Campaign to conserve the ‘Symbol of the Industrial Revolution’

Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust is hoping to raise £2m to preserve the area UNESCO describes as the ‘Symbol of the Industrial Revolution.’

The Coalbrookdale Company once ran the largest ironworks in the world, employing over 3000 men and boys. Here, company workers are pictured on pay day - image courtesy of Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.
The Coalbrookdale Company once ran the largest ironworks in the world, employing over 3,000 men and boys. Here, company workers are pictured on pay day – image courtesy of Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.

With all the current talk of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – characterised by artificial intelligence, big data, analytics and advanced automation, it’s easy to forget that Britain was the birthplace of the first.

In the Shropshire village of Coalbrookdale in 1709, Abraham Darby smelted iron in a blast furnace using coke rather than charcoal. Little did he realise that his innovation would help to spark the transition of British society from an agrarian to a machine economy.

Darby’s invention was a major catalyst in what become known as the Industrial Revolution – alongside the invention of machine tools, the mechanisation of textile making, and the development of steam power.

Today, two Coalbrookdale sites have been given World Heritage status – Darby’s original blast furnace and the Iron Bridge (the world’s first ever cast-iron bridge).

That puts the area on a par with the Pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China and Macchu Picchu.

Karen Davies, director of development at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust explained to The Manufacturer the area’s important contribution to world history: “Coalbrookdale is essentially where the Industrial Revolution started. It’s the place where life as we know it today was born.

“Therefore, it’s vital that this iconic site is conserved so that the youngsters of tomorrow actually understand the historic significance of this really small rural town in Shropshire.”

Preserving a priceless industrial landmark

The Old Furnace is where Abraham Darby smelted iron using coke instead of charcoal. His more efficient methods enabled him to produce cheaper pots than his rivals - image courtesy of Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.
The Old Furnace is where Abraham Darby smelted iron using coke instead of charcoal. His more efficient methods enabled him to produce cheaper pots than his rivals – image courtesy of Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.

The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust is now looking to raise £2m for an endowment to conserve the Coalbrookdale area site.

Through the endowment fund the Trust will be able to implement a long-term maintenance programme to ensure the iconic site provides a backdrop for its education programmes which the trust says will ‘bring the unique Ironbridge Gorge story to life for people of all ages’.

The campaign has already won a £1m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund; but this needs to be matched pound for pound to enable the Trust to access the funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. To raise the money, the trust is running a ‘Fund for the Future 1,000 Builders campaign’ which aims to get 1,000 manufacturers to raise £1,000 split over the next three years.

Davies noted: “We want industry to be the builders of the future. We want them to help us write a page in history by making sure that we can maintain and preserve this iconic site.”

Industrial support

FBC Manby Bowdler, a Wolverhampton-based solicitor, has joined the project as a Founder Builder and signed up as a ‘Gold Patron’.

The company’s Neil Lloyd told The Manufacturer that the Ironbridge area’s significance to the Black Country inspired him to support the fund.

“Our links with the SME manufacturing sector through the legal advice we give them and the support we provide to the sector through associations mean that we’re well placed to help raise the profile of the Fund for the Future and hopefully find the 1,000 supporters they need willing to donate £1,000 over the next three years.”

Enginuity is an interactive design and technology centre in Coalbrookdale that offers workshops and interactive shows for school groups - image courtesy of Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.
Enginuity is an interactive design and technology centre in Coalbrookdale that offers workshops and interactive shows for school groups – image courtesy of Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.

Lloyd said that conserving Ironbridge would help inspire future generations to take up design and engineering: “Thanks to the subsequent generations of the Darby family, today’s engineers have been able to perform miracles in the world of manufacturing and if they could take one thing from the past it would be to continue, to quote Darby, “To strive to find a better means.”

Coined at the birth of the First Industrial Revolution almost 250 years ago, that ethos should help British manufacturers take advantage of today’s Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Davies summed up the power of the site to inspire future engineers: “I brought my five-year-old grandson to the Old Furnace and Enginuity recently and that night, he told me, “I’m going to be an engineer.” I replied, “What do you mean? Do you know what engineers do?” To which he said, “They build bridges, they build things. I want to build things”.”

“For such a young child to have retained that information from his visit demonstrates that what we have here can inspire children, teenagers, university students, graduates to better appreciate the importance of engineering and consider forging their own career in industry.”

If you would like to become one of the 1,000 Builders email fundraising.manager@ironbridge.org.uk.

Or to make a one off donation to the Fund for the Future, visit: https://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/iron bridge-gorge museum/fundforthefuture


Reporting by Harry Wise