AIA e-news Bulletin for January 2022

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

Proposed Cuts at Stoke’s industrial museums

A public consultation has been launched on Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s plans to make major budget cuts at two of their industrial museums. These include cutting 19 full-time museum roles – including two specialist curators – and replacing these with 5.5 new posts. The proposals will also significantly reduce opening hours for the grade 2*-listed Gladstone Pottery, and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. 

Stoke-on-Trent is famous for its pottery heritage. It was home to World-renowned ceramic producers and innovators such as Clarice Cliff and Josiah Wedgewood, and the city’s industrial museums and collections are internationally important. Gladstone Pottery has also become known in recent years as the location for Channel 4’s Great Pottery Throwdown, which has raised its popularity as a filming location. The current proposals include closing Gladstone Pottery to the public for five months a year, so that it can be rented out as a film and events venue, with a reduced museum team working across both museum sites for the rest of the year. 

Although the AIA recognise the difficult financial position that all Local Authorities face at the moment, we feel that the proposals, particularly the loss of experienced curatorial staff, are short-sighted. They fail to acknowledge the importance of Stoke’s industrial museums (and collections) to the local and national cultural landscape and visitor economy. 

The public consultation is open until February 14. 

Historic England Heritage At Risk

Burlesdon brick works - single story brick kiln with pitched roof above and circular brick chimney

Burseldon Brickworks. Image courtesy of Historic England.

In November, Historic England updated their Heritage at Risk register. In the past year, 233 buildings and sites have been removed from the register, but 130 new sites have been added. Amongst the notable industrial sites added to the register this year are the Severn Wharf Building in Ironbridge, Shropshire (home of the Museum of the Gorge), Thorrington Tide Mill in Essex, and Bursledon Brickworks, Swanwick, Hampshire, a 19th-century steam-powered brickworks, now a museum.

Full details of the changes to the Heritage At Risk register here

Victorian Society’s top ten endangered sites

Healings Flour Mill - large brick mill building

Healings Flour Mill (image courtesy of Amber Patrick, AIA Planning Casework Officer)

This year’s list of the ten most endangered buildings in Britain from the Victorian Society includes two industrial buildings. At its peak in 1892, Healings Flour Mill in Tewksbury was considered to be the largest and most advanced flour mill in the country. Operations ceased in 2006, and the Grade II-listed buildings are now derelict and in need serious structural work to avoid the possibility of demolition. Plans for conversion to residential use announced in 2017, and a 2019 proposal to demolish the non-listed later structures surrounding the listed buildings, have yet to come to fruition.

The second site on the Victorian Society’s list is the Halifax Coal Drops. Listed Grade II, they were built in 1874 for the Ovenden and Halifax Junction Railway Co. They comprise 15 wooden bunkers built into the hillside, supported between stone piers. Trains stopped over the top to unload coal into the bunkers and local traders backed their horse-drawn carts into the spaces beneath to load coal for distribution. Their relatively intact internal machinery makes them a rare, large-scale survival. Now owned by Calderdale Council, the Coal Drops have been fenced off to the public for 15 years after a piece of masonry fell from the roof. They are now in a state of serious decline and without urgent attention will soon fall into ruin.

View the Victorian Society’s 2021 Top 10 Endangered Buildings List

Novel reuse of Catesby tunnel

The AIA has always been a strong supporter of the creative reuse of industrial buildings and structures, but even we never envisaged the new development at Catesby Tunnel. This 2.7km, 8.2m wide, dead-straight tunnel, is on the Great Central Railway line between Banbury and Rugby. It was closed in 1966. In November 2021 the tunnel was re-purposed as a vehicle test track by laying a new, extremely accurate, road-bed over its full length to enable vehicles to be driven at high speed, in repeatable conditions, testing aerodynamics, performance, acoustics, emissions and other parameters. At the entrance there is a large building which provides space for vehicle preparation in complete secrecy and, at the other end, there is a turntable. It is thought to be the only such test facility in the world and will be operated by Aero Research Partners and TotalSim.

Campaign to stop controversial bridge infilling continues

There is less good news regarding the preservation of disused railway structures. Despite the UK Government’s announcement of a pause in the programme of infilling disused railway bridges, at least 14 contracts for preparatory work, including drainage, access work and tree felling, have been placed in recent months, in most cases without planning consent.

As a result of widespread outrage following the infilling of a bridge in Cumbria (reported in the April 2021 issue of this bulletin), National Highways established a Stakeholder Advisory Forum to support the development of a strategy for the management of its Historical Railways Estate. But the HRE Group, an alliance of civil engineers and walking, cycling and heritage campaigners, have pointed out that its membership is dominated by Government and National Highways staff, with no heritage rail, environmental or ecological representation. ‘We have low expectations of the Stakeholder Advisory Forum’, says Graeme Bickerdike of HRE. ‘Locals value these structures as community assets, but National Highways shows no signs of engaging with these issues.’

However, it’s not all bad news. On 23 December, after strong local pressure, National Highways announced they are no longer planning to ‘infill’ Church Road Bridge in Barcombe, East Sussex, with an estimated 1,800t of aggregate and concrete. Well done to everybody who joined the campaign to save this much-loved industrial monument. 

Find out more about the HRE group on their website

John Rennie commemoration

To mark the 200th anniversary of John Rennie’s death in October 2021, a new web site was set up by members of the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Rochester Bridge Trust to celebrate the life and work of this pioneer of civil engineering. The site includes an interactive map and essays describing dozens of Rennie’s most important projects. For further information see: Rochester Bridge Trust Life and Works of John Rennie

Moseley Road Baths

Moseley Road Baths in Birmingham has been awarded a £100,000 grant from the UK Government’s Culture Recovery Fund for urgent repairs to parts of the building damaged in a fire in the 1990s. The money will enable the former caretaker’s accommodation and the boardroom to be converted for use as a community space. The Grade II* listed baths have been on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register for many years but were taken over by a community-based charity in 2018, since when funding from a number of sources, including Historic England and Birmingham City Council, has enabled large parts of the building to be restored.

Historic Spurn Lightship to undergo restoration

Spurn lightship under tow on the River Humber with a tug boat in front and behind

Spurn Lightship on her way to the Dunston shipyard (image courtesy Tegwen Roberts)

The historic Spurn Lightship is to undergo essential maintenance and repairs, alongside the Arctic Corsair, as part of the £30million Hull Maritime regeneration project funded by the National Lottery. The lightship was built in Goole in 1927. After 48 years in service on the Humber Estuary, she was decommissioned in 1975. She was bought by Hull Museums and moved to the new Hull Marina in 1987 where she has served as a floating museum ever since. The repairs are being undertaken by Dunston Ship Repairs Ltd. at Hull’s William Wright Dock and are due to be completed in 2022. The Spurn Lightship and Arctic Corsair (Hull’s last side winder trawler) will both reopen to visitors in 2023. For more information about the Hull Maritime project visit the Hull Maritime Project website.

Disappearing gas lamps

The City of Westminster (where gas street lighting was pioneered in the early 19th century) has announced their intention to replace their 1,500 gas lamps with gas-effect LED lights. The plans have attracted protests from some residents and historians but the council’s argument – that this move will save money and reduce carbon emissions – is likely to resonate elsewhere. Many of the London gas lamps are listed and so their replacement will require consent, based on advice from Historic England; the outcome may depend on how realistic the LED replacements are. Berlin is home to perhaps the world’s largest collection of working gas lamps, with around 25,000 of them. See Guardian article on the plans to change Westminster gaslights to LED.

International recognition for Preston Bus Station

The World Monuments Fund has given its 2021 Knoll Modernism Prize to Preston’s bus station, in recognition of the success of its recent restoration in preserving ‘its original materials and aesthetic to the building’s essential role as a civic centre of transit and urban connectivity.’ This brutalist structure has divided opinion since it was opened in 1969, when it was the largest bus station in Europe and – after years of neglect – was threatened with demolition in the 2000s, but was listed Grade II in 2013. See: World Monuments Fund 2021 Knoll Modernism Prize

AIA’s new young membership category

From January 2022, AIA has introduced a new ‘Young Member’ category for members under the age of 36, with a reduced annual membership rate of £26. This replaces the previous ‘Student’ category and will also include mature students in higher academic education, irrespective of their age. Find out more about becoming an AIA member

Industrial Heritage Webinars

The fourth in the series of Historic England’s Industrial Heritage webinars, broadcast in November, was entitled ‘Textile Mills of the North – the impact of Reuse and Regeneration’. Recordings of this and the previous three Industrial Heritage webinars can be found on the Historic England website. A follow-up session on designing the re-use of mill buildings is planned for early 2022.
Webinar on Industrial Heritage Part 4: Textile Mills of the North – the Impact of Reuse and Regeneration

Industrial Heritage Events

TICCIH Conference ‘Communications, Transportation and Related Industries: Management, Valuation and Communities’, 23 – 26 February 2022, Mexico


TICCIH Conference ‘Heritage in Tension: the Landscapes of Industry’, 14-16 October 2022, Troyes, France. 
Call for Papers – Heritage in tension: the landscapes of industry – TICCIH

AIA’s Liverpool industrial heritage weekend

Royal Albert Dock in Liverpool

Due to Covid-19, AIA’s annual conference in 2021 took place wholly on line, rather than being held in Liverpool as planned. To compensate for this, a long-weekend event is being planned for 2022, in conjunction with Merseyside Industrial History Society, with a programme of tours and visits in and around Liverpool. This will take place from 17 to 19 June and will be based at the Marriott Hotel, Queen Square, with a conference dinner at the hotel on the Saturday. Delegates can book their own accommodation at the conference hotel or elsewhere. Full details on the AIA website later in January.

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