On the north bank of the Severn, Coalbrookdale, in the parish of Madeley, emerged as an industrial centre. It was rich in natural resources: mining had taken place for coal and iron since medieval times. By the 17th century, the Coalbrookdale Coalfield was second only to the north east in terms of quantities produced. Coal was used for domestic heating and in the brick and tile industries. At the same time, the area had become a major source for iron smelting, using charcoal, not coal as a fuel. Coalbrookdale’s significance was enhanced by the arrival of the Quaker industrialist, Abraham Darby I. In 1708 he moved from Bristol, leased a charcoal furnace and began to experiment with coke as a fuel. Coke was coal which had been partially burnt to remove impurities like sulphur. In 1709, he succeeded in smelting iron with coke. Coalbrookdale’s location was ideal. Wood was available to turn into charcoal. There were considerable resources of iron ore and coal. Limestone was also mined locally to be used as a flux to remove impurities in the smelting process. Given the hilly nature of the area, fast-flowing streams could be exploited as a source of energy for bellows and the settlement was close to the River Severn to transport its products elsewhere. The photograph shows the plate way or railway which was used to move iron and coal to the river bank. Coalbrookdale had emerged as a mining and iron-working settlement long before the building of the Ironbridge in 1779.
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