It’s handy having the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution on the doorstep. When you have an increasingly science-savvy seven-year-old asking a lot of questions. Some I can’t answer in all honesty.
Author: Greg Rees
Freddie and I headed to the Ironbridge Gorge near Telford in Shropshire, United Kingdom. It is home to 10 award-winning museum attractions. At these attractions, you can step back in time and marvel at the achievements of the first real British entrepreneurs. Plus their creations that put this previously unheralded part of the country on the world map over 300 years ago.
Each of the British History museums reflects a slice of the history of the gorge, its people, their lifestyles and their pioneering work from the early 1700s onwards. It’s easy to imagine the sights, sounds and smells of huge furnaces, steam hammers and horses hooves. They quite literally were the beating heart of the Industrial Revolution.
The Ironbridge Gorge was designated a World Heritage Site in 1986. This is because of the distinctive role it played in modernising the world. It sits amongst other unique and diverse places like the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids of Egypt. Plus closer to home Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall.
The Ironbridge & Tollhouse
We started where it all began and what is still the focal point of the Gorge, the Iron Bridge across the River Severn. Its structure was the first of its kind to be fabricated from cast iron. Built by Abraham Darby III, it stands an impressive 30 metres (100ft) tall and was completed in 1779.
It’s one of the few to have survived to the present day. The views from the top (both ways) are spectacular, especially to an awe-struck youngster. It is easy to see why it’s long been a symbol of the dawn of the industrial age. Look up from ground level and you can see the amazing craftsmanship too.
It’s currently under wraps and having lots of TLC from English Heritage as part of a £1million+ restoration project during 2018. But the adjacent and original Tollhouse charts the many secrets of how the bridge was constructed and its insightful and concise exhibition truly sets the scene for what is to follow.
Museum of the Gorge
Just downstream in a former riverside warehouse is the Museum of the Gorge. With its incredibly detailed 12 metre model of the whole river valley as it was in 1796 and a well made short film that engagingly transports you through Ironbridge’s fascinating history. You can check out the historic flood levels, marked on the windows & walls too.
Blists Hill Victorian Town
Next, we headed off to the highlight of the day for us, Blists Hill Victorian Town. This is a living history museum that authentically and painstakingly recreates life in a small, industrial town around 1900 and typical of those from the East Shropshire Coalfield.
Freddie donned his flat cap and loved it from the off as he swapped some modern decimal change for replica farthing, halfpenny, threepenny and sixpence coins and worked out what he could buy from it. We tucked into chips cooked the traditional way in beef dripping and for pudding some sweets from the 19th Century confectioners and then washed it down with a pint of bitter and half of cloudy apple juice from the New Inn Tap House Pub. Complete with roaring open fire and Victorian sing-a-long around the piano.
All of the staff wear period costume and are knowledgeable about the unusual products on display in all the different shops. Like the weird Victorian remedies in the Pharmacy. Plus you can also watch authentic tradesfolk in action like printers, bakers, candle makers, dressmakers and even foundrymen pouring molten iron.
There’s a shire horse and cart ride around the town and we also chanced upon some (seasonal) Victorian fairground rides and stalls, plus you can experience the different styles of houses from the Squatter’s and Duke’s cottages and explore original industrial monuments such as the Hay Inclined Plane and Blast Furnaces.
In a word it’s brilliant, but best allow yourself around three hours to enjoy a good wander round, as there’s so much to see, experience and take in.
Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron
With time and light running out, we quickly took in the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron. Which houses the world’s first coke blast furnace. This revolutionised the mass production of iron, but you can now actually walk inside. It also houses landmark exhibits, exquisite art castings and functional cookware all made from local iron and there’s a fun trail for kids to explore.
Right next door is Enginuity, which is the most modern of the attractions and a technology centre where kids (and big kids who haven’t grown up) can become design engineers and play with huge, interactive exhibits. Generate electricity from flowing water, build an earthquake-proof tower, see right through things with a giant x-ray machine and pull a ten-tonne locomotive by hand.
Kids can also challenge parents to a robot arm race and building the strongest bridge. While a future drop-in session at the facility’s FabLab is on the cards – to get hands-on with the latest state-of-the-art digital manufacturing technology like laser cutting and 3D printing.
The remaining 5 museums of Ironbridge
Closed because of the time of year were the Broseley Pipeworks, which is exactly as it was on the day it was abandoned by clay tobacco pipe workers back in 1957. The eerie Tar Tunnel where treacle-like bitumen still naturally oozes through gaps in the walls. Plus the historic Darby Houses which give a glimpse of Quaker style affluence around the 1850s.
We also ran out of time for the Coalport China Museum which still houses intricate china cup and teapot treasures in its quirky buildings. Plus the Jackfield Tile Museum that showcases the skills and ideas of the local artisans who produced here many of the beautiful tiles found throughout the homes, pubs, stations and shops of Victorian Britain.
But we’ll be heading back in spring for sure to finish off our trip down memory lane and a further journey into the heart of what made Britain great more than three centuries ago.
Important Information – Ironbridge Annual Pass
You can purchase an annual pass for these 10 great historical attractions. This will gain you entry all year round to the 10 attractions of Ironbridge Gorge. This can be purchased online at least one day in advance of your first visit. The pass is valid for most daytime events, but not in the evening. By purchasing online, in advance, you will save 5% off the gate price. An annual pass for an adult online is £25.15, a child (5-16) £15.65 and under 5’s are free. A family ticket of 1 adult and 1 child is £47.50 online and a family ticket of 2 adults and all of their children is £66.50. Now that’s a first to include all of your children!
Single Tickets – Ironbridge 10 attractions
You don’t have to purchase an annual pass to visit the Ironbridge Gorge attractions. You can also purchase single attraction tickets. For example, Blists hill is £17.95 for an adult online, £9 for Enginuity, £4.50 for the museum of the gorge and £3.40 for the tar tunnel. Honestly, you’d be better off buying an annual pass!
Disclaimer: Greg and his son received complimentary entry to these Ironbridge Gorge museums for the purpose of this review. All words and opinions are his own.
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