Coalbrookdale, looking towards Holy Trinity Church, 1854 (centre left), Coalbrookdale Literary and Scientific Institution, 1859 (centre right) and Abraham Darby’s first house in the township (right).
All Saints Parish Church, built in 1845, in Broseley, south of the Severn. The town was at one time was the most important industrial centre in the area.
The village of Buildwas grew up by a medieval bridge which was the only route over the Severn, except by ferry, between Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth before the construction of the Ironbridge in 1779.
The presence of the Abbey inevitably meant that a place of settlement at Buildwas developed to serve the various needs of the monastery. The building of a bridge in medieval times indicated the importance of Buildwas as a commercial centre. The bridge reduced the need to use ferries, which was beneficial on a temperamental river like the Severn, subject to catastrophic floods and periods of drought. It provided the only crossing of the River Severn between Atcham, near Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth until the construction of the Ironbridge in 1779. Thomas Telford repaired the medieval bridge in the early 1790s, but this was damaged in the Great Flood of 1795. He was employed to rebuild the structure and following the precedent of the Ironbridge, constructed a new one out of cast iron. Movement of the banks led to the replacement of this bridge in 1905, and in turn, in 1992, it was replaced. Already, by Telford’s time, the economic centre of gravity in the Gorge had shifted downstream to Broseley and Madeley.
This picturesque view of the Severn in about 1900 is only a partial picture of the river’s reality. When the Ironbridge was built in 1779, the Severn was the M6 of the Industrial Revolution, packed with trows and barges transporting goods along its route. Like a contemporary motorway, the river was subject to disruption. Regular flooding and droughts in dry weather could halt traffic on the Severn.
Buildwas Abbey was taken over by Henry VII in 1538 and fell into a picturesque ruin. The landowners who acquired Buildwas continued to exploit the mineral resources of the area.
The economic significance of Coalbrookdale and the Ironbridge Gorge goes back to the Middle Ages when monasteries managed much of the commercial and industrial activity of the area. Buildwas Abbey was one of several in Shropshire. It was founded by Roger de Clinton, Bishop of Chester in 1135 for the Savignac order. When the Savignacs were united with the Cistercians in 1147, Buildwas became a Cistercian monastery. Under its second abbot, Ranulf, between 1155 and 1187, Buildwas Abbey began to amass lands which eventually included property in Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Flintshire and Ireland as well as Shropshire. Uncultivated land was turned into farms and the buying and selling of sheep contributed to its wealth. In the 13th century the monks obtained the right to load wool onto barges at nearby Cressage; clearly Buildwas had become part of a market economy. By 1264 the Abbey had its own barges on the Severn carrying wool from its lands to Bristol from where it was exported to France and in later years to Italy.
During the Reformation, Buildwas, like other English monasteries was taken over by the state and in 1538, it was granted to Edward, Lord Powis. The secular landlords of Buildwas continued to exploit the economic resources of the area in the 16th and 17th centuries. Falling into disuse, the stone was removed for buildings elsewhere. By the 18th century Buildwas became a ruin, and a romantic subject for artists. It passed into the ownership of English Heritage in the 20th century.
The Ironbridge Gorge from Lincoln Hill showing the River Severn, the town of Ironbridge and evidence of mining, quarrying and manufacturing.