Ironbridge Chief Executive, Glen Lawes (left) and Dr Robert Datzer of Nordrhein-Westfalen Tourismus. © Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site.
A Europe-wide route linking sites of industrial heritage was launched on September 12 2005 at the Ironbridge Gorge Museums in Coalbrookdale, Shropshire.
The EU funded European Route of Industrial Heritage (ERIH) has been developed over four years and will link more than 50 major industrial heritage visitor attractions in the UK, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Luxembourg.
It aims to help preserve these important historical sites and create a basis for new economic and regional development.
The famous Ironbridge, completed in 1779 by Abraham Darby III. © Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site.
Ironbridge is the first in a series of ‘anchor points’ that form the initial phase of the European Route, which will expand to create regional routes highlighting the individual areas’ industrial heritage. Themed international routes will also be created around former industries like textiles, mining or steel.
David Wright, MP for Telford, who was at the launch ceremony, said that projects like ERIH “can recognise the contribution of ordinary people to industrial development” and added that “there is a positive and bright future for industrial heritage across Europe”.
Coalbrookdale was where Abraham Darby I developed the method of smelting iron using coke, which drove the industrial revolution. © Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site.
Other sites on the route include the Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam (Netherlands) and the Westphalian Industrial Museum in Dortmund, Germany. Closer to home are sites like the Big Pit Mining Museum in Blaenavon, Wales, winner of the prestigious 2005 Gulbenkian Prize for museums and galleries.
It was at Coalbrookdale where Abraham Darby first developed a new technique for smelting iron in 1709 using coke as a fuel. Previously furnaces could only use charcoal to produce iron and the use of coke allowed production of cheaper and higher quality iron, which drove the industrial revolution.
Darby’s grandson, Abraham Darby III, completed the famous Ironbridge in Coalbrookdale in 1779, the world’s first iron structure, which came to define the industrial age.