A startling example is that icon of the Industrial Revolution, the Iron Bridge itself, which in recent times has been given a new paint job which experts discovered more accurately reflects how previous generations saw it.
“The conservation and reinterpretation of the Iron Bridge in the 21st century demonstrates the way in which archaeological analysis of such a well-known industrial heritage structure continues to evolve,” says Dr Michael Nevell, the Industrial Heritage Support Officer for England.
Work by English Heritage from 2016 to 2018 saw the blasting of the entire iron structure before it was repainted.
The erection of scaffolding around the bridge, he says, allowed further archaeological work to augment drawings made during the last time the bridge was scaffolded.
“The most dramatic element of the restoration work was the decision to repaint the bridge in red-brown rather than black. This was based upon evidence for this being the primary paint used on the cast iron beams.”
Dr Nevell, who is based at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust and is an industrial and landscape archaeologist, has now written a book which highlights the impact of such investigations on modern understanding of the buildings, structures and sites in the cradle of the Industrial Revolution.
‘The Archaeology of Ironbridge Gorge in 20 Digs’ explores a range of sites in the district and material evidence excavated from the 1970s to the 2010s.
Some are well known and familiar to the thousands of visitors to the Gorge, which is a designated World Heritage Site, such as the Hay Inclined Plane and the Coalport China Works.
Others do not have such a profile on the tourist trail, and are perhaps unfamiliar even to locals, such as The Old Wynd, a canal basin and transhipment point on the Shropshire Canal at Brierley Hill, which is above Coalbrookdale. The site was first explored by archaeologists between 1983 and 1985, but it was not until 2014 that there was a formal excavation which at last revealed its “secrets”.
The Archaeology of Ironbridge Gorge in 20 Digs is supported by the museums trust and draws on images from the trust’s archives. It is published by Amberley and costs £15.99.