In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Ironbridge Gorge was the scene of dramatic industrial activity which today's resident or visitor finds difficult to envisage.
Coal had been extracted from the hillsides of Benthall, Brosely and Madeley for some time before Abraham Darby I settled in Coalbrookdale in 1708. However, it was the rapid growth of the iron industry which transformed this part of East Shropshire. The old-established town of Madeley expanded to meet the needs of a growing workforce, whilst Dawley developed as an important centre for mining and iron making. The town of Ironbridge sprang up as a direct result of the building of the Iron Bridge, and another settlement was created at Coalport. On the south side of the river, Jackfield thrived as a busy inland port.
From the mid-nineteenth century, problems with transport and the availability of better raw materials elsewhere led to the migration of the iron making industry to other parts of the country. Thus by the time photography came on the scene the area, although still dependent on heavy industry, was in decline. This trend continued into the twentieth century and was only reversed with the arrival of Telford New Town on the 1960s.
This selection of photographs will appeal equally to those who recall the scattered and fiercely independent communities of the industrial era, and to the many recent arrivals who only know Telford as it is today. There is a companion volume, North Telford.