Madeley: Coalbrookdale, Coalport and Ironbridge

A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.

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A P Baggs. D C Cox. Jessie McFall. P A Stamper. A J L Winchester, 'Madeley: Coalbrookdale, Coalport and Ironbridge', A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford, (London, 1985), pp. 21-23. British History Online [accessed 17 June 2024].

A P Baggs. D C Cox. Jessie McFall. P A Stamper. A J L Winchester. "Madeley: Coalbrookdale, Coalport and Ironbridge", in A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford, (London, 1985) 21-23. British History Online, accessed June 17, 2024,

Baggs, A P. Cox, D C. McFall, Jessie. Stamper, P A. Winchester, A J L. "Madeley: Coalbrookdale, Coalport and Ironbridge", A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford, (London, 1985). 21-23. British History Online. Web. 17 June 2024,


Communications, p. 23. Growth of Settlement, p. 27. Social and Cultural Activities, p. 32. Manor and Other Estates, p. 35. Economic History, p. 40. Local Government, p. 56. Public Services, p. 58. Churches, p. 59. Roman Catholicism, p. 66. Protestant Nonconformity, p. 67. Education, p. 72. Charities for the Poor, p. 76.

The populous parish of Madeley was an area of old industry and extensive farm land. It was largely built over in the 1960s and 1970s after the inclusion of most of it in 1963 within Dawley (from 1968 Telford) new town. The ancient parish contained 2,841 a. (fn. 1) (1,151 ha.) and extended just over 6 km. from west to east. It was wedge-shaped, wider in the eastern half which contained the original settlement. Madeley town lay 1 km. west of the crossing of the roads from Worcester (and Bridgnorth) to Wellington and from Shifnal touch Wenlock, equidistant (8½ km.) from Wellington to the north-west and Much Wenlock to the south-west. Until 1966, when it was absorbed into Dawley urban district and civil parish, the whole parish formed part of the borough of Wenlock and its boundaries remained those of the ancient parish, the area here treated.

The parish was bounded on the south for just over 6 km. by the Severn, flowing for most of that distance through the Severn Gorge. Much of the northern boundary (with Dawley) was formed by the Loamhole and Lightmoor brooks, much of the eastern boundary (with Kemberton and Sutton Maddock) by the Mad brook and a stream draining into the Severn at Coalport. The western boundary was marked in part by the Birches brook and a sunken lane, (fn. 2) but in the 13th century additional definition there had been provided by linear clearings through the woodland extending into Little Wenlock. (fn. 3)

The central part of the parish is a plateau defined by the deeply incised Coalbrookdale (valley of the Caldebrook) (fn. 4) on the west, Lightmoor dingle on the north, and Washbrook valley on the east. The land rises to over 152 m. above the steep slopes of the Severn Gorge and then slopes gently down to the north. West of Coalbrookdale the land is hilly. From Blists Hill, east of the Washbrook valley, the land falls steeply southwards but more gently northwards to the Mad brook.

Productive Middle and Lower Coal Measures underlie most of the parish. They dip towards the east and are exposed in the Severn Gorge. Thinning beds of Upper Coal Measures siltstones (Coalport Formation) and marl (Hadley Formation), with sandstones, occur at Coalport, in the Washbrook valley, north of Park Lane and Park Street, and around the western edge of the productive coalfield in a crescent from Woodside to Madeley Wood. The drift cover is mainly boulder clay, but sands and gravels occur around Cuckoo Oak, Hills Lane, and Blists Hill in the east and near Lodge and Strethill farms in the west. There are alluvial deposits in the lower part of Coalbrookdale and westwards along the Severn. Lincoln Hill on the east side of Coalbrookdale is a spectacular outcrop of Silurian limestone. (fn. 5) The steep slopes of the Severn Gorge and of Coalbrookdale are geologically unstable and landslips are common; mining subsidence also affects the area. (fn. 6)

Suggestions of prehistoric or Roman roads through the parish (fn. 7) seem to be based on no strong evidence: (fn. 8) a flint arrowhead and a find of four Roman coins of the 3rd-4th centuries (fn. 9) seem insufficient to set aside the likelihood that Madeley was first settled in cleared woodland (fn. 10) some time before the mid 8th century. (fn. 11) Madeley acquired a market and fair in the later 13th century and a 'new town' was laid out east of the original settlement. Coal was being mined by 1322, ironstone by 1540.

A hoard of early 17th-century coins was found in Madeley Wood in 1839, and the area was of some strategic importance during the Civil War. (fn. 12) There was a royalist garrison in Madeley in February 1645 but it was abandoned after the fall of Shrewsbury later that month. (fn. 13) Two months later the parish church was garrisoned by a Parliamentarian troop. (fn. 14) In 1648 the county committee was alerted to prevent the occupation of Madeley Court by royalist conspirators. (fn. 15) After the battle of Worcester in 1651 Charles II passed a night and a day (4-5 September) in Francis Wolfe's barn at Upper House. (fn. 16)

A Rogationtide procession, presumably to beat the bounds, was still observed, with ale and 'a collation' in the late 17th and early 18th century. (fn. 17)

Though its minerals were exploited on an increasingly large scale from the earlier 17th century, the parish remained predominantly agricultural in the later 17th century with, in 1660, a range of trades appropriate to a small market town: mercer, tailors, glover, butchers, carpenters, coopers, bowyer, and smiths. In the late 17th century some of the tradesmen began to specialize in work for the mines and the river trade. There were also several gentlemen and clergymen, others of no stated occupation, and numbers of servants. (fn. 18)

The industrial population c. 1660 was small, perhaps not exceeding three dozen, consisting chiefly of colliers and trowmen with a few skilled workers and probably some labourers. (fn. 19) By the early 18th century, however, the growing number of industrial workers was becoming an increasingly distinct component of the population: the furnace men were the only parishioners to work on Sundays, (fn. 20) and in the church a miners' gallery was built. J. W. Fletcher, vicar 1760-85, deplored the spiritual consequences of industrial work, (fn. 21) and in times of distress riot and disorder were feared, sometimes with good reason. (fn. 22) As the manorial estate was broken up from 1705 cottage properties on long lease and small freeholds multiplied, so that the industrial settlements sprawling through Madeley Wood and into Coalbrookdale attracted the interest of politicians seeking votes. A tradition of political radicalism was established. (fn. 23)

In the 18th century the Darbys of Coalbrookdale made historic contributions to the technology of the iron industry and erected in 1779-80 the world's first large iron bridge, (fn. 24) across the Severn from Madeley Wood to Benthall. The bridge stimulated the growth of the new town of Ironbridge and, as one of the wonders of the age, drew countless travellers (fn. 25) to be equally gratified by the neighbourhood's spectacular blast furnaces, coking hearths, limestone mines and kilns, tunnels, and inclined planes. (fn. 26)

By the end of the 19th century Madeley's landscape was less scarred by industry than Dawley's, and there was a wider range of social class among its population. (fn. 27) Madeley and Coalbrookdale retained substantial numbers of middle-class residents. Nevertheless a century of economic stagnation was blighting all parts of the parish by the 1950s: the old furnace at Coalbrookdale was 'shockingly sordid' before its restoration in 1959, (fn. 28) while Ironbridge and some of the industrial hamlets were shabby and derelict. Dawley (later Telford) development corporation's first housing and industrial estates were built in the parish in the 1960s and 1970s, extensive areas were developed for open-air recreation, and agriculture came to an end. Development was controlled in the historically important areas of Coalbrookdale and the Severn Gorge: those parts of the parish became the new town's showpiece, (fn. 29) justifying its claim to be the 'Birthplace of Industry'. (fn. 30) The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, created (in 1967) and fostered by the development corporation, realized inchoate local aspirations (fn. 31) to make an open-air (fn. 32) museum of industrial archaeology. Its achievements (fn. 33) focused international attention on the area in 1978 when it won the European Museum of the Year award. In 1979, during celebrations of the Iron Bridge's bicentenary, the prince of Wales visited the area and later became the museum's patron. (fn. 34)

Notable persons connected with the parish, apart from the Darby family and three lords of the manor, include J. W. Fletcher (1729-85), vicar from 1760, (fn. 35) James Glazebrook (1744-1803), a miner native to the parish and converted by Fletcher, (fn. 36) and George Pattrick (1746-1800), a popular London preacher who preached at Madeley on notable occasions, laid the new church's foundation stone in 1794, and died and was buried in the parish. (fn. 37) John Randall (1810- 1910), (fn. 38) artist (fn. 39) and writer on local history, (fn. 40) topography, and geology, lived most of his life in Madeley. (fn. 41) Sir Wyke Bayliss (1835-1906), artist and writer on art, was a native of the parish (fn. 42) as was the lawyer and administrator Lord Moulton (1844-1921). (fn. 43) John Russell, the South Wales coal owner, (fn. 44) and Thomas Parker (1843-1915), electrical engineer and inventor of smokeless fuel, (fn. 45) grew up in Coalbrookdale; the fact that their successful careers were made elsewhere perhaps symbolized the emigration of entrepreneurial talent as the area's economic importance declined from the mid 19th century. (fn. 46) The channel swimmer Capt. Matthew Webb (1848-83) also spent his youth in the parish and learnt to swim in the Severn. (fn. 47) The writer Edith Pargeter (born 1913), alias Ellis Peters, lived in Madeley from 1956. (fn. 48) W. A. Wright, the professional footballer who captained Wolverhampton Wanderers and England, was born in Ironbridge in 1924. (fn. 49)


  • 1. O.S. Area Bk. (1883). This art. was written 1980-2 and revised 1983. Mr. J. B. Lawson and Dr. M. D. G. Wanklyn are thanked for drawing attention to some sources cited below, Communications; Econ. Hist. Help and advice was also given by the Revd. A. G. Kinch (Prot. Nonconf.), the Revd. A. J. Nicholson (Rom. Cath.), and the Revd. V. J. Price and the Revd. W. A. Zwalf (Churches).
  • 2. For this and the next para. see O.S. Map 1/25,000, 33/70 (1951 edn.), SJ 60 (1957 edn.). For the brooks and their names see S.P.L., Deeds 8201; D. H. Robinson, The Wandering Worfe (1980), 78; M. E. R. Jackson, 'Notes on Hist. of Madeley' (microfilm in S.P.L.), bk. 2A, p. 117; S.R.O. 690/13.
  • 3. Below, Econ. Hist. (Agric.).
  • 4. E. Ekwall, Concise Oxf. Dict. Eng. Place-Names (4th edn.), 114.
  • 5. Inst. Geol. Sciences Map 1/25,000, Telford (1978 edn.).
  • 6. T.D.C. Severn Gorge ([1975] copy in S.P.L.), 3-13; J. Randall, Hist. Madeley (Madeley, 1880), 174; S.R.O. 4044/ 93, p. 79 (no. 1443); I. J. Brown, 'Mineral Working and Land Reclamation in the Coalbrookdale Coalfield' (Leicester Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1975), 194-526.
  • 7. O.S. Map Roman Brit. (2nd edn. 1928), S. sheet; T.S.A.S. xlix. 25.
  • 8. O.S. Map Roman Brit. (4th edn. 1978), but cf. O.S. Map Brit. in Dark Ages (2nd edn. corr. reprint 1971).
  • 9. SA 659, 663; T.S.A.S. liv, p. xiii. For a spurious antiquity found at Madeley Wood see Antiquaries Jnl. xi. 165; xx. 288-9.
  • 10. Eng. P.N. Elements (E.P.N.S.), ii. 18-20; N. & Q. 9th ser. ii. 144, 256. Cf. M. Gelling, Signposts to the Past (1978), 126-8; Ekwall, Concise Oxf. Dict. Eng. P.N. 310-11.
  • 11. H. P. R. Finberg, Early Charters of W. Midlands (1961), pp. 148, 203, 206, 212.
  • 12. Salopian Jnl. 18 Dec. 1839; V.C.H. Salop. i. 454.
  • 13. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1644-5, 283, 298; T.S.A.S. 4th ser. ii. 16-17.
  • 14. S.R.O. 2280/Rg/1, 14 Apr. 1645.
  • 15. T.S.A.S. 3rd ser. x. 89 n., 94-5; 4th ser. ii. 294. For the co. cttee. see V.C.H. Salop. iii. 359.
  • 16. Chas. II's Escape from Worcester: Narratives Assembled by S. Pepys, ed. W. Matthews (1967), 17, 44-8, 81, 90-1, 94, 112, 118; T.S.A.S. 3rd ser. vii. 184, 192; xlix. 15; Randall, Madeley, 45-54, 219, 332, 334, App. pp. I-VII.
  • 17. S.R.O. 2280/6/1, 1682 and 1709 accts.
  • 18. P.R.O., E 179/168/219, mm. 16-17; M. D. G. Wanklyn, 'Ind. Development in Ironbridge Gorge before Abraham Darby', W. Midland Studies, xv. 4-5.
  • 19. P.R.O., E179/168/219, mm. 16-17.
  • 20. H.W.R.O.(H.), Heref. dioc. rec., reply to visit. arts. 1716.
  • 21. Trinder, Ind. Rev. Salop. (1981), 158.
  • 22. Ibid. 227 sqq.; Salopian Shreds & Patches, i. 91; T.S.A.S. iv. 421; lv. 11-12; Popular Protest and Public Order . . . 1790-1920, ed. R. Quinault and J. Stevenson (1974), 36, 46.
  • 23. V.C.H. Salop. iii. 261 n. 31, 340, 342; S.R.O. 516/12; 2280/2/8, s.a. 1709, J. K[ynaston] to vicar; Randall, Madeley, 197-200; 2836/1; Trinder, Ind. Rev. Salop. (1981), 231, 234-6; below, Local Govt.
  • 24. Cf. E.H.R. xcv. 703; Local Historian, xiv. 426-7.
  • 25. N. Cossons and B. Trinder, The Iron Bridge: Symbol of Ind. Rev. (1979), 53 sqq.
  • 26. Ibid. 63; 'The Most Extraordinary District in the World': Ironbridge and Coalbrookdale, ed. B. Trinder (1977); Pool Hill Girls' Sch. log bk. 1863-87, 16 Aug. 1864 (extract supplied by Mrs. J. McFall); S.R.O. 4624/2/2, 25 June 1879.
  • 27. e.g. Shropshire Mag. Feb. 1967, 30; below, maps on pp. 24 and 108; J. McFall, 'Educ. in Madeley Union of Salop. in 19th Cent.' (Keele Univ. M.A.(Educ.) thesis, 1973), 46-9.
  • 28. Pevsner, Shropshire, 156; A. Raistrick, 'Old Furnace at Coalbrookdale', Ind. Arch. Rev. iv. 123 sqq.
  • 29. T.D.C. Telford: Basic Plan Proposals (1970), 25-6, 34; T.D.C. Telford in the 1980's [1980], 2.
  • 30. Legend on roadside name signs.
  • 31. Origins of Ironbridge Gorge Mus.: Rep. of Hon. Sec. I.G.M.T. (1982; copy in S.R.O. 4390); Salop. News Letter, xxix. 3; local inf.
  • 32. K. Hudson, Social Hist. of Museums (1975), 92-3.
  • 33. B. Trinder, 'Ironbridge Gorge Mus.' Local Historian, ix. 289-93; N. Cossons, 'Ironbridge-The First Ten Yrs.' Ind. Arch. Rev. iii. 179-86.
  • 34. The Times, 15 Feb. 1978; Shropshire Star, 14 Feb. 1978; 5-6 July 1979; inf. from I.G.M.T.
  • 35. D.N.B.
  • 36. D.N.B.; L. Tyerman, Wesley's Designated Successor (1882), 122-5, 132.
  • 37. D.N.B.; V.C.H. Essex, viii. 14; S.R.O. 1681, box 229, marr. settlement (1789), probate papers, etc.; 2280/Rg/6, memo. at front by Sam. Walter;/BRg/1, f. 52; /MRg/5, p. 16.
  • 38. W. Mate & Sons Ltd. Shropshire: Historical, Descriptive, Biographical (1906), pt. 2, p. 174; B. Trinder, intro. to reprint (Salop. Co. Libr. 1975) of Randall, Madeley.
  • 39. Below, Econ. Hist. (Clay and Ceramic Ind.).
  • 40. Aged 91, he contributed to V.C.H. Salop. i. 415-81 (corr. ibid. ii. 316-19; iii. 398); S.R.O. 3763/2/1, Randall to H.A. Doubleday, 6 Feb. 1901, 16 Sept. 1902.
  • 41. Tablet in St. Mic.'s unveiled 1912: St. Mic.'s, Madeley, Par. Mag. Oct. 1912; S.R.O. 2280/1/39.
  • 42. Who Was Who, 1897-1916, 48; Jackson, 'Madeley', bk. 1, p. 79.
  • 43. D.N.B. 1912-21; Complete Peerage, xiii. 168.
  • 44. Trinder, Ind. Rev. Salop. (1981), 155.
  • 45. Tit-Bits, 18 Feb. 1905; Proc. Inst. Mech. Engineers, Jan. 1916, 128-9; The Times, 15 Jan. 1936, p. 14a; V.C.H. Staffs. ii. 155-6; Birm. Post Midland Mag. 27 Apr. 1968; tablet in Holy Trin. Coalbrookdale.
  • 46. Trinder, op. cit. 154-5; Church Soc. Essentials, v, [p.'2] (copy in S.R.O. 3937/9/2).
  • 47. D.N.B.; M.A. Jarvis, Capt. Webb and 100 yrs. of Channel Swimming (1975); tablet in Holy Trin. Coalbrookdale.
  • 48. Who's Who (1982), 1688; Jackson, 'Madeley', bk. 1A, p. 237; Shropshire Mag. Nov. 1953, 17-18; Oct. 1967, 22; S.R.O. 725/4, p. 124; 803/1, p. 126.
  • 49. Who's Who (1982), 2440.