Saving the Industrial Past: A Burning Issue



The Grade II listed cotton spinning Warwick Mill in Middleton, built in 1907. Large industrial buildings such as this need proper maintenance and a viable use in order to secure their long term future. The support of the local community can make a vital difference.


Another week another mill fire. Another community mourning the loss of a much-loved historic building. The empty Newsome Mill, in Huddersfield, burnt down in suspicious circumstances on November 18th – just the latest in a long line of textile mill fires in Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire during 2016.


Textile mills – love them or hate them they are a dominant feature of many parts of Britain’s 19th century industrial regions (Lancashire, Greater Manchester, the West Country, West Yorkshire, Belfast and Dundee). Locally, they are often the largest and most dominant structures in a settlement. Lose one and it’s like an unsightly gap in a row of teeth. Add to these loses the threat or actual closure of many local authority museums (including industrial museums such as Helmshore, Queen Street and Snibson), and the financial and conservation struggles of many of the 600+ independent industrial museums in the UK, and it feels as though industrial archaeology and heritage is being singled out for particularly harsh treatment.

That is why the 2016 CBA North West Industrial Archaeology Panel conference was a training session on how to campaign to save local heritage, and industrial sites in particular. Run jointly with the South Trafford Archaeological Group and based at the 1900-1 Altrincham Town Hall (designed by Charles H Hindle), 45 of us gathered from across the north west of England. There were two strands to the day; firstly, what the heritage resource was and how this was being eroded, and secondly how to support, campaign and lobby for industrial heritage.

The first speaker was Gary Hart from the UK Parliament Outreach & Engagement Service. This is a free service from the Houses of Parliament, that is politically neutral, which aims to increase knowledge and engagement with the workings and processes of Parliament (find out more here: and @YourUKParl). Gary provided an overview on how to engage with Parliament. This included advice on contacting your MP or a member of the Lords, engaging with legislation, petitions and Select Committees, and the role of All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs).

Andrew Davidson, Principal Inspector of Ancient Monuments North West, outlined the scope and challenges facing industrial heritage in the North West and the role of the Heritage At Risk register. Industry has been a key agent in the shaping of the region over millennia and the key industries in the region are:

  • Mining: copper, lead, coal, salt
  • Quarrying: building stone, slate
  • Manufacturing: textiles, steel, engineering, gunpowder
  • Transport infrastructure: roads, railways, canals, ports
  • Food processing: milling, malting, brewing, biscuits

The Heritage At Risk Register is an important tool is assessing the risk to SAMs, Grade I and II* buildings, registered parks and gardens, and shipwrecks. Started in 1998 it identifies key buildings and sites under threat from neglect and redundancy, focusing on enabling sustainable solutions. Overall in England there are 5,341 entries on the At Risk register of which 431 are in North West, or 8% of national total. Industrial sites account for 329 nationally or 6% of total, of which 34 can be found in North West representing 7.8% of the regional total. As an awareness and advocacy tool the registry works: 25% of the 2010 entries were rescued by 2015.

Norman Redhead, chief planning archaeologist at Greater Manchester Archaeological advisory Service (GMAAS), looked at the workings of the Historic Environment Record, taking Greater Manchester as an example. In Greater Manchester for the year 2015-6 there were 18,445 planning applications; GMAAS was consulted by the ten LPAs on 291, representing c. 1.5% of these. 129 applications had archaeological implications resulting in recommendations for programmes of archaeological work and conditions. GMAAS recommended pre-determination assessments for 20 of these. There were also 59 pre-application consultations. This resulted in archaeological work being undertaken by 38 different archaeological contractors producing 78 desk based assessments, 23 evaluations, 20 historic building surveys, 13 excavations, nine watching briefs and eight landscape surveys.

Ian Miller of Salford Archaeology, University of Salford, provided several case studies on how industrial sites and buildings have been recorded through this planning system in the region. These included the Bradford Iron Works, Clayton Chemical Works and Arkwright’s Mill, and housing in Angel Meadow and Ancoats, all in Greater Manchester. A key approach was the targeting of particular aspects of these sites, such as power or transport systems, rather than wholesale excavation. Furthermore, often the developer paid for the dissemination of the results through open days, information boards and popular publications.



Members of the Leigh Building Preservation Trust restoring the horizontal steam engine at the Grade II* Leigh Spinners Mill in Leigh, Greater Manchester. The twin horizontal cross-compound engine was built by Yates and Thorn and installed in number 2 mill in 1923. Such volunteers need training and support in a variety of areas. Their passion can help give such large industrial buildings and objects a future.

However, all of this archaeology planning work is dependent upon access to and maintenance of a Historic Environment Record (HER) at local authority level with advice from local authority-supported planning archaeologists. The system fails if one or more of these three elements is removed, as was threatened in Lancashire early in 2016. As Norman Redhead observed HERs are not statutory in England. Local government cuts have led to a c. 32% cut in county and local authority planning archaeologists over the last eight years. This increases the danger of the unrecorded loss of archaeology, uncertainty and risk to developers, the lack of a balanced view on significance and mitigation, and the loss of contractor jobs and skills making sustainable development as defined in National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) impossible. National government does not enforce NPPF and there is a relentless pressure on the planning system, including permitted development for Brownfield sites (often with significant industrial remains) and the removal of pre-commencement planning conditions (undermining the archaeological planning process and the NPPF).


This brought us to the second strand of the day; the support, campaigning and lobbying for our industrial heritage.

Lynsey Jones, of Museum Development North West, described an initiative supporting North West museums. Arts Council England-funded to March 2018, it is managed by the Manchester Partnership and Cumbria Museums Consortium. There are 145 accredited museums across Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside holding approximately nine million objects with over 6.5 million visitors annually. So far the scheme has seen the number of children visiting increase by 20%. North West museums employ just under 1,000 people, and contribute £143m annually to the regional economy. The scheme offers training support in working with volunteers, fundraising and resilience, health and safety, managing large working objects, marketing, engagement, interpretation, asset transfer and sustainability.

Shane Kelleher, Industrial Heritage Support Officer for the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, described the support scheme which was designed specifically for the industrial heritage sector. It is supported by Historic England, the Association of Independent Museums and the Association for Industrial Archaeology and is based at Ironbridge. It was prompted by declining volunteer recruitment and retention, an ageing volunteer base, and limited technical skills transfer. The scheme has been helping these groups to adapt to the modern world-via training on subjects such as funding, visitor engagement, conservation, best practice, governance, health and safety.

Rob Lennox of the CBA then talked about planning and advocacy and why it matters to the future of industrial archaeology. The Local Heritage Engagement Network (LHEN) is a CBA initiative providing more in-depth information, access to training materials and advice on specific issues. There are a huge number of ways that advocacy can be of importance to local Industrial Archaeology groups: raising profiles; building networks; understanding & engaging with processes; and effecting change. Rob focussed on the understanding of the planning system and the development processes, how to raise your own profile and bang the drum for heritage, how and why to speak regularly with your representatives, and how to use the media. All of this advice is backed up with guidance documents from the CBA that are downloadable for the CBA website here:

Finally, Andrea Grimshaw of Dig Discover Enjoy finished the day with a case study on how to build heritage engagement and advocacy using the online social media from inclusive archaeology and campaigning to petitioning to save Lancashire’s archaeology service. She dealt with concerns around using social media; where do you start? What if the information goes viral? What if I can’t delete what I’ve written? And is it complicated to use? Social media is a quick and easy tool to communicate directly with people interested in your cause and allows you to introduce your cause to new people. It provides instant information, making links with people, finding new audiences. Furthermore she noted that other people can help promote your cause for you, and you can easily update and share information with your supporters.

Yet the fact that this advocacy conference was being held on the very day that Lancashire County Council closed five of its museums, including two industrial sites of international importance, was not lost on the delegates. Often all industrial buildings need is a will and vision to re-use them and we can help provide that. Now more than ever we need to speak up for our industrial heritage.


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