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Making Iron

Until the 18th century iron was made using ironstone (iron ore), limestone and charcoal.  In 1709 Abraham Darby smelted the first iron using coke, a purer form of coal. The Bersham ironmasters first made iron in a blast furnace using coke in 1721.

Pig iron is the iron straight from the blast furnace.

Cast iron objects are made in a foundry.  Cast iron is very hard, but it is brittle and will not bend. It was useful for making cannons, cylinders, engine parts and decorative railings.

Wrought iron objects are made in a forge or smithy. This purer form of iron was used to make weapons and tools.

Since the 19th century, steel (a form of iron containing a controlled amount of carbon) has replaced cast and wrought iron. Steel can have the qualities of both and none of their drawbacks.

A late 18th century ironworks. Engraving by Wilson Lowry after George Robertson. - © Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.