'We saw history happen': The landmark day the Ironbridge towers came down

By Matthew Growcott | Ironbridge | News | Published:

“Nine, eight, seven...” Tense silence. After hours of chatting, laughter and speculation, suddenly this was happening. It didn’t feel real.

The towers come down

For just a few seconds, excitement became nerves. We were about as close to the towers as we could safely be – I was leaning on the 350 metre exclusion fence. Nobody said a word. Over the radio of some nearby Harworth employees, we could hear the final checks being done.

And then the countdown began.

The countdown has become a film cliche. It’s that moment where everything can suddenly go wrong. Tom Hanks and pals stare intently forward, thinking about the loved ones they are leaving behind before jetting off into space.

Ironbridge cooling towers demolition

Of course, it’s five minutes into a three hour film and the tension is completely manufactured. Tom Hanks gets to space and everybody on earth has a good party. Cue triumphant music. When a local landmark is about to be demolished, suddenly those numbers are filled with dread.

And then the sound of an explosion, and another. And the towers began to come down.

The sight is incredible, but what is really surprising is the noise. Obviously it wasn’t going to be quiet – it’s four giant buildings coming down. The sheer volume can’t be explained. They heard it in Wolverhampton, which is more than 15 miles away as the crow flies. We were 350 metres away.

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And before you really have the chance to figure out what you’re seeing, it’s over. Six months of planning, two hours of waiting for the final checks to be done and it’s finished in about eight seconds.

Except there’s one big difference. Four big differences, actually.

Someone nearby begins to scream with excitement and everything comes back into focus. It is over – that actually happened.


And as I look around me at the 30 or so excited faces, something about them suddenly hits me. The number of people who were alive when the towers were built could be counted on one hand. The number of people who could remember this view – the natural Ironbridge Gorge without the cooling towers dominating the horizon – was quite probably zero.

This was a landmark day for Telford and for the surrounding areas. The towers were built at around the same time our town became a place. They opened in 1969, just one year after Dawley New Town was officially designated Telford.

In the next few years, 1,000 homes will be put in place of the cooling towers and a new community will develop in what once was the location of a Telford landmark.

But that’s not a melancholy thought. Harworth, the owners of the power station, said the cooling towers were falling down anyway – you could see them cracking if you stood inside.

We saw history happen, but that is exactly what it was. It wasn’t an icon of the Industrial Revolution, it wasn’t something that could be repurposed into a museum or shopping centre. It was history.

In the last few years there have been two major events in the Gorge – events that will forever change the area’s identity. The closure of the Coalbrookdale Foundry was one. This was another.

And while the foundry’s demise was overwhelmingly sad, yesterday’s events was more about being thankful for the memories but also looking forward. One thing is for sure: the future is bright for the Ironbridge Gorge.

Matthew Growcott

By Matthew Growcott
Reporter - @MGrowcott_Star

Shropshire Star reporter


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