Riverside beauties: Farewell to the towers that are so much loved

On the day they come down, the Shropshire Star's Shirley Tart looks back on 50 years of the Ironbridge Power Station cooling towers.

The towers brought fascination to children in the Ironbridge Gorge, who have grown up with them and have grown to love them
The towers brought fascination to children in the Ironbridge Gorge, who have grown up with them and have grown to love them

If you work in this job, one great thing is a whole lifetime of experiences, many of which for most people would simply pass them by.

We are so very fortunate.

The bond created between us and so many people who began as a story and became good friends, has always been precious.

Indeed, all of us will treasure special people we may never have come across had it not been for our role in life, curious though that may be for many to understand. We are attached to them.

The Ironbridge cooling towers

And in my case attached to the cooling towers as well!

“What?” I hear you ask. Yes, the cooling towers, the power station’s pride and joy, riverside beauties, indeed brick-pink glories. Am I over-egging the cake here, going too far? No, no, no, not at all.

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I said “welcome” to this unusual spectacle on the ancient horizon which rose up in bold brickwork joy 50 years ago.

And very quickly it all became a splendid landmark which others may enjoy – tourists, artists, photographers and so on – but which actually belonged to us.

In those early days, there were certainly many who swept in, swam down or up, I always get it muddled, and simply appeared from nowhere to register how dreadful it all was.

But very soon, even those who complained that the new build was an eyesore when so many of us saw it as a fine addition, reluctantly began to melt their red hot opinions. And the power station found itself among friends.

For me, it was exactly that.

The Ironbridge cooling towers

When I was 11 (just) I began my senior school life at Coalbrookdale County High School, literally a five-minute drive around the corner from the power station and its towers.

It was a splendid school. Even then, one of the few remaining and leading co-ed grammar schools. With a coveted academic record, it was a dream just to turn up every day. But we also had the opportunity to study, perhaps in slightly different ways. Like the English and Classics master who regularly called me into his classroom to read poetry to him while he ate his sandwich lunch. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one but it was a joy to be on the list!

Our school playing fields were roadside, down in one of the many little valleys round our way, between the Valley Hotel and The Meadow and, as the towers rose, I used to take any opportunity to drive that way and watch this latest addition to Coalbrookdale and Ironbridge rise as if by magic. I had of course left school by then and was working in weekly newspapers.

As well as that, although I didn’t actually live in Coalbrookdale at the time, it was also a delight to go back. And 27 years ago I moved with a friend to that place which ever since we have both called home. Down in the valley.

It is where, for more than half a century, the industrial history of Ironbridge, Coalbrookdale and so much of the surrounding area deep in these valleys, has continued.

The Ironbridge cooling towers

And I know that so many who would have decried these significant, soaring creations sweeping across the skyline when they first went up, have grown to appreciate them, even to care for them.

Having seen them rise high above everything else and defended them all these years, I had to pay tribute as their lives came to an end. Soon, housing will fill the gap where they stood. But never the gap they have left.

Iain Thomson, head of communication for Harworth, the company which is redeveloping the former Ironbridge Power Station, says the cooling towers demolition job was unlike any other he has had to deal with. It is expected to cost up to £10million, to start with.

The Ironbridge cooling towers

Thousands of visitors year by year have seen and been fascinated by what seemed to be this powerful statement down by the river. While the old student events linked us for so many more years and all we learned about the origins and history of this wonderful place remain a real treasure.

Precious friendships were fashioned here, lasting memories were created. And the backdrop to them all has been our brick-pink towers which were so sadly ready to come down today.

As for me, a tear, my friends, my dearest friends, has been shed!

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