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Star comment: So farewell to a factory and an era

By Shropshire Star | Opinions | Published:

The closure of the Coalbrookdale Works finally snaps the living link of the Ironbridge Gorge with the revolution which changed the world.

The scene at the foundry

The Ironbridge Gorge Museum celebrates and preserves the rich heritage of the Dale and surrounding areas connected with the Industrial Revolution.

But despite its working displays and interpretations, it is at the end of the day a museum. The visitors and tourists come along and see a proud past cleverly brought alive.

The Coalbrookdale Works was not a relic. It had not slipped into the past. It was a place of toil and industry, a place which had been in continuous operation for hundreds of years, a place where the workforce walked proudly in the footsteps of their forebears, armed with the skills of foundrymen and metal workers which helped build a Great Britain.

Yesterday the 42 remaining workers were told they were no longer needed. As they left, they hung their boots, coats and helmets over the iron Coalbrookdale Company gates in a poignant goodbye.

The plant will be closed by the end of this month. Then it will become a memory, of noise, flame, smoke over the valley, working for the war effort – wings for Lancaster bombers were made at the site – and working in peace. A place of work.

Those last workers did not start their jobs thinking they would be part of history, but that is how fate has turned out. Maybe in decades to come they will be sought out by historians telling the story of the life and death of the Coalbrookdale Works, and their memories tapped into and cherished.

The closure of a Shropshire factory and the loss of its jobs is sad would be a matter of sadness at any time. To the workers who have given such loyal service, we offer our sympathies and wish them well.

But yesterday’s informal little ceremonies and goodbyes indicate that this was more than the closure of a factory. It marked the end of an era, the end of a way of life in the Ironbridge Gorge.

The metal for the world-famous Iron Bridge was cast by the Coalbrookdale Works. The bridge is a scheduled ancient monument. The works is a monument to Shropshire’s men of iron. What now? Times change, technology changes. A buyer is being sought for the site. The future is uncertain, but a sad chapter – the closure of the plant and the breaking of the link with the past – has now been written. Coalbrookdale changed the world. That can never be taken away.

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