Ludlow is a parliamentary borough, standing on a beautiful bend of the Teme, in Shropshire, but close to the borders of Herefordshire, from which the river divides it.
Situate in the north west angle of the parish of Madeley, about 14 miles from Shrewsbury, 5 from Wellington, and 6 from Shiffnal, with all of which places there is now railway communication.
The Dale itself is a narrow wooded glen, opening at its widest and deepest part from the gorge through which the Severn flows in a south-easterly direction, and running for about 2½ miles into the table land out of which the Wrekin rises. Few places possess greater natural attractions or are situate among more romantic scenery, of which, from various points on the hill sides, tine and extensive views, “ever charming, ever new” are obtained of the fertile vale of the Severn, of Benthall and Wenlock Edge, of the Wrekin, Clee, Stretton and Breidden hills, of the distant Malvern hills, or the more distant Welsh mountains. The admirers of beautiful scenery, therefore, will derive great enjoyment from a visit to it whilst the geologist will be amply rewarded for the field for research which the developments of the silurian and carboniferous systems here afford; or the visitor, in the well known iron works in the Dale and its neighbourhood. It is fortunate for the beauty of the place that it is situate on the edge only of the coal field which bears its name, and that the working on the outcrop of the seams which appear in the Dale have long since been superseded by pits to the deeper measures. The coal field is one of the smallest in England, having area of about 32 square miles, but is very productive, from the number of seams of coal and ironstone found in it. About 325,000 tons of ironstone, and 750,000 tons of coal are now annually raised from it. Its fossils numerous, and include remains of marine, lacustrine, and land plants and creatures. It is remarkable from the greater part of it lying upon the upper members of the Silurian system, which is largely developed in Benthall and Wenlock Edge, and extends over the adjacent parts of Shropshire and Herefordshire, and into central Wales; and in which the distinctive fossils are very abundant.
The position of the Dale, with its stream of water, commended it in early times to the monks of Wenlock for a preserve of fish and game; but this use of it gave way, as its advantages were known, for an industry of a more important kind, and iron works have existed here from time immemorial. Records exist of a “Smethe,” or “Smeth-house,” in the reigns of Henry VIII. and Edward VI., and occasionally notices of them occur through the times of Charles I., Cromwell, and Charles II., down to 1711, when the family of Darby, which acquired, and through successive members has transmitted the proprietorship of the works, settled here.
With the growth of the iron trade the works have been much extended, but their relative importance has altered since the larger coalfields have been opened, Several important processes in the manufacture, or valuable applications of iron have originated here. About 1718, the use of mineral fuel in the blast furnace superseded the use of charcoal. About 1768, iron rails were laid down on the tramways, and soon afterwards a method of puddling was adopted and patented. In 1779 the first iron bridge was made and erected. This still stands in substantial repair, at a point where it crosses the Severn with a single arch, having a span of 100ft. 6in.
Many of the castings for the early engines of Boulton and Watt were made here, and about 1788, inclines for the varying levels of canals were first arranged here by Telford, at the suggestion of William Reynolds.
At these works, every casting for agricultural, mechanical, architectural, sanitary, or domestic purposes can be produced. Not only are articles of its manufacture sent to all parts of the United Kingdom, but they find their way to America, and to countries as distant as Chili and China. Besides the bridge at Ironbridge, the bridges over the Severn at Buildwas, over the Parrat at Bridgewater, over the Cut at Bristol, over the Trent near Rugeley, and over the Severn at Preston, Boats were cast here, with many of less note. In castings of a finer description, and of superior artistic design and excellence, such as stoves, fenders, gates, and palisading, the foundries maintain a high reputation, its productions having gained a Council Medal at the Exhibition of 1851, and two Silver Medals at the Paris Exhibition of 1855. Many articles are now bronzed by a patent electro-type process, which deposits upon them a coating of brass. This method received the award of a medal at Paris. A method of protecting iron from atmospheric influences will probably be soon rendered available.
The population of the Dale is about 2,000. It is collected into an ecclesiastical district, for which a beautiful church has been lately erected. A commodious building having a large lecture room, a well supplied reading room, a library of 3,000 vols., and a room for the local school of art has been recently completed for the use of the Literary and Scientific Institution.
There are also a chapel for Wesleyans, and a meeting house for members of the Society of Friends.
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This fine old capital of Shropshire, and parliamentary town, is 42 miles beyond Birmingham, 161¾ miles from London by the North Western (or 171 via Birmingham), and 171 by the Great Western.