Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust & the Worshipful Company of Marketors

Founded in 1967, the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust Ltd is a registered charity whose twin aims are education and heritage conservation.  The Trust cares for 36 scheduled monuments and listed buildings within the UNESCO Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site and operates 10 award-winning museums, which collectively tell the story of the Ironbridge Gorge’s universal significance for its unique role in the development of the Industrial Revolution.  These museums receive around 500,000 visits a year, including 70,000 school visits. The Trust employs over 200 staff and has over 500 volunteers. As well as 10 museums, the sites in the Trust’s care include a research library, a tourist information centre, two youth hostels, archaeological monuments, historic woodlands, housing, two chapels, and two Quaker burial grounds.

As one of the largest independent museums in the world, Ironbridge is in the privileged position of having its entire and multi-themed collections Designated of national importance. They include: decorative ceramics especially Coalport and Caughley china and decorative tiles, social history, ironwork, Broseley tobacco pipes, the Elton Collection of international art relating to the Industrial Revolution, historic costume, a nationally important research library and archive, archaeology, geology and oral history recordings. The Trust is in the unique position of being able to use its collections, many within their place of production, together with the landscape and buildings to tell the evolving story of the Ironbridge Gorge and how it became known internationally as the Birthplace of Industry.

The events that happened over 300 years ago in this small part of Shropshire had world changing significance, which is recognised today by the Ironbridge Gorge’s World Heritage Site (WHS) status. As one of the UK’s first WHSs, the Gorge was designated by UNESCO in 1986 along with six other sites including Stonehenge and the Giants Causeway. The social, business and financial impacts of the historic events in Ironbridge have unquestionably spread out across the world.

From an area that was once filled with fire, smoke and deafening furnaces and machinery, the Gorge is now a beautiful, tranquil and very green place with the natural landscape dominated by the heavily broadleaved wooded steep river valley of the River Severn.

Within the World Heritage Site are substantial remains of furnaces, works, dwellings and transport systems together with extensive collections of artefacts and archives relating to the individuals, communities, processes and products that made this area so important. These are brought to life through each of the Trust’s 10 museums using exhibitions, demonstrations, hands-on activities and costumed staff and volunteers.

The Trust enjoys a relationship with the London Livery Companies that goes back over 35 years and culminates each year with an annual Livery Weekend at Ironbridge This was started by the late Sir Peter Gadsden, Lord Mayor of London 1978-80. Having grown up in Shropshire he undertook a visit to the Museum in his Mayoral year and became fascinated by Ironbridge. He subsequently founded the London Committee of the Trust and started the Livery Day in 1983. It has since grown and developed and as word spread more London Livery Companies started to attend and the event expanded to become the full weekend of activities that it is today, with nearly 100 Companies and Guilds attending.

Connections between Ironbridge and the City of London date back much further than the 35 years that the Livery Companies have been visiting the Museums. Abraham Darby III, the Quaker Ironmaster who built the Iron Bridge was given the Freedom of the City in 1775. The Industrial Revolution took place in Britain due to the stable social and political conditions, raw materials, mercantile power and available capital. To this could be added the genius of invention and an abundance of skills nurtured by the Guilds and Livery Companies.

Since the beginning of the Livery Weekends the Livery Companies have donated approximately £580,000 to Ironbridge in cash and in-kind donations. Donations from Livery Companies have supported many of the Museums, projects, developments and education programmes at Ironbridge.

Over the last four years the Worshipful Company of Marketors, as an Outreach marketing project, has provided support to the Trust’s Chief Executive with advice about the preparation of the Trust’s new Strategic Plan. Anna Brennand, the Chief Executive, said ‘At a time of significant change for the Trust, working with Glyn Cartwright from the Worshipful Company of Marketors has provided me with invaluable support and professional expertise in developing a new Strategic Plan for the Trust. It has been such a pleasure to have access to an experienced practitioner in Glyn, and through his open and insightful way of working, combined with his constructive challenge to what I proposed, it has enabled me to focus on the right areas and improve the way we work’.