Project iron bridge: saving an industrial icon
Stretching across the River Severn, the world's first iron bridge is one of the greatest symbols of the Industrial Revolution. But the Iron Bridge is now suffering from cracking and in need of repair.
To save the bridge for generations to come, English Heritage is embarking on its largest conservation project to date. #ProjectIronBridge
How we're saving an industrial icon
Each generation has done their bit to look after the Iron Bridge and now it's our turn.
We are now undertaking a major conservation project on the Iron Bridge. The bridge is suffering due to stresses in its ironwork, and the project is vital to preserving it for the future. It's going to take £3.6 million to carry out this work and will be the largest conservation project in our history.
Watch our video to learn more about the campaign and find out what we're doing to save this important monument.
Conservation in action
As part of our project to save this historic structure, we've installed a temporary walkway beside the Iron Bridge. This gives visitors a special chance to learn more about the works and witness the conservation in action.
Walk alongside the bridge and read displays about the expert techniques being used. Windows and portholes give a unique perspective of the works taking place, with staff and volunteers on hand to give more information.
The walkway is open daily from 29 March until the end of August, 10am - 4pm. Entry is free, though donations are greatly appreciated.
Discover more ways you can be part of the project.Get involved
Public help raise more than £47,000
English Heritage embarked on its first crowd-funder campaign and raised £47,545 from more than 900 donors. This well exceeded our initial target of £25,000. Thank you to all our generous donors who have helped save the Iron Bridge.
But we still need support to safeguard this symbol of a turning point in human history - and similar projects of the future. You can play a role in passing on the heritage that's shaped our lives today to share with people in the future.
We're working to safeguard the future of the Iron Bridge. Be a part of our biggest conservation project to date.
- Visit our temporary walkway beside the bridge - open from 29 March until the end of August.
- Make a donation to English Heritage. As a charity, we rely on your generous support to look after the historic sites in our care.
- Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to find out more about the work we are doing. #ProjectIronBridge
- Join the team! Sign up as an Iron Bridge volunteer, supporting visitors to understand the vital conservation project.
Abraham Darby, a former brass founder, discovered that coal from Coalbrookdale could be used to smelt iron. This enabled the economically viable mass production of cast iron. Kickstarting the Industrial Revolution, the foundry was producing large quantities of cast iron goods within a couple of years.
1773Pritchard’s Wild Idea
Shrewsbury architect Thomas Pritchard had a bold idea. Capitalising on engineering expertise and new iron-casting techniques, he proposed the world's first iron bridge, to be cast and built by Abraham Darby's grandson, Abraham Darby III. A strong and durable bridge, it would support the transportation of goods across the River Severn and cut down barge traffic.
Pritchard's designs for a single-span bridge of 30 metres (100 feet) were approved by Act of Parliament. Construction began in the same year but sadly, Pritchard died a month after work began.
1777-9The project continues
Abraham Darby III agrees to continue the project. All the iron is cast at his Coalbrookdale furnace.
1779-81New Year's Day opening
The bridge opened to traffic on the 1st January 1781. It soon became a must-see for tourists and sightseers from England and further afield. It attracted writers, poets and painters, who marvelled at its scale and ingenuity.
1795Battling the Elements
The bridge's great weight helped it to 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 was modified several times and eventually replaced, first by two wooden land arches and then by cast iron ones.
1934Closed to Traffic
After 150 years, the bridge was finally closed to vehicles and designated an Ancient Monument.
A reinforced concrete strut is inserted on the river bank to brace the two abutments and to counteract the tendency of the gorge sides to push inwards.
1997A Revealing Sketch
A small watercolour sketch by an artist called Elias Martin came to light in Stockholm, finally shedding light on the mystery of how the huge structure had been built.
1999-2000Conservation and Research
A full archaeological survey, record and analysis of the bridge was made by English Heritage and the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust, providing a detailed understanding of how the structure had fared.
2017Saving an Industrial Icon
English Heritage announces its biggest conservation project to date - the repairing, conserving and repainting of the Iron Bridge in 2017 and 2018.