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Restoration work on Shropshire's historic 'gateway to the world' getting under way

Restoration work on a hugely significant historic site will be getting under way next week.

Sam Whyte from Cooper-Whyte Conservation, and Lucy Oldnall, manager for the conservation and restoration project.
Sam Whyte from Cooper-Whyte Conservation, and Lucy Oldnall, manager for the conservation and restoration project.

The Museum of the Gorge, in Ironbridge - originally 'The Severn Warehouse' - stands just a few hundred metres from the famous Iron Bridge.

The building, which had previously been the main visitor centre for the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust (IGMT), is not your normal warehouse.

Sitting on the bank of the River Severn and built in a stunning gothic style around 1840, the building was a gateway to the rest of the world, allowing goods to be taken down to Bristol – and then across the globe.

The site, which has always flooded, even back in the 1800s, has been closed since the most recent major flooding to hit the gorge.

The warehouse in use as the Crystal Works soft drink factory in 1904.

Now, after a £9.9 million grant from the The National Heritage Memorial Fund, restoration work on the building will be carried out by specialists – with the aim of restoring some of its greatest features, such as the spectacular chimney pots which used to crown its Lady Chapel, and to preserve the building into the future.

The museum trust's aim is to restore the site and reopen it next year as a welcome centre for the World Heritage Site of the Ironbridge Gorge – and the museum and listed buildings operated and protected by the trust.

The work is being carried out by experts Cooper-Whyte Conservation, who have extensive experience with historic buildings.

The stunning parapets which will be restored during the work.

Site manager Sam Whyte detailed the task ahead, which includes fixing the guttering on its leaking roof, re-pointing sections of brickwork, restoring the stunning parapets, rebuilding the original roof for the Lady Chapel, and removing vegetation which has grown into a stubborn and unwanted guest on parts of the site.

The work involves matching original mortar for the brickwork and securing experts such as West Meon Pottery to produce replicas of the stunning original ornate chimney pots for the roof – and it all requires signing off from architects and conservation officers.

It comes after a first stage of work saw internal beams in the Grade II* Listed building replaced.

Lucy Oldnall, manager for the conservation and restoration project, loking o

Lucy Oldnall, project manager for the trust's 'conserving the historic estate project', said it was a hugely exciting scheme, that will take in a host of the sites protected by the trust, including the Museum of Iron.

"We are really excited about it," she said.

"What I like to see is the transformation, it will be small changes but they will make a big difference overall."

Sam Whyte from Cooper-Whyte Conservation who is working to match original mortar on sections of the listed building's brickwork.

She said that the hope was to make the Museum of the Gorge a centre-point for visitors.

"It has always been an arrival point and that is part of the aspiration for the restoration, that it becomes a proper welcome centre for the World Heritage Site.

"It has got a lot of potential and it is in a beautiful location. I think it is important for tying the whole of the museums together throughout the gorge.

An 1874 view from Benthall Edge, which shows the Museum of Iron at the time.

The £9.9m will be used for restoration on buildings across the trust, but also includes £4.5m in endowment funding, which will be invested to ensure income generation for ongoing conservation maintenance.

One of the sites which will be restored throughout the project is the The Old Furnace at Coalbrookdale, where Abraham Darby I developed the production technique for smelting iron with coke – a catalyst for the Industrial Revolution that transformed much of the wider world in the 18th centuries.

Others include the Bedlam Furnaces, the impressive clock tower which was added to the Great Warehouse of the Coalbrookdale Company in 1843, and Coalport China Works.

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