Ironbridge is known throughout the world as the symbol of the Industrial Revolution. It contains all the elements of progress that contributed to the rapid development of this industrial region in the 18th century, from the mines themselves to the railway lines. Nearby, the blast furnace of Coalbrookdale, built in 1708, is a reminder of the discovery of coke. The bridge at Ironbridge, the world's first bridge constructed of iron, had a considerable influence on developments in the fields of technology and architecture.
Statement of Significance
The Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage property covers an area of 5.5 km2 (550ha) and is located in Telford, Shropshire, approximately 50km north-west of Birmingham. The Industrial Revolution had its 18th century roots in the Ironbridge Gorge before spreading across the world, bringing with it some of the most far-reaching changes in human history.
The site incorporates a 5km length of the steep-sided, mineral-rich Severn Valley from a point immediately west of Ironbridge downstream to Coalport, together with two smaller river valleys extending northwards to Coalbrookdale and Madeley.
The Ironbridge Gorge offers a powerful insight into the origins of the Industrial Revolution and also contains extensive evidence and remains of that period when the area was the focus of international attention from artists, engineers, and writers. The site contains substantial remains of mines, foundries, factories, workshops, warehouses, ironmasters’ and workers’ housing, public buildings, infrastructure, and transport systems, together with traditional landscape and forests of the Severn Gorge. In addition, there also remain extensive collections of artefacts and archives relating to the individuals, processes and products that made the area so important.
Today, the site is a living, working community with a population of approximately 4000 people. It is also a historic landscape that is interpreted and made accessible through the work of a number of organisations, in particular, the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust (established in 1967 to preserve and interpret the remains of the Industrial Revolution within the Ironbridge Gorge) and the Severn Gorge Countryside Trust (established in 1991 to manage the woodland and grassland in the Gorge).
Within the site, five features are highlighted as of particular interest:
1. Coalbrookdale: It was here in 1709 that the Quaker Abraham Darby I developed the coke iron production technique which began the great 18th century iron revolution. There still remains a high concentration of 18th and 19th century dwellings, warehouses and public buildings in Coalbrookdale.
2. Ironbridge: The community draws its name from the famous Iron Bridge erected in 1779 by Abraham Darby III. At the eastern end of Ironbridge stand the remains of two 18th century blast furnaces, the Bedlam Furnaces, built in 1757.
3. Hay Brook Valley: South of Madeley lies a large open-air museum which incorporates the remains of the former Blists Hill blast furnaces and Blists Hill brick and tile works. Also of importance is the spectacular Hay Inclined Plane which connected the Shropshire Canal to the Coalport Canal, which in turn linked with the River Severn.
4. Jackfield: This small community on the south bank of the River Severn was important for navigation, coal mining, clay production, and the manufacture of decorative tiles.
5. Coalport: Located at the eastern end of the site and on the north bank of the River Severn, industrialisation came to Coalport in the late 18th century and the area is remembered principally for the Coalport China Works.
Criterion (i): The Coalbrookdale blast furnace perpetuates in situ the creative effort of Abraham Darby I who discovered coke iron in 1709. It is a masterpiece of man's creative genius in the same way as the Iron Bridge, which is the first known metal bridge. It was built in 1779 by Abraham Darby III from the drawings of the architect Thomas Farnolls Pritchard.
Criterion (ii): The Coalbrookdale blast furnace and the Iron Bridge exerted great influence on the development of techniques and architecture.
Criterion (iv): Ironbridge Gorge provides a fascinating summary of the development of an industrial region in modern times. Mining centres, transformation industries, manufacturing plants, workers' quarters, and transport networks are sufficiently well preserved to make up a coherent ensemble whose educational potential is considerable.
Criterion (vi): Ironbridge Gorge, which opens its doors to in excess of 600,000 visitors yearly, is a world renowned symbol of the 18th century Industrial Revolution.
The Coalbrookdale blast furnace and Ironbridge exerted great influence on the development of techniques and architecture. Ironbridge Gorge provides a fascinating summary of the development of an industrial region in modern times. Mining centres, transformation industries, manufacturing plants, workers' quarters and transport networks are sufficiently well-preserved to make up a coherent ensemble whose educational potential is considerable. The Coalbrookdale blast furnace perpetuates in situ the creative effort of Abraham Darby I, who discovered coke iron in 1709. It is a masterpiece of man's creative genius in the same way as Ironbridge, which is the first known metal bridge, built in 1779 by Abraham Darby III from the drawings of the architect Thomas Farnolls Pritchard.
Ironbridge Gorge is located in the county of Shropshire, some 30km northwest of Birmingham in the the narrow Severn valley upstream from its confluence with the Caldebrook River in Coalbrookdale. Ironbridge Gorge is an example representative of the main techniques of the industrial age.
It is an extraordinary concentration of mining zones, foundries, factories, workshops and warehouses, which coexists with an old network of lanes, paths, roads, ramps, canals and railroads, as well as substantial remains of traditional landscape and housing, the forests of the Severn Gorge, ironmasters' houses, workers' living quarters, public buildings and infrastructure equipment of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Since 1968, the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust has coordinated actions in the areas of discovery, conservation and exploitation of the valley's heritage in addition to providing sound management of museums, monuments and sites and thereby acting as a pioneer in the field of industrial archaeology.
In the area there are five major areas of interest:
- Coalbrookdale: This is where in 1709 the Quaker Abraham Darby I developed the coke-based iron production technique which began the great 18th century steel revolution. There still remains a high concentration of 18th- and 19th-century dwellings, warehouses, churches and chapels in the town. The Great Warehouse contains an iron museum.
- Ironbridge: The locality where mining and metallurgical activity began in the 17th century draws its name from the iron bridge erected in 1779, which also serves to designate the entire region of the Severn Gorges.
- Hay Brook valley: Downstream from Madeley in the low valley of this small tributary of the Severn River, a large open air museum was set up on Blists Hill. Extraction galleries, shafts with their head-frames and blast furnaces have been preserved.
- Jackfield: A small town located on the south bank of the Severn made its living from coal mining, clay production and navigation. It was the valley's port of registry.
- Coalport: This town is located at the far east end of the protected zone on the north bank of the Severn, which is spanned by a metal bridge from 1780-1818. The high point of this town is the porcelain manufacturing plant founded by John Rose at the end of the 18th century which closed down only in 1926. Today it is a porcelain museum.