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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree April 2018 > MAILBOX

MAILBOX

How should three centuries of industry be best remembered? Should recent records remain private? And is it okay to salvage a grave? Your letters this issue are thought-provoking indeed…

YOUR LETTERS

We love reading your letters, and try to publish as many as possible. Find out how to get in touch with us on page 3

Up the Dale history is made, not bought

On 23 November 2017, the remaining iron men who worked at the Coalbrookdale Works in Shropshire clocked off for the last time and hung up their boots on the foundry gates. Personally I think this photo speaks volumes, it encapsulates both the sadness and anger of the moment, as 300-plus years of iron making came to an end in Coalbrookdale.

The foundry was, and is, like no other. It was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and where the iron bridge was formed. The thumbnail sketch that follows does not do its heritage justice, for it stretches back to the 17th century when the iron works were leased by a Shadrach Fox and Lawrence Wellington. The Coalbrookdale blast furnace they used blew up in the early 18th century and remained derelict until Abraham Darby I took over the site in 1709.

The Abraham Darby dynasty is one of engineering genius. The 1st Darby smelted iron ore in the blast furnace by using coke instead of charcoal, which was cheaper and enabled the mass production of iron manufacturing. By 1779 Abraham Darby III had built the world’s first iron bridge, which showcases the extraordinary talents of the iron workers of the Dale. In 1802 the foundry built the world’s first steam engine railway locomotive for engineer Richard Trevithick and Abraham Darby IV showcased the company’s products at the Great Exhibition in 1851. The Hyde Park gates were cast in the Dale and the foundry made wings for Lancaster bombers in the Second World War, and so it goes on…The Works became the AGA foundry in 1946, followed by Glynwed and then Aga Foodservice. The site was bought by US Company Middleby Corporation in 2015 reportedly for £129 million; by November 2017 they had closed it leaving an empty derelict space.

The words ‘up the Dale history is made not bought’ are those of the last remaining iron workers. The local paper commented that in years to come historians would be tracking down the men to capture their experiences. The men are in fact recording their own, as oral histories are now being gathered, memories collected and a book is to be written. It is not going to be a linear history of the works like the rough sketch I have already made; former employees involved in the project are looking at the men and women who worked the Dale and what they did.

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