Ironbridge, seen from the Iron Bridge
Ironbridge shown within Shropshire
|OS grid reference|
|Civil parish||The Gorge|
|Unitary authority||Telford and Wrekin|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||West Midlands|
Ironbridge is a village on the River Severn, at the heart of the Ironbridge Gorge, in Shropshire, England. It lies in the civil parish of The Gorge, in the borough of Telford and Wrekin. Ironbridge developed beside, and takes its name from, the famous Iron Bridge, a 30-metre (100 ft) cast iron bridge that was built across the river in 1779.
The area around Ironbridge is described by those promoting it as a tourist destination as the "Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution". This description is based on the idea that Abraham Darby perfected the technique of smelting iron with coke, in Coalbrookdale, allowing much cheaper production of iron. However, the industrial revolution did not "begin" in one place, but in many.
Darby's iron smelting was but one small part of this generalised revolution and was soon superseded by the great iron-smelting areas. However, the bridge – being the first of its kind fabricated from cast iron, and one of the few which have survived to the present day – remains an important symbol representative of the dawn of the industrial age.
The grandson of the first Abraham Darby, Abraham Darby III, built the famous bridge – originally designed by Thomas Farnolls Pritchard – to link the two areas. Construction began in 1779 and the bridge opened on New Year's Day 1781. Soon afterwards the ancient Madeley market was relocated to the new purpose-built square and Georgian Butter Cross and the former dispersed settlement of Madeley Wood gained a planned urban focus as Ironbridge, the commercial and administrative centre of the Coalbrookdale coalfield.
The Iron Bridge proprietors also built the Tontine Hotel to accommodate visitors to the new bridge and the industrial sites of the Severn Gorge. On the hillside above the river are situated the stone-built 16th-century hunting lodge at Lincoln Hill, many 17th- and 18th-century workers' cottages, some imposing Georgian houses built by ironmasters and mine and canal barge owners, and many early Victorian villas built from the various coloured bricks and tiles of the locality.
St Luke's Church (1837) in simple Commissioners' Gothic by Samuel Smith of Madeley, has stained glass by David Evans of Shrewsbury. The living was endowed as a rectory when the parish was created from Madeley in 1847 and is now a united benefice with Coalbrookdale and Little Wenlock, in the Diocese of Hereford.
The former Iron Bridge and Broseley railway station, on the Severn Valley line (GWR) from Hartlebury to Shrewsbury, was situated on the south side of the Iron Bridge until 1966. The village was the birthplace of England National Football Team captain Billy Wright.
By the 19th century, Ironbridge had had many well-known visitors, including Benjamin Disraeli, but by the mid-20th century the settlements and industries of the gorge were in decline. In 1986, though, Ironbridge became part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site (which covers the wider Ironbridge Gorge area) and has become a major tourist attraction within Shropshire. Most industries in Ironbridge are now tourist-related; however, the Merrythought teddy bear company (established in 1930) is still manufacturing in Ironbridge and has a small museum there too. Amongst other things, the village is still host to a Post Office, pharmacy, various pubs, cafés and many successful small shops.
An annual Coracle Regatta is held in August on the River Severn at Ironbridge, along with many other events throughout the year. This is mainly because the coracle-making family of Rogers lived in Ironbridge for several generations. Just outside Ironbridge in Coalbrookdale is the Ironbridge Institute, a partnership between the University of Birmingham and the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust offering postgraduate and professional development in heritage.
Ironbridge has an annually recurring problem of flooding from the River Severn, as do many other parts of Shropshire. Flooding has previously caused much damage and disruption to the Wharfage, which accommodates both The Swan and White Hart pubs, and various private homes. Starting in February 2004, DEFRA in association with the Environment Agency implemented a portable barrier which is erected at times of floods. At its peak, the flood water has reached a depth of one metre against the barrier.
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