Ironbridge museums at 50: Star players behind those golden years

Telford | News | Published:

In every great story there are key players who make their mark, and so it was with the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, which is celebrating its golden jubilee this year.

But who were these personalities whose drive, vision, and imagination laid the groundwork for the museum of today, and then developed it into an award-winning heritage attraction which is a magnet for visitors from around the globe?

Stuart Smith shaped the museum as we know it today

While many folk have played their part, let us pay a tribute to some of the principal characters and leaders from the past in a project which is continuing to unfold.

Arthur Raistrick: In the 1950s the mood music changed when it came to treasuring Britain's industrial heritage – and in that Raistrick was one of the chief composers.

It was his book "Dynasty of Ironfounders: The Darbys and Coalbrookdale" which did so much to kindle interest in the relics and artifacts in the Ironbridge Gorge, and the feats of the Shropshire ironfounders who changed the world.

With Fred Williams, he was responsible for setting up a small museum at Coalbrookdale in 1959, which was his pride and joy – he was the honorary curator.

He died on April 9, 1991, aged 94.

Fred Williams: Without Williams and his friend Raistrick, the Ironbridge Gorge Museum – if it had been born at all – might not have had its most historically significant site. In the early 1950s Abraham Darby's old furnace at Coalbrookdale, which is considered the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, was in serious danger of being dismantled.


Founding fathers Arthur Raistrick and Fred Williams

Williams went on to be a founder member and Vice President of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. He died on July 26, 1987.

Lady Rachel Labouchere: Lady Labouchere, of Dudmaston Hall, near Bridgnorth, was one of the best-known and most persuasive ambassadors of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, and she had been a great supporter from its earliest days.

She became the museum's second President in 1973.


Sir Neil Cossons: An expert in industrial archaeology, he became the first Director in October 1971. By 1977 it was beginning to win awards – Museum of the Year – and then in 1978 the European Museum of the Year award.

Stuart Smith: Appointed Curator of Technology in the spring of 1972, he was charged with the responsibility of converting, restoring, and building the Ironbridge Gorge Museum. In 1983 he became director, and his tenure coincided with the designation of the Ironbridge Gorge as a World Heritage Site, placing it on a par with some of the world's top high profile historical jewels.

He died in Cornwall, aged 69, in 2014.

By Toby Neal

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