Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,167 pages of information and 245,637 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Coalbrookdale Co

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1776 beam engine (from 1880 source)
1819 Hydraulically-powered mine pumping engine, to a design by Richard Trevithick. On display at the Peak District Mining Museum. See text.
1870. Ornate lamp on Thames Embankment in Chelsea. See 2023 photo below
2023. Thames Embankment, Chelsea
1873. Large's Patent Fire Grate.
c1875. Bench. Exhibit at Birmingham Museum.
Horse Chestnut design patented in 1868.
1881. Steam fire pump, Parker & Weston's patent
May 1896.
1903. A cast iron fountain in Queen's Park, East London, South Africa. Donated by William Martin Fleischer.
April 1903.
1903. Winding Engine.
1952. Coalbrookdale.
Cheese press. Exhibit at Ironbridge Gorge Museums.
Lamp on Barnstaple river front.

Ironfounders of Coalbrookdale, Shropshire. Telephone: Ironbridge 17 and 99. Telegraphic Address: "Darby, Coalbrookdale". (1937)

Coalbrookdale is a settlement in a side valley of the Ironbridge Gorge in the borough of Telford and Wrekin. It was one of the birthplaces of the Industrial Revolution. [1]


1708 The Coalbrookdale Furnace, which had been damaged in an explosion, was sublet to Abraham Darby, a Bristol brass and iron founder and ironmonger. Darby was interested in smelting iron for casting without the use of charcoal. He rebuilt the furnace.

1709 Darby introduced coke as a smelting fuel. Coalbrookdale has been claimed as the home of the world's first coke-fired blast furnace; this is not strictly correct, but it was the first in Europe to operate successfully for more than a few years.

1709 The Company was founded by Abraham Darby.

By c.1713 he evidently regarded the results of his trials with coke as satisfactory. His business was that of an iron founder, making cast iron pots and other goods, an activity in which he was particularly successful because of his patented foundry method, which enabled him to produce cheaper pots than his rivals.

c. 1715 A second furnace was built. Iron for foundry work was not only produced from the blast furnaces but also by remelting pig iron in air furnaces, a variety of reverberatory furnace.

1715 The Coalbrookdale Co. became principal lessee of the Coalbrookdale works.

1717 Darby died prematurely, followed quickly by his widow Mary. The company passed to a group led by his fellow Quaker Thomas Goldney of Bristol (father of Thomas Goldney who joined as a clerk and represented his father's interests) and managed by Richard Ford (also a Quaker). Abraham Darby (1711-1763) was brought into the business as an assistant manager when he was old enough.

1718 the Coalbrookdale Co. began to take an interest in the nearby forges, and restored the Old Forge to working order. The Great forge was sublet to Capt. Thomas Stanley but the company took it back in 1720.

The Lower forge, sublet to Cornelius Hallen since 1708, continued to supply the Coalbrookdale and other works until the 1730s.

Iron was now being made in large quantities for many customers. In the 1720s and 1730s, its main products were cast iron cooking pots, kettles and other domestic articles. The Company also became early suppliers of steam engine cylinders, and pf pig iron for use by other foundries.

From the 1730s to the 1790s the Coalbrookdale Co. expanded greatly with capital and financial management from two Bristol mercantile families, the Goldneys (1718-c.1770) and the Reynoldses (from c. 1780); policy and management of the works remained mostly with the Darbys.

1747 Mr. Ford succeeded at Coalbrookdale in smelting iron ore with pit-coal, after which it was refined in the usual way by means of coke and charcoal. [2]

From the 1750s the company integrated its operations, acquiring mines and blast furnaces, including the Bedlam Furnaces in Madeley Wood and mines and mineral rights belonging to Madeley manor.

In about 1754, renewed experiments took place with the application of coke pig iron to the production of malleable bar iron in charcoal finery forges. This proved to be a success and was the beginning of a great expansion in coke iron making. It led to the partners building new furnaces at Horsehay and Ketley to exploit the discovery, thereby freeing the Old furnace at Coalbrookdale for another major contribution to industrial development, the precise casting of parts which came to provide the opportunity to make steam engines.

1757 The mines in the township of Wrockwardine Wood began to supply ironstone to the Coalbrookdale partners' works at Coalbrookdale, Horsehay, and Ketley.

1758 George Perry was sent to Liverpool to open a branch of the company (later become Fawcett, Preston and Co).[3]

1768 the Company produced the first cast iron rails for railways.

1778 Abraham Darby (1750-1789) undertook the building of the world's first cast iron bridge, the iconic Iron Bridge, opened in 1780. The fame of this bridge leads many people today to associate the Industrial Revolution with the neighbouring village of Ironbridge, but in fact most of the work was done at Coalbrookdale, as there was no settlement at Ironbridge in the eighteenth century.

By 1778 the Company had cast more than 100 cylinders for steam engines and made many complete engines, including Boulton and Watt engines, under licence.

In the late 18th century, produced some structural ironwork, including for Buildwas Bridge. This was built in 1795, 2 miles up the river from the original Ironbridge. Due to advances in technology, it used only half as much cast iron despite being 30 feet (9 m) wider than the Ironbridge.

By 1790 the Coalbrookdale partners owned one of the largest iron-making concerns in the country.

1791 'An iron bridge has been made by the Colebrook-Dale Company, which is to be thrown over one of the canals in Holland.'[4]

1792 The Coalbrookdale Co - William Rathbone, Samuel Darby, Sarah Darby, William Reynolds, George Boxall and Mark Gilpin - in agreement with Richard Reynolds about land on the bank of the Severn[5].

1794 Dissolution of the partnership between (involved in) the Coalbrookdale Co[6]. The name of partnership was changed from Richard Reynolds and Co. to William Reynolds and Co.

1796 Thomas Telford began a new project, the Longdon aqueduct. It carried the Shrewsbury Canal over the River Tern and was supported by cast iron columns. Charles Bage designed and built the world's first multi-storey cast-iron-framed mill. It used only brick and iron, with no wood, to improve its fire-resistance. In the 19th century ornamental ironwork became a speciality.

1797 the Darby's and Reynolds' interests were separated.

1802 The firm's success in casting of parts led eventually to the visit of Richard Trevithick to Coalbrookdale and the manufacture of the first steam locomotive there.

The Darbys continued to trade as the Coalbrookdale Co. but in the early 19th century their Coalbrookdale works became less important than their operations elsewhere.

1816 Supplied the ironwork for Liffey Bridge in Dublin (originally called Halfpenny or Ha'penny Bridge).

1817 'Cast Iron Bridge, Strangeways. — This bridge, an elegantly-neat structure of one arch of 122 feet span, opening a desirable communication between Salford and Strangeways, over the river Irwell, is now completed, and may deservedly be considered as proof of the decided superiority of cast-iron bridges, in the essential points of economy and facility of execution, the abutments and bridge having been completed in the short period of eight months; and with a slightness of scaffolding, and limited number of workmen, truly astonishing ; as we understand that, after the completion of the abutments, not more than from six to ten workmen were employed, to fix the scaffolding and complete the iron-work. — The erection of this bridge was contracted for by the Coalbrookdale Company.'[7]

1818 the furnaces were shut down but the foundries remained in use.

1819 Made a hydraulically-powered mine pumping engine to a design by Richard Trevithick, modified by Richard Page. Originally installed in the Broadmeadow Shaft at Alport. Removed c.1836. Intalled c.1840 by Samuel Trethewy at the Water Lane (Wills Founder) lead mine at a depth of 360 ft. Recovered in 1976 by the Peak District Mines Historical Socierty, and now on display at the Peak District Mining Museum. See photo.

1820 Closure of the works was considered.

1830s Under Francis, the manufacture of art castings stimulated recovery. The Coalbrookdale Co became noted for its decorative ironwork, including the gates of London's Hyde Park.

1832 Richard Darby resigns from the partnership leaving Francis Darby, Abraham Darby and Alfred Darby [8]

1845 The company bought the property from the Lord of the Manor.

1849 the Company was awarded the Gold Medal of the Society of Arts for its castings.

1849 The Darbys relinquished management as their interest focussed on Ebbw Vale, although they still owned an interest in the company

1851 It was claimed that the Coalbrookdale foundry was the world's largest.

1851 Award at the 1851 Great Exhibition. See details at 1851 Great Exhibition: Reports of the Juries: Class V.

c.1850 The company built a school at Pool Hill which accommodated 700 of the employees' children and the Church in Coalbrookdale in which cast iron was used in abundance.

1852 Abraham Darby (1804-1878) was entitled to 88 shares (out of 720) in the ironworks and collieries of Coalbrookdale Co and sold them to Mary Darby[9].

1853 it was proposed to form a Coalbrookdale Literary and Scientific Institute and this was followed in 1856 by the School of Art.

1860 A second phase of locomotive building. [10]

1866 Reorganisation affected the furnaces at Horshays; the lower forge; the Lighthouse Brickworks; the farm and the mines at Broseley; and the foundry at Coalbrookdale. [11]

1876 Thomas Parker and Philip Weston developed their Patent Steam Pump[12].

1876 Exhibitor at the Royal Agricultural Show at Birmingham with pumps under the Smith and Weston's patent. [13]

1877 Description and illustrations of Parker and Weston's direct-acting compound steam pump, constructed by the Coalbrookdale Co [14]

1881 Private limited company. The company was registered on 12 July, to take over the business of the Coalbrookdale Co, as coal and ironmasters, ironfounders and engineers. [15]

1881 Steam fire pumps produced under Parker and Weston patent. [16]

1884 Messrs Elwell and Parker had invented a high-speed engine, made exclusively by the Coalbrookdale Co, which they had named the "Electric"; the engines had mainly been supplied to Elwell and Parker for use with their dynamos and accumulators[17]

After 1886 the company had no ironworks outside Coalbrookdale.

1886 A. E. W. Darby became chairman (1886-1925). He was the last Darby to be connected with the firm. During his time, new foundries and workshops were built at Dale End (1901) and over the Lower furnace pool (c.1903).

1891 Advert. Ironfounders and metal workers. [18]

1922 M. Cockburn and Co linked up with McDowall Steven and Co; Planet Foundry Co, and Coalbrookdale Co to form the Light Castings Group.

1926 Mr. A. E. W. Darby, fourth in line of descent from Abraham Darby (1711-1763), died in 1926.

c.1927 After Darby's death the firm was absorbed by Light Castings, of Audenshaw, a private Company with a capital of £600,000.

1927 See Aberconway for information on the company and its history.

1929 Light Castings was absorbed by Allied Ironfounders.

1930 New works were erected over the filled Upper forge pool; these replaced the Upper Works erected around and over the Old furnace during the 19th century.

1937 Listed Exhibitor - British Industries Fair. No. 4 S.B. "Hearthside" Range with Low Pressure Boiler. "Daleport" "C" Oven-over-fire Combination Grate. No. 2 "Dalecast" Side oven Combination Grate. No. 8 "Servall" Oven-over-fire Combination Grate in vitreous enamel and Berlin black finishes. (Stand Nos. B.609 and B.508) [19]

1945 Production mainly of new types of fire grate and the 'Rayburn' cooker.

1947 Much of the manufacturing of AGA Cookers was moved to the Coalbrookdale foundry.[20]

1961 Light iron founders. Makers of Rayburn cooker, "Brook" fire and "Marves" fire. 600 employees. [21]

1969 Allied Ironfounders was acquired by Glynwed

1978 the works became Glynwed's automobile and engineering division.

2001 Part of AGA Foodservice

2015 The site was sold to Middleby Corporation of USA

2017 November - Aga Rayburn ceased operations at the foundry.[22]

A Sketch of the Industrial History of the Coalbrookdale District

By Rhys Jenkins before the Newcomen Society. Extracted from The Engineer 1924/06/20.

"...At Coalbrookdale were made the first cast iron cylinders for steam engines, and at Broseley one of the very first of Watt's engines was erected. It is not proposed to deal here with the early history of iron-making in Shropshire; it will be sufficient to say that the blast-furnace made its appearance in the county about the middle of the sixteenth century, say fifty or sixty years after its first introduction into England. A the beginning of the eighteenth century there were perhaps a dozen furnaces at work in the county; they were of small capacity, making on an average from 5 to 10 tons of iron per week, and they used charcoal as fuel. One of these furnaces was in Coalbrookdale, and in 1709 it was leased by Abraham Darby, who had previously been in business in Bristol. A few years later he put up a second furnace.

For generations the Darby family was intimately connected with Coalbrookdale; from 1709 to 1791 three Abraham Darbys in succession reigned over these works, but with intervals between the,, for thet were short lived men and left sons under age... Read more here

The Discoveries of the Darbys of Coalbrookdale - article in The Engineer 1924/10/17 read before The Newcomen Society.

"One of the most curious things in the history of technical discovery is the obscurity which has surrounded the origin of the practice of smelting ironstone with mineral fuel: and, even today, there is by no means unanimity as to the time and circumstances of the discovery. In the first place, writers who ought to know better have accepted at its face value the claim of Dud Dudley to have smelted and fined iron with pit coal as early as 1620. The few facts that are known of Dud Dudley's life show him to have been of an excessively assertive and untrustworthy disposition; and, until evidence from other sources is forthcoming, we shall do well to regard the assertions made in "Mettallum Martis" with at least the same degree of skepticism as we accord to the claims of other courtly projectors of the Stuart period..." Read more here.

Restoration of the Old Blast Furnace

In the century after the Old Blast Furnace closed, it became buried. There was a proposal for the site to be cleared and the furnace dismantled, but fortunately, it was decided to excavate and preserve it. It and a small museum were opened to celebrate 250 years of the Company in 1959. This became part of a larger project, the Ironbridge Gorge Museums. Its Museum of Iron and the Ironbridge Institute form the sides of an open space, on another side of which is the Old Blast Furnace, now under a building to protect it from the weather. The fourth side is a viaduct carrying the railway that delivers coal to the Ironbridge Power Station. One of the two tracks is due to be taken over by Telford Steam Railway as part of their southern extension from Horsehay. The Museum's archaeology unit continues to investigate the earlier history of Coalbrookdale, and has recently excavated the remains of the 17th century cementation furnaces, near the site of the Upper (formerly Middle) Forge.

The Old Furnace began life as a typical blast furnace, but went over to coke in 1709. Abraham Darby used it to cast pots, kettles and other goods. His grandson Abraham Darby (1750-1789) smelted the iron here for the Iron Bridge.

The lintels of the furnace bear dated inscriptions. The uppermost reads 'Abraham Darby 1778', probably recording its enlargement for casting the Iron Bridge. It is unclear whether the date on one of the lower ones should be 1638 (as it is now painted) or 1658 (as shown on an old photo. The interior profile of the furnace is typical of its period, bulging around the middle, below which the boshes taper in again so that the charge descends into a narrower and notter hearth, where the iron was molten. When Abraham Darby (1750-1789) enlarged the furnace, he only made the boshes wider on the front and left sides, but not on the right where doing so would have entailed moving the water wheel. The mouth of the furnace is thus off-centre.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] Wikipedia
  2. Henry Cort by Samuel Smiles
  3. National Archives
  4. Derby Mercury, 24 February 1791
  5. National Archives [2]
  6. Deed - National Archives [3]
  7. Lancaster Gazette, 11 October 1817
  8. Gazette Issue 18902 published on the 10 February 1832. Page 12 of 28
  9. National Archives [4]
  10. British Steam Locomotive Builders by James W. Lowe. Published in 1975. ISBN 0-905100-816
  11. The Engineer of 8th June 1866 p425
  13. The Engineer of 21st July 1876 p40
  14. Engineering 1877/09/07
  15. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  16. 'Design and Work' journal, 26 March 1881
  17. The Engineer 1884/10/24
  18. 1891 Post Office London Trades Directory
  19. 1937 British Industries Fair Page 350
  20. AGA website [5]
  21. 1961 Dun and Bradstreet KBE
  22. bbc news
  • Stationary Steam Engines of Great Britain by George Watkins. Vol 10
  • 'Madeley: Economic history', A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11: Telford (1985), pp. 40-56. [6]
  • A Brief History of the Coalbrookdale Company [7]