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This article was written on 09 Oct 2014, and is filled under AGA History, Rangemaster History, Rayburn History.

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Darby Days: The Industrial Revolution begins

With the Factory launch of the AGA City60 and the first production line I am excited to share more of story of the Coalbrookdale foundry. Here is a paragraph from an old brochure saved in the Group’s archive:

The Coalbrookdale story began in England’s Severn Valley in 1707. It was than that a remarkable young iron master came to the valley because of its ample iron deposits and good river transportation. Abraham Darby came to the Valley to make cast iron pots and  he was destined to make history.

Because young Darby’s iron pots were cheaper and stronger than the traditional brass pots, they rapidly became widely popular. To meet a growing worldwide demand, in 1709 Darby discovered a way to greatly increase production by smelting iron with coke instead of the charcoal method what was rapidly depleting England’s forests. Most historians identify this breakthrough at the Coalbrookdale foundry as the beginning of the modern industrial age.

Under the Darby family leadership, the Coalbrookdale company soon became the largest iron foundry in the world, pioneering so many processes and products that its past is virtually the history of iron technology. It was only a matter of time before the foundry’s cast iron steam engine cylinders would replace the less efficient and very costly brass cylinders in use at the time. 

aerial photograph of coalbrookdale - early no cars  railway still visable on site tower chimney by viaduct remains standing Archive Photograph: The Coalbrookdale works

Coalbrookdale undertook the manufacture of its own steam engines, and in 1742 Darby’s son invented the first practical use of of a steam engine pump water uphill.  At the same time, the Coalbrookdale company launched the first iron wheels and rails for Britain’s railroad industry.

In 1779, Abraham Darby III would present to the world his family’s – and Coalbrookdale’s – greatest achievement: the world’s first iron bridge to span the Severn River which divided the Company’s operations. Still in use today, the bridge is an engineering triumph and forever symbolizes the synthesis of coal, iron and transportation which was the essence of the industrial revolution.

During the half century that followed, the Coalbrookdale company continued its momentous strides in iron technology… the world’s high pressure boilers, the earliest locomotive to run on rails, the original  steam engine for boat propulsion, boiler plates recorded as the largest ever made by the only company in the world capable of such manufacturing.

Another Darby – Francis – introduced ornamental castings at Coalbrookdale in the mid 1830′s tables, vases, garden furniture, fountains, gates and statuettes.

By the turn of the 19th Century, cast iron fireplaces, ovens and stoves had become a significant part of Coalbrookdale’s wide-ranging production. With a complete line of sophisticated solid-fuel appliances, from large square and octagonal ovens, Dutch ovens and hob ovens, to varied large and small home heating stoves, Coalbrookdale had once again broken new ground in the advancement and refinement of domestic heating and cooking technology.


Another publication from our archives – “The Coalbrookdale Ironworks – A short history”(published by the Irongbridge Gorge Museum Trust in 1975) – reveals even more fascinating details about the history of the foundry and the remarkable team who triggered the Industrial revolution in England.

In his boyhood Abraham would be familiar with with the locksmith’s hearth and with the sight of his father working in iron and steel.

Darby was looking for a furnace of his own and after examining the furnace in Coalbrookdale, took it on lease and in the next year began to smelt iron ores using coke as his fuel.

The fact that many of the workpeople were Quakers and that there was some degree of relationship between many of them helped to establish the friendly ‘family’ tradition that has always been so characteristic of the works.

Between 1755 and 1758 Abraham II built four new furnaces, two at Horsehay and two at Ketley, and made them a pig iron suitable for conversion to bar iron. Some of the best known ironmasters of the Midlands: Knights, Foleys. Lloyds and others became his customers.

Richard Reynolds came from Bristol in 1756 and took over the management of the Ketley works. By 1790 therefore the Darby and Reynolds works, with their associated coal and iron ore mines, were one of the largest iron-making concerns in the country.

workers outside coalbrookdale factory Archive Photograph: workers outside the Coalbrookdale Foundry

With a great increase in the number of workmen Darby turned his attention to their social needs. The Friends Meeting House in Coalbrookdale was built in 1745 and extended in 1763, another being built at New Dale in 1759.  The building programme had already included schools , repairs to a schoolhouse being mentioned in the accounts as early as 1718, and throughout the Company’s history, the education of its workpeople’s children was cared for.

After the dead of Abraham II, Reynolds took over the management of the works until Abarham III was of age in 1768. In 1777 the Iron bridge over the river Severn, the first cast iron bridge in the world, was cast at the Old Furnace. After its erection Gold Medal of the Society of Arts was presented to Abraham Darby. After the bridge was opened, it became one of the sights for the traveler and many famous people visited it and left notes and descriptions in their diaries.

 In 1802 the first successful locomotive designed to run on rails – known as the Penydarren locomotive – was built in the Dale ans so created another world record for the company.

Francis Darby, son of Abraham III, with his great love of art, expanded the foundries on another branch. , that of casting figures and sculptures introducing good artist, some from France, to improve the designing section. In 1849 the Company was awarded the Gold Medal of the Society of Arts for their castings and approached the Great Exhibition of 1851 with considerable enthusiasm and with very varies group of exhibits. The great fountain ‘Boy and Swan’ designed by John Bell, stood near the gates now generally known as the ‘Hyde Park Gates’. The quality of the modelling of the art castings was very high and figure such as the statue of Andromeda, cast in iron, from the design and model of John bell, was described at the time as ‘forming altogether a design of exquisite beauty’. For the material shown at the Great Exhibition the Company was awarded a Council Medal. these medals(only 170 were awarded as compared to 2,918 Prize Medals) were for some ‘important novelty of invention or application, either in material or process of manufacture, or originality combined with great beauty of design’.

I hope you enjoyed learning more about the history of Coalbrookdale where AGA cookers are still manufactured today. I am adding some photographs I took during my first visit to the foundry and couple of photos from the AGA City60 factory launch.


Chief Executive of AGA Rangemaster Group William McGrath and MikeWright, Executive director of Jaguar LandRover at the factory launch of AGA City60


Dawn Roads prepared delicious treats on the new AGA City60


Chief Executive of AGA Rangemaster Group William McGrath and the AGA workforce pose with new AGA City60 cookers just rolled down the production line


The Coalbrookdale Foundry today:

FactoryCity60Day 211IMG_1451 IMG_1498 IMG_1511 IMG_1525 IMG_1532 IMG_1544

IMG_1565 IMG_1578 IMG_1635 IMG_1642  IMG_1666 IMG_1688 IMG_1690IMG_1649 On last photograph: me next to a beautiful Aubergine AGA



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