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Iron Bridge

The centrepiece of the Ironbridge Gorge area - a UNESCO World Heritage Site is, of course, the Iron Bridge itself - around which everything else has grown up.

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Construction of the bridge took two years - starting in 1777 and being completed in 1779.

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The bridge is the first in the world to be made from cast iron - before this bridges were constructed from wood or stone.

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Vital Statistics

    Span: 100ft (30 metres).

    Iron Content:  378 Tonnes

    Estimated Cost:  £6,000 

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Visiting The Iron Bridge

Today, you can follow in the footsteps of tourists who have visited the area since 1779 to see the world’s first cast-iron bridge and to walk across the gorge which is now named after it.

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Although the historic Tollhouse closes at 4 pm, you can access the bridge itself at any time and take photos of this world-famous icon.  So if you’re having a hard time fitting in visits to the 10 Ironbridge Museums, the Iron Bridge itself is an attraction you can visit “out of hours” and still enjoy.

There are several car parks in Ironbridge town, including a large pay-and-display at the Museum of the Gorge which is within walking distance of the bridge.

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The history of bridge begins with one Abraham Darby, who came to Coalbrookdale to find a material that was cheaper than brass for making cooking pots.

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He developed a new method of smelting iron, using coke instead of charcoal, which made the mass production of iron goods including cooking pots viable for the first time.

Thanks largely to this new process, industry in the area expanded, and there was a need for a strong bridge across the River Severn.  In 1773, architect Thomas Pritchard proposed a bridge he had designed, which used cast iron as a bridge building material for the first time.

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Pritchard’s plans were approved by parliament in 1777, and construction began the same year.

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The work was given to Abraham Darby III - local ironmaster, and grandson of the original Abraham Darby whose innovative smelting process had made the Iron Bridge possible.

Sadly, Thomas Pritchard died before his Iron Bridge was completed in 1779.

Abraham Darby received a budget of £3,250 to build the bridge, but costs over-ran, and the final cost is thought to be around £6,000. 

Darby made up the shortfall himself.

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In 1788 Abraham Darby III was presented with a gold medal by the Society of Arts in  recognition of his achievement building the first Iron Bridge. 

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He died the following year aged only 39.

The bridge was so successful that the town which grew up around it become known as Ironbridge.

Even the whole valley was named after it - the Ironbridge Gorge.

The bridge remained fully operational and open to traffic for 150 years, until it was finally closed to traffic in 1934. You can still cross the bridge on foot. 

Repairs and Conservation

The bridge has undergone repair work several times over the years, with cracks being repaired in the 1780s, changes to the embankment arches in the 1800s and 1820s and a reinforced concrete arch over the river bed in the 1970s.  The bridge was cleaned and painted in the 1980s.

A detailed 3D computer model was constructed in 1999, allowing a half-size model to be constructed, and providing a detailed understanding of the bridge’s design.

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Cracks in the parapet railings were repaired with epoxy plates in 2001, as cast iron is very difficult to weld.

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In 2017, English Heritage started their largest ever conservation project, to preserve this iconic structure for future generations.  This will repair areas of the structure damaged by ground movement, and even a 19th Century earthquake, at an estimated cost of £1.2m.

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Car: in Ironbridge, adjacent to A4169. Parking nearby - charges apply.

Train: Telford Central Station -  5 miles.

Iron Bridge Postcode for SatNav: TF8 7AL


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