Major restoration project launched for world’s first iron bridge
A £3.6m project has been launched to carry out work on the Iron Bridge which spans the River Severn in Shropshire.
The bridge was originally erected in 1779 and is considered to be the first single span arch bridge in the world to be made of cast iron.
English Heritage described it as “one of the wonders of the modern world” and has launched a crowdfunding campaign in order to raise all the funds necessary to keep it standing.
“This historic bridge is suffering with stresses in its ironwork. Only careful conservation will protect it so that people in the future can enjoy it just as we do today,” the charity writes on its crowd funding page.
“We’ve undertaken years of detailed analysis of the bridge, so we now know more than ever before about how its structure functions.
“We will soon start to clean, repair and replace the different elements of the bridge: the iron radials and braces holding the bridge together, the deck plates and wedges, and the main iron arch itself. We’ll then re-paint the entire structure and renew the road surface to protect it from the elements.
English Heritage said that the project was highly complex, even the erection of the scaffolding proved challenging as it needs to be suspended above a river and without causing damage to the historic bridge itself.
The entire project is expected to take over a year to complete.
As work starts to preserve the Iron Bridge, whose ironwork is now cracking, English Heritage revealed a €1m (£880,000) donation from a German foundation towards the restoration project.
The charity, which looks after the bridge, described it as the “great-great grandfather” of today’s railways and skyscrapers.
Surveys have shown the Iron Bridge is under threat from cracking due to stresses in the ironwork dating from the original construction, ground movement over the centuries and an earthquake in the 19th century which pushed the two sides of the gorge it spans closer together.
With the donation from the German Hermann Reemtsma Foundation, only £25,000 more is needed to fund the project, and English Heritage is asking members of the public to donate to the campaign.
Kate Mavor, English Heritage’s chief executive, said: “The Iron Bridge is one of the most important - if not the most important - bridges ever built.
“It sits in the cradle of the Industrial Revolution and is open to everyone to visit, for free, every day of the year. But after two centuries, its cast iron is cracking and if it is to survive, the bridge needs our support.”
Following its erection, cast iron became widely used in the construction of bridges and buildings, and although it was closed for vehicles in 1934 when it was designated as an ancient monument, the Iron Bridge still stands as a monument to industrial development.