Exploring Ironbridge: the UK’s birthplace of industry

Ironbridge was the spark that lit the fire of the Industrial Revolution – now it’s an historic, bustling region in the heart of Britain. Virtual-Shropshire.co.uk, the online tourism and leisure guide to the Midlands, is your first port of call for everything Ironbridge packed with info about upcoming events, local attractions and where to stay.

At first glance, it’s hard to believe this is where the Industrial Revolution began. Set in an awe-inspiring gorge lined with leafy riverbanks, Ironbridge strikes visitors as more riverside retreat than manufacturing metropolis. The River Severn that snakes through the region played a big part in the dawning of the industrial era – and in nature’s ability to recover from its effects. Today, it’s a popular place for canoeing, fishing and even surfing.

Ironbridge - flayer with a drawing of the Iron bridge.

Iron smelting: a family affair

It was in Ironbridge way back in 1709 that Abraham Darby nailed the iron smelting process, making it possible, for the first time, to produce cast iron on a factory scale. Years later, his similarly talented son Abraham Darby II devised a forging technique that enabled the manufacture of huge single iron beams. Beams that could be used, say, to build a bridge over the river.

On New Years’ Day 1781, the world’s first iron bridge opened to much excitement. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s today an international symbol of the Industrial Revolution. The Olympic Torch even crossed it en route to London 2012. While it remains very much a focal point of the Ironbridge Gorge, the town around it hasn’t sat on its laurels in the years since, ensuring that it still deserves its status as a top tourist destination.

Allsorts of Victorian-inspired attractions

Paul, a tour guide at Virtual Shropshire, explains: “The Ironbridge Gorge is one of the region’s top attractions, with ten great museums, including the fabulous Blists Hill Victorian Town.”  With a bakery, pharmacy and an especially popular sweetshop packed with marshmallows and liquorice allsorts, this unique rebuilt town exhibition recreates Victorian life in the area. The trip back in time is accurate down to the last detail – so don’t forget to exchange your cash for shillings and pence

Turn-of-the-century industry is a unifying theme among the region’s attractions, with nearby Coalbrookdale village named for the ‘coking coal’ that allowed Darby to perfect smelting. However, Paul makes it clear that in the years since, Mother Nature has reclaimed Ironbridge from heavy manufacturing. “Although known as the ‘birthplace of industry’, the area is far from industrial. The Industrial Revolution may have started here,” he explains, “but most of the factories are long gone, and the natural beauty of the gorge has been fully restored.”

Ironbridge - distant view to the Iron bridge , river Severn and houses from one side of the bank of the river.

Wider Shropshire

Paul describes the region as “packed with amazing things to see and do. There are numerous National Trust and English Heritage properties, including the stately Attingham Park and Wroxeter Roman city.” The former, located 20 minutes’ drive from our Park Inn by Radisson Telford, is an impressive 18th century mansion with grounds enclosed by a walled garden and woodlands teeming with deer.

If you have longer to spend in the county, Paul is equally enthusiastic about nearby day trips: “Shropshire is home to the magnificent Severn Valley Railway and the amazing RAF Cosford Museum, as well as many more attractions listed on Virtual-Shropshire.co.uk“.

Ironbridge - a train traveling on a bridge at the Severn Valley railway .