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Is this River the Reason you're Learning English?

The river Severn
The River Severn

The river Severn is special for two reasons: Firstly, at 200+ miles, it is the longest river in the UK. Secondly, it is at the centre of a story explaining how English came to be the world's most spoken 2nd language.

The story takes place in a little village named Coalbrookdale just 15 miles from Shropshire's county town of Shrewsbury, where a man named Abraham Darby developed a new technology which would change the world forever.

A Clever Engineer

Abraham Darby (1677-1717) started his career in Staffordshire, working for a malt mill manufacturer, where he learnt about the use of coke as a fuel in beer making.

Malt - A dried cereal grain used for making beer.
A mill - machinery / gadget used for grinding cereals.
Coke - a refined coal (carbon) product without impurities.

After his initial apprenticeship, Darby opened his own malt mill business and worked with brass before helping to found the Bristol Brass Company. He then travelled to the Netherlands to study cast iron used in the manufacture of pots and pans.

Brass - A metal alloy made of copper and zinc.
Cast iron - a metal alloy of iron and carbon which is 'cast' (moulded) into various shapes.

Upon his return, he experimented with new ways of making cast iron and in 1709, his expertise in metals led him to Coalbrookdale where he reopened a disused furnace to refine his product using coke as his fuel.

The key to the engineer's success was the river Severn whose deep gorge provided all the necessary ingredients for his production. Coalbrookdale's coke was abundant and pure. The gorge also had limestone and iron ore. With these three important ingredients mined from the gorge, Darby was able to make iron which was far superior to any metal the world had seen before.

A gorge - a narrow and deep valley.
Iron ore - a rock or mineral from which iron can be extracted.
Limestone - calcium carbonate rock used to remove impurities of the ironmaking process.
to mine (v) - to extract useful materials from the earth.

Three important ingredients: coke, limestone, and iron ore.

The Darby Family

When Abraham Darby died, his son, Abraham Darby II (1711–1763) was only 6 but he joined his dad's partner, Richard Ford, in the business when he was older. Darby II continued his father's innovation by adding steam engines to the process. He also converted transport carts from wooden wheels to iron ones. Another partner, Richard Reynolds, subsequently ensured the railways too were cast iron. Abraham Darby III (1750 – 1789) joined the firm in 1768 by which time, the Coalbrookdale company was thriving. The company built a school and cottages for its workers, and they paid well too.

... Industry was developing!

The Iron Bridge

To overcome transport issues on the river Severn, a bridge was desperately needed. The bridge was not to be any regular bridge, but the largest cast-iron structure to date, the first ever cast-iron bridge, and a way to 'showcase' the product to the world. It was opened on New Year's Day 1781. The iron bridge attracted visitors (and money) from all around and everyone wanted to know the 'recipe'.

The Industrial Revolution

Towards the end of the 18th century, industry was taking off all across the UK. Tools and hand production became engines and machines; Iron railways and bridges improved transport systems; Steam and water power made everything faster. Everything was made from iron and it was bigger, better, and more efficient than before. Factories were built, output increased, and textiles led the way. Cities such as Liverpool and Manchester took their place on the map, and by the middle of the 19th century, Britain was leading world commerce. Global trade had taken off and what was the common language?

... English!

So, is Abraham Darby and his family the reason you are learning English today? Is the small village of Coalbrookdale at the heart of your 2nd language learning? Is the river Severn the source of English as a global language? What do you think?


After the iron bridge was built, the town of Ironbridge developed around it. The area became known as the Ironbridge Gorge and in 1986, it became a

If you haven't been to the iron bridge at Ironbridge already, you should! Whether you walk over or canoe under, it's a lovely place to visit. The town itself is very pretty and offers several museum options and other points of interest where you can learn about its history. There are also some nice pubs and shops here to complement the visit.

If you have been before, what colour is the bridge in your photos? It was recently restored to its former red/brown colour after many years of being painted black. So, what colour did you see?

Read more about Ironbridge's history and places to visit here.



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