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An 18th Century Voyage of Discovery


 

The Iron Bridge in Shropshire

Abraham Darby I, Abraham Darby II and Abraham Darby III

At the beginning of the 18th century there was a shortage of wood, the main material used for making the charcoal that fired the blast furnaces, so the industry suffered. Iron producers were reduced to importing pig iron from abroad to keep the industry going.

This situation changed when Abraham Darby I, operating from the Coalbrookdale ironworks in Shropshire, developed the use of coal that had been turned into coke instead of charcoal in the blast furnaces there. To enable an expansion of the iron works at Coalbrookdale, Abraham Darby I entered into a business partnership with Thomas Goldney II.

Abraham Darby’s security to Thomas Goldney - opens new window

document | transcript

Abraham Darby’s security to Thomas Goldney. Wiltshire 14 April 1713 (see also source 5).

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Some historians have called this development ‘the spark that ignited the Industrial Revolution’ as it led, in the long term, to a massive increase in the production of quality pig iron and wrought iron. Abraham Darby II continued the partnership with the Goldney family, which enabled the iron works to expand and diversify their output.

The ironworks at Coalbrookdale left a lasting imprint on Britain’s economic development. In 1775, a group of subscribers formed a company with the intention of constructing a bridge across the River Severn. They accepted a proposal from Abraham Darby III and the Coalbrookdale works to build the world’s first iron bridge in cast iron.

Detail of ironwork on the iron bridgeIn 1779, the Iron Bridge was completed and open to the public in 1781. Even today, the bridge attracts visitors from around the world as a symbol of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. It should not be forgotten that, as well as the Iron Bridge, the Coalbrookdale works were responsible for: the first experiments using coke for smelting iron instead of charcoal in 1708; making the cylinders for the first steam engine in 1722; iron wheels for railway wagons were introduced in 1729 and iron railway track in 1767. The world’s first railway locomotive was built by the company in 1802 to 1803 for Richard Trevithickwhile the huge ceremonial gates which the company produced for the Great Exhibition of 1851, can be still be seen today in Hyde Park, London.

 

 

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