The Iron Men: The Workers Who Created the New Iron Age
By Anthony Burton
(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areas of life, giving a clear indication of how the New Iron Age transformed the world and also how iron was eventually superseded by steel.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