The world’s first cast iron bridge could be saved from ruin after an £880,000 donation from a German foundation seeking to reinforce “cultural bonds” with Britain after Brexit.
The Iron Bridge, in Shropshire, needs vital repair work after a survey revealed its ironwork is cracking – partly due to a 19th Century earthquake, which pushed the two sides of the gorge it spans closer together.
As work starts to preserve the bridge, English Heritage has revealed a one million Euro (£880,000) donation from the Hermann Reemtsma Foundation towards the £3.6million restoration project.
The not-for-profit organisation, headquartered in Hamburg, wants to reinforce our two nations’ “industrial heritage” and “broader cultural bonds”.
It said the 238-year old landmark served as a “potent reminder” of the continent’s common cultural roots and values, saying it seems “more important than ever” in the current climate.
It is the first time the foundation, set up in the memory of industrialist Hermann F. Reemtsma, has funded a venture in the UK, as it typically invests in projects in Germany and Poland.
A further £25,000 is being sought by English Heritage through a crowdfunding campaign to complete the full restoration. The rest of the money has been raised from other donations.
The Iron Bridge, built in 1779 over the River Severn during the Industrial Revolution, was the first in the world to be made of cast iron and marked a turning point in British engineering.
Jochen Muennich, of the Hermann Reemtsma Foundation, said it was “an outstanding example of the late eighteenth century engineering skills pioneered in Great Britain and subsequently adopted and developed throughout Europe”.
He added: “Not only do we admire the Iron Bridge as an important technical landmark, but we also see it as a potent reminder of our continent’s common cultural roots and values.”
Major scaffolding has gone up around the 100ft-long bridge to clean and conserve it, with necessary repair work being carried out to iron radials and braces holding it together and the main arch.
Charity English Heritage, which is leading the project, called the 378-ton construction near Telford “one of the wonders of the modern world”.
It was once in the heartland of an industrial powerhouse thanks to rich coal deposits in the area, and was built to expand economic activity in that part of the Severn.
It had to be single span and arched to help the traffic flow of barges on the river, so architect Thomas Pritchard suggested it should be made of cast iron.
Its success prompted the material to be used in the construction of many more bridges and buildings.
The landmark has been closed to traffic since 1934, when it was classed as an ancient monument, and it was designated a World Heritage Site in 1986.
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.”
Stephen Walter write this news and you can keep up with telegraph