Turn-of-the-century industry is a theme among the attractions of Ironbridge Gorge and Coalbrookdale.
We started our day at the Museum of the Gorge, which was opposite our hotel The Malthouse mentioned in an earlier blog. We began our journey here because after doing our sums we realised that to buy the annual ticket at £21.50 would mean that even if we didn´t manage to see all of the museums we would make a good saving.
The Museum of the Gorge wasn’t anything special. The main exhibit was a model of the bridge and surrounding area and a video about the gorge and its status as a World Heritage site. It didn´t take long to look around but as it was all part of the deal we didn’t mind that it wasn’t great.
Before visiting the main museums, we explored the surrounding area. This included the Bedlam Furnaces, one of the earliest to use coke instead of coal to smelt iron.
Next, the beautifully restored Darby Houses, where you can experience what life was like for the Darby family. Up the steps past the last house, ‘The Chestnuts’ takes you to the Quaker Burial Grounds. The climb is a bit steep. Abraham Darby, his son Abraham Darby II, his wife, and Abraham Darby III (builder of the Iron Bridge) are all buried here. The last Darby to be buried in the grounds was Rebecca in 1908 and the last burial to take place was in 1982.
If you enjoy walking there are a couple of trails you can follow, both the Arboretum and the Rope Walk will take you past meadows and woods full of wildlife and wildflowers that have been left to grow, untouched by any kind of sprays.
Back downhill, we passed under the impressive viaduct into the museum grounds. The Museum of Iron with its magnificently restored and decorated clock tower made of iron was our first stop. It is a former warehouse, which contains a variety of iron history exhibits, including a collection of fine art castings.
They also have a ‘Kevin’, theirs is covered in paint but I think mine which I picked up many years ago is far nicer, you may have noticed him from time to time sitting in the corner of pictures on my Tenerife weather blog
In an adjacent building is Enginuity. Before entering, I wasn’t particularly excited about this one, but once inside it was wonderful. The centre aims to inspire and capture the imagination of everyone by teaching how things are made and how they work. We spent a lot of time here – like a couple of kids we played with the interactive gadgets trying to outdo each other with moving balls, damming water and operating robots.
Our day at Ironbridge Gorge continued with a stop at the Jackfield Tile Museum brochures promised that we could “see, touch, and even walk upon magnificent British tiles!” How could we possibly resist the promise of such a multi-sensory experience? As you can see from the images the museum delivered on its claims.
We began with a room dedicated to the history of tile making before it got really interesting. There were 1920s era tiled offices, a magnificent bathroom and loo which I’m certain is just for viewing, and not for use! There was a recreation of Covent Garden station, some Shakespearian scenes and tiles from a children’s hospital featuring fairy tales, there is also a pub and 1930s parlour. The final portion had samples of tiles, and contained information on the various techniques used to make them. I have always liked tiles, and have a selection on my garden walls so I found this museum particularly interesting.
Our final stop should have been the Coalport China Museum, which looks similar on the exterior to the Tile Museum, as they both have kilns, but it was the end of the day, and we had a long drive ahead of us. If we make it back to the area within 12 months, we can revisit our favourites and see the ones we missed as our pass will still be valid.
Although known as the ‘birthplace of industry’ over the years nature has reclaimed Ironbridge from heavy manufacturing, and the natural beauty of the gorge has been restored. The area is far from industrial, it is breathtakingly beautiful and well worth a couple of days visit if you are in the UK.