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Abraham Darby I : To the poor of England, the Worcestershire man gave affordable pots and pans, and to all the world he gave the industrial revolution.
Abraham Darby I

Based on Industrial Biography, chapter 5, by Samuel Smiles.

Seventeenth-century England’s industrial productivity had stalled. Her forests could no longer supply charcoal for smelting; iron was mostly imported from Russia and Sweden; fine metal kitchenware was a luxury of the rich. Government funded various barren initiatives, but Worcestershire entrepreneur Abraham Darby (1678-1717) made the breakthrough.

ABRAHAM Darby learnt his trade grinding malt in Birmingham, managing the brass mills and coke-fired malting ovens. In 1699, he founded a malt-mill of his own in Bristol, and branched out into brass cookware.

Together with his apprentice John Thomas, Darby developed a method for casting utensils in sand rather than clay, improving on techniques learnt during a visit to Holland in 1704. After moving his operations to Coalbrookdale in Shropshire in 1708, he used his experience in the malt-mills to begin smelting iron with coke rather than the increasingly scarce charcoal,* and soon Abraham Darby was England’s premier manufacturer of affordable, high-quality metal kitchenware.

Abraham died in 1717, aged just thirty-eight, but his light, slim, mass-produced cast-iron pots and pans had already improved the lives of the poor beyond measure, and without his painstaking research into the best coals for coke-fired iron, the bridges, railways and ships of the later industrial revolution would quite simply never have been built.

* Darby should not be confused with his son Abraham Darby II (1711-1763), or his grandson Abraham Darby III (1750-1791), builder of the world’s first cast-iron bridge, at Coalbrookdale between 1776-1779.

* Darby’s great-grandmother was sister to Dud Dudley, who claimed to have developed a method for smelting iron with coke in 1665, though it was never proven. Dudley’s notebooks came down to Abraham, and at the least may have captured his imagination. See our post Dud Dudley: Iron Man.

Based on Industrial Biography, chapter 5, by Samuel Smiles.

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Picture: © Basher Eyre, Geograph. Licence: CC-BY-SA 2.0. View original
The kitchen at Dale House in Coalbrookdale in Shropshire, the town where Abraham set up business in 1708. The house was built in 1717, the year that Abraham died, but remained in his family. It is now kept as a museum together with the adjoining Rosehill property, built in 1738 for Darby’s daughter Mary and her husband, Richard Ford.
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