The Iron Men: The Work­ers Who Cre­ated the New Iron Age

By An­thony Bur­ton

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - THE GUIDE -

(The His­tory Press, £14.99, 192 pages) As the au­thor of more than 70 books on in­dus­trial and trans­port his­tory, An­thony y Bur­ton is an ac­knowl­edged ex­pert in his field. In this in­sight­ful new book, he charts the his­tory of the ‘New Iron Age’ in the 18th cen­tury.

Start­ing with the Dar­bys of Coal­brook­dale and their hum­ble iron pots and pans, the au­thor de­scribes each ma­jor dis­cov­ery and in­no­va­tion in the iron and steel in­dus­tries in great de­tail.

Clearly writ­ten and metic­u­lously re­searched, the text is ac­ces­si­ble and the tech­ni­cal in­for­ma­tion is easy for the lay­man to un­der­stand.

There are chap­ters on iron ships, nails and chains, bridges across canals and rivers, iron rails, ‘tin cans’ for food and drink, iron- and steel-framed build­ings, and so on. Through th­ese chap­ters, Bur­ton shows how iron and steel were used in count­less ar­eas of life, giv­ing a clear in­di­ca­tion of how the New Iron Age trans­formed the world and also how iron was even­tu­ally su­per­seded by steel.

Some read­ers may find the book’s ti­tle slightly mis­lead­ing be­cause this is a his­tory of the in­no­va­tors and the iron founders, rather than the work­ers who toiled in the foundries and work­shops. The sto­ries of Thomas Telford, Robert Stephen­son and Isam­bard King­dom Brunel are told, as well as lesser-known char­ac­ters who de­serve greater recog­ni­tion. There are ref­er­ences to wages, trade unions and work­ing con­di­tions, but there is far more de­tail on the ‘ bril­liant in­no­va­tion’ than the ‘ hard­ship and strug­gle’ men­tioned in the blurb.

The book does, how­ever, pro­vide es­sen­tial back­ground read­ing into the work­ing meth­ods, in­ven­tions and ma­chin­ery that were in­tro­duced in the iron and steel in­dus­tries from the 18th to the 20th cen­turies. As the au­thor con­cludes, we live in “a world of iron and steel” be­cause of them. Michelle Higgs is an au­thor spe­cial­is­ing in so­cial his­tory and fam­ily his­tory

The or­nate iron roof of the Grainger Mar­ket, New­cas­tle upon Tyne

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