2003 letter from Ironbridge: In the morning, we set out for Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire. Took us most of the day to get there. We didnít have a campground picked out for that city, and for a change, we decided to try our luck at finding one that wasnít listed in our book. Sometimes you really do get lucky! We found a very nice and very convenient campground, and registered for two nights. Next morning, we set off to visit at least some of the ten museums that make up the complex.

We didnít get lost, but that was really luck. Here is this enormously important tourist site Ė a UNESCO world heritage site Ė and the signs directing you to various museums are terrible. But we managed to find the Bliss Victorian Village. We were a little bit hesitant about this one, because weíve been to so many recreations before, but we were very glad that we decided to go in. Iíve never been in one with so many interpreters before, but more than that, this one had very interesting and many actual relics of the industrial age on display.

For example? How about the steam driven winding engine that pulls the men and coal out of the mines. It really worked. And Samson and David, the huge engines that supplied the air to the blast furnaces, the remains of which were there. All kinds of industrial enterprises, including the remains of the first blast furnace that utilized coke instead of charcoal, dating from 1709. This one is under a roof to preserve it so the attached picture is of a somewhat later mode. We didnít even realize when we came, but it soon became clear that the Industrial Revolution really started right here on this spot. It was the development in 1709 of a way of utilizing coke to make iron that made the process of making iron efficient enough to power the mass production of iron machines that powered the industrial revolution.

Before a man named Darby who invented the process, iron making was extremely inefficient. It used charcoal to reduce the amount of impurities in iron. Charcoal is made by smoldering wood, which quickly depleted forests thereby driving up price of wood. Darby developed the making of coke out of coal which along with water and lime was plentiful in this area. And coke turned out to be as good as charcoal in the process of smelting ore into iron. After a while, others heard about Darbyís process and came to the area to learne all about how he did it. And that was the beginning. The foundries that Darby founded were run as the family business for a number of generations. These developed other processes, such as the means of casting iron pots, many of which were used by New Bedford whalers among others, and the casting of cylinders for steam engines which were adapted for a host of heavy lifting tasks.

The place gets its name from the iron bridge that spans the Severn, the first iron bridge ever made. The bridge was designed and built by Abraham Darby III, the third generation of the family. This bridge is still standing and I was able to take a picture of at least part of it. The rest is our history. All this, as we said, began right here, in Ironbridge.

Intrepid Traveler
Back to Ironbridge

Weíve always just assumed that the iron was available for James Watt to invent the steam engine, but of course, it wasnít. After viewing all the exhibits, all we can say is that there is not a person in the so-called "civilized world" who is not personally indebted to Abraham Darby, because there would be no modern world without his iron-making process and blast furnaces. He changed the world.

In the day and a half that we were there, we visited the Museum of Iron, the Museum of the Gorge and finally, the Coalport China Museum. We almost missed this one, and then it occurred to us that weíve seen antique china made by this company in museums, and we were interested in seeing something about the process of making bone china. And we learned a lot Ė although it was very hard for Adelle to see all the displays of china for sale without buying any! Even the modern and for sale collection was beautiful and the old ones were exquisite. The workers who made them probably didnít think so, because the conditions were deplorable, but thatís an old story.

After the China Museum, we left the area to drive down to Bristol. We didnít stop at Gloucester, or Worcester, or Tewkesbury. The thing is that there is something to see in nearly every town of any size. We canít stay that long!