AIA e-news for October 2021

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

Sad loss of iconic industrial structures

Image courtesy of Teesside Heritage. Their web site Teesside Heritage The North Project has prints of this and other iconic industrial images for sale

Recent weeks have seen two high-profile cases of demolition of important industrial structures in England that had enjoyed statutory protection.

The Dorman Long Tower on Teesside was built 1955-6 as a combined coal silo and firefighting water tower for the steel works’ coking plant. An example of early brutalist architecture, it was 56m high and an important landmark of the Redcar steel works. Although the works closed in 2015, the tower remained a unique structure and with the name of Dorman Long on its side made a very visible reminder of both the industry and the work of the company.

We reported on the launch of a campaign to preserve this tower 12 months ago. Historic England conferred emergency Grade II listing on the tower on 10 September 2021, which it was hoped would allow more time for options for its preservation to be explored. Sadly, however, this was quickly rescinded and the tower was demolished on 19 September. The local MP stated that heritage should not be in a ‘rotting coal bunker’ but in the people of the region and who made the steel. Other comments have been that Dorman Long’s heritage ‘lies in the structures that stand tall across the world’, the Shard and Sydney Harbour Bridge being two examples. But do people know that Dorman Long provided the structural steel for these? The answer is probably not. What has been lost is not only an example of brutalist architecture but also an icon of Britain’s post war industrial development and a memorial to all who worked in Teesside’s heavy industry.

Even more recent was the demolition of the last four chimneys at what was once the world’s largest brickworks, in Stewartby, Bedfordshire. The brickworks and the new village that housed its workforce were built in the 1930s. The chimneys and two associated Hoffman kilns were given Grade II listed status in 2008 in recognition of the ‘importance of these works in the history of England’ and ‘the iconic nature of the brickworks’ chimneys in the landscape’. Despite this, the local authority gave approval for their demolition so the site can be redeveloped for housing. The planning consent requires the construction of one replica chimney to signify the site’s past use. Read more about the Stewartby demolition on the BBC website.

World Heritage Site News

In the wake of the loss of Liverpool’s Maritime Mercantile City World Heritage Site status, it is pleasing to see another English city pledging its commitment to its industrial heritage. Saltaire, the industrial village in West Yorkshire, founded by the textile manufacturer Titus Salt, in the mid-19th century, was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 2002. A statement issued by Bradford City Council in August this year said: ‘“We are very proud of Saltaire and value our district’s fascinating heritage. The council and our partners are committed to protect the village’s UNESCO status and will continue to invest in its protection and enhancement.” Read more about Saltaire’s UNESCO status on the Yorkshire Post website

Recording Eastleigh’s Industrial Heritage

Another English council recognising the importance of its industrial heritage is Eastleigh, in Hampshire. Prompted by the closure and impending redevelopment of the giant Pirelli Cable Works, the council, in partnership with Hampshire Museums, is launching a community project to document the industries and working life of the town, which largely owes its existence to the establishment of works by the London and South Western Railway Company in the late 19th century. Read more about the Eastleigh project

Industrial buildings could help tackle climate change

Temple Flax Mill, Leeds, courtesy of the AIA.

Aside from the cultural and historic value of re-using redundant industrial buildings, a campaign launched by the Architects’ Journal has highlighted the contribution this can make to the battle against climate change. It is pressing for a change in the VAT rules that currently often make it cheaper to replace a building than to restore and adapt it for a new purpose. Their editor Will Hurst said ‘We’ve got to stop mindlessly pulling buildings down.’ This view was echoed recently by Historic England, who have estimated that, despite the huge number of mill conversions that have taken place in recent decades, a further 9,000 homes could be created from surviving disused textile mills in Yorkshire alone, with massive savings in carbon footprint.

Some good news from that region relates to Temple Mills, Leeds. This flax spinning mill, with a façade based on an Egyptian temple, opened in 1840 and is listed Grade 1. When built it was said to contain the largest ‘room’ in the world, lit by enormous conical skylights with a grass-covered roof grazed by sheep. It has been subject to a series of redevelopment proposals which have not succeeded and is on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register. West Yorkshire Combined Authority has granted £5m towards urgent work on the foundations preparatory to restoration. The British Library is planning to use the building as its northern base, a scheme expected to cost about £75m and to be completed by 2028.

AIA reported in the April issue of the e-News that Somerset West and Taunton Council had acquired the undeveloped parts of the 1821 Grade II* Tonedale Mill in Wellington. They are now preparing a £20 million bid to the Government’s ‘Levelling-Up Fund’ to preserve the derelict buildings and convert them to ’commercial, cultural or creative uses’, as well as delivering allotments, sports pitches and a community farm on the surrounding green space. See:

Don’t demolish old buildings, urge architects – BBC News
Yorkshire’s former mills ‘could create 9,000 new homes’ – BBC News
British Library Temple Works scheme in Leeds gets £5m boost – BBC News


Fund-raising appeals

With the easing of lockdown, many industrial heritage organisations are resuming restoration projects and launching appeals for funding. In Norfolk, the Forncett Industrial Steam Museum has an eclectic collection of working steam engines, including one of the original engines that provided hydraulic power to London’s Tower Bridge. Insurance requirements are forcing them to replace their steam supply system. They are seeking to raise £14,000 for the work, to enable them to reopen next Spring. Whitchurch Silk Mill is a water-powered mill in rural Hampshire which is also seeking funding. Enforced idleness during the Covid lockdown has resulted in rapid deterioration of the water wheel, and they are trying to raise £6,000 for repairs.

Forncett Industrial Museum steam pipe appeal
Whitchurch Silk Mill waterwheel appeal

Historic Scottish railway structures

Specialist repair works to protect the heritage of the historic Hollowburn Bridge in Fallin near Stirling began in July. The bridge is a listed structure and is considered a rare example of industrial wooden bridge construction from the late 19th Century. Originally carrying a mineral railway it is now part of a cycle and walking path. Damage to the bridge was identified in July 2020 and a temporary closure and safety barriers were put in place. The complex nature of the repairs and the bridge’s listed status delayed the start of the work, which has included replacing the deck of the bridge and the deck boards.

Tranent tramway (photo credit 1722 waggonway group)

Meanwhile, just east of Edinburgh, archaeologists have uncovered the remains of what is claimed to be Scotland’s earliest railway, the Tranent Waggonway, a wooden railway first built around 1722 to carry coal from a pit at Tranent to the coast, where the remains of salt pans heated by coal carried by the railway have also been uncovered. Unusually, the evidence shows that the gauge of the railway was increased later in the 18th century.

‘Stunning’ finds on Scotland’s earliest railway – BBC News

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