Top Ironbridge museums

The best museums in Ironbridge

In Ironbridge, Britain invented the stuff the world wanted. Today you can learn all about it in a series of stellar museums.

  1. Museum of the Gorge
  2. Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron
  3. Blists Hill Victorian Town
  4. Tar Tunnel
  5. Coalport China Museum
  6. Jackfield Tile Museum
  7. Enginuity

The Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire is home to the world’s first iron bridge (1781), its arches high above the Severn - industrial poetry in action. Although the assorted industries that once squeezed into the gorge are long gone, the Ironbridge museums are still there to celebrate their craftsmanship. There may not be many industrial heritage nuts out there, but for those that are, this is - hammers down - your spiritual home.

In collaboration with
Rough Guides

1. Museum of the Gorge

If, during your Ironbridge holiday, you come to only one of the museums, let it be this one. Housed in a church-like, neo-Gothic riverside warehouse, the Museum of the Gorge provides a good introduction to the Gorge’s industrial history and gives a few environmental pointers too. The Ironbridge itself was built by Abraham Darby III, of the well-known Darby family of iron-masters from nearby Coalbrookdale. It was here that he pioneered the use of coke to smelt iron, turning the area into the busiest industrial centre in the world. The museum also houses the main visitor centre - this is the place to pick up local maps and information.

Where?: Wharfage, TF8 7DQ

Opening hours: Daily 10am–4pm

2. Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron

Eat your heart out, Iron Man. Half a mile away is what was once the Gorge’s big industrial deal, the Coalbrookdale iron foundry, which boomed in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, employing up to four thousand. Today, the foundry has been imaginatively converted into the Museum of Iron. Here you’ll find displays on iron-making in general and the history of the company in particular. Highlights include splendid examples of Victorian and Edwardian ironwork, including the intricate castings - stags, dogs and camels - that became the house speciality. How camels got into the mix is anyone’s guess.

Where?: Coach Rd, Coalbrookdale, TF8 7DQ

Opening hours: Daily 10am–4pm

3. Blists Hill Victorian Town

The rambling Blists Hill Victorian Town is one of the best museums in Ironbridge, enclosing a number of reconstructed Victorian buildings. Take a step back in time with a visit to a Victorian school, a candle-maker’s, a doctor’s surgery, a pub and a wrought-iron works. Jam-packed on summer days, it’s especially popular with school parties - who keep the period-dressed employees busy.

Where?: Coalport Rd, TF7 5DU, about half a mile north of the River Severn - take the signed turning between the Bedlam Furnace and Coalport

Opening hours: Daily 10am–4.30pm

4. Tar Tunnel

Think that museums and atmosphere don’t go hand in hand? Think again. Built to transport coal from one part of the Gorge to another - but named for the bitumen that oozes naturally from its walls - the Tar Tunnel may not be long, but it’s certainly more than a tad spooky. You’ll be issued with a hard hat for reassurance.

Where?: Coalport High St, Coalport, TF8 7HT, on the north bank of the river, 500yd east of the turning to Blists Hill & on the west edge of Coalport

Opening hours: Daily 11am–3pm

5. Coalport China Museum

It’s not all about smelters and sledgehammers. At the Coalport China Museum you can look at something a little more delicate. The most easterly of the industrial sites on the north bank of the Severn, the former Coalport China works occupies a sprawling brick complex. It’s here that you’ll find the Coalport China Museum, packed with gaudy Coalport wares - naturally, they may not be to everyone’s taste. There’s also a workshop - where potters demonstrate their skills - and two bottle kilns, those distinctive conical structures that were long the hallmark of the pottery industry.

Where?: Coalport High St, Coalport, TF8 7HT

Opening hours: Daily 10am–4pm

6. Jackfield Tile Museum

Another candidate for the best of the Ironbridge museums is the outstanding Jackfield Tile Museum. The exhibits here include the superb ‘Style Gallery’ and ‘Tiles Everywhere Galleries’, where room after room illustrates many different types of tile by style - Art Deco through to the Aesthetic Movement - and location, from a London underground station to a butcher’s shop. This is a place that really goes the extra tile.

Where?: Salthouse Rd, TF8 7LJ

Opening hours: Daily 10am–4pm

7. Enginuity

Enginuity is guaranteed to be a smash-hit with kids big and small. A highly interactive design and technology museum, the fun includes generating electricity, code breaking and the world’s longest span model bridge - what a way to enter the record books. Bewildered parents: you’re welcome.

Where?: 10 Wellington Rd, Coalbrookdale, TF8 7DX

Opening hours: Tues–Sun 10am–4pm

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