Bristol

Bristol man gives birth to industry at Ironbridge

People from Bristol have contributed a lot to the world over the years. Bristolians played a large part in manufacturing Concorde, they created plasticine and invented the blanket. And of course John Cabot sailed from Bristol and re-discovered North America in 1497.

But perhaps a lesser known fact is that 300 years ago Quaker Abraham Darby travelled from Bristol to Coalbrookdale in Shropshire and pretty much gave birth to industry as we know it. The ironmaster developed game-changing process for making cheap and plentiful cast iron through using coke instead of charcoal.

Darby’s breakthrough in a valley today known as Ironbridge Gorge kick-started an industrial revolution which would go on to power Britain’s dominance in the world throughout the 19th century.

Visting this amazing place today you would not think that what happened here would go on to have such an enormous impact on history. Bar the early furnaces and factories scattered along the riverbank and 10 museums Ironbridge could be any other valley.

But having the ability to make cheap iron was an essential raw material for the ships, trains and bridges that created the modern world. Darby was probably helped by the fact that the Shropshire ‘clod coal’ that he was using was fairly sulphur-free.

The name Ironbridge comes from the name of the wonderful structure that Darby’s grandson built in 1783 to serve a very busy stretch of river and still spans the gorge today. Over the years visitors would travel from far and wide to see this bridge.

Coalbrookdale itself became less important as the industrial revolution progressed, losing out to much bigger manufacturing centres like Birmingham. But we should never forget the contribution that Abraham Darby made by travelling to Shropshire.

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