12th Century – the area fell within the manor of Madeley, which belonged to Much Wenlock Priory. The monks operated a bloomery called "Caldebroke Smithy".
1536 – bloomery recorded as working.
1540 – Much Wenlock Priory was closed by King Henry VIII but the bloomery continued operating.
1544 – the "Smethe Place" and "Calbroke Smethe" were leased to Hugh Morrall. This is believed to refer to the Lower Forge (SJ667038) and Upper Forge (SJ669042).
1545 – the abbey’s lands were bought by the king’s Italian physician, Agostino Agostini but he sold them in the same year (presumably at a profit) to a local man called Thomas Lawley. It is not known if the bloomery was put back into operation at this time.
1572 - the manor was acquired by John Brooke, who constructed a number of coal mines on his land. The mines would have produced iron ore as well as coal so it is reasonable to assume that it was smelted locally at the bloomery.
1615 – Brooke’s son, Sir Basil Brooke, bought the patent for making steel by the cementation process and built a blast furnace at Coalbrookdale. The patent contained a clause prohibiting the import of steel.
1619 – Brooke was unable to meet demand for steel from his works and was required to surrender his patent, although he continued making steel.
1644 – Brooke was arrested by Parliament after being involved in a plot to prevent the Scottish army taking part in the English Civil War.
1645 – Brooke’s estate was sequestrated by Parliament but the works continued in use.
1651 - the manor was leased to Francis Wolfe, the clerk of the ironworks, by Brooke’s heirs. Brooke had died in 1646 so presumably Parliament had returned the manor to his family.
1658 – a new blast furnace and forges were built. The furnace survives today and has a cast-iron lintel bearing a painted date of 1638 but an archive photograph shows it as 1658.
1660 - the Lower Forge was a secondary forge used for manufacturing frying pans. John Spencer and William Hallen were platers living at Coalbrookdale.
1668 – John Spencer was now a hammerman at the Upper Forge.
1688 - the ironworks were leased by Shadrach Fox and he sublet part of it to Lawrence Wellington, who used the Upper Forge as a finery and chafery.
1694 - Shadrach Fox leased the Great (Upper) and Plate (Lower) Forges.
1696 – the lease was renewed by Shadrach Fox and he sublet the “Great Forge and Plate Forge” to Wellington. Fox was an ironfounder and supplied round cannon shot and grenado shells to the Board of Ordnance during the Nine Years War.
1703 - the furnace blew up but the forges remained in use.
1708 - the Lower Forge was sublet to Cornelius Hallen.
1709 - Abraham Darby I created the Coalbrookdale Company and acquired the lease and rebuilt the old furnace, which he operated with coke as his fuel. Despite some claims, Darby did not introduce the world's first coke-fired blast furnace but it was the first in Europe to operate successfully for more than a few years. He operated as an ironfounder, making cast-iron pots and other goods, and his methods were so efficient that he could produce cheaper pots than his rivals.
1712 - Caleb Lloyd, Jeffrey Pinnell, Abraham Darby and his brother-in-law Thomas Harvey opened a brass works in Coalbrookdale.
1714 - Darby renewed his lease of the works and formed a partnership with John Chamberlain and Thomas Baylies. He ceased his interest in the brass works to concentrate on making iron. The Middle Forge (SJ668040) is recorded as being a boring mill.
1715 - a second furnace was built. Output was 80 tons per year.
1717 - Darby died prematurely and his widow Mary soon afterwards, causing the partnership to be dissolved. The Coalbrookdale Company and works were acquired by a partnership led by Thomas Goldney of Bristol and managed by Richard Ford. Darby’s son, Abraham Darby II, was brought into the business as an assistant manager when old enough. The company's main business was producing cast-iron goods. Molten iron for the foundry was produced from the blast furnaces and also by re-melting pig iron in air furnaces, a variant of the reverberatory furnace. The Company also became early suppliers of steam engine cylinders in this period.
1718 - the Company began to take an interest in nearby forges and restored the Old Forge to working order. The Great Forge was sublet to Thomas Stanley.
1720 - the Company took back the Great Forge but this was not profitable. The works were expanded with more furnaces, moulding shops and support departments. Horse powered pumps were replaced with steam engines. Leases were obtained to neighbouring land, initially for iron and coal mines and for furnaces.
1734 - the Middle Forge was converted to a mill for boring cast iron steam engine cylinders.
1736– output was 50 tons per year.
1748 - an extensive network of wooden wagon ways was constructed to link all parts of the works.
1749 – output was 150 tons per year.
1754 - more experiments took place as to how pig iron made with coke could be used to produce bar iron in charcoal finery forges. This proved to be a success and the Company built new furnaces at Horsehay and Ketley. Several mines and blast furnaces were acquired, including the Bedlam Furnaces in Madeley Wood and mines and mineral rights belonging to Madeley manor.
1754 - Charles Wood, in his description of the Dale says “… the first forge belongs to Mr Thomas Hallen which is employed for plating frying pans”.
1755 - Thomas Goldney III provided the finance to construct a new ironworks at Horsehay with 2 blast furnaces.
1756 – Thomas Goldney III provided the finance to construct another new ironworks at Ketley. Richard Reynolds was sent from Bristol to Coalbrookdale to represent Goldney’s interests. He subsequently became manager of the Horsehay Ironworks.
1757 - the company mines in Wrockwardine Wood began to supply ironstone to the works at Coalbrookdale, Horsehay and Ketley. Reynolds married Mary Darby (daughter of Abraham II) and, as a result of this marriage, acquired shares in the Coalbrookdale Company as a junior partner.
1763 - Abraham Darby II died but his son Abraham Darby III was not yet old enough to run a business. Richard Reynolds took over management of the Coalbrookdale Company until the son was old enough. During Richard’s period of management, the Coalbrookdale Company’s works became the most important in England. Most of the early steam engines were cast there and the first rotative engine made by Boulton & Watt was ordered by Reynolds for a steam-powered corn mill at Ketley.
1766 – patent taken out by George and Thomas Cranage (two workmen at the Company’s works) for producing wrought iron in a reverbatory furnace.
1768 - the Company began to produce the first cast-iron rails for railways and replaced their own wooden rails. Reynolds handed management of the company to Abraham Darby III but remained associated with the company and greatly improved the works.
1775 - Reynolds bought out Goldney’s shares in the Coalbrookdale Company.
1778 - Abraham Darby III began casting parts for the world's first cast-iron bridge at Ironbridge. By this time, the Company had cast more than 100 steam cylinders and many complete engines, including Boulton and Watt engines under licence. Many engineers experimented at Coalbrookdale utilising the facilities and experience there. Adam Heslop, who was an apprentice, invented the Heslop engine. Sadler, the first balloonist, had his invention of an improved steam engine built in the Dale. Visiting engineers included such men as Hornblower, Telford and Trevithick.
1780 – the iron bridge was opened. The Company expanded the facilities at Coalbrookdale with sophisticated ponds and culverts to provide water power and the “Resolution”, a beam engine to recirculate the water. William Reynolds joined his father in managing the Ketley Ironworks.
1787 – William Reynolds constructed a locomotive at Coalbrookdale works with a wagon attached. Unfortunately, there was an accident and a man was killed as he started the engine. The jury elected to enquire into the nature of the accident was so against the scheme that they imposed a huge fine, to be enforced every time the engine was used. As a result, he abandoned the idea.
1780 - Richard Reynolds transferred his shares in the Coalbrookdale Company to his sons William and Joseph. Together, the brothers formed a new partnership called William Reynolds & Company that managed their own mines and canals as well as their stake in the Coalbrookdale Company. It was not a solely family concern though as they did allow some of the Darby family to become partners. William Reynolds & Company now managed the Ketley Ironworks while the other Coalbrookdale Company partners looked after the other company interests. .
1792 – the Company’s partners were Samuel Darby, Sarah Darby, William Reynolds, George Boxall, William Rathbone and Mark Gilpin.
1794 - the partnership involved in Company was dissolved but the Darby family continued with the works.
1795 - structural ironwork was produced, including that for the Buildwas Bridge. This was 2 miles up the river from the original iron bridge and, due to advances in technology, it used only half as much cast iron despite being 30ft wider.
1796 – the Company sold the Madeley Wood Ironworks at Bedlam to William Reynolds & Company.
1797 - there was a recession in the iron industry and the Coalbrookdale Company were in financial difficulties, unlike William Reynolds & Company who had diversified their interests. Whereas Ketley Ironworks was very successful, those at Horsehay and Coalbrookdale were not. The Reynolds family had made large loans to the company, which was now £50,000 in debt, so the Darby and Reynolds interests were separated. At that time, William Reynolds & Company owned half of the Ketley Ironworks and held a one tenth share of the remaining Coalbrookdale Company assets. The other partners of the Coalbrookdale Company bought out William’s share of the company for £8,000 and he bought out the Coalbrookdale partners’ half share of the Ketley Ironworks. A legal document was drawn up to separate the interests as follows “The partnership trading as the Coalbrookdale Company, consisting of Rebecca Darby, Mary Rathbone, Sarah Darby, William Reynolds, Hannah Mary Rathbone and the Trustees of Samuel Darby deceased is dissolved. A new partnership known as the Coalbrookdale Company is formed consisting only of Rebecca Darby, Mary Darby, Sarah Darby and the Trustees of Samuel Darby deceased. The partnership trading as William Reynolds & Company, consisting of William Reynolds, Joseph Reynolds, Rebecca Darby, Mary Rathbone, Sarah Darby and the Trustees of Samuel Darby deceased is dissolved. A new partnership known as William Reynolds & Company is formed consisting only of William Reynolds and Joseph Reynolds”.
1798 – there were several years of distress caused by the high prices and scarcity of food. Although there were food riots in some parts of the country this did not happen in Coalbrookdale as the Company bought rice and corn for £8,000 and re-sold to the workforce at ¾ of the cost price. The Dale Corn Mill was built to produce flour from the corn and so avoid any exploitation by millers. The Company also loaned a substantial amount of capital to enable the Shrewsbury Bank to continue in business.
1802 – the Company made the high pressure boiler and engine for Trevithick’s locomotive that ran on rails.
1818 - the furnaces were shut down but the foundries remained in use.
1820 - closure of the works was considered.
1822 - the blast furnaces were closed down but the foundries remained in use. Coalbrookdale was noted for its decorative ironwork and made the gates for Hyde Park in London.
1832 Richard Darby resigned from the Company, leaving Francis Darby, Abraham Darby and Alfred Darby.
1838 - nail making took over from making frying pans at the Lower Forge.
1845 - the Company bought the land of the ironworks from the Lord of the Manor.
1847 – the Lower Forge ceased working.
1849 - the Company was awarded the Gold Medal of the Society of Arts for its castings. The Darby family relinquished management as their interest focussed on Ebbw Vale Ironworks, although they still owned an interest in the company.
1850 The company built a school at Pool Hill,which accommodated 700 of the employees' children, and the church in Coalbrookdale.
1851 - the Company took part in the Great Exhibition and received an award for specimens of iron, tire iron for wheels and engine floor and foot-plate iron. At that time they employed between 3,000 - 4,000 men and boys at Coalbrookdale and Horsehay. The output was 2,000 tons a week and the ironworks were the biggest in the world.
1852 - Abraham Darby IV held 88 shares out of 720 in the Company’s ironworks and collieries and sold them to Mary Darby.
1856 – a School of Art was created.
1861 – the national census showed that most of the people living in Coalbrookdale worked at the ironworks. The following table just shows the employees.
1864 - the Company built standard gauge locomotives to work the company sidings that were connected with the main line.
1866 – the Company owned the Lighthouse Brickworks, as well as a farm and mines at Broseley.
1870 – the Horsehay Ironworks were closed.
1881 – a private limited company was formed called Coalbrookdale Company Ltd. It took over the business of the Coalbrookdale Company as coal and ironmasters, ironfounders and engineers. Steam fire pumps were produced under a patent from Parker and Weston.
1886 - the Company sold the Horsehay Ironworks site to the Simpson family and thus no longer had any ironworks outside Coalbrookdale. Alfred Darby II became company chairman.
1900 – the Company employed 1,100 men in
1901 - new foundries and workshops were built at Dale End.
1903 - new foundries and workshops were built over the infilled Lower Furnace Pool.
1925 - Alfred Darby II retired as Chairman
of the Company, marking the end of the Darby connection with the works.
1929 – the Light Castings Group was absorbed by Allied Ironfounders Ltd.
1930 – the works were electrified and the Company installed the first completely mechanised moulding and sand conditioning plant in the country on which a large variety of castings could be produced with greatly increased output. New works were erected over the infilled Upper Forge Pool, replacing the Upper Works erected around and over the Old Furnace during the 19th Century.
1945 – the Company started making new types of fire grate and the Rayburn cooker.
1959 - the 250th anniversary of the Company was celebrated. The Old Furnace was preserved and the Coalbrookdale Museum was opened.
1961 – the company were described as light iron founders and were making the Rayburn cooker, Brook fire and Marves fire with 600 employees.
1969 - Glynwed Foundries Limited absorbed Allied Ironfounders Ltd.
the Coalbrookdale Museum and Furnace were leased to the Ironbridge
Gorge Museum Trust.
Coalbrookdale Company’s Current Factory (SJ668044)
Coalbrookdale New Furnace (site of) (SJ669049)
Coalbrookdale Old Furnace (SJ667048)
Museum of Iron (SJ667046)