Britain’s Iron Bridge is not at the top of most modern-day tourists’ agenda, but it is a significant landmark that should be appreciated and honored. It is also considered to be a symbol of the Industrial Revolution, a time of great change for Britain and the world.
The bridge spans across the deep Ironbridge Gorge and the River Severn. The gorge was formed at the end of the last ice age. Rich deposits of iron ore, fire clay and limestone, were easily mined since the deposits were near the surface. The River Severn, that rushes the gorge, was used as a means of transportation and as a trade route. Even though boating across the River Severn was possible, trade between Madeley and Coalbrookdale on one side of the river and Broseley on the other was still slow and sometimes tedious.
Building a bridge in this area was deemed necessary to help advance trade between the towns. Unfortunately, building such a bridge would be difficult. Any bridge constructed over the river would have to allow for continued boat traffic. And the steep sides of the gorge and the instability of the banks also created challenges. An architect from Shrewsbury, Thomas Farnolis Pritchard, proposed a bold plan for building a bridge made out of cast iron. This was an innovative idea in 1773 and it caused quite a stir and even caught the attention of the local newspapers and Parliament.
After receiving proper permissions and allowances from the government, construction begins in November 1777. The project was led by Abraham Darby III. The iron for the bridge was cast in local foundries, and the bridge officially opened on New Year’s Day 1781. The bridge was constructed with 378 tons of iron and includes interesting design elements such as arches, ogees and decorative rings. It spans 30m/100ft across the gorge.
The new bridge brought an influx of new visitors who marveled at the massive size and strength of the structure. The bridge also brought more efficient trade and commerce which eventually led to the development of a new town named Ironbridge. The region’s elite begins to flock to the new bridge; seeing this man-made marvel became a status symbol. Tourist related industries such as hotels and coach operators thrived and promoted the destination to a wide range of clients.
Today, this impressive bridge is considered by many historians to be the birthplace and icon of the Industrial Revolution in England. The innovative thinking and craftsmanship that made this bridge possible had a considerable influence on the fields of technology, architecture and engineering. The ingenious methods implemented in the construction of the bridge changed the way we design bridges and buildings. There were also massive advancements in how iron is cast.
Now open only to foot traffic, the Iron Bridge has been restored and repaired from damage done by weather, age and earthquakes. While visitors still flock to this landmark, it doesn’t hold the same draw as it did when it first opened.
But those who do venture to this historic place will be greeted by a lush valley and picturesque river where the heart of industry and engineering once stood. There is no entry fee for visiting and walking across the bridge. There are plenty of eateries and plenty of museums in the area. These museums allow visitors to explore the fascinating history of the area and industries related to the building of the bridge. There other beautiful and interesting places to explore in surrounding areas after your visit to the bridge concludes.
While the Iron Bridge doesn’t make it onto most modern tourists’ bucket list, it holds great historic value. The beautiful contrast of man-made architecture and natural beauty has been appreciated by artists, poets and visitors for years and still provides a fascinating and educational experience today.