side of the scaffold and this will allow guided
tours during the summer to see the work in
Over the years there have been numerous
repairs done to the bridge, most notably in
the early 20th Century, and all of this work is
being kept in place.
“The old repairs are now historic and
integral to the bridge,” says Mr Warburton.
“We are repairing and conserving the old
repair work in much the same way as the
original bridge structure.”
According to English Heritage, once the
repair work has been completed Taziker will
repaint the entire bridge. Detailed historic
paint analysis is being undertaken in order to
ensure the most suitable colour is chosen.
The conservation work on Iron Bridge is
due to be complete by the end of the year.
The bridge that started a revolution
Iron Bridge sits in what is today a rural area, but
in the late 18th century this part of Shropshire
was an industrial powerhouse because of its rich
In 1709, Abraham Darby I, a former brass founder
from Bristol, had begun to smelt local iron ore with
coke made from Coalbrookdale coal.
The expansion of industrial activity here in the
upper Severn gorge, however, was handicapped
without a bridge, the nearest being at Buildwas
3km away. Intense barge traffic along the river also
required a single-span bridge, as the steep sides
of the gorge ruled out rising approaches to a stone
It was the Shrewsbury architect Thomas Pritchard
who first suggested in 1773 to the ironmaster John
Wilkinson that an iron bridge be built over the
Severn. The chosen crossing point, where a ferry
had crossed from Benthall to Madeley Wood, had
the advantage of high approaches on both sides and
Pritchard drew up the designs, but he died
in 1777, a month after work had begun on the
30m-long single-span bridge. Abraham Darby
III, grandson of the first foundry owner, agreed to
continue the project, and all the necessary iron was
cast at his Coalbrookdale furnace.
The masonry and abutments were constructed
between 1777 and 1778, and the iron ribs were
then lifted into place during the summer of 1779.
The 378t of ironwork was installed using two large
wooden derricks powered by horses positioned
along the riverbanks.
The world’s first iron bridge was formally opened
on New Year’s Day 1781, having cost over £6,000.
The bridge had a far-reaching impact on the
local society and economy. It was always intended
as a monument to the achievements of Shropshire
ironmasters as well as a river crossing – it was
an advertisement that gave their ironworks a
competitive edge over their rivals.
The bridge remained in full use for over 150 years
by ever-increasing traffic. It was finally closed to
vehicles in 1934, when it was designated an Ancient
Monument. The whole area of Iron Bridge Gorge was
designated a World Heritage Site in 1986.
A public walkway,
allowing people to see
the works in progress,
is being incorporated
into the scaffold