Ironbridge The Albert Edward Bridge to the power station

Albert Edward Bridge upstream from the Ironbridge

The Albert Edward Bridge is a railway bridge spanning the River Severn at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire, England. Opened on 1 November 1864, its design is almost identical to Victoria Bridge which carries the Severn Valley Railway over the Severn between Arley and Bewdley in Worcestershire. Designed by John Fowler, its 200-foot span cast iron arch has four ribs, each of nine parts bolted together. The moulds for the radiused beam castings for the bridge were prepared by Thomas Parker at the Coalbrookdale Iron Company. Originally built to carry the Severn Junction Railway across the river, it now carries coal traffic as part of the line between Lightmoor Junction and Ironbridge Power Station.

The bridge’s timber and wrought iron deck was replaced by a structural steel deck in 1933. It may be one of the last large cast iron railway bridges to have been built. Due to its age and the condition of the ironwork, traffic over the bridge is restricted to a 5mph speed limit to minimise stress. Although it carries two tracks only the one on the downstream side is still in use.

The bridge is a Grade II Listed Building, one half by Shropshire Council, the other by Telford and Wrekin District Council as the boundary is mid-span.

John Fowler helped build the first underground railway in London, the Metropolitan line in the 1860s, a shallow line built by the “cut-and-cover” method. His finest achievement was the Forth railway bridge, over the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland, built in the 1880s.

Ironbridge Rowing Club was founded in 1870 to promote the sport of rowing in the Ironbridge Gorge. It was one of the first rowing clubs to be founded away from the Thames Valley as the sport of rowing developed in the 19th Century. The boathouse was completed in 1997 and officially opened by Olympic rowers Guin and Miriam Batten on 25 April 1998. It is possible to use 4.5 miles of the River Severn and except in conditions of extreme flood the river can be used all year round.

Further upstream in the picture is another road bridge to the Ironbridge Power Station.

Ironbridge a view over bridge and town

Ironbridge a view over bridge and town

30 things you didn’t know about the Iron Bridge

  1. The Severn Gorge was created 15,000 years ago when a huge lake overflowed east of the Welsh mountains.
  2. Rich in layers of iron-ore, clay and limestone and leading into the Bristol Channel the gorge was destined to be an important industrial area.
  3. Coal and limestone were exploited since the middle ages while iron was made here from the times of Henry VIII.
  4. Industry was often at the mercy of the seasons’ effect on the river, with ferries transporting goods between the banks.
  5. The bridge was conceived in 1773 by Thomas Farnolls Prichard, a Shrewsbury architect.
  6. His 1775 design proposed a single arch, avoiding piers and causing no obstacle to boats.
  7. In 1776 the Iron Bridge was authorised by an Act of Parliament which also stopped ferry crossing within 500 yards.
  8. A request for tenders issued in May 1776 ‘from stone, brick or timber,’ indicated the uncertainty still felt about iron.
  9. There being no other tenders, Darby, the major shareholder, planned to build in iron, work began in November 1777.
  10. The bridge was also a P.R. exercise advertising the versatility of cast-iron and the skills of Abraham Darby lll.
  11. Paintings and engravings were commissioned before the bridge was ready and finished.
  12. Though the bridge says it was cast at Coalbrook=Dale, the whole valley went under this name.
  13. Darby owned three furnaces: at Horsehay, 3 miles; Coalbookdale, 1 mile; Bedlam Furnaces, 500yards.
  14. The bridge weighs 378 tons which would have taken one furnace over three months. It’s probable all three furnaces were used over several months, so as not to interfere with the normal commercial work.
  15. The iron was cast in open sand moulds producing the rough texture.
  16. The first iron rib was raised on 15th and 2nd July 1779. Each half rib weighs 6 tons and are joined in the centre.
  17. The joints are based on traditional carpentry methods: dovetails, wedges, mortises and tenons.
  18. The stone abutments went up after the ribs were in place.
  19. These joints may have helped the bridge survive the geological pressures in the gorge.
  20. Before the bridge was opened, the toll house needed construction, as well as new roads and improvements to existing roads.
  21. Darby was 23 when the bridge was proposed and perhaps rashly, he agreed to pay the difference if the cost went over the estimate of £3,600. it cost £6,000 and he remained in debt for the rest of his life.
  22. The bridge opened and charging its first tolls on New Year’s Day 1781.
  23. Darby’s Quaker roots demanded all would pay, regardless if they were military or royal.
  24. The Ironbridge Gorge became part of the ‘grand tour’ for anyone who was to be taken seriously by contemporary society.
  25. In 1784 the consortium who built the bridge opened the Tontine Hotel to accommodate the numerous visitors from all over the world.
  26. In 1796 the Prince and Princess of Orange visited by boat.
  27. 3 years after opening, cracks appeared in the ironwork, but after the great flood of 1795 which swept away or badly damaged other bridges over The Severn, most doubters were convinced.
  28. Demolition was considered in 1926 over worries about its stability.
  29. In 1934 it was closed to traffic and listed as an ancient monument. Tolls for pedestrians ceased in 1950.
  30. During the 20th century the town of Ironbridge became neglected, almost to the point of dereliction.

Ironbridge and the ghostly severn trow

Ironbridge and the ghostly severn trow

The first bridge constructed of cast iron, the Iron Bridge has a very sinister ghost which floats below its span of the River Severn, dating from several hundred years before the bridge was built.

Silently, shrouded in a mist, a boat similar to a severn trow glides slowly down towards Jackfield and its plague pits where it is also seen unloading.

At the helm stands a tall figure with a hood covering his features. Upon the boat deck lie bodies.

During the plagues of the 15th-16th century, many bodies were moved this way and then buried in plague pits to prevent the spread of the disease.

Unfortunately there was no protection for those, like the boatman, who came into contact with the bodies, and many of them also died of plague.

Perhaps the ghostly boatman of Ironbridge is one of these victims.

Bubonic plague in Shropshire
It is possible that Shropshire escaped the worst of the Black Death because of its rural nature; the fact that a majority of people didn’t live in urban communities must have helped to reduce the death toll. But, the River Severn acted as an artery, bringing the infestation up river.

There are around 100 known Deserted Medieval Villages in Shropshire. The Black Death, which accounted for the deaths of up to a quarter of the population of England in 1348-9, has been blamed for the presence of so many of these settlements. However, village abandonment was more probably due to the reaction of changing economic and social conditions. Widespread changes in employment occurred in the countryside with the movement away from the labour intensive open field system of agriculture to predominantly pastoral activities. Sheep farming became more and more important with the growth of the wool industry which required far fewer people to work the land.

Encaustic tiles were being made in the medieval times, however, the Black Death in the 14th century killed many tile makers and the technology was practically lost for 500 years until manufacture recommenced in the 1840s.

Ironbridge and the ghostly severn trow brighter

Ironbridge and the ghostly severn trow brighter

The first bridge constructed of cast iron, the Iron Bridge has a very sinister ghost which floats below its span of the River Severn, dating from several hundred years before the bridge was built.

Silently, shrouded in a mist, a boat similar to a severn trow glides slowly down towards Jackfield and its plague pits where it is also seen unloading.
At the helm stands a tall figure with a hood covering his features. Upon the boat deck lie bodies.

During the plagues of the 15th-16th century many bodies were moved this way and then buried in plague pits to prevent the spread of the disease.

Unfortunately there was no protection for those, like the boatman, who came into contact with the bodies, and many of them also died of plague.

Perhaps the ghostly boatman of Ironbridge is one of these victims.

Bubonic plague in Shropshire

It is possible that Shropshire escaped the worst of the Black Death because of its rural nature; the fact that a majority of people didn’t live in urban communities must have helped to reduce the death toll. But, the River Severn acted as an artery, bringing the infestation up river.

There are around 100 known Deserted Medieval Villages in Shropshire. The Black Death, which accounted for the deaths of up to a quarter of the population of England in 1348-9, has been blamed for the presence of so many of these settlements. However, village abandonment was more probably due to the reaction of changing economic and social conditions.

Widespread changes in employment occurred in the countryside with the movement away from the labour intensive open field system of agriculture to predominantly pastoral activities. Sheep farming became more and more important with the growth of the wool industry which required far fewer people to work the land.

Encaustic tiles were being made in the medieval times, however, the Black Death in the 14th century killed many tile makers and the technology was practically lost for 500 years until manufacture recommenced in the 1840s.

Ironbridge and without the ghostly trow

Ironbridge and without the ghostly trow

30 things you didn’t know about the Iron Bridge

  1. The Severn Gorge was created 15,000 years ago when a huge lake overflowed east of the Welsh mountains.
  2. Rich in layers of iron-ore, clay and limestone and leading into the Bristol Channel the gorge was destined to be an important industrial area.
  3. Coal and limestone were exploited since the middle ages while iron was made here from the times of Henry VIII.
  4. Industry was often at the mercy of the seasons’ effect on the river, with ferries transporting goods between the banks.
  5. The bridge was conceived in 1773 by Thomas Farnolls Prichard, a Shrewsbury architect.
  6. His 1775 design proposed a single arch, avoiding piers and causing no obstacle to boats.
  7. In 1776 the Iron Bridge was authorised by an Act of Parliament which also stopped ferry crossing within 500 yards.
  8. A request for tenders issued in May 1776 ‘from stone, brick or timber,’ indicated the uncertainty still felt about iron.
  9. There being no other tenders, Darby, the major shareholder, planned to build in iron, work began in November 1777.
  10. The bridge was also a P.R. exercise advertising the versatility of cast-iron and the skills of Abraham Darby lll.
  11. Paintings and engravings were commissioned before the bridge was ready and finished.
  12. Though the bridge says it was cast at Coalbrook=Dale, the whole valley went under this name.
  13. Darby owned three furnaces: at Horsehay, 3 miles; Coalbookdale, 1 mile; Bedlam Furnaces, 500yards.
  14. The bridge weighs 378 tons which would have taken one furnace over three months. It’s probable all three furnaces were used over several months, so as not to interfere with the normal commercial work.
  15. The iron was cast in open sand moulds producing the rough texture.
  16. The first iron rib was raised on 15th and 2nd July 1779. Each half rib weighs 6 tons and are joined in the centre.
  17. The joints are based on traditional carpentry methods: dovetails, wedges, mortises and tenons.
  18. The stone abutments went up after the ribs were in place.
  19. These joints may have helped the bridge survive the geological pressures in the gorge.
  20. Before the bridge was opened, the toll house needed construction, as well as new roads and improvements to existing roads.
  21. Darby was 23 when the bridge was proposed and perhaps rashly, he agreed to pay the difference if the cost went over the estimate of £3,600. it cost £6,000 and he remained in debt for the rest of his life.
  22. The bridge opened and charging its first tolls on New Year’s Day 1781.
  23. Darby’s Quaker roots demanded all would pay, regardless if they were military or royal.
  24. The Ironbridge Gorge became part of the ‘grand tour’ for anyone who was to be taken seriously by contemporary society.
  25. In 1784 the consortium who built the bridge opened the Tontine Hotel to accommodate the numerous visitors from all over the world.
  26. In 1796 the Prince and Princess of Orange visited by boat.
  27. 3 years after opening, cracks appeared in the ironwork, but after the great flood of 1795 which swept away or badly damaged other bridges over The Severn, most doubters were convinced.
  28. Demolition was considered in 1926 over worries about its stability.
  29. In 1934 it was closed to traffic and listed as an ancient monument. Tolls for pedestrians ceased in 1950.
  30. During the 20th century the town of Ironbridge became neglected, almost to the point of dereliction.

Ironbridge and wrong soldier and the phantom lights

Ironbridge and wrong soldier and the phantom lights

The soldier is facing north in real life not south as in this picture! South is the right way!

It was moved from the square in the 50s to make way for the bus stop.

Local folklore said: In the square he was looking towards the railway station to see his pals returning He was looking towards his beloved River Severn So by turning him around to face the river and the now vanished railway station, we’ve done the right thing.

The gas lights are no longer on the bridge! They were removed when the local gas works closed down toward the end of the 19th century. Ironbridge and Coalbrookdale were supplied with gas from the Ironbridge Gas Light Co.’s works, built in 1839 near the Madeley Wood Co.’s coke hearth.

So by putting in the gas lights we’ve made the bridge look more authentic and in our opinion more authentic, more complete, more Victoriana twee.

Ironbridge in the snow with Sabina

Ironbridge in the snow with Sabina

Sabina the Goddess of the River Severn

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth at least, concerns the King of England, Locrinus, who is one of the sons of the Trojan Brutus who is supposed to have founded Britain. Locrinus leads an army to the north of England to defeat invading Huns who have already defeated his brother, Albanactus, in Scotland. With the invaders routed, Locrinus falls for one of the prisoners he has taken, a German girl called Estrildis, whom he wishes to wed.

However, Locrinus is already promised to Gwendolen, daughter of Brutus’s second-in-command, Corineus. Corineus, battle-axe in hand, forces Locrinus to honour his word and marry Gwendolen, but the king keeps Estrildis as a mistress in an underground dwelling in New Troy. Pretending that he is making sacrifices to the gods, Locrinus visits his lover for seven years, and in due course she falls pregnant and bears him a daughter by the name of Habren.

“She, guiltless damsel, flying the mad pursuit
Of her enraged stepdame Guendolen,
Commended her fair innocence to the flood
That stayed her flight with his cross-flowing course.
The water-nymphs, that in the bottom played,
Held up their pearled wrists, and took her in,
Bearing her straight to aged Nereus’ hall;
Who, piteous of her woes, reared her lank head,
And gave her to his daughters to imbathe
In nectared lavers strewed with asphodel,
And through the porch and inlet of every sense
Dropped in ambrosial oils, till she revived,
And underwent a quick immortal change,
Made Goddess of the river …”

When Corineus dies, Locrinus takes the opportunity to leave Gwendolen and marry Estrildis. Mad with rage, his former queen raises an army in Cornwall and marches against Locrinus, defeating her former husband’s forces and killing Locrinus in a battle near the River Stour (probably the Severn tributary that joins the Severn at Stourport). Gwendolen then ordered that Estrildis and Habren be put to death, whereupon they are drowned in the Severn.

In tribute to the guiltless Habren, she pronounces that the river should bear the child’s name – Habren or Hafren in Welsh, Severn in English, and Sabrina in Latin. Sabrina effectively becomes the genius loci of the river, and may even be a memory of a genuine river goddess. In the seventeenth century, Milton spoke of her in his Masque Comus:

It is possible that Sabrina’s story retains hints at more archaic themes. The subterranean abode of Estrildis does have certain affinities with Indo-European myths concerning the withdrawal of a goddess within a cave or labyrinth – myths intimately related to the land’s fecundity, and the cycle of death and rebirth. The drowning goddess theme has a considerable history, and even when found in more recent folklore “clearly has a considerable ancestry with its possible origins in genuine cult legend.”

Tacitus, in his Annals, referred to the Severn as Sabrina in the first century CE, and the name of Hafren is probably Celtic in origin but, like Afon (from which the various River Avons got their name), probably only means “river”. The English name may just be a corruption of the Latin. Geoffrey’s account is a means of creating stories to explain the names and origins of landscape features – but this is not to invalidate the stories as real myths, for it seems likely that he inherited much of his stuff from earlier sources. We will never know whether Geoffrey invented the tale of Sabrina, or whether it existed previously, and quite how it was influenced by Classical sources – but it probably doesn’t matter. No matter where she came from, Sabrina now has a life of her own.

Ironbridge Museum of the Gorge

Ironbridge Museum of the Gorge

Museum of the Gorge

The Severn Warehouse, constructed at Loadcroft Wharf by the Coalbrookdale Company in 1834 was designed by Samuel Cookson circa 1840 in a picturesque gothic style, mid-Victorian jollity in red and yellow brick with two embattled towers; and was linked by horse-drawn plateway to the furnaces up the valley in Coalbrookdale. Iron products were stored here prior to shipment on Severn Trows down the river to Worcester, Gloucester and Bristol and onto the markets of the world. The remains of the tramways and passing loops are visible in the picture, leading from the wharf to the warehouse.

It later became a mineral water bottling plant and then a garage. The building was purchased by the Museum Trust in 1977

for £500 and opened that year as the Severn Warehouse, a visitor centre for the Museums in the Gorge. It has been re-displayed twice since then and now serves as an introduction to the Gorge and its conservation.

Ironbridge was a port of consequence, barges, the Severn Trows, took heavy cargoes of iron and coal, in the 1830s there were at any one time up to 150 vessels on the river between Coalport and Ironbridge, the trade was damaged with the coming of the canals and was finally killed off when the Severn Valley Railway opened in 1862. Across the river, and upstream from the museum, on the south side is the 10 arched viaduct of the Severn Valley Railway built in 1862 and closed in 1963.

The junction of Coalbrookdale and Ironbridge is Dale End which used to have many humble workers’ dwellings, across the road from the museum is the black and white Yee Tree Cottage which was in a row called Pan Shop Bank. While the car park next to the museum was once a row of houses called Nailer’s row, particularly prone to flooding being so close to the river, many times residents had to be rescued from their upstairs windows by boat.

 

Along the road up from the museum to the Iron Bridge is the wharfage and an old plateway which used to have many warehouses, some of which are now converted to pubs, there are intact steps leading from the wharfage down to the loading area, opposite the 1 Furlong milepost.

In the 18th and 19th Centuries there were several industries by the water’s edge: boat building, lime burning in the five kilns of Bower Yard (on the south side of the river) and brick making at the White Brickworks on the south eastern side, near the bridge. By the mid-19th Century the hills were almost bare, the trees having been taken for charcoal and construction and simply cleared in the course of mining. Most of the dense woods have naturally regenerated since then.

Ironbridge north west

Ironbridge north west

30 things you didn’t know about the Iron Bridge

  1. The Severn Gorge was created 15,000 years ago when a huge lake overflowed east of the Welsh mountains.
  2. Rich in layers of iron-ore, clay and limestone and leading into the Bristol Channel the gorge was destined to be an important industrial area.
    Ironbridge north west
    I was in Ludlow about 8 months ago and purchased a print of Iron Bridge from you.
    It has taken some time to get home, get the print framed and finally send you this email, but I remember you asking if I could send you a photo of the print once it was hung.
    Anyway it is now proudly hung in my office (which has many bridge photos) in Wollongong, NSW, Australia, above my other favourite print, that of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It has had much acclaim by many visitors.
    Regards
    Mark Dobbins
  3. Coal and limestone were exploited since the middle ages while iron was made here from the times of Henry VIII.
  4. Industry was often at the mercy of the seasons’ effect on the river, with ferries transporting goods between the banks.
  5. The bridge was conceived in 1773 by Thomas Farnolls Prichard, a Shrewsbury architect.
  6. His 1775 design proposed a single arch, avoiding piers and causing no obstacle to boats.
  7. In 1776 the Iron Bridge was authorised by an Act of Parliament which also stopped ferry crossing within 500 yards.
  8. A request for tenders issued in May 1776 ‘from stone, brick or timber,’ indicated the uncertainty still felt about iron.
  9. There being no other tenders, Darby, the major shareholder, planned to build in iron, work began in November 1777.
  10. The bridge was also a P.R. exercise advertising the versatility of cast-iron and the skills of Abraham Darby lll.
  11. Paintings and engravings were commissioned before the bridge was ready and finished.
  12. Though the bridge says it was cast at Coalbrook=Dale, the whole valley went under this name.
  13. Darby owned three furnaces: at Horsehay, 3 miles; Coalbookdale, 1 mile; Bedlam Furnaces, 500yards.
  14. The bridge weighs 378 tons which would have taken one furnace over three months. It’s probable all three furnaces were used over several months, so as not to interfere with the normal commercial work.
  15. The iron was cast in open sand moulds producing the rough texture.
  16. The first iron rib was raised on 15th and 2nd July 1779. Each half rib weighs 6 tons and are joined in the centre.
  17. The joints are based on traditional carpentry methods: dovetails, wedges, mortises and tenons.
  18. The stone abutments went up after the ribs were in place.
  19. These joints may have helped the bridge survive the geological pressures in the gorge.
  20. Before the bridge was opened, the toll house needed construction, as well as new roads and improvements to existing roads.
  21. Darby was 23 when the bridge was proposed and perhaps rashly, he agreed to pay the difference if the cost went over the estimate of £3,600. it cost £6,000 and he remained in debt for the rest of his life.
  22. The bridge opened and charging its first tolls on New Year’s Day 1781.
  23. Darby’s Quaker roots demanded all would pay, regardless if they were military or royal.
  24. The Ironbridge Gorge became part of the ‘grand tour’ for anyone who was to be taken seriously by contemporary society.
  25. In 1784 the consortium who built the bridge opened the Tontine Hotel to accommodate the numerous visitors from all over the world.
  26. In 1796 the Prince and Princess of Orange visited by boat.
  27. 3 years after opening, cracks appeared in the ironwork, but after the great flood of 1795 which swept away or badly damaged other bridges over The Severn, most doubters were convinced.
  28. Demolition was considered in 1926 over worries about its stability.
  29. In 1934 it was closed to traffic and listed as an ancient monument. Tolls for pedestrians ceased in 1950.
  30. During the 20th century the town of Ironbridge became neglected, almost to the point of dereliction.

Ironbridge north west – alt colours

Ironbridge north west - alt colours

30 things you didn’t know about the Iron Bridge

  1. The Severn Gorge was created 15,000 years ago when a huge lake overflowed east of the Welsh mountains.
  2. Rich in layers of iron-ore, clay and limestone and leading into the Bristol Channel the gorge was destined to be an important industrial area.
  3. Coal and limestone were exploited since the middle ages while iron was made here from the times of Henry VIII.
  4. Industry was often at the mercy of the seasons’ effect on the river, with ferries transporting goods between the banks.
  5. The bridge was conceived in 1773 by Thomas Farnolls Prichard, a Shrewsbury architect.
  6. His 1775 design proposed a single arch, avoiding piers and causing no obstacle to boats.
  7. In 1776 the Iron Bridge was authorised by an Act of Parliament which also stopped ferry crossing within 500 yards.
  8. A request for tenders issued in May 1776 ‘from stone, brick or timber,’ indicated the uncertainty still felt about iron.
  9. There being no other tenders, Darby, the major shareholder, planned to build in iron, work began in November 1777.
  10. The bridge was also a P.R. exercise advertising the versatility of cast-iron and the skills of Abraham Darby lll.
  11. Paintings and engravings were commissioned before the bridge was ready and finished.
  12. Though the bridge says it was cast at Coalbrook=Dale, the whole valley went under this name.
  13. Darby owned three furnaces: at Horsehay, 3 miles; Coalbookdale, 1 mile; Bedlam Furnaces, 500yards.
  14. The bridge weighs 378 tons which would have taken one furnace over three months. It’s probable all three furnaces were used over several months, so as not to interfere with the normal commercial work.
  15. The iron was cast in open sand moulds producing the rough texture.
  16. The first iron rib was raised on 15th and 2nd July 1779. Each half rib weighs 6 tons and are joined in the centre.
  17. The joints are based on traditional carpentry methods: dovetails, wedges, mortises and tenons.
  18. The stone abutments went up after the ribs were in place.
  19. These joints may have helped the bridge survive the geological pressures in the gorge.
  20. Before the bridge was opened, the toll house needed construction, as well as new roads and improvements to existing roads.
  21. Darby was 23 when the bridge was proposed and perhaps rashly, he agreed to pay the difference if the cost went over the estimate of £3,600. it cost £6,000 and he remained in debt for the rest of his life.
  22. The bridge opened and charging its first tolls on New Year’s Day 1781.
  23. Darby’s Quaker roots demanded all would pay, regardless if they were military or royal.
  24. The Ironbridge Gorge became part of the ‘grand tour’ for anyone who was to be taken seriously by contemporary society.
  25. In 1784 the consortium who built the bridge opened the Tontine Hotel to accommodate the numerous visitors from all over the world.
  26. In 1796 the Prince and Princess of Orange visited by boat.
  27. 3 years after opening, cracks appeared in the ironwork, but after the great flood of 1795 which swept away or badly damaged other bridges over The Severn, most doubters were convinced.
  28. Demolition was considered in 1926 over worries about its stability.
  29. In 1934 it was closed to traffic and listed as an ancient monument. Tolls for pedestrians ceased in 1950.
  30. During the 20th century the town of Ironbridge became neglected, almost to the point of dereliction.