The ironworkers of Coalbrookdale helped to develop innovations that revolutionised industry, power, and transport across the globe.

The influence of the Gorge’s industrial workers on the decorative arts fashioned tastes that were celebrated internationally, and their products are present in hotels, palaces, and government buildings across the world to this day. None of this would have been achievable without the miners whose labours provided the raw materials to make this possible.

Whilst their impact was global, the Gorge and its workers were also shaped by the world around them. People migrated to the Gorge to work in its booming industries bringing their own cultures and ideas with them, and many of the products designed and manufactured in the Gorge were influenced by Britain’s growing Empire throughout the 19th century.




During the second half of the 19th century the industries of the Gorge regularly displayed their goods at international exhibitions which often received great acclaim for their quality.

This display was exhibited by the Coalbrookdale Company at the Kensington Olympia Exhibition in 1889.

A 'lady typist'.




Until the late 19th century, office work was seen as men’s work. However, the 1901 census records several women working in the offices of industrial works across the Gorge. Most of them were city-born trained specialists, like Emma Meekins and Mary Court who were both from London and employed as ‘lady typists’ for a roofing tile manufacturer in Broseley.




Stoke-on-Trent was a centre for the ceramics industry in the 19th century and workers employed in the tile and china industries of the Gorge would migrate between the two areas for work.

Encaustic tile with latin motto reading ‘The Knight is Always Fair’, Minton & Co, c.1855-1870

Photograph of Percy Simpson (stood right), 1951.

Percy Simpson (1888-1961)

Percy Simpson was born near Stoke-on-Trent, where his father was employed as a china artist. His father moved the family to the Gorge in the early 1890s to work as an artist at Coalport China Works. Percy joined his father there in 1901 and eventually became the Art Director for the works when it moved to Stoke-on-Trent in 1926.



Most migrants moving to the Gorge had relocated from neighbouring counties to work in local industries. Migration between the Black Country and the Gorge was particularly frequent amongst ironworkers, who moved between the two industrialised areas to wherever the pay was best.

Cast iron frying pan, Coalbrookdale Company, 19th century.

Well, I met my husband-to-be in Worcester, working at the porcelain works (…) he went from school to porcelain works(…) Well, he wasn't satisfied after he had finished his term in Worcester, so he applied for a job to come up here to Coalport [in 1912], and he worked there until he had to go to the War - 1914 War.
Lilly Fowler (1888-1984), wife of Thomas Fowler, a china polisher (Ken Jones Oral History Archive, 1978)

View of Nailers Row, Ironbridge, date unknown.

In the mid-19th century, the Irish Potato Famine contributed to a significant increase in the local Irish population. Census records reveal that 944 people of Irish descent were living in the Gorge in 1851. Most settled in Broseley or in Nailers Row in Ironbridge. Nineteen-year-old Mary McLaughlin’s experience was typical of most Irish migrants. She worked as a pit girl and lived in a crowded house in Broseley with her husband and ten other family members all of whom were employed as labourers.




The products produced by industrial workers in the Gorge had a global market. Even today examples of products manufactured in the Gorge can be found across the world. These documents relate to an order for a Coalbrookdale Company staircase in Tokyo, Japan.

Drawings for a spiral staircase, Coalbrookdale Company, 1903.

Transfer printed hand-coloured wall tile, Maw & Co., c.1875-1895.

Imperial Influences

During the 19th century Britain’s rapidly expanding Empire led to a growing taste for ‘exotic’ designs. Designers at the Gorge’s industrial works satisfied these desires by producing direct copies of foreign items, including items made in countries that formed part of the British Empire, or by designing products that were heavily inspired by their styles. These products were then mass produced in the Gorge for the British market.




Many of the industries of the Gorge had strong links with America and items made by the Gorge’s industrial workers found their home across the Atlantic. This included the products of Coalport China Works and the tiles of Maw & Co.

A Maw & Co. encaustic tile, produced for the Henry Dibblee Co., Chicago, 1883.

John Peters

John Peters was a miner who worked for the Madeley Wood Company in 1808. We know very little about John’s life and what we do know is revealed through the diary entries of Elizabeth Poole, the mother-in-law of William Anstice, who was John’s employer. Elizabeth doesn’t name any other workers individually in her writing, but she singles out John because, in a time when most workers were born locally and almost all were white, John Peters was Black.

Poole recorded that John was travelling from America when he was shipwrecked. He was one of four survivors who made their way to Liverpool, where he caught and survived smallpox. By July 1808 he made his way to the Ironbridge Gorge where William Anstice employed him as a miner for 18d a day. 

As well as employing him, the Anstice family invited John for dinner, they found him lodgings and they made him clothing. This was far from the typical treatment of their workers. However, Poole also displays racist attitudes through her writing and an incident with local workers demonstrates the tensions John faced. According to Poole, in August 1808, John was working when he found a woman stealing rope. He confronted her and, after a scuffle broke out, he drew his knife intending to stab her. He was tied up by his fellow miners but was released by William Anstice. Unfortunately, there are no further references to John, and we don’t know what happened to him after this incident.