast… things were so bad that they were giving their children breakfast to start school on.
Elizabeth Davies (1904-2006) remembering the local impact of the 1912 national coal strike. Ken Jones Oral History Archive, 1993.