Once the birthplace of the Industrial Age, now a pleasant suburb of Telford and Wolverhampton, Coalbrookdale has much to delight the visitor, although it is probably better if you are interested in industrial archaeology.
The Museum of Iron, the Darby Houses and Enginuity (a hands-on museum for the kids) are all in the village, along with the Aga-Rayburn factory that still continues the tradition of iron-working.
The Museum of Iron
This was my second visit to the site of the blast furnace where the first Abraham Darby smelted iron using coke instead of charcoal, thus greatly reducing the cost of iron and enabling it to be used for all sorts of new purposes, including the railways that sparked the Industrial Revolution.
The first time was way back in 1976 when the furnace was still open to the elements and was tucked away at the back of the Aga-Rayburn factory car park. Since then, the site has been enclosed in an immense triangular shed and the car park grassed over.
The building is probably inevitable and quite nicely done, the grass sward however, for me, puts the whole thing in the wrong context. Itʼs more like a municipal park (complete with fountain) than the former site of intense industrial activity.
Inside the building there are gangways that allow you to climb up and peer down into the furnace, and the tuyere openings are much as I remember them. Round the corner, however at the site of the tap hole where the first coke smelted iron was drawn off, something disasterous has happened.
The opening has been covered in "brick-effect" hardboard, and a crude illuminated representation of pig-iron being created installed on the ground in front. This is unbelievably crass, and I can only hope that there was no other feasible solution to whatever the problem was.
Check the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trustʼs website for opening times etc.
From the Museum of Iron there is a stiff walk up the hill, past the Darby Houses (well worth a visit) and the delightfully named Tea Kettle Row, to the Quaker Cemetery. The graves were originally unmarked, although carefully recorded. A later set of headstones now line the walls, and it is fascinating to see all the familiar names.
Up on the other side of the valley is the Anglican Church built by Abraham Darby IV who converted away from the Quakers probably for political reasons. The church is kept locked, but if you are lucky, as we were, a lady will appear from one of the neighbouring houses with a key and show you round.