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The birthplace of the Industrial Revolution was the Ironbridge gorge in Shropshire . Here the world’s first iron bridge was constructed between 1777 and 1781 and spans the river Severn .
During the 18th century, this area was rich with raw materials including coal, iron ore, water (which was used for both the generation of power and transportation), sand (for moulding cast iron), limestone to flux the slag in the blast-furnaces, and clay to make tiles and bricks.
This wealth of materials first attracted the attention of Abraham Darby to Coalbrookdale in 1708. He was the first of three generations, who were to be awarded the prestigious title of the founding fathers of the Industrial Revolution.
Darby was the Quaker ironmaster who had travelled from Bristol to take over the blast-furnace at Coalbrookdale. In 1709, Darby became the first person to smelt iron using coke as a fuel rather than charcoal, as was traditional.
This proved to be one of the most important technological breakthrough's ever discovered. At the time, there was a significant fuel crisis in Britain. Charcoal, which was made from timber, was the only source of fuel used by the iron industry, which had resulted in large areas of deforestation. In order to fuel a single blast-furnace that produces only a few tons of iron each day, several tons of timber was needed each day.
The process meant that high-quality iron was available in quantities undreamt of using the traditional charcoal smelting. It was this process that formed the basis of the industrial revolution that would transform Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The greatest memorial to Darby’s achievements is the iron bridge itself, perhaps the best known industrial monument in Britain.
The initial idea for the iron bridge came about in 1775, when a group of local businessmen met to discuss how communication between both sides of the river could be improved. The group was made up of, Abraham Darby III, who became the treasurer of the project, John Wilkinson, an ironmaster and Thomas Farnolls Pritchard, an architect from the nearby town of Shrewsbury. At the time, the nearest bridges were located at Bridgnorth and Buildwas.
The number of trading vessels using the river as a means of transportation at the time meant that a bridge with a single arch was paramount. It was Pritchard who proposed a revolutionary iron structure that would span 120ft and cost £3200, a huge amount in those days.
Darby agreed to undertake the building and construction work. Casting and transporting the bridges components must have caused problems for them, each rib weighed 5 tons!
You’ll be forgiven for assuming that the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution would leave a filthy, fiery trail of devastation along the way. But, as you can see, the Ironbridge Gorge today is beautiful, and breathes an air of quiet, life-giving spirit. Here, nature has fought back and won.
During Abraham Darby’s III’s lifetime, Coalbrookdale was the most famous and successful industrial area in Great Britian. Engineers and investors of renown came to visit and stand and wonder. The whole area is now a prize-winning World Heritage Site and attracts visitors from the New World to the Far East .