Ironbridge Gorge was the crucible of the Industrial Revolution, a process encapsulated by its famous span across the Severn – the world’s first iron bridge, engineered by Abraham Darby and opened on New Year’s Day, 1781. Darby was the third innovative industrialist of that name – the first Abraham Darby started iron-smelting here back in 1709 and the second invented the forging process that made it possible to produce massive single beams in iron. Under the guidance of such creative figures as the Darbys and Thomas Telford, the area’s factories once churned out engines, rails, wheels and other heavy-duty iron pieces in quantities unmatched anywhere else in the world. Manufacturing has now all but vanished, but the surviving monuments make the Gorge the most extensive industrial heritage site in England – and one that has been granted World Heritage Site status by UNESCO.
The Gorge contains several museums and an assortment of other industrial attractions spread along a five-mile stretch of the Severn Valley just to the south of new-town Telford. A thorough exploration takes a couple of days, but the highlights – the Iron Bridge itself, the Museum of Iron and the Jackfield Tile Museum – are easily manageable on a day-trip.