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Abraham Darby

"Ironbridge and the Sedgley connection"

See also Sedgley's Men of Iron; Dud Dudley and Abraham Darby Keeping it in the Family

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

Modern day Ironbridge
The world's first Iron Bridge
near Coalbrookdale in Shropshire

Abraham Darby (the Grandfather of the famous bridge builder) was born in 1678 at Wrens Nest in the hamlet of Woodsetton in the Parish of Sedgley, Staffordshire, son of John & Ann Darby.

(His birthplace is often incorrectly given as Dudley in Worcestershire)

He died on 8th March 1717, Madeley Court, Shropshire
and is buried at Broseley, Shropshire
(see photos below).

Ironbridge Under Construction
A watercolour of the Iron Bridge under construction in 1779
by Elias Martin.

The first of a succession of iron manufacturers who bore the same name, he was the son of a Quaker (Society of Friends) farmer residing at Wrens Nest, near Sedgley and served his apprenticeship with a maker of malt-kilns near Birmingham, Later he married and moved to Bristol around 1700, to begin business on his own.

In Bristol he was joined by three partners of the same Quaker persuasion, who provided the necessary capital to enable him to set up works at Baptist Mills, near the city. He carried on the business of malt-mill making and later added brass and iron founding

He acquired premises at Coalbrookdale, on the River Severn in Shropshire, close to supplies of low-sulphur coal. In 1709 he produced marketable iron in a coke-fired furnace. He demonstrated the superiority of coke in cost and efficiency by building much larger furnaces than were possible using charcoal as a fuel, the latter being too weak to support a heavy charge of iron. The quality of Darby's iron made it possible for him to manufacture thin castings that could compete successfully with brass in such applications as the manufacture of pots and other hollow ware.

Ironbridge joint
Close-up of bridge joints.

The advent of the Thomas Newcomen steam engine in 1712 created an important new market for iron and by 1758, when Darby had been succeeded by his eldest son, also named Abraham (1711-63), more than 100 Newcomen cylinders had been cast at Coalbrookdale.

In 1779 Darby's grandson, Abraham Darby III (1750-91), completed the world's first cast-iron bridge (at present-day Ironbridge, near Coalbrookdale.) The bridge's semicircular arch spans 100.5 feet (30.6 m) and has five arch ribs, each cast in two halves.

Thomas Farnolls Pritchard (1723-1777) of Shrewsbury was the designer of the bridge.

Because they had little knowledge of connecting cast-iron pieces together they used the typical woodworking dovetail jointing method of the era (see left)

In 1802 the Coalbrookdale Works built the first railway locomotive with a high-pressure boiler, for Richard Trevithick, the English engineer and inventor.

Abraham Darby Silhouette

If you're looking for a picture of Abraham Darby or his family I'm afraid you probably won't find one because their Quaker religion discouraged images of people.

But...

Due to some quirk of fate there appears to be a silhouette of a face on centre joint of the bridge (see left)

or...

did Abraham create it on purpose?

Darby's Furnace

Abraham's Iron smelting furnace in Coalbrookdale

Abraham & Abiah Darby's Headstone

The headstones of Abraham Darby II
and his wife Abiah

 

Quaker Graveyard at Coalbrookdale

Abraham Darby II left provision for a piece of land in Coalbrookdale "inclosed by a brick wall.....for a burial place for such Friends who shall choose to be buried there....." and he was the first to be interred here in 1763. (See headstone above)

Abiah Darby his wife, and their son Abraham Darby III. builder of the Iron Bridge are buried here, as are other influential members of the Society of Friends like William Reynolds.

The very simple memorial stones now line the walls

The burial ground was enlarged in 1851 and the last Darby to be interred here was Rebecca Sorton Darby who died in 1908

The last burial of all took place in 1982. Today the burial ground remains as a quiet testimony to the Quaker families who for several generations remained active in the nearby Coalbrookdale works and in the life of the local community.

The first Abraham Darby was buried in Broseley in 1717. Inscription reads : Society of Friends Burial Grounds
1706 - 1794
Amongst those buried here is
Abraham Darby 1678 - 1717 Ironmaster
The site was never used by the Congregational Church

There is some controversy over his burial location as some locals claim the graveyard where he was buried was at another chapel just down the road from here. It was later turned into a cinema and all the graves were moved to this one pictured.

Abraham Darby I lived in Broseley Hall for a while. Plans to build the Iron Bridge were actually made at a meeting of local business people and bigwigs held in the annexe to what is now The Cumberland Hotel. A subscription list to fund the bridge was set up with 15 contributors - so in actual fact the bridge was funded by Broseley folk!!

Thomas Farnolls Pritchard, the Shrewsbury architect who designed the bridge, also did a lot of other work in Broseley. Broseley Hall contains five Pritchard chimneypieces and the formal lawns of the garden lead down to Pritchard Temple. He also did work at "The Lawns", Broseley, home of the ironmaster John Wilkinson.

Ironbridge Halfpenny

Coalbrook Dale (Shropshire) copper halfpenny token dated 1792. Detailed view of the bridge with a sailing ship passing underneath:

Inscription reads : "IRON BRIDGE AT COALBROOK DALE. 1792", "ERECTED ANNO 1779. SPAN 100 FEET"

Many thanks to Geoff Barnett of Shropshire and Irene Harris for the excellent photographs and much of the information on this page.

See the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Website
for many more details of Historical information from around Ironbridge, Coalbrookdale and Telford region.

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