10 museums with something for everyone and access for all
One of the seven UK sites to be awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1986, Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire was the cradle of the Industrial Revolution. Today its 10 museums offer something to suit all tastes and ages, as well as all levels of mobility – an entertaining and educational day out for families or couples.
Although the museums are all located in or near the steep-sided Severn Gorge, there’s far too much here to cover it all in one day. Best value is to buy an Annual Passport ticket which allows unlimited daytime admission to all ten museums during normal opening hours. If you still haven’t visited a particular site after 12 months, you can return any time in the future to make one free visit. At £26.50 for adults; £20.50 for 60+; and £16.50 for children and students up to 18, it’s a hard offer to beat (2018 prices). If you buy your tickets online you can save an extra 65p!
Abraham Darby I was the man who kick-started a production process here in 1709 that rapidly changed the world, perfecting a way to use coke rather than charcoal to smelt iron. The abundance of iron fuelled Britain’s Industrial Revolution and thus helped to power the largest empire on earth. By the time his grandson, Abraham Darby III had completed the world’s first iron bridge, new industries were springing up all along the valley with furnaces burning around the clock.
The Darby Houses still stand at the top of the gorge close to the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron and to Enginuity, a hands-on technology attraction where inquisitive minds – young and old – can play, build, test and discover.
But if time is limited, I’d recommend starting down in the valley in Ironbridge village, picturesque now with its well-maintained cafes and small shops, but a different scene when the gorge reverberated to the sound of men and machinery beneath a film of industrial dust. The famous iron bridge was a tourist attraction when it opened in 1779 and its iron curves still pack a punch whether you walk beneath it, above it or over it. Stop off at the nearby Museum of the Gorge for the big picture of how this Shropshire river valley gained an international reputation and much-prized UNESCO listing.
Then head for Blists Hill Victorian Town to immerse yourself in the sights, smells and sounds of Victorian England. Recreated around the original blast furnaces and the Hay Inclined Plane that brought loaded boats up the slope from the canal, the atmospheric buildings have either been relocated here from around the area or authentically replicated.
Step inside, meet the ‘residents’ and watch skilled craftsmen at work. There are lots of authentic souvenirs to buy along the way too from old favourites in the sweetshop, to delicious bread from the bakery, soap from the pharmacy and decorative plaster motifs. Well-behaved dogs are welcome on leads in most of the buildings at Blists Hill, although we checked with each individual occupant before entering with a Labrador; guide dogs are accepted at all 10 Ironbridge Gorge museums.
Wheelchairs and mobility scooters are welcome at Blist’s Hill, although some properties may not be accessible, due to the nature of Victorian design. A comprehensive 10-page access guide can be downloaded on line, giving photographs and details of access, property by property – go to www.ironbridge.org.uk and click on Frequently Asked Questions. Similar guides are also available for Jackfield Tile Museum and Coalport China Museum.
All 10 Ironbridge Gorge museums have some form of access for visitors with disabilities, and wheelchairs are available to loan from all museum sites, although cannot be booked in advance. Most cafes and restaurants are fully accessible with fully accessible toilets too; if not, there are accessible toilets nearby.
Further information on access issues is available on 01952 433424.