Hi everybody, this is Misterduncan in England, how are you today? Are you OK? I hope so! Are you happy? I hope so!
For today's lesson I am in a village which is famous for being the place where a great change took place. This change affected not only England, but also the entire world. This is the birthplace of modern heavy industry. This is where a new age was born. This is Ironbridge.
A long time a go- in this sleepy rural idyll, a big change took place. One which would alter the course of our industrial development and go on to change the world for ever. That change was made by one man. His name? Abraham Darby.
Abraham Darby was born in 1678 at Woodsetton, near Sedgley which at that time was part of the county of Staffordshire. Abraham's father – John, was a farmer and locksmith. His mother's name was Ann. Abraham's early working life revolved around the brass making trade – first of all in Bristol. Later he would set up a brass foundry near to where we are now, in an area known as Coalbrookdale. This expansion would lead Abraham on to experiment with different methods of casting or moulding metal, which eventually lead to him devising a unique method of extracting one of the most useful metals for constructing large objects IRON.
Abraham Darby revolutionised the production of Iron for use in construction. It was not so much the material itself, but the way in which it was obtained. Using coke instead of charcoal allowed the iron to be collected from the crude iron ore more easily. It brought iron to the forefront of construction material. Coke is derived from certain types of coal. It can occur naturally or it can be created. Coke burns without creating ash and contains very little moisture. The production of iron requires very high temperatures and it must be done cleanly. This is the process that Abraham Darby created. The iron was produced in tall blast furnaces. These became large and more widespread. Thus making the production of iron cheaper as well as making it more abundant. This helped to create a period that we now refer to as The Industrial Revolution.
Not all changes are for the better. The Industrial Revolution may have introduced a more efficient way of making things, but it is also created its own problems. Not least of all, the pollution caused by the coal burning furnaces. In the West Midlands, iron production was rife, especially around the city of Birmingham. The large amounts of smoke produced and all the coal needed to fuel these furnaces gave the surrounding area nickname, which has stuck to this very day. The area became known as "THE BLACK COUNTRY".
Abraham Darby, the man who helped kick-start "The Industrial Revolution", died in 1717, at the very young age of 39. But by no menas does our story end here for the village I am visiting today, is named so, for one very special reason. For Ironbridge was given this name after yet another magnificent achievement by no less than another member of the Darby family.
So here it is, the world's first iron bridge. Construction began in 1779 and the bridge was officially opened on New Year's Day in 1881. The original design was by Thomas Pritchard and the iron used for the bridge was produced by Abraham Darby III – the grandson of the original Abraham Darby. The purpose of the bridge was to connect the two halves of the town, which was divided by the River Severn.
Before the Iron Bridge was constructed, the only way of crossing the River Severn was by ferry. But this proved to be a very slow way of getting from one side to the other. A quicker method was needed. Design were drawn up in 1775 and it was decided that iron from the nearby Coalbrookdale foundry would be used to construct it. A very large amount of iron would be needed to do this. In the end, over 379 tones of iron was used. The final cost of the bridge came to over 6000 Pounds, which was 3000 pounds more than the original budget. Abraham Darby agreed to pay the overspend from his own pocket. The bridge itself has a span of 30.5 metres (100 feet) and the total length is around 60 metres (200 feet). The clearance beneath the arch is 18 metres (59 feet). The way in which the bridge was constructed is very interesting. Most of the original joints are identical to those used in woodwork (Carpentry). The structure slots together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. This method was implemented because at that time rivet bolts had not come in to use.
The bridge was privately owned, so a charge was made to anyone who wanted to cross. The price depended on who or what was being taken across. The charge is called a "toll". So this was a toll bridge. Vehicles were barred from using the bridge in 1934, when it was given the status of ancient monument, which it still holds to this very day.
Overy the year the bridge has suffered from corrosion. Small weaknesses formed and cracks appeared in some of the supports. Some of these cracks hae been here since just after the bridge was erected. Metal plates were added to some of the supports and one end of the bridge was completely rebuilt. Two major renovations were carried out. Once in 1972 and again in 1999.
On a sad note, its designer Thomas Protchard never got to see his bridge built, as he died shortly after its construction began.
Ironbridge still considers ifselft to be the birthplace of The Industrial Revolution. Despite this assured claim, there are those who see this as an untruth. The reason for this is because at the same time as Abraham Darby's discovery, there were many forms of industrial revolution taking place all over the country. The birth of the railway, along with innovations within the weaving industry, as well as all the other new inventions, also played a part in the way things were being produced and transported. So it would be fair to say that the true industrial revolution took place through many different changes and innovations over a much large area, instead of just one in a single place. The change in attitude towards this area in no way diminishes the importance of Darby family's achievement or the impact that this magnificent bridge had. To this day it remains
one of the most impressive industrial monuments in Britain.
Ironbridge is a popular place for tourists, all eager to set foot on the world's first arched bridge made out of cast iron. There are plenty of museums here too, for those who want to see exactly how it all began.
I hope you have enjoyed my little trip back in time here at Ironbridge and that you will join me again for another lesson very soon. This is Misterduncan in England saying take care and stay happy, and of course ta-ta for now.