Crowdfunding campaign to help preserve world's first iron bridge

Vital repair work is starting on the world's first iron bridge in a £3.6 million project to conserve "one of the wonders of the modern world", English Heritage said.

The Iron Bridge was erected in 1779 over the River Severn in Shropshire, in the "cradle of the Industrial Revolution", the first single span arch bridge in the world to be made of cast iron and marking a turning point in British engineering.

As work starts to preserve the Iron Bridge, whose ironwork is now cracking, English Heritage revealed a one million euro (£880,000) donation from a German foundation towards the restoration project.

The charity, which looks after the bridge, is also launching a crowdfunding campaign to help save the structure, which it described as the "great-great grandfather" of today's railways and skyscrapers.

Surveys have shows the Iron Bridge is under threat from cracking due to stresses in the ironwork dating from the original construction, ground movement over the centuries and an earthquake in the 19th century which pushed the two sides of the gorge it spans closer together.

With major scaffolding in place around the bridge, English Heritage will clean, conserve, repair and where necessary reinforce the iron radials and braces holding it together, deck plates and wedges and the main iron arch.

It will also be repainted to protect it for the future.

(Aaron Chown/PA)
(Aaron Chown/PA)

With the one million euro donation from the German Hermann Reemtsma Foundation, only £25,000 more is needed to fund the project, and English Heritage is asking members of the public to donate to the campaign.

Kate Mavor, English Heritage's chief executive, said: "The Iron Bridge is one of the most important - if not the most important - bridges ever built.

"It sits in the cradle of the Industrial Revolution and is open to everyone to visit, for free, every day of the year. But after two centuries, its cast iron is cracking and if it is to survive, the bridge needs our support."

Jochen Muennich of the Hermann Reemtsma Foundation said: "We immediately recognised the value of English Heritage´s project to conserve the Iron Bridge, an outstanding example of the late eighteenth century engineering skills pioneered in Great Britain and subsequently adopted and developed throughout Europe.

(Aaron Chown/PA)
(Aaron Chown/PA)

"Not only do we admire the Iron Bridge as an important technical landmark, but we also see it as a potent reminder of our continent´s common cultural roots and values."

The Iron Bridge was built in an area that was an industrial powerhouse in the 18th century due to its rich coal deposits near the surface, but expansion of economic activity was hampered by the lack of a bridge on that part of the Severn.

The bridge needed to be single span because of the volume of barge traffic on the river and the gorge's steep sides, and was constructed of iron at the suggestion of Shrewsbury architect Thomas Pritchard, who died just a month after work began.

It was officially opened on New Year's Day in 1781.

Cast iron became widely used in the construction of bridges and buildings, and although it was closed for vehicles in 1934 when it was designated as an ancient monument, the Iron Bridge still stands as a monument to industrial development.

People who want to donate to the campaign can do so at:

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