HistoricBridges.org covers many types of historic bridges, but metal bridges have always been at the forefront of the coverage. The Iron Bridge, so named because it was the very first iron bridge, is where the history of metal bridges begins. The Iron Bridge is one of the most important historic bridges in the world and on HistoricBridges.org. It is the first example of a bridge built using what became (and remains) one of the two primary materials from which bridges are built (iron/steel and concrete).
Since iron bridges had not been built before, techniques used to build timber bridges guided the design of the Iron Bridge. Once this timber-inspired design was proven successful, engineers went on to refine the design of future iron bridges to better make use of the unique properties of iron which were not possible with timber. Because of the timber-inspired design, and because this was truly an experimental prototype bridge, the Iron Bridge visually looks vastly different from other surviving cast iron arch bridges in the United Kingdom. Visitors to the Iron Bridge should consider also visiting the nearby Coalport Bridge, which is also one of the oldest iron bridges in the UK, as as well as the nearby Albert Edward Bridge. These two bridges offer a good comparison. The Coalport Bridge, like the Iron Bridge, was still built in an experimental period and it has an appearance that is reminiscent of the Iron Bridge, yet it has a much more lightweight appearance to it, suggesting engineers were becoming more confident using iron as a bridge building material. However, perhaps they were too overconfident. The bridge was built in 1799 with three arch ribs, but by 1818 two arch ribs had to be added to strengthen the bridge after cracking was discovered. In contrast, the Albert Edward Bridge, built in 1864, represents the typical appearance and design of a cast iron bridge after the period of experimentation was over, and the use of cast iron was well established. Note that the Albert Bridge has a more shallow arch, and the castings are much larger, and simpler in design.
In 2018, the Iron Bridge was visited by HistoricBridges.org, however this was during a massive restoration of this historic bridge. Thus, no photos of the iron superstructure from 2018 are available since the structure was enclosed in containment for painting. It is hard to be angry about this, since the preservation work being undertaken is of paramount importance to ensure that this historic bridge remains in good condition for centuries to come. To make up for the lack of photos in 2018, HistoricBridges.org is proud to offer a detail-focused collection of photos kindly provided by Bob Dover. These photos, taken in 2014, detail the design of the bridge prior to the 2018 preservation work. Visitors to the Iron Bridge today (with restoration complete) may find Bob's photos of interest as a point of comparison to see how the preservation work addressed the structural problems that existed on the bridge. Some of the problems, many of which dated to the earliest years of the bridge, included large cracks in the iron. While these cracks may look alarming, this bridge was substantially overbuilt, which is why it was able to stand even with these apparent problems.
In addition to the large, single main cast iron arch span, there are 2 small cast iron arch spans. These spans are much simpler in design compared to the main span. There is also a single stone arch approach span.
The Iron Bridge, and the surrounding area, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Official Heritage Listing Information and Findings
Listed At: Grade I
List Entry Number: 1038659 (Listed Building and
1015325 (Scheduled Monument)
Reasons for Designation
Official Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Property Listing Information From UNESCO
Text CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0
Date of Inscription: 1986. Criteria:
(i)(ii)(iv)(vi). Property : 547.9 ha. Ref: 371
Outstanding Universal Value
This bridge is tagged with the following special condition(s): Cast Iron
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