Visit: 4th August 2013
Ticking off my third Industrial Revolution-themed WHS (does the UK overdo it I wonder?), this was another revisit, this time to the town of Ironbridge – home to the site inscribed as Ironbridge Gorge.
Although there are something like 14 distinct things to see/museums in the vicinity, the eponymous Iron Bridge is the focal point. Completed in 1779, it was the first arch bridge to be constructed from cast iron. Whilst it isn’t particularly impressive when compared to modern bridges like Millau, at the time it was groundbreaking.
The bridge served two purposes: one, of course, was as a means of crossing the River Severn. This was an important thing for the town as it was at the epicentre of the early Industrial Revolution and was rapidly ramping up production of cast iron for export throughout the country and across the world. The second use of the bridge, however, was to serve as an audacious advert for the load-bearing properties of Shropshire steel. Anybody who didn’t believe the early claims of the steel barons had only to come to Ironbridge and see it himself.
Until 1950 the bridge charged a toll to all who crossed (except for the former ferry operators who it put out business). Its Quaker owners chose to enforce the toll indiscriminately, including even soldiers and royalty.
Elsewhere in the vicinity of Ironbridge there are museums such as Blists Hill Victorian Town, where several years ago I bought a tube of Thomas Crapper toilet roll for 1 Old English Penny! Be warned – the museums are not free like in Blaenavon. It costs £8.25 to get into the China museum, for example, and a pass to all the museums is £24! The area is all quite tranquil now, surely in contrast to the hive of activity it would have been in its heyday.
The bridge is free, of course, and I satisfied myself by also visiting the Tar Tunnel (£3). This is a 3000 foot, 225 year old tunnel dug into the hillside by miners who struck natural bitumen. You can go about 50 metres into it, and see for yourself the tar oozing through the walls.
Off to the sides you can see pools of black tar. The tar was used at the time to weatherproof ropes and ships.