Early settlement in the area was thought to be on the land that sloped up from the Weald Moors (an area north of the town centre) towards the line along which the Roman Watling Street was built. Farmland surrounded three large estates in the 10th century, namely Wellington, Wrockwardine and Lilleshall.
From the 13th century there was urban development in Wellington and Madeley, where Wenlock Priory founded a new town. Six monastic houses, founded in the 11th and 12th centuries, had large interests in the area's economic growth. They collectively acquired almost half of the area, and profited from coal and ironstone mines and iron smithies on their estates.
The New Town was first designated on 16 January 1963 as Dawley New Town, covering 9,100 acres (37 km2) of Dawley, Wenlock, Oakengates, Wellington Rural District and Shifnal Rural District. Development started, guided by the Dawley New Town Development Corporation, with the first homes on the new Sutton Hill housing estate being occupied in 1967. Initial planning and design concepts for Dawley New Town were produced by the Birmingham-based John Madin Design Group.
The Minister proposed an extension of 12,000 acres (49 km2) in 1968 (taking in the historic area of Ironbridge Gorge), which saw objections and a public inquiry take place. The Dawley New Town (Designation) Amendment (Telford) Order was made on 29 November 1968, extending the New Town area by 10,143 acres (41.05 km2) of "land lying within the urban districts of Oakengates and Wellington and the rural districts of Shifnal and Wellington". This Order also renamed the new town Telford, after the Scottish-born civil engineer Thomas Telford who, in 1787, became Surveyor of Public Works for Shropshire. Other suggested names at the time were Dawelloak and Wrekin Forest City.
Most of the infrastructure was constructed from the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s with the major housing and commercial development occurring over three decades up to the early 1990s when the Development Corporation was wound up to be replaced by Commission for the New Towns, later English Partnerships, and most of the property was handed over to the then Wrekin District Council. Telford was now 25 years old and was firmly established as one of the most important towns in the region.
In 1983, after fierce opposition and three public enquiries, the M54 motorway was completed, connecting the town to the M6 and thence the rest of the UK's motorway network. Other major roads are the A5, A518 and A442, which is commonly known as the Eastern Primary or EP, and is officially branded Queensway.
Many of the new town's residents were originally from the West Midlands conurbation, which includes Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Dudley and Walsall. The vast majority of the council house tenants in Telford were rehoused from inner city Birmingham. Some individuals still refuse to put Telford in their address, instead using the original local name (such as Wellington or Dawley) and often citing the existence of Town Councils as support for the argument "you can't live in a town in a town," e.g. Wellington(Town) Telford(Town). The new town's residents who arrived in the 1960s and 1970s earned the unwanted nickname "overspill" from people living in the existing towns and villages.
In 2007, a £250 million regeneration plan for the town centre was announced, which will include the pedestrianisation of the road surrounding the shopping centre, and the creation of new cafés, bars and shops which will lead to 1,750 new jobs. The reason for this expansion is that the original "centre" was only ever a shopping place with no real heart (See Shropshire Star 3 June 2004). Since the "centre" closed early evening, there was no nightlife at all in the area, the only major local entertainment areas being in Oakengates and Wellington.
The first phase of the town centre development, named Southwater, was completed in 2014. The official opening ceremony on 18 October 2014 included live music and fireworks. The area comprises a refurbished library, various chain restaurants, Cineworld IMAX Cinema, bowling alley/arcade and a new multi-storey car park.
Telford town centre lies about 21 kilometres (13 mi) east/south-east of Shrewsbury and 24 kilometres (15 mi) north-west of Wolverhampton. The town comprises 7,803 hectares (30.13 square miles) and its southern and eastern parts, between the Severn Gorge and Donnington Wood, include the East Shropshire coalfield. North and north-west Telford lie beyond the coalfield's boundary fault on sandstone beds which, along with other Triassic formations, prevail over much of the North Shropshire plain. The town centre stands on a watershed, with land to the south draining towards the River Severn, and to the north the land slopes gently down towards the Weald Moors. The town is dominated by the Wrekin, a large hill of 407 m (1335 ft), located south-west of Wellington, straddling the border with the unitary Shropshire Council (before the latter's creation in 2009 the borough of Shrewsbury and Atcham).For more information on Parish divisions, see list of civil parishes in Shropshire.
Within the borough of Telford & Wrekin, the town is entirely parished. Telford has no single town council because of this, and the Mayor of the Borough of Telford and Wrekin is also de facto the town's mayor. The town is also divided into Wards, within the Telford and Wrekin borough. These are used for electoral purposes and demographic surveys. Telford was created politically – but its attempts to make a cohesive town from the fusion of other independent, smaller towns: Wellington, Madeley, Hadley, Oakengates, Dawley, Ironbridge and Donnington have largely been successful. Despite this, the town has much clearer divisions than in other older towns, such as nearby Shrewsbury, which have developed into one consolidated urban area over time. Some small settlements to the south such as a part of Ironbridge and Broseley, while part of the Telford Urban Area, are administered by Shropshire Council.
Telford is the only settlement within the Telford parliamentary constituency, which was held by Labour from its creation in 1997 until the 2015 General Election. The current MP is Lucy Allan (Conservative). Some suburbs, such as Wellington, are located in The Wrekin, which has varying support between the Conservatives and Labour, due to its mix of rural and urban (Newport) areas. Conservative Mark Pritchard was reelected as MP in 2015. Telford is administratively part of the West Midlands region.
In 1963 Dawley new town was intended to take 50,000 people from the West Midlands conurbation and so to grow to a town of 70,000 or more. By 1968 Telford was intended to take an additional 50,000 and grow to a town of 220,000 or more by 1991. By 1983, however, Telford's population was just under 108,000, and it was generally thought that it might not reach 120,000 by the late 1980s.
Telford has a younger than average population, and a higher rate of teenage pregnancy than the national average, as well as relatively high levels of income deprivation with 15% of residents living in low income households. In addition the level of statutorily homeless households in 2004/05 was above average for England. The Telford and Wrekin area is a popular commuter zone, containing some relatively rural areas in the North and West of the borough. These are popular with commuters to the West Midlands conurbation, due to the good transport links provided by the A5/M54.
Telford's population is predominantly White, comprising 93.8% of the population. The next largest ethnic group is those of Asian descent, comprising 3.3% of the population, which is again less than the West Midlands at 8.0%, and England at 5.3%. However, the town and borough remains comparatively more ethnically diverse than the ceremonial county, with South Shropshire for example being 97.8% white.
During the economic crisis of the late 1960s (with unemployment doubling nationally during the second half of the decade), unemployment in the then-new town was initially high.
However, in 1967 Halesfield Industrial Estate was founded on the south-eastern edge of the town – the first real answer to Telford's unemployment problems. Other large estates followed, in 1973 with Stafford Park just east of the town centre and in 1979 with Hortonwood, to the north, helping ease the unemployment crisis in a decade which saw an almost unbroken rise in unemployment.
In total, half a million square metres of factory space were provided between 1968 and 1983, making Telford an attractive investment area.
By 1976, Telford had begun to recruit industry from the USA, Europe, and Japan. The foreign firms required larger factories, and they began to be built at Stafford Park. By 1983 over 2,000 jobs in Telford were provided by around 40 (mostly American) foreign companies. In contrast to industry in the Black Country at the time, these new companies focused on high-technology industries rather than the heavy and metal-finishing industries.
The new arrivals included the American company Unimation and three firms from Japan: Nikon UK Ltd., which opened a warehouse at Halesfield in 1983; video tape manufacturers Hitachi Maxell at Apley Castle in 1983; and office equipment manufacturers Ricoh, who took a 22-acre (89,000 m2) site for a factory at Priorslee next to the M54, and formed the first in Telford's new enterprise zone.
Consequently, from the later 1970s, Telford began to attract high-technology firms and to diversify its industry, and the promotion of the Service industry also began to prosper, in the Telford Town Centre area. However, a deepening national recession meant that, despite the creation of new jobs, there were net job losses from 1979. Unemployment grew from 3.4 per cent in 1969 to over 8 per cent in 1972 and 22.3 per cent (almost double the national average) in 1983; long-term unemployment rose even faster. Nevertheless, the rate of increase in unemployment was slowing down by 1983 and was making some progress against national and regional trends.
Unemployment in Telford was still around the 20% mark – nearly double the national average at the time – as late as 1986. The Lawson Boom of the next three years saw that figure fall dramatically by the end of the decade, only for it to rise to a similarly high figure again by 1992 as a result of the early 1990s recession.
Telford has attracted several large IT services companies, including EDS who support the MOD contract from the Euston Park site, as well as a vast array of clients across the world from the Plaza building. Also Capgemini and Fujitsu employ a significant number of staff in the area, mainly supporting their governmental client, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC). The expansion in these job sectors provided a great asset to Telford's economic recovery after 1992. By August 2007, the success story of Telford's economy had seen unemployment shrink to 3.3% – a fraction of its peak 15 years earlier.
However, the subsequent recession meant that unemployment in the area had risen to 5% by February 2011, although this was still well below the national average.
The Shropshire Star evening newspaper is based at Ketley, Telford.
In recent times there have been significant job losses, with the movement of 500 Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO) jobs at the MoD base at Sapphire House, Telford, to Bristol. The closure of the local sugar beet factory at Allscott in 2007 is another recent example, not to mention the many jobs lost over the next three years across the town due to the latest recession.
The commercial centre of the town is the aptly named Telford Town Centre, located off Junction 5 of the M54 motorway, completed in the 1980s. It is home to the administrative headquarters of Telford & Wrekin council, which are now based at Addenbrook House on Ironmasters Way, after moving from Civic Offices in December 2012. The large Telford Shopping Centre (and the accompanying Town Park), various office blocks, such as the blue office towers (Telford Plaza), and the Windsor Life building. The Forge retail park and a large Odeon Cinema are also located in the area. Telford also houses one of the Midland's few ice skating rinks near the newly built Telford International Centre (TIC). The TIC comprises a number of hall and event spaces. It holds parties, conferences, concerts and is the current home of the UK Snooker Championship in December.
A major Shropshire landmark, also now part of Telford, is The Iron Bridge, located in Ironbridge. It was the first bridge of its size in the world made out of cast iron. In the same area is the Ironbridge Gorge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most important landmark in the area is The Wrekin. There is also the Lilleshall Monument erected to the Duke of Sutherland, which has recently been restored.
Telford has a number of primary and secondary schools including Thomas Telford School, a City Technology College (CTC), which claims to have a 100% pass rate at GCSE level, with all students achieving at least 4 GCSEs grades A*-C, placing it at number one in the entire country for Key Stage 4 attainment. It was students of this school who were chosen to construct Airfix models of planes and tanks, and to assist Top Gear co host James May construct a life size model of a World War II Spitfire on the first episode of the series James May's Toy Stories. The school's choir has gained lots of notability after their various performances up and down the country, including the Royal Albert Hall for the Music For Youth School Prom, along with performances hosted by CBBC's Barney Harwood. Abraham Darby Academy (Performing Arts, Business and Enterprise), formerly known as Abraham Darby Specialist School for the Performing Arts, provides specialist performing arts education and is home to one of the UK's best school concert bands which has performed at prestigious venues such as Birmingham Symphony Hall, Royal Festival Hall London, Royal Albert Hall and also Carnegie Hall, New York.
Further education is handled by Telford College of Arts and Technology (TCAT) and Telford New College, a sixth-form college located in Wellington. There are four other sixth forms located at Abraham Darby Academy, Holy Trinity Academy, Madeley Academy and Thomas Telford School.
8 miles (13 km) to the north are Adams' Grammar School and Newport Girls High School selective schools located in nearby Newport.
Telford is also home to The University of Wolverhampton Business School (UWBS) campus and the School of the Built Environment. Harper Adams University, a famous university for land-based education is located near the town of Newport.
Madeley Academy is a sport college and a building that was built and opened in September 2009.
In 2006 Telford & Wrekin became one of three pilot areas selected as part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's Cultural Hubs programme piloting a cultural offer for young people and schools across Telford & Wrekin through the Council's Telford Culture Zone programme at the heart of which was effective partnership working and joint planning between the cultural and education sectors.
In July 2012 the Department for Education and Arts Council England selected Telford & Wrekin as one of the new areas for the in Harmony programme working with Old Park Primary School and Children's Centre, Telford & Wrekin Music, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Manchester Camerata. In Harmony is a national programme that aims to inspire and transform the lives of children in deprived communities, using the power and disciplines of community-based orchestral music-making.
Telford is situated at the terminus of the M54 motorway, a spur of the M6 linking the town with Wolverhampton and the West Midlands, and on the A5 road between Shrewsbury and Cannock.
The town has three railway stations on the Shrewsbury to Wolverhampton Line: Wellington, Oakengates and Telford Central. A new direct train service to London was launched by Wrexham & Shropshire in 2008. The venture however proved unprofitable and ceased to operate on Friday 28 January 2011, leaving Shropshire as the only English county without a direct train link to London; that is until Virgin Trains launched a direct Shrewsbury to London service in December 2014 In addition, there are two further stations isolated from the national network, Spring Village and Horsehay & Dawley, at Telford Steam Railway, situated at Horsehay.
Telford's rapidly growing population still has a relatively low car ownership. In 2004 Telford & Wrekin council was awarded 'Beacon Status' for improving access to public transport. Being a new town with a planned transport infrastructure, the town features relatively few traffic problems, in comparison to the urban areas of Birmingham or medieval streets of Shrewsbury. The M54 reduces through-traffic on local roads, and the A442 Queensway acts as a north-south artery road.
Sir Gordon Richards was from Telford. He won a record 26 champion jockey titles, and was the only flat jockey to be knighted. The band, The Sunshine Underground, are originally from Telford and Shrewsbury, and formed while studying at New College Telford. Some of the band T'Pau are also from Telford (Wellington) and Shrewsbury. The death metal band Cancer formed in Ironbridge. The film and television actor Christian Brassington was born in Wellington. Professional wrestler and current British light heavy-weight champion, Joey Ozbourne, grew up in Little Dawley, Telford. Former WBC super middleweight champion boxer Richie Woodhall, grew up in Woodside, Telford. Professional footballer Elliott Bennett grew up in Telford, while fellow professionals Danny Guthrie and Connor Goldson both attended Thomas Telford School in Telford. Professional darts player Ted Hankey resides in Telford as does folk musician Mark Rousseau. Since 1991 education expert Professor Steve Molyneux has resided in Telford where he was Mayor of Oakengates from 2003-2007. David Brown from Boyinaband is also from Telford.
Paul Blackthorne, who plays Detective Lance in the DC TV series Arrow, was born in Wellington. Stewart Lee, English stand-up comedian, writer, director and musician, was born in Wellington.
Telford is home to a variety of established amateur, semi-pro and professional sports clubs.
AFC Telford United Football Club are currently playing in the National League North having been relegated from the Conference Premier at the end of the 2014–15 season.
AFC Telford's achievements include Best Shropshire Senior Cup Performance: Final – 3 Times, and Promotion to Conference North in 2007, after beating Witton Albion in the play-offs 3-1. Also, they won the Setanta Shield Trophy by beating Forest Green Rovers on penalties in 2009. They were formed in 2004 on the bankruptcy of the previous Telford United club, who had competed in the Football Conference – the highest level of football outside the professional league – for 25 years since its inception in 1979 as the Alliance Premier League and were winners of the FA Trophy on three occasions.
Ice hockey in the town is represented by 2 teams. One is the Telford Tigers, an English Premier League (EPL or EPIHL) ice hockey team originally formed in 1985. The other are the Telford Titans, an ENL Team, which represents development hockey feeding from the excellent youth development and were last year crowned league champions.
There have been many American football teams in the town, although presently Shropshire Revolution a British American Football League, founded in 2006, is the only club in the town and the county of Shropshire. Previous clubs include Wrekin Giants (1985–1989), Shropshire Giants (1989), and Cannock Chase Giants (1989-1993/4).
Telford Raiders are the town's Rugby League club, although there have been other Rugby League Clubs in Telford historically, such as the Telford All Blacks and Shropshire Scorpions. Telford Hornets represent the town at Rugby Union.
Shropshire Warriors Basketball Club play at Telford College of Art and Technology (TCAT).
Telford also hosted the UK Snooker Championship, from 2007 to 2010. The championship moved from York in 2007 but returned to the refurbished Barbican Centre in York since 2011.
The Shropshire Golf Centre is located near Muxton, to the northeast of Telford. This has three nine-hole courses, a 13-hole par three academy course and driving range. Other courses include the Municipal course at Horsehay, The Wrekin Golf Club and Telford Golf and Country Club.
There are also several local cricket clubs, many of whom compete in local leagues and some in the Birmingham league. The largest of these is Wellington where many Shropshire County matches are also played but St Georges, Madeley and Lilleshall also run cricket clubs in or on the outskirts of the town.