AIA e-news for July 2021

Welcome to the Association for Industrial Archaeology’s regular e-news bulletin. Read on for updates on what we’ve been doing recently, and other industrial archaeology news from the UK and beyond. If you have a story you think we should feature in a future bulletin please get in touch.

Lowther Street Snuff Mill (photo credit Greenlane Archaeology)

Variety is the spice of planning applications?

Even when the AIA does not object to planning or listed building consent applications for former industrial sites, these still have to be examined. Recently there has been considerable variety of cases, with applications including a textile mill, a water tower and a snuff works. The latter is particularly interesting, relating to a site in Lowther Street, Kendal. The proposal, which AIA supports, is to convert part of the former snuff works into two residential apartments and a commercial bistro, with the existing offices to remain. This building is significant because of the evidence it provides of Kendal’s once-important snuff industry. A heritage assessment and building recording were conducted in 2018 by Greenlane Archaeology. Read more about the Greenlane Archaeology Lowther street snuff mill report.

Europe’s seven most-endangered heritage sites

Europa Nostra, the leading European body protecting cultural and natural heritage, has named two industrial sites in its list of seven most-endangered sites in Europe for 2021. One is the Achensee Steam Cog Railway, in Austria, which has operated for over 130 years, connecting Jenbach with Lake Achensee in the Tyrol. It is claimed to be the only public railway in the world that still retains its original 19th-century equipment. The other is the Central Post Office in Skopje, North Macedonia, made in reinforced concrete and designed by local architect and artist Janko Konstantinov in a brutalist style to symbolise the reconstruction of the city after the 1963 earthquake. Read more on the Europa Nostra website.

ICE launches John Rennie commemoration project

The Institution of Civil Engineers’ Archive Panel and Panel for the History of Engineering Works have announced a project to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the death of the engineer, John Rennie. He was responsible for major projects such as the Pembroke Royal Dockyard and the East India Dock, London, and also designed many bridges throughout the UK including London Bridge. The ICE is seeking contributions to both print and on-line publications aimed at the general public, focussing on Rennie’s life and work. Subject to Covid restrictions, they are also hoping to organise a conference or other commemorative event this autumn. Read more about the John Rennie commemorative project.

Richard Trevithick 250th anniversary celebrations

The 250th anniversary of Richard Trevithick’s birth was celebrated in April in Shropshire, where the Severn Valley Railway and the Ironbridge Gorge Museum’s Blists Hill Victorian Town both drew large crowds to see replicas of his high pressure steam locomotive, Catch Me Who Can, in steam.
The first locomotive in the world to haul fare-paying passengers, Catch Me Who Can was built at John Hazeldine’s Foundry in Bridgnorth in 1808 and ran on a circular track in London. It seems, though, that the paying public were not ready for the sounds, sights and smells of this innovative steam locomotive and Trevithick’s ‘Steam Circus’ closed after just two months. Events to mark the anniversary of Trevithick’s birth in his native Cornwall have been postponed due to Covid but may be rescheduled for later in the year.

Demolition of iconic Birmingham gas holders

Demolition has started on the last three Windsor Street, Birmingham, gasholders. These have been plainly visible from the nearby motorways, and were famously painted in the claret and blue colours of Aston Villa Football Club. They were last used in 2012. Gas production began on this site in the 1840s, which at one time had 11 gasholders. Of the three remaining, the twins, Nos 13 and 14 were the largest in the world when they were built in 1885, each holding 6.2 million cubic feet of gas.  National Grid, who own the site, has commissioned a booklet on the history of the gas industry in Birmingham and are inviting the public to share their memories of the site. Read more about the Windsor Street gasholders on the National Grid website

Derby’s new ‘Museum of Making’

he Derby Industrial Museum has reopened as the ‘Museum of Making’ following a five-year, £17m redevelopment. The museum is housed in Derby Silk Mill, the site of what has been described as ‘the oldest factory in the world’, and forms part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. The original water-powered mill on this site was built in 1721 by John Lombe to exploit the technology of mechanised silk thread production which he had stolen from Italy. The original mill was destroyed by fires in 1891 and 1910, and rebuilt to the same height but with three floors instead of the original five. In the 1920s the building was used by the adjacent power station until that was demolished in 1970, with the mill building opening as a museum in 1974.

The triple-height entrance atrium features a Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 aircraft engine suspended overhead. The Gateway Gallery provides an introduction to the World Heritage Site while ‘Railways Revealed’ describes Derby’s impact on the world through the railways with a much-loved model railway, built by volunteers. Other galleries, laid out like a museum store, present 30,000 objects arranged according to the materials from which they are made.

AIA’s new Community Engagement award

Elsecar Newcomen engine. Photo credit Barnsley Museums

The AIA Young Members Board is delighted to be coordinating the Association’s new Community Engagement Award, launched in 2021. The aim of this Award is to recognise successful community engagement in projects promoting, preserving or interpreting industrial heritage. The panel were thrilled to receive inspiring applications from a variety of groups across the country, ranging from archaeological excavations to building restorations. With some difficulty, the judges agreed that Barnsley Museums’ ‘Digging the Earl’s Great Engine’, the Elsecar Newcomen Engine Boiler House Project made a fantastic winner. The judges were particularly impressed by the team’s commitment to involving local young people, and to helping them discover jobs and opportunities in industrial heritage. A second ‘highly commended’ Award is to be made to the Clipstone Colliery Regeneration Group for their ‘Save Clipstone Headstocks and Power House’ project. Read more about the Elsecar Digging the Great Engine project.

Second International Early Engines Conference

Elsecar is world-famous as the site of the only Newcomen steam engine to be preserved in its original location. Other engines of this type will be on the agenda of the second International Early Engines Conference. This was postponed due to Covid and is now due to take place from 8 to 10 October, at the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley. AIA is proud to be one of the sponsors of this event. Read more about the second International Early Engines Conference. 

AIA Restoration Grants

As in previous years, applications under AIA’s 2021 Restoration Grant scheme have far exceeded the funds available. This year, thanks to its anonymous donors, AIA will be distributing over £137,000 in grants to nine organisations:

  • Brymbo Heritage, Wrexham for the restoration of the 1820 blast furnace
  • Waterworks Museum, Hereford for the restoration of the 1865 boiler chimney
  • Nene Valley Railway for boiler overhaul and repairs to the 1924 saddle-tank locomotive ‘Derek Crouch’
  • John Smedley Archive Charitable Trust for the restoration of a 1920s ‘Komet’ circular sock-knitting machine
  • Amberley Museum for the restoration of a rail-mounted Thomas Smith (Rodley) steam crane;
  • Beamish Museum for the restoration of a 1927 cast-iron bus shelter
  • Rolle Canal & North Devon Waterway Society for the restoration of the Middle Loading Basin at Sealock, near Bideford
  • Steamship Freshspring Trust for the restoration of the wheelhouse of the 1947 water carrier vessel ‘Freshspring’
  • South West Peak Landscape Partnership for the consolidation of a limekiln at Gradbach in the Peak District National Park

This brings the amount pledged for industrial heritage restoration projects since the scheme was launched in 2009 to almost £1million.

Find out more about the AIA restoration grants here.

New life for Chester power station building

he City of Chester obtained zero-carbon electricity from its hydro-electric generator station from 1914 until its closure in 1949. Now the redundant generator building is set to become the home for a new visitor centre, called the Hydro Hub, to show what a low-carbon world may look like in the future. A new Community Interest Company called Cheshire Heritage and Sustainability Enterprises, has been set up to create and manage the Hydro Hub, in partnership with local businesses and the council. Read more about the Chester Hydro Hub

Yet another mill lost to fire

Efforts to find a new use for the former Barbour Threads Hilden Mill in Lisburn, Northern Ireland have been dealt a blow by a serious fire. The complex had become increasingly derelict since it ceased operation in 2006 and was on the Province’s Heritage at Risk register. The fire is being treated as arson.

AIA conference 2021

Liverpool docks: photo credit AIA

The AIA’s annual conference this year will be a virtual event, accessible via Zoom. It will run over a number of weekends in August and September in place of the physical conference which was to have run in Liverpool. All sessions are open to everyone (except the AGM which is open to AIA members only) and attendance is free. The programme begins with two sets of two talks by the Merseyside Industrial Heritage Society, on the 7th August and 4th September. On the 18th September there is a one-day seminar on the theme ‘The impact of Covid-19 on the industrial heritage sector’ with speakers from across the industrial heritage sector, including the AIA Young Members Board. Finally, on the 25th September, is the AGM and the Rolt Lecture, ‘The Tools of Empire? Decolonising Imperial Telegraphy’ by Dr Cassie Newland of Bath Spa University. Already, more than 160 people are planning to take part from all over the world.

Find out more and register for the AIA conference events on Eventbrite

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