History of Ironbridge

History of the Iron Bridge - English Heritage

The world’s first Iron Bridge emerged during a time of immense change in Britain – it was the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. New technologies were being developed and the country’s rural landscape was changing as an industrial nation began to take shape.

One such development took place in 1709, in the Shropshire village of Coalbrookdale. Abraham Darby (1678–1717) – the first in what would become a distinguished dynasty of iron masters – had pioneered an innovative method of iron smelting.

Using coke made from local coal to fuel furnaces rather than charcoal, Darby’s discovery made the mass production of cast iron economically viable.

With this breakthrough in production, the iron trade in Britain accelerated and local industry began to flourish.

The bridge remained in full use for over 150 years, by ever-increasing traffic. But in 1934 it was finally closed to vehicles and was designated an Ancient Monument.

Since then, massive works to strengthen the bridge have been undertaken. In 1973, for example, a reinforced concrete strut was built across the bed of the river to brace the two abutments.

In 1999–2000 English Heritage, together with the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust, carried out a full archaeological survey, record and analysis of the bridge. The three-dimensional digital record now enables detailed understanding and management of the structure.

In 2018, English Heritage completed a major conservation project to repair the Iron Bridge. It had been suffering due to stresses in the ironwork dating from the original construction, ground movement over the centuries and an earthquake at the end of the 19th century. The bridge now stands as testament to this large-scale work, for future generations to enjoy.