New Museum of Iron opens as Ironbridge Gorge celebrates 50th anniversary

Following a six-month redevelopment, the new Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron has opened to the public. The new museum will reveal how the events that happened in this part of Shropshire changed the world forever. Situated in the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, Shropshire, the Museum of Iron forms the centrepiece of the celebrations marking 50 years of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust conserving the heritage of this unique site that is internationally recognised as the birthplace of the industrial revolution.  

Iron is the fourth most common constituent of the earth’s crust. It is in our blood and part of a healthy diet. Iron is in our vocabulary and there is a word for iron in virtually every known language, according to the museum.

The museum takes visitors on a journey through time to explore how Coalbrookdale became the centre of the 4,000-year old story of iron. It explores how developments in the iron industry were shaped by the geology of the area, as well as the entrepreneurial people that used the geology of the Gorge to their advantage and changed the industrial world forever.

Eleven of the twelve geological time periods are represented in Shropshire and were central to the industry that developed there. Its rich coal seams had low sulphur content, meaning that it could be turned into good quality coke for fuelling furnaces and other raw materials, such as iron ore and lime stone were plentiful and easily accessible.

As well as being shaped by its geology, the museum also tells the story of the people whose ingenuity catapulted Coalbrookdale into the start of the industrial revolution. The Darby family in particular, were instrumental in taking the area from a small hamlet in 1708, to a flourishing industrial centre by 1758. In 1709 The Old Furnace in Coalbrookdale was where Abraham Darby I first perfected the process of smelting iron with coke rather than charcoal on an industrial scale, thus starting the industrial revolution.

Through innovation in technology, an understanding of his market and a willingness to take risks, Abraham Darby I created a successful business which was founded on creating useful and desirable products from iron such as humble cooking pots.

The business he created, The Coalbrookdale Company, was a pioneer in the 18th century at the cutting edge of technology. Using coke for smelting iron enabled it to be used for the construction of steam engines, machinery, bridges and buildings, and for the ships and railways which transported raw materials, finished goods and people throughout Britain and across the world.

In the 19th century the company went on to become the premier foundry of domestic and decorative castings and published vast catalogues of designs and the Great Exhibition of 1851 enabled the Coalbrookdale Company to showcase its decorative castings.

“Buildings, wars, transport and trade are all shaped by the innovations of 1709 and the world that iron built,” says Gillian Crumpton, curator of the exhibition. “This new museum tells that story, setting the amazing industrial innovations that began here, in their historical context.”

“The Iron Bridge may be Coalbrookdale’s most recognised and inspirational structure, but the story of how the activities that took place here went on to change the world is a compelling one and we hope our visitors will enjoy it as part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, and for many years to come.”

The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust plans to mark its 50th year by staging a number of anniversary events throughout 2017. These range from a series of lectures, an exhibition ‘Art of the Community’ produced by members of the local community and featuring art work inspired by their favourite parts of the museum and a road-run of more than 30 steam engines that will form a parade around the museums in May.