There’s nothing more exciting than a day out with the family, and what if that day out was so busy, you had to extend it to another day? The complex of museums at Ironbridge gorge offers this necessity. You can’t possibly visit all the museums in one day, and thankfully, they do offer an annual ticket, so you’ve got a year to finish off the visit.
What I love about Ironbridge is that it provides the visitor with every type of museum: the open-air Blists Hill Victorian Town recreation; Jackfield Tile Museum (where you’ll find yourself standing in the galleries, saying yet again, I’d like those tiles in my bathroom); Enginuity, which is the science based, hands on variety; Coalport China Museum, and the chance to watch demonstrations of decorating; Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, the birthplace of the iron industry in England; the Tar Tunnel, dug into the gorge and oozing with bitumen, the geology of the landscape; Broseley Pipeworks, the tobacco kind; The Ironbridge and Tollhouse, the bridge is the first ever iron-cast and stretches across the river in the picturesque town; and lastly, the Darby Houses, the homes of the Quaker family who built up the industry in the gorge, a birthplace museum.
As you can see, one day isn’t enough. So how did this small town in the Shropshire countryside become a World Heritage Site? It’s taken many years and a lot dedicated people.
1959 – the Old Furnace (found in the Coalbrookdale Museum) was excavated, and the first opening ceremony for the site. Over the next ten years, various locations were identified as historical important to the history of the iron industry, and the museum trust took oversight of these in 1970.
The locations are connected but separate, and not easily accessible. Those that can be reached on foot are linked by footpaths, but you need transport to reach all of them. In 1973 Blists Hill was open to the public, and remains a popular attraction with its recreation of a historic street, shops and workshops. The Coalport China Museum opened in 1977 and won awards for its display of china in a kiln.
Restoration is an ongoing business, and in 1986, Ironbridge gorge was designated a World Heritage Site.
The real story of Ironbridge goes back much further than these modern restorers. The region is rich in iron ore, coal, limestone and clay. An industrialist’s dream location. Exploitation began in the reign of Elizabeth the First. Industries grew, demanding more and more fuel for their furnaces. Abraham Darby, a Quaker pot manufacturer, in 1709 began to use coke instead of charcoal to make iron. The idea took off and led to a huge increase in iron production in Britain, the start of the industrial revolution.
There are other museum complexes, notably in Stoke on Trent, which focuses on potteries, but of these clusters of museums, only Ironbridge offers you the variety of experience that tells you as much about museums and their purpose as it does the history of the place itself.
Which museum would you visit first at Ironbridge?