April 25th, 2008

Wanaka tree

The iron bridge at Ironbridge.

On the way home from Wales, we took a bit of a detour and went to Ironbridge in Shropshire. It's a huge tourist attraction but I was really surprised to find a small, sleepy village on a Sunday morning out of season. Coalbrookdale, the Ironbridge Gorge and Coalport are a quiet backwater now, a recognised World Heritage Site feeding the needs of a tourist industry in an old country. But in the second half of the eighteenth century this was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. The things that happened here forged the bones of a dubious empire and paved the way for the world we see around us. Industry would have happened, manufacturing would have come about and exploded over the globe but this place meant that it happened in the way that it did rather than the way that it might have. The great minds and the resources that this small area of rural England had about two hundred and fifty years ago changed the way we see the world and the world we see. 

The most tangible reminder of those times is the bridge that leaps over the River Severn. It, effectively, came in kit form, cast in iron in Coalbrookdale by Abraham Darby and assembled where it now stands in 1779. Its design is of its time, replicating woodworking methods with dovetail and mortice joints but it was the world's first iron bridge. It's only used by pedestrians now but carried all manner of traffic well into the twentieth century. It has a beauty and an appeal that has endured well beyond the use it was built for. Ironbridge is a nice place and the iron bridge is a stunner.

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