The United Kingdom is known for being the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. However my original plans to visit Liverpool and Manchester were quickly changed before I booked my trip. Just so happens at the Grand Trunk Pub in downtown Detroit. There was an Englishman. We made conversation because the hipster girl next to me that tried to put a fork in my pocket was going to get none. (Seriously who does that!) Anyways, I was explaining that I love industrial history and the itinerary that I had planned. He suggested that I should check out Ironbridge because that was the true birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Although out of the way, the area was filled with great museums (right up my alley) and quintessential English countryside.
One month later, I took a bus from London to Telford. After landing in Ironbridge, it did not seem that the start of the Industrial Revolution started here. It would take some museum going to figure how it happened here. That would be for the next day, I needed to find my accomodation; a Bed and Breakfast. I was not planning to spend the money but all the hostels were booked for school groups. However, I did get a good price at the Shakespeare Inn and it’s something you should try while in the UK. A typical B&B in the Ironbridge area usually is a few rooms above a pub. It was a great nights sleep, there was no worry that you will loose some sleep being above a pub. For me the bed was comfortable, friendly service and the food was excellent. Of course, a full English breakfast could be ordered. It consists of eggs, sausage, mushrooms. tomatoes, ham, baked beans and toast. Black pudding can be served but it seems like many people don’t enjoy it anyways. It was the perfect start to a day. I needed a lot of energy to get a few museums done in one day.
The first museum I went to was the Coalbrookdale Iron Museum. In it told the story of Aberaham Darby. Darby was a Quaker and an industrialist that worked in brass and beer. At both jobs, coke was used in the furnaces. Making iron has been around since the Roman times was not able to be done on a large scale. In the 17th Century, charcoal was being used to smelt iron but this was cauing mass deforestation. The other alternative was coal but this would add sulfur to the iron. This would make the iron brittle and weak. Abraham Darby went to Coalbrookdale to test his idea. The area was rich in iron, coke and limestone. It was huge success in many areas. His first patent in 1707 was an iron pot that used half the iron. Half the iron means half the price, it sold great. Also using coke allowed to cast iron at a larger scale. This innovation allowed for larger buildings and structures to be made with iron. For the neighboring town of Ironbridge (about 1/2 km away) they built the world’s first iron bridge.
Business was booming in the area until the Napoleonic wars. You see, the Darby’s and many industrialists of the day were Quakers. Quakers, being pacifists, were ethically opposed to making weapons for the wars. That along with the iron industry booming in larger cities England, production in the area began to decline. Like everything, you need to adapt and change for the new situation. Luckily the Great Exhibition of 1851 was right around the corner. The Darby’s then decided it was not going to make large chunks of iron. Rather, they were going to make ornamental cast iron. The molding process was detailled but was possible as a smaller scale. The new products were a success at the Great Exhibition. Business picked back up again at Coalbrookdale. In the 20th Century, they switched to applicances.
After visiting the Iron Museum and the Darby house, I headed over to Blist’s Hill Victorian Town. After learning about the area, I was able to see how locals would have lived during the Victorian Era. Not the fancy homes of the rich and famous, actual working class people. This seems to be forgotten when remembering Victorian times. Blist’s Hill was quite a big complex with all the workers dressed to the times and were able to ask many questions. My favorite person to talk to was the blacksmith and see how things were made. From a general store to inside of a doctors house you could get a glimpse of how life was in many different facets. Overall, this was place I would love to see again especailly in the busier times. During my time there, I learned plenty of fun facts:
- Fish and Chips were invented because if you deep fry the fish, it disguised that the fish were already going bad.
- A letter to the USA costs the same as in the 19th Century.
- Houses for the poor had basements to provide a place to store meats and other foods that shouldn’t stay in the heat. Also the kitchens always faced north.
- Squatters rights allowed someone to keep the house they built if it was lived in for 60 years.
- Toll house workers got paid well and got perks like a nicer home and free coal and oil. This made them more honest.
- It took 20 people to make one page of newspaper.
- Sheep’s fat was used for making candles.
- Today, you can still be a blacksmith and it takes three years of school/appenticeship to complete
- On Sunday’s it was illegal to work (even in the coal mines.
- From the Darby House: Quakers could not sign contracts, therefore they could not be doctors or go to university. That is why many Quakers were successful industrialists.
After all that learning, it was necessary to have a pint. Luckily, right outside Blist’s Hill was a pub that many people suggested. At the All Nations Inn, I ordered one pint and immediately started a conversation with the locals. One of my favorite things about English pubs is how friendly people are and the banter between friends. It was great. The pub felt like an extended living room and you can really get the feel of the area. By far, I was one the youngest patrons of the bar on a Thursday night. However, I enjoy that better. Ironbridge was great time. Granted you can say that there are museums like that in your neighborhood but nothing can match the endless smiles and great hospitalilty I recieved while visiting Ironbridge. Hope to visit again but I got a few other places to explore!
Logisitics of Visiting:
In the Ironbridge area there are ten musuems. Some that take 20 minutes to go through and others you could spend the whole day. If you ever go, buy the pass to all the museums. This allows you to get into each place during the entire year. Things are spread out so unless you want to figure out the bus or walk, it is best to rent a car. As a warning Americans: Europeans do NOT make automatic cars. So unless you want to pay extra for automatic, learn stick shift. I did not learn stick shift before I left. This means I will be walking/using public transport and saving more money. (Yes, I did not learn stick shift, don’t hate on me too much.)
Here are few more pictures:
This is the blacksmith making bottle openers!
Where they used to make iron bars.
Ironbridge with top notch views all around.
Recreation of posters from the Victorian Era.
Outside of the Coal Museum
The view from my room at the Shakespeare Inn. The roads were a little smaller so you can’t always notice that they drive the opposite way.