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13 November 2014

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You are in: Shropshire > History > Industrial Heritage > Abraham Darby, ironmaking pioneer

Vivares painting of Coalbrookdale showing the old furnace

Coalbrookdale by Vivares

Abraham Darby, ironmaking pioneer

When Abraham Darby I arrived in Coalbrookdale in 1708 he started a chain of events which changed the industrial world. He began a tradition of ironmaking which lasted for four generations.

Abraham Darby I was born in 1678 and initially became involved in brass making. In 1708 he came to Coalbrookdale, and repaired a furnace belonging to Sir Basil Brooke to make iron.The same year he discovered that coal could be used to smelt iron and mass production of cast iron began.

cooking pots made at Coalbrookdale

Coalbrookdale cooking pots

It was effectively the start of the industrial revolution throughout the country. Within a couple of years the foundry was turning out kettles, pots and cauldrons for the local community. The navigable River Severn allowed the wider distribution of Coalbrookdale's goods.

Abraham Darby I had faith in his own abilities:  "I am of the belief that a more effective means of iron production may be achieved, there are many that doubt me foolhardy. They see not the use to which this (iron) could be put to, yea, I shall strive to find a better means to this end."

The Darby family were devout Quakers, which is why there are no portraits of them. Abraham Darby I was living at Madeley Court while the family home at Dale House was being built but he never lived there. He died of colic when his son was just six and is buried in the Quaker graveyard in Broseley.

The company was taken on by Richard Ford, the first Abraham Darby's son in law, until Abraham Darby II became a partner in 1738. His claim to fame was the creation of forgeable iron in 1748 but he never documented the process.

His wife Abiah wrote in 1779: "My husband conceived the happy thought that it may be possible to make bar from pit coal pigs. Upon this he sent some of our pigs to be tried at the forges and a good account being given of them, he erected a blast furnace for pig iron for forges."

Abraham Darby Rose bred by David Austin

David Austin's Abraham Darby rose

It was Abraham Darby III, who was 13 when his father died in 1763, who created the most visible legacy of his family's industrial heritage.

He took over the Coalbrookdale Company in 1771 from Abraham Darby II's son-in-law Richard Reynolds.

Believing there was nothing that could not be made from iron, he supported Shrewsbury architect, Thomas Farnolls Pritchard's plans for a bridge over the gorge.

Pritchard died before the bridge could built, but Abraham Darby III went ahead and the iconic structure was finished in  1779.

His grandsons, Abraham Darby IV and Alfred joined the family firm in the 1820's. Their aim was to revive the company's fortunes which had gone into decline after the boom of the Napoleonic Wars. 

They were responsible for the Coalbrookdale Company's successful stand at the 1851 Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in 1851.

In 1881 the ironworks became a public liability company and the Darby's connection with it died in 1925 with Alfred Darby II who was chairman.

As a lasting reminder of the Darby family's contribution to Coalbrookdale and the Ironbridge Gorge the Shropshire rose breeder, David Austin created the Abraham Darby Rose

last updated: 12/02/2009 at 16:38
created: 12/02/2009

You are in: Shropshire > History > Industrial Heritage > Abraham Darby, ironmaking pioneer

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