Buildwas Bridge and the Severn Earthquake of 1773

Image: Buildwas Bridge, Shropshire. This view shows the old bridge which was replaced by an iron bridge designed by Thomas Telford and built by the Coalbrook Dale Company in 1796.


“This structure, supposed to have been of very ancient erection…is thought to have been formed chiefly for the convenience of the abbey. From the narrowness of its arches it greatly obstructed the navigation of the river; and, although the accident of its destruction, by a high flood, in the year 1795, subjected the county to the expense of a new bridge, the consequent advantage has been great. The present edifice, completed by the Coalbrook Dale Company, in 1796, is of cast iron, admirably executed, from a design by the county surveyor, Mr Telford, of Shrewsbury.

The river, soon after it leaves Buildwas, passes by a place called The Birches, supposed to have derived its name from some large birch-trees which formerly grew there. This spot is memorable in the history of Shropshire for a concussion of the earth, which, in the month of May, 1773, pushed the Severn somewhat out of its course; so that what was formerly its right bank is now its left…. It was an earthquake…which forced the Severn from its accustomed channel, and converted a scene of rural beauty into a tract of terrific devastation. The effects of this extraordinary convulsion of nature are thus strikingly described, in a sermon which, on the succeeding day, was preached on the spot, by the Rev. Mr Fletcher of Madeley:-

“But leaving the newly formed mounts, through heaps of ruins, go to the ancient bank of the Severn. You come to it and she is gone! You are in the middle of her old bed…you stand in the deepest part of the channel and yet you are in a wood! Large oaks spread their branches where bargemen unfurled their sails: – you walk to-day on solid ground where fishes yesterday swam in twenty feet of water. A rock that formed the bottom of the river, has mounted up as a cork and gained a dry place on the bank, while a travelling grove has planted itself itself in the waters, and a fugitive river has invaded dry land.” 

Harral, vol.1, p 209-223.

Image creators: Image from Thomas Harral, Picturesque Views of the Severn, 1824.
Image courtesy of: Shropshire Records and Research

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1532-0A Journey down the Severn from Thomas Harral’s Picturesque Views of the River (1824) 562-0Introduction: the Severn Waterway 517-0Poetry and Visions of the River Severn 514-0The Severn and its Origins in Wales 516-0Newtown to Montgomery 518-0Powis Castle to Welshpool 519-0Welshpool to Shrewsbury 520-0Shrewsbury 521-0The English Bridge, Shrewsbury 522-0The Welsh Bridge, Shrewsbury 524-0Atcham Bridge, Shropshire 525-0The Wrekin 526-0Buildwas Bridge and the Severn Earthquake of 1773 529-0Coalbrookdale and the Ironbridge 530-0Madeley, Broseley and Lilleshall 535-0Bridgnorth 536-0Bridgnorth’s Economy 537-0Bridgnorth Castle 538-0Quatford and the nearby Landscape 539-0Bewdley 540-0The Wyre Forest 542-0Stourport 543-0Stourport Bridge 545-0Worcester 546-0Worcester to Upton-on-Severn 547-0Tewkesbury 550-0Gloucester 551-0Gloucester’s Economy and the Severn Trade