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Engraving, 1758
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Coalbrookdale: where cast iron was manufactured from the early 18th century by the Darby family, coming from Bristol. In 1709, they found a way of making cast iron with coke instead of charcoal; the resulting metal was much stronger. The bellows were activated by waterwheels, and later by a steam engine when the water ran low.

The foundries and chimneys may be seen, together with the natural site near the river.The area is now a museum of industry.

The area aroused the interest of those concerned with contemporary economic novelties; the image is reproduced on one of the plates for the dinner set made by Wedgwood for Catherine the Great of Russia (1773-74).

The Darby works made cylinders for the early version of the steam engine (Newcomen model) from the 1720s, and later for the Boulton and Watt factory. The engraving shows a waggon carrying such a cylinder. Also in Shropshire, the ironmaster John Wilkinson perfected the technique and constructed a lathe for boring cylinders (1775), used for the cylinders of the Watt and Boulton steam engines, making the age of steam-powered industry possible.

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The iron bridge

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The iron bridge
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In 1779, the first entirely metallic bridge was erected on the Severn by Abraham Darby (grandson of the inventor of coke-based iron mentioned above), near Coalbrookdale, to make the transport of his goods easier, and to demonstrate the possible structural uses of his cast iron. The pieces were held together by wedges imitated from carpentry.

This marks the significant change in the iron industry - in Britain as a whole, the production rose from 25000 to 250000 tons between 1700 and 1800.


The industrial revolution interpreted in digital media

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The iron bridge
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The furnaces:

  • You may see an animation of it on the BBC website.
  • On the ’early birthplaces’ web site, you may see an animation where you can practise casting metal from a furnace.


The iron bridge: