Aga Coalbrookdale foundry closure: Dismay and disbelief as firm pulls the plug
It is the end of an era, and a sad day in the rich history of Coalbrookdale.
The news the Aga foundry is to close was today met with a mixture of dismay and disbelief.
Although now operated by Aga Rangemaster, which has announced it will be closing the site, the foundry has been a big employer in the World Heritage Site for centuries, previously as the base of the Coalbrookdale Company, known in the 19th century for its ornate ironwork.
The site has also been a celebrity favourite, visited by former Government minister Michael Portillo in 2011 as part of his Great Railway Journeys television series in which he celebrated its continued link to the heavy industry of the past.
It was also visited by French actor Gerard Depardieu in 2010, who loved the Shropshire-made Aga cooker and fridge in his Paris home so much he arranged a visit to the county to see for himself how they were made.
Princess Anne called in at the Aga factory in Ketley in 2008 and was presented with a set of red cast iron cookware to match the Shropshire-built red Aga she has at home in the Cotswolds.
Many people who have worked at the foundry have described it as being like a family, and say generations have all worked in Coalbrookdale.
Ironbridge resident Graham Hickman worked at the foundry from 1965 to 2005.
The 67-year-old has lived on High Street in Ironbridge for more than six decades.
He said the loss was an "absolute disaster" and would be a great loss to the Ironbridge Gorge.
He said: "The foundry has been there since 1709 and it is a real shame. It is going to hit the community hard.
"The industrial revolution wouldn't have started without the Coalbrookdale foundry.
"I am totally shocked, a lot of ex-employees around the world will be be grieving"
Mr Hickman said his concern now was what will happen to the foundry once Aga move out.
He said: "I for once will be concerned what happens when the foundry does close. It should be protected.
"We definitely wouldn't want any houses on the site.
"Someone like English Heritage or some other body should take over the site or at least preserve the memories that it has."
Nicola Lowery, ward member for the Ironbridge Gorge on Telford & Wrekin Council, said she was also saddened to hear the news.
She added: "The Aga-Rayburn Factory in Coalbrookdale is located on one of the original foundry sites of Abraham Darby I where he first smelted iron ore with coke in 1709.
"There is significant history to this site in terms of industrial heritage and that the foundry undertook the building of the world's first cast-iron bridge which has become the one of our most important historical assets locally as the Iron Bridge.
"I greatly appreciate the challenges that AGA have faced and the organisational changes they have been looking to make to response to the changing market conditions.
"However, AGA have advised that the closure of the foundry is part of a plan to improve efficiency and secure the longer-term future of the AGA brand.
"I am greatly saddened to hear that the decision has been taken to cease the manufacture of castings at Coalbrookdale and close this facility.
"We understand approximately 35 staff will be affected however, I hope Middleby Corp will be working with the staff and union representatives to see if they can be redeployed to other parts of the business and mitigate the impact of any redundancies.
"There is a significant amount of history to this site and I hope a future use can be secured for the site to continue this industrial legacy for generations to come”.
Councillor Heather Oldershaw, chairman of the The Gorge Parish Council, which covers Coalbrookdale, Coalport, Ironbridge, Jackfield and Lightmoor, said the loss was "very, very sad."
She said: "It is awfully sad to see such a long standing business leave which has such a connection to our heritage.
"We offer our condolences to the families and those who will be affected, as it won't just be those employed at the site."