World Heritage Site
In 1986 the Ironbridge Gorge was one of the first locations to be designated as a World Heritage Site within the U.K. This designation recognised the area’s unique and unrivalled contribution to the birth of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century; the impact of which is still felt across the world today.
It was the achievements of pioneering industrialists including Abraham Darby, William Reynolds and John Wilkinson that led to the Ironbridge Gorge becoming by the close of the 18th century the most technologically advanced area in the world.
The Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage property covers an area of 5.5 km2 (550 ha) and is located in Telford, Shropshire. The Industrial Revolution had its 18th century roots in the Ironbridge Gorge and spread worldwide leading to some of the most far-reaching changes in human history.
The site incorporates a 5 km length of the steep-sided, mineral-rich Severn Valley from a point immediately west of Ironbridge downstream to Coalport, together with two smaller river valleys extending northwards to Coalbrookdale and Madeley.
The Ironbridge Gorge provided the raw materials that revolutionised industrial processes and offers a powerful insight into the origins of the Industrial Revolution and also contains extensive evidence and remains of that period when the area was the focus of international attention from artists, engineers, and writers. The property contains substantial remains of mines, pit mounds, spoil heaps, foundries, factories, workshops, warehouses, iron masters’ and workers’ housing, public buildings, infrastructure, and transport systems, together with the traditional landscape and forests of the Severn Gorge. In addition, there also remain extensive collections of artifacts and archives relating to the individuals, processes and products that made the area so important.
Today, the site is a living, working community with a population of approximately 4000 people as well as a world renowned place to visit. It is also a historic landscape that is interpreted and made accessible through the work of a number of organisations, in particular, the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust (established in 1967 to preserve and interpret the remains of the Industrial Revolution within the Ironbridge Gorge) and the Severn Gorge Countryside Trust (established in 1991 to manage the woodland, grassland and associated historic structures in the Gorge).
Within the property, five features are highlighted as of particular interest. It was in Coalbrookdale in 1709 that the Quaker Abraham Darby I developed the production technique of smelting iron with coke which began the great 18th century iron revolution. There still remains a high concentration of 18th and 19th century dwellings, warehouses and public buildings in Coalbrookdale. In Ironbridge, the community draws its name from the famous Iron Bridge erected in 1779 by Abraham Darby III. At the eastern end of Ironbridge stand the remains of two 18th century blast furnaces, the Bedlam Furnaces, built in 1757. In Hay Brook Valley, south of Madeley, lies a large open-air museum which incorporates the remains of the former Blists Hill blast furnaces and Blists Hill brick and tile works. Also of importance is the spectacular Hay Inclined Plane, which connected the Shropshire Canal to the Coalport Canal, which in turn linked with the River Severn. The small community of Jackfield on the south bank of the River Severn was important for navigation, coal mining, clay production, and the manufacture of decorative tiles. Located at the eastern end of the property and on the north bank of the River Severn, industrialisation came to Coalport in the late 18th century and the area is remembered principally for the Coalport China Works.
For over 30 years, UNESCO has been working with countries across the world to identify World Heritage Sites and ensure their safe keeping and protection for future generations. World Heritage Sites are selected because of their “Outstanding Universal Value” as natural or cultural sites. They enrich our lives and illustrate the diversity of the planet and its inhabitants. They are ours to share, cherish and respect, and their disappearance would be an irreparable loss to humanity.
There are now over 1050 World Heritage Sites worldwide and these are added to each year when the World Heritage Committee meets to consider new nominations.
Included on the World Heritage List are many well known sites including the Pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, and the Great Barrier Reef.
There are 30 World Heritage Sites in the UK including Stonehenge, Durham Castle and Cathedral, the City of Bath, New Lanark and the Giants Causeway.
Once a Site is inscribed on the World Heritage List, a responsibility is placed upon the community and country within which it is located to care for and protect the Site on behalf of the wider global community and future generations.
In practice, this means that National and Local Government, site owners, local and national organisations, residents and visitors all have a part to play in helping to protect these unique and irreplaceable sites.
There is also a responsibility to interpret and inform visitors and the local community about the significance of the Site and the principles of World Heritage.
Being designated as a World Heritage Site brings enhanced national and international recognition which helps to strengthen the area’s tourism industry and provides access to funding to help ensure the long-term protection of the area for the benefit of all.
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