The Iron Bridge is a bridge that crosses the River Severn in Shropshire, England. Opened in 1781, it was the first major bridge in the world to be made of cast iron, and was greatly celebrated after construction owing to its use of the new material.
Belonging to to Telford and Wrekin Borough Council, the bridge, the adjacent settlement of Ironbridge and the Ironbridge Gorge form the UNESCO Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site. The bridge is a Grade I listed building, and a waypoint on the South Telford Heritage Trail.
Abraham Darby I first smelted local iron ore with coke made from Coalbrookdale coal in 1709, and in the coming decades Shropshire became a centre for industry due to the low price of fuel from local mines. The River Severn was used as a key trading route, but it was also a barrier to travel around the deep Severn Gorge, especially between the then important industrial parishes of Broseley and Madeley, the nearest bridge being at Buildwas two miles away. The iron bridge was therefore proposed to link the industrial town of Broseley with the smaller mining town of Madeley and the industrial centre of Coalbrookdale. The use of the river by boat traffic and the steep sides of the gorge meant that any bridge should ideally be of a single span, and sufficiently high to allow tall ships to pass underneath. The steepness and instability of the banks was problematic for building a bridge, and there was no point where roads on opposite sides of the river converged.
The Iron Bridge was the first of its kind to be constructed, although not the first to be considered or the first iron bridge of any kind.
Take a look at our Blog about the Coalbrookdale Furnace here.
In 1773, architect Thomas Farnolls Pritchard wrote to his ‘iron mad’ friend and local ironmaster, John Wilkinson of Broseley, to suggest building a bridge out of cast iron. Pritchard had previous experience with the design of both wooden and stone bridges, and it is possible that he had integrated into these designs elements of iron.
During the winter of 1773–74, local newspapers advertised a proposal to petition Parliament for leave to construct an iron bridge with a single 120-foot (37 m) span. In 1775, a subscription of between three and four thousand pounds was raised, and Abraham Darby III, the grandson of Abraham Darby I and an ironmaster working at Coalbrookdale, was appointed treasurer to the project.
The Bridge Today
The famous Iron Bridge has survived for an astonishing 238 years. As you can well imagine, after that length of time came to require some tender love and care! During early Summer last year, English Heritage announced that Shropshire’s beloved bridge was going to receive the must needed refurbishment it deserved.
The future of the world’s first Iron Bridge was secured on 7th January 2019, as the famous bridge fully re-opened to the public on the first Monday of 2019.
The charity declared that the Bridge would be returned to it’s original colour, following from their extensive research. English Heritage’s senior property curator, Dr Heather Sebire, said: “Uncovering the original colour of the Iron Bridge has been a fascinating mix of both archive research work and detailed forensic investigation. We had already found some clues in the archives but the decider was the results of our analysis of the historic paint, revealing a red-brown coating beneath centuries of historic dust and paintwork.”
At £3.6m, Project Iron Bridge is English Heritage’s single largest conservation project since it became a charity in 2015. Last year, the charity announced a €1m donation from German funder the Hermann Reemtsma Foundation and launched its first ever crowdfunding campaign to coincide with the start of works, with members of the public giving £47,545 to support the project.
Thanks to BBC UK for providing us with this excellent video of the completed work:
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