While I love the ballrooms of London or the estates found in the countryside, I also have a fondness for unusual architecture. I started my debut novel, Madeline’s Protector near one of the greatest engineering feats for England, Shropshire’s Ironbridge. The bridge was built in 1779 and was one of the first bridges made of cast iron.
Ironbridge has come to symbolize the start of the Industrial Revolution in England. It is over 100 feet wide and spans the River Severn. During the Regency, the area was heavily mined and filled with iron working operations such as foundries.
Abraham Darby I mastered the use of sand moulds to pour and set cast iron into strong shapes, which could be used for buildings. His great grandson, Abraham Darby, III continued working with iron and perfected this technique.
At twenty-nine years of age, Darby III took the design of the bridge from architect Thomas Farnolls Pritchard and started construction. It took three months to build the bridge. Constructed from over 1736 casting made in a foundry 500 yards away, the bridge weighs over 378 tons.
The Mystery of the Build
No firsthand accounts existed such as diaries or work notes, so it was a mystery, how the bridge was actually constructed. Most assumed the bridge was started on one side, and then built piece by piece to the other side. In 1997, a sketch was discovered showing the bridge under construction, the only drawing of its kind. The sketch showed the bridge being raised from a barge floating in the river and the casts being winched into place.
Also, by examining the bridge in detail, they discovered each part was cast to order. They put pieces in place. Measured the gap to the next piece and then adjusted the moulds / casts to fit the sections.
While it was being built, the Ironbridge area was filled with foundries. The smoke of the smelting of the iron made the area dark, like a smoke-spewing setting. Today it’s one of the prettiest and is heavily toured with lots of greenery surrounding the bridge.
One Final Tidbit.
No pictures of the Darbys exist like the other iron-masters of the day because they were Quakers and thought, that such renderings would be vane.
Sources: BBC.co.uk, Ironbridge Gorge Museum, and VisitIronBridge.co.uk
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