Power Lines ~ Ironbridge Switch-Off


Ironbridge Power Station has run out of steam, its huge cooling towers presently stark monuments to the era of dirty energy, an era that kicked off in this very valley, the Ironbridge Gorge, where in millennia past the River Severn turned its back on the north and, turbo-charged by glacial melt-water, drilled its way through inconvenient uplands and headed south, thereby exposing strata whose properties ingenious humankind would one day find well suited to industrial enterprise.

Limestone. Ironstone. Coal. Fire and brick clay. These were the materials revealed by Severn’s pre-emptive workings. They provided the means for the building and fuelling of blast furnaces. The first iron works in nearby Coalbrookdale were run by monks and lay workers of Wenlock Priory. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, there was a massive sell-off of monastic land and facilities around the Gorge to London merchants and get-rich-quick gentry all keen to make iron; or mine coal; or extract natural bitumen that also occurs here.

The Gorge and its tributary valleys were, in their way, covert places, and later proved attractive locations for 17th century iron masters set on pioneering new technologies: coke-fired casting; fine boring of cannon; trialling of new materials in new constructions that would astonish the world and change it and us forever.

But back to the power station that now no longer burns trainloads of coal to feed the national grid. It sits on a floodplain at the head of the Gorge, a World Heritage Site no less, the Ironbridge Gorge. A local lordly landowner once observed to me that the discharges of warm water from the cooling towers heated up the river along his stretch of bank by one degree, thus ruining his salmon fishing; the salmon, he said, did not care for warmth and rushed on by. To his credit his lordship did not seem too bothered. At least for now the river is subject only to natural forces when it comes to temperature.

Soon the demolition teams will move in, and trainloads of furnace ash will be shipped out along with countless tons of strategic reserves of gravel which happen to occur on the site. And down will come the four cooling towers – and what a sight that will be. Then the plan is to build 1,000 homes and create a business park to create thousands of jobs, and all beside a river with a history of monumental flooding, and on a site with all manner of embedded pollutants, and in a geographical cul de sac with only two narrow lanes either side the river by which to access the outside world. The head of our local authority that is championing the scheme is on record saying that he won’t let considerations of climate emergency get in the way of the county’s need for economic growth.

It takes one’s breath away – this Age of Bonkers!

Line Squares #23

34 thoughts on “Power Lines ~ Ironbridge Switch-Off

  1. he won’t let considerations of climate emergency get in the way of the county’s need for economic growth.

    And the spill words … I don’t care tuppence for supposed climate issues as long as I remain in office and all those contractors are very grateful for what I did for them.

    There are similar towers in Soweto. They remain standing are now considered somewhat of an iconic part of our history and have become a tourist attraction.

  2. “When the Last Tree Is Cut Down, the Last Fish Eaten, and the Last Stream Poisoned, You Will Realize That You Cannot Eat Money” — sadly it won’t just be your politician’s kids who experience the truth in that statement. Tragic!

    1. Just a few miles away from Ironbridge we have Telford – a new town where the housing is designed in tandem with the infrastructure and the employment opportunities. Unfortunately for the county council, the new town, though in Shrophire, has its own authority which serves a large population with expanding housing schemes – which means lots of council tax, which the rest of the largely agricultural county is rather short on. All the result of decisions past.

  3. I am sad that the towers will be pulled down, they are an iconic part of the gorge as much as the bridge. I loved seeing those pink towers even when they still puffed out billowing clouds of steam. A shame they can’t have a listed status slapped on them and turned into another gorge museum. It would be lovely to reach there by a little boat from the town. As for housing, they really are bonkers. Where is the employment going to come from? Su is right. We can’t eat money.

    1. I think if Telford and Wrekin authority had their way the place would become a big park, linking up to Dale End, and walks along the old railway line through the hanging woodland on the Broseley side of the river. It would be an amazing resource. Shropshire Council on the other hand appear to be desperate for council tax and the site is on their side of the ‘border’. There is as you might imagine, quite a lot of opposition, and neighbouring communities, especially Wenlock and Buildwas are v. concerned about the knock-on consequences.

  4. yes let’s replace concrete with more concrete, just what this valley and the wider environment needs 😦 far better to have made something of the cooling towers and to have reclaimed the area for nature. So need someone else in charge!

    1. I’m glowing now, after that lovely comment, Meg. Thank you. We had enforced basic geology lectures as part of the Prehistory degree course, and it was so utterly boring and impenetrable that I think I’m still rebelling against the wretched man who only seemed intent on killing all interest in his discipline. I still don’t know much geology, and I’m still confounded by the terms, but putting myself in the earth’s shoes, it always seems exciting, though maybe more slowly rendered in reality than my words suggest 😉

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