A Priceless but Vulnerable Asset: Valuing and Sustaining Britain’s Industrial Heritage Part 1

A Sussex post windmill. One of many restored by local communities in the area since the 1960s.

A Sussex post windmill. One of many restored by local communities in the area since the 1960s.

This year’s Association for Industrial Archaeology annual conference was held at Brighton, on the University of Sussex campus. The theme of our regular research seminar was the challenges facing the future of industrial heritage and archaeology, inspired by the 2015 European Year of Industrial Heritage. In the first of two blogs I look at the morning session which took the theme of valuing our industrial heritage, focusing exclusively on the built heritage.

Ben Greener of the Heritage Lottery Fund looked at the role of HLF in the last 21 years in promoting industrial heritage. It focussed on structures rather than HLF’s role in community archaeology support. 17,000 buildings and monuments have received funding from the HLF since 1994. This is a total investment of £1.08 billion in Industrial Heritage sites including all the UK World Heritage Sites. HLF continues to be particularly interested in local people taking on local buildings for local benefits. Thus, Ben described the HLF Heritage Enterprise scheme, begun in 2013, aimed at community-led projects saving at-risk, under-used, buildings in economically disadvantaged areas. The scheme was partly inspired by Jane Jacobs’ 1961 work ‘The death and life of great American cities’. £47 billion per annum is the contribution of businesses based in listed buildings, whilst 1.4 million people in the UK work in listed buildings. At the heart of this approach is the conservation deficit which is the value of a historic building, plus the cost of the project, minus the building’s post-project value. Case studies included the Harland and Wolff HQ in Belfast – a £5 million regeneration scheme has turned this into a boutique hotel generating 109 jobs but this is just part of a bigger waterside regeneration project. A second case study was the North British Rubber Company in Edinburgh – where the Wellington boot was created and manufactured. Here a £5 million redevelopment regenerated the historic industrial buildings into printmakers, arts centre, cafe and workshops. Ben also looked ahead at some future projects, since the fund will run until 2018, including the Ancoats Dispensary in Manchester and sites with smaller grants in the hundreds of thousands. All are key to regenerating their local areas.

Miles Oglethorpe of Historic Scotland talked about the new Industrial Heritage Strategy for Scotland. This has been led by Historic Scotland and is part of the National Performance Framework published by the Scottish Government. More a manifesto than a strategy it looks at advocacy, sustainability, understanding, protecting and public benefits. The background is the high profile of industrial heritage in the public consciousness in Scotland provided by the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics in 2012 and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014. It addresses inclusiveness, the image of the discipline, its economic foundations, access to sites and collections, and the shrinking pool of expertise in traditional industries. The document provides an outline manifesto for the future study of industrial heritage, though it does largely overlook the develop-funded archaeology sector. Miles also talked about the role of TICCIH in advising UNESCO on the five new World Heritage Sites inscribed in 2015, from the Fray Bentos site in Uraguay and Norwegian hydropower schemes to the inscription of the UK’s latest one, the Forth Bridge.

Wayne Cocroft of Historic England looked at the protection of Industrial Heritage in England since the 1930s. The first protected industrial monument was iron bridge at Ironbridge in the 1930s. In 1947 the ministry of works suggested that Industrial Archaeology sites could be worthy of scheduling. But the next head of the ministry was against taking such sites into public care, and favoured local solutions, a policy that remained in place until the 1970s and helped to create hundreds of independent voluntary-run industrial museums. Active surveying of industrial monuments with a view to protection began in the mid-1960s. English Heritage from 1984 and the RCHME, until 1997, and RCHMS all worked on recording and understanding industrial monuments particularly through the Monuments Protection Programme, begun in the late 1980s and which ended in 2004, by which time 43 industrial topics had been identified. Prominence from 1990s was given to the role of industrial heritage in local regeneration and so 29 books have been published in the English Heritage/Historic England informed conservation series. Landscape characterisation, begun in 1994 with a pilot in Cornwall was used to support the Cornish WHS mining bid. Since 2000 renewal and expansion of the UK’s infrastructure, particularly power generation and transport, have increasing threatened 19th and 20th historic utility sites. Around 16,500 industrial buildings are now listed in England, 4.4% of the listed stock, with many types described in the EH/HE Introduction to Heritage Assets guide. In 2008 the Heritage at Risk programme included for the first time listed buildings and scheduled monuments and in 2011 Industrial Heritage was taken as its theme, and still resonates today.

Kate Clark, Director of CADW, looked at the importance of industrial sites and landscapes in Wales.  Industry has shaped, and industrial heritage continues to shape, peoples’ home and working lives, and is reflected in the huge range of workers’ housing in Wales. Of the three World Heritage Sites in Wales two are industrial (Blaenavon and Pontcysyllte) with the Welsh slate industry is due for nomination soon. The buildings types in Wales most at risk are farms, chapels and industrial structures and Kate went on to focus on the values and significance of industrial heritage and archaeology. She argued that there is a gap between those of us who are passionate about these sites and the rest. We need to articulate why it matters. What is it that is important about industrial archaeology and industrial heritage?  Kate then got the delegates to mind map this! The result was a list of words valuing industrial heritage from architecture, associations, historical value, and rarity (all protection terms) to benefits such as quirky, fun, identity, use, volunteering, new skills, friendships, keeps you fit, bringing generations together, put something back into community, ecological value and embodied energy value. These terms, which go beyond the usual four themes of evidential, historic, aesthetic, and communal importance, helped to identify significance, sustainability and service (the public value triangle), as well as describing how and why industrial heritage and archaeology is important.

Sue Seville of the Princes Regeneration Trust talked about the Trust’s philosophy as shown through its recent involvement at the Middleport Pottery. The Trust was founded in 1996 around the themes of using regeneration and heritage to strengthen local communities. She suggested that finding a solution together through local community collaboration is key with three main ways to do this; ownership, as at Middleport which was purchased in 2011, as community advisors, and as enablers. The vision at Middleport was to buy the site and its archive in order to restore the model factory, record the pottery archive, whilst retaining the Denby pottery business in the works and also setting aside part of the site for other community workshops and engagement. So far this has cost £9 million. However, the trust’s aims are as much about the regeneration of people as it is about the buildings. Sue explained that at Middleport they are aiming next to restore the steam engine with volunteer help using crowd funding. This regeneration is now impacting positively on the surrounding streets and townscape.

At the end of the morning the discussion session touched on archaeology and conservation planning as regarding industrial sites and buildings. Local government funding cuts since 2010 has meant that there is a serious and growing knowledge gap in some local authorities regarding the knowledge of the local building stock and the requirements of planning legislation. This is due to the loss of staff and the loss of heritage planning posts. There was a feeling that to secure the future of industrial heritage and archaeology there needs to be a radical rethink as to how voluntary organisations such as the AIA engage with local government, industrial heritage conservation and archaeology protection.


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