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. Find out what we are doing to protect Britain’s best-known industrial monument.
Our plans for the bridge
In 2017-18, we are 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 ensure that this important monument is preserved for the future.
Thanks to the support of our members and visitors, work is now underway to repair the bridge. Scaffolding is being erected around the bridge so our team can start works. They will conserve many of the original cast iron elements, resurface the deck, repair the stonework, clean and repaint the entire structure. The work is the culmination of years of research, giving us a better understanding of the Iron Bridge than ever before.Make a donation
The Iron Bridge from above
The Iron Bridge sits at the heart of the Ironbridge Gorge, a leafy valley holding Britain's longest river. Looking at the peaceful landscape today, it's hard to imagine the industrial powerhouse that once thrived here.
Watch our video for a unique view of the Iron Bridge, or discover more about this iconic structure.
We're working to safeguard the future of the Iron Bridge. Be a part of our biggest conservation project to date.
- Make a donation towards the Iron Bridge using our simple and secure form below. 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! From January 2018 you can sign up as an Iron Bridge volunteer, supporting visitors to understand the vital conservation work.
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.