The world's first iron bridge was erected over the River Severn here in Shropshire in 1779. This pioneering single-span cast-iron structure was a turning point in British design and engineering; after it was built, cast iron came to be widely used in bridges, aqueducts and buildings.
Now Britain's best-known industrial monument, the bridge gave its name to the spectacular wooded gorge that was once an industrial powerhouse and the cradle of the Industrial Revolution. Ironbridge Gorge is now a World Heritage Site.
Read more about the history of Iron Bridge.
Plan a Great Day Out
Ironbridge is a great starting point for a visit to Ironbridge Gorge. The Iron Bridge is the perfect place to begin a tour of the gorge's many museums, and other English Heritage sites nearby, including Buildwas Abbey, Wenlock Priory and Wroxeter Roman City.
Just ten miles away from Iron Bridge there is also Boscobel House and the Royal Oak. The future King Charles II sought shelter here from Cromwell's men after being defeated at Worcester in 1651. The site provides an opportunity to get close to a significant moment in English history, as well as boasting a charming tearoom which makes it a great spot for lunch or tea.
Abraham Darby I, a former brass founder, begins to smelt local iron ore with coke made from Coalbrookdale coal.
1773Pritchard’s Wild Idea
Shrewsbury architect Thomas Pritchard proposes the construction of an iron bridge across the Severn to cut down barge traffic.
Pritchard draws up designs for a single-span bridge of 30 metres (100 feet), but dies a month after work begins.
Abraham Darby III, grandson of the first foundry owner, agrees to continue the project. All the iron is cast at his Coalbrookdale furnace.
1779-81World’s First Iron Bridge
The bridge is completed. It is opened as the world's first iron bridge on New Year's Day 1781.
1795Battling the Elements
The bridge's great weight helps it withstand severe flooding. However, the enormous stone abutments begin to cause cracks in the ironwork as the river banks shift over time.
The south abutment is modified several times and eventually replaced, first by two wooden land arches, then by cast-iron ones.
1934Closed to Traffic
After 150 years the bridge is finally closed to vehicles and designated an Ancient Monument.
A reinforced concrete strut is inserted on the riverbed to brace the two abutments and to counteract the tendency of the gorge sides to push inwards.
1999-2000Conservation and Research
English Heritage, and the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust, complete a full archaeological survey, record and analysis of the bridge. This reveals detailed information about the structure.
English Heritage cares for over 400 historic buildings, monuments and places - from world-famous prehistoric sites to grand medieval castles, from Roman forts on the edges of empire to a Cold War bunker. Through these, we bring the story of England to life for over 10 million people each year. The English Heritage Trust is a charity, no. 1140351, and a company, no. 0744722, registered in England.
- 66% Self-generated income
- 20% One off capital grant
- 14% Government funding