The Iron Bridge

Posted February 14th 2017

The Iron Bridge was constructed in 1777, and first opened for use in 1781. It is located in Shropshire, over the River Severn and is still intact today. The first arch bridge to be made of cast iron, the Iron Bridge spans 100 feet and 6 inches and was a revelation to for trading when it was first constructed. It even gives name to the village that lies at the foot of it – Ironbridge.

Bridges had previously been most commonly made with stone or wood, and whilst there had been iron bridge designs and even several attempts to build one, the Iron Bridge was the first cast iron bridge to be erected. Shropshire itself was at the centre of the iron industry and the River Severn used as a key trading route. The Severn Gorge, however, presented an obstacle that became increasingly restraining to trade.

In 1773, an architect named Thomas Farnolis Pritchard approached his friend John Wilkinson, an ironmaster, with the revolutionary idea of building a bridge over the river, made of cast iron. This would link the parishes of Benthall and Madley and create a route that traversed the river, making it easier and quicker to transport goods. By 1776, the pair had not only raised money for their project, but received a Royal Assent     to construct their bridge, although there was some initial uneasiness about the use of iron, rather than more familiar materials.

Once the specifics of the bridge had been agreed, construction was able to begin in 1777. This was a complex procedure as there are over 1700 individual components that make up the bridge, with five large cast iron ribs giving the support. 378 tons of iron were used and the end cost of £6000, became almost double what had first been estimated. Nevertheless, the structure opened on New Years Day of 1781, creating a landmark moment in British history. Unfortunately, only one month after construction had begun, Thomas Farnolis Pritchard passed away and was never able to see his finished idea in real life.

An icon of Britain’s industrial past, the Iron Bridge was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site 1986. Although it still stands, it was closed to vehicles in 1934. This year, there is £1.25m conservation project due to be carried out that will repair some of the damage and strain caused to the ironwork over the year, and ensure the bridge remains standing.

Iron Bridge