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Abraham Darby (1750-1789)

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Abraham Darby III (1750 – 1789) was an English ironmaster and Quaker.

1750 Born on 24 April 1750 at Dale House, Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, the eldest son of Abraham Darby (1711-1763) and his second wife, Abiah Darby, née Maude (1716–1794).

Educated at the school run by James Fell in Worcester.

3 May 1776 he married Rebecca Smith (1752–1834) of Doncaster. They had seven children, of whom four survived to adulthood, including Francis (1783–1850) and Richard (1788–1860), who were both involved with the Coalbrookdale Co.

Darby inherited from his father shares in the ironworks at Coalbrookdale, Ketley, and Horsehay and in associated mining partnerships.

1768 took over from his brother-in-law Richard Reynolds (1735–1816) the day-to-day management of the Coalbrookdale ironworks, and was a partner with Reynolds in various later concerns of the Coalbrookdale Company.

He inherited from his father a half share in Hay Farm on the eastern edge of Madeley, acquired the other half in 1771, and lived there from the autumn of 1780.

Darby attracted more workers with various measures. In times of food shortage, he bought up farms to grow food for his workers, built good housing for them, and offered higher wages than were available in any other local industry (such as mining or pottery). His main claim to fame, though, was building the Iron Bridge over the River Severn.

1775 Darby was appointed treasurer to the project at the first meeting of subscribers on 15 September and was responsible for its construction but not for its design. Shares were issued to raise the £3,200 required to build the bridge, and Darby agreed to fund any overspend. Although it had been predicted that 300 tons of iron would be needed (costing £7 a ton), in the end 379 tons were used, costing Darby and his company nearly £3,000. There would be many other costs to bear (masonry abutments, assembly etc), so that the project was far more expensive than first envisaged. Darby bore most of the cost over-run, and was in debt for the rest of his short life.

1776 he purchased the lordship of the manor of Coalbrookdale, and the Madeley Wood ironworks, with its associated coalmines.

1781 The bridge was completed; it was the first of its kind in the world, and made the small principality of Coalbrookdale famous. Around the bridge sprang up a new village, Ironbridge, which caused the area around it to be called Ironbridge Gorge. Many people came to Coalbrookdale to see this "wonder of the modern world."

After the completion of the Iron Bridge over the Severn, Darby appears to have suffered financial embarrassment, while Richard Reynolds, his partner, and husband of his late step-sister, waxed prosperous. There are no sources which throw significant light on the relationship. Reynolds had scarcely been involved in the Iron Bridge project until he and his son William Reynolds (1758–1803) purchased Darby's shares in 1781–2. Darby also sold to Richard Reynolds the lordship of the manor of Madeley, and parts of Hay Farm were conveyed to William Reynolds for the building of the canal terminus of Coalport.

1789 Darby died suddenly on 20 March 1789 at Hay Farm, Madeley, Shropshire, following an attack of scarlet fever

He died intestate but the Darbys kept control of the Coalbrookdale and Horsehay undertakings. Darby's sons Francis and Richard were both involved in managing the ironworks but his great-nephews, Abraham Darby (1804-1878) and Alfred Darby (1807–1852), sons of Edmund Darby (1782-1810), were responsible for the great prosperity of the Coalbrookdale concerns in the mid-nineteenth century.


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