Bridget’s Favourite Panels – Coalbrookdale
2019 is a special year for both our museum and Bridget Guest, General Manager. Bridget celebrates her own 25th year, alongside that of the Quaker Tapestry Museum. A designer and embroidery tutor Bridget knows the panels and their stories well and will be sharing her 25 favourite panels with us, as her own unique celebration of the 25th anniversary of Quaker Tapestry Museum.
“This is a stunning image, the vibrant colours of the flames from the blast furnaces bring the panel to life. The panel highlights the skeletal framework of the first ever cast-iron bridge. Individual parts of the bridge were cast in the Coalbrookdale foundry of Abraham Darby III, the last in the line of a dynasty of Quaker iron-smelters. Hannah Darby in 1753 wrote “the stupendous bellows, whose alternate roars, like the foaming billows, is awful to hear; the mighty cylinders, the wheels that carry on so many different branches of the work, is curious to observe”
The iron bridge was built in 1781. It still stands today on the World Heritage site near Telford. That area is known for museums dedicated to our industrial heritage. It was erected using massive nuts and bolts, like a gigantic Meccano set. The bridge spans the tidal River Severn, at the town now known as Ironbridge.
In the panel you can see the grey outline of the Hay Inclined Plane at Blists Hill. Using a counterbalance system, this railroad raised and lowered small barges between the River Severn at the bottom and the higher level Shropshire canal.
At the top of the panel are some large cooking cauldrons which were produced on the site during the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-48. The Coalbrookdale Company donated hundreds of these large cast-iron pots to Quakers in Ireland to distribute where they were used in soup kitchens during the famine. Pots that have survived today are affectionately known today as Quaker Famine pots.
The history of Ironbridge and Coalbrookdale is fascinating to read, linking so many enterprising names and projects, not all Quaker. Names such as Macadam, Telford, Stephenson and the Shropshire canal system. It has been said that the Industrial Revolution began in Coalbrookdale. The affordability of the new material led to a massive growth in mill machinery, looms, railways, cast-iron columns for building large factories, pipes and pumps and essential domestic products.
Michael Darby heads the Ironbridge Gorge Trust today and is a direct descendant of this family. The trust are responsible for overseeing and maintaining the original charcoal smelting furnace, the industrial complex around it and the nearby family home which is now a museum. Michael was the driving force in arranging to have a Quaker Tapestry Roadshow at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum in 2013”
Designed by Joe McCrum: embroidered by the Bakewell and Sheffield groups.