Forge ahead

9th May 2003 at 01:00
Phil Revell welcomes the latest addition to Ironbridge

Enginuity is a great name for a museum, and the pound;7 million design and technology centre is the latest addition to the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust's mosaic of sites spread across the Severn gorge in Shropshire. The museum is in Coalbrookdale, site of the world's first coal-fired blast furnace - next door to the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Ironmaster Abraham Darby's house overlooks the site and Enginuity is in buildings that were used by the original Coalbrookdale foundry.

The nine other sites celebrate the history of the area, but Enginuity is intended to be an exploration of design and technology. It's more of a hands-on exploration of the principles of engineering and the museum hopes that visitors will become apprentice engineers - if only for the day.

There's an X-ray machine that allows a look inside a range of everyday objects, a water maze, and lots of handles to turn and buttons to press.

Children can work off excess energy pedalling hard to power a huge wind turbine, or they can see how much energy it takes to move a full-size locomotive. On the day I visited, the favourite exhibit appeared to be power valley, a huge replica river valley where water flows and dam releases can be switched on and off to produce a power supply.

For teachers, one of the attractions of Enginuity is the display information. Armed with a "zapper", kids can activate information hotspots that trigger an audio-visual display about each exhibit.

The museum also runs workshops for schools. The Larches Special School from Leominster was busy building bridges, an appropriate activity in an area boasting the world's first iron bridge. This is a classic Damp;T lesson involving planning and team work. Using spaghetti, glue and sticky tape, the Larches teams were each trying to make the strongest bridge. The test was to suspend a bucket from the middle span and fill it slowly with sand.

The winning bridge was expected to be both light and strong, so the construction that consisted largely of sticky tape never had a chance.

The Larches winner weighed in at only 234 grammes but held 2,693 grammes of sand before it collapsed. Bridge builders Dale, Ryan and Aaron said that the design was "all our own work" and took "lots of effort".

Education officer Mel Wetherley can also offer a parachute drop, using a parcel, not a child, and buggy racing.

Enginuity is worth a visit on its own or as part of a longer trip that takes in the other museum sites, ranging from the 50-acre Blists Hill - an open-air recreation of life at the end of the Victorian era - to the Quaker graveyard where many of the Darbys are buried, and the tar tunnel where the tar still oozes from the walls.

Next door to the new technology centre is the Museum of Iron, including the original furnace alongside a more traditional museum chronicling the development of iron as a material.

Ironbridge is a popular destination; 50,000 children visit every year.

First-timers should beware of trying to do too much. To see all the sites properly takes two to three days. In summer, the Severn gorge is busy with tourists so the best time for schools is outside the peak season. From November to Easter, groups can benefit from a 30 per cent discount on normal prices.


Enginuity Ironbridge Gorge Museums, Coach Road, Coalbrookdale, Shropshire TF8 7DQ. Student group rates pound;2.52 to pound;3.24 per pupil. Minimum group size 10; one teacher free with every eight students. Tel: 01952 432166Email:

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