Industrial Archaeology on an Industrial Scale: The Impact of Developer-funded Work



Stephenson’s 1830 railway bridge over the River Irwell in Manchester being recorded as part of the Ordsall Chord infrastructure scheme, 2016

You may be familiar with this scene. The last day of a large city centre dig and the site is thronging with locals, young and old. But they haven’t come to see a king under a car park, or indeed a hoard of coins stashed by some long-forgotten Roman. They have come to tour the 19th century slums and the stone foundations of the engine house of a large adjacent mill. It could be any urban archaeology site in early 21st century Glasgow, London, Manchester or York. In each case it’s the relevance of the near past, that almost but not quite within in memory feeling and the vague sense of recognition of a past similar to our lifestyle, that has caught the popular imagination.

Industrial Archaeology (not industrial heritage, not the historic industrial environment, but Industrial ARCHAEOLOGY) often has that effect on a local community and developer-funded commercial archaeology is very good at revealing in spectacular detail, over large areas, many such sites often with above and below ground housing and industry mixed in together. Not only can you touch the near past, in some cases, literally, you can smell it, the oil from the engine beds and the whiff from the earth closets.


Microsoft PowerPoint - DeveloperFundedImpactOnIA_Aug17Between 1990 and 2010 figures suggest that 60% of all developer-funded archaeology work undertaken in England involved sites from the post-1500 period, most of these including industrial sites used after 1750. 27 years after the issuing of the first planning guidance in England and Wales controlling the recovery of archaeology deposits during redevelopment, the volume of material gathered from industrial sites is starting its own revolution. That is why the theme of this year’s Association for Industrial Archaeology research seminar, in August 2017 held at Moulton College, was the contribution of developer-funded projects to industrial archaeology.

There were a variety of speakers, across a range of professional archaeology companies and organisations: from Archaeology South East, Greater Manchester Archaeological Advisory Service and Headland Archaeology, to Oxford Archaeology, Construct Archaeology and Wessex Archaeology. Norman Redhead of GMAAS set the planning background and current developer-funded context. In short, we have more developer-funded archaeology going on than ever, but we are short of archaeologists, not just as a hangover from the recession of 2008 to 2011, and getting low on planning archaeologists due to local government cuts.

There were then a series of papers that provided a cross-section of modern industrial archaeology recording in the commercial sector of archaeology. Michael Shapland recounted the standing building study that provided a biography of one last surviving production building at the 19th century submarine cable manufacturer based at Enderby Wharf in the east London at Greenwich. Gerry Thacker explored the huge excavation of the 19th and early 20th century Upper Bank copper and zinc smelting works in Swansea. Russel Coleman detailed the archaeology of the M74 Completion Project in Glasgow, which provided a cross-section of the industrial archaeology, at work and at home across the southern side of the city. Rebecca Haslam provided a case study the detailed historic building survey of the standing buildings of the King’s Cross Goods Yard, founded in the 1840s and abandoned the in the 1980s, which was supported by targeted excavation of the railways distribution and power systems (turntables and hydraulic pipes). Lucy Dawson gave an overview of dealing with the historic industrial water supply and management infrastructure of Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, from 19th century sluices and weirs to water-pumping stations. To round off the day I provided an over-view of the research impact of developer-funded archaeology.



Developer-funded archaeology work on an 18th century dyeworks in Manchester

Since the introduction of the first archaeology planning guidance in 1990 developer-funded archaeology companies and trusts have increasingly taken the lead in developing new field techniques and exploring large industrial sites. Developer-funded Industrial Archaeology is good at detailed data recovery; resource & time management; using new technologies; single site or compact urban area studies; revealing visually stunning sites that grab the publics’ attention; and generating finds skills and knowledge. However, it also has to be acknowledged that developer-funded Industrial archaeology is poor at synthesis by monument type or landscape; theoretically-led discussion; and retaining and passing on key Industrial Archaeology field skills.


As the new Chair of the AIA I believe that the Association for Industrial Archaeology needs to develop its role in promoting the study of the discipline of industrial archaeology. Indeed, the AIA has being doing this since it was founded in 1973. Thanks to generous donations, since 2008 the AIA has given grants worth £438,000 to help restore and preserve dozens of industrial buildings and machinery across Britain. Grants worth £125,000, for instance were announced at this year at Moulton College for eight further industrial machines and sites. That makes the AIA a major player in the wider heritage conservation and restoration field.

Microsoft PowerPoint - DeveloperFundedImpactOnIA_Aug17What the Association needs to do next is to promote the next generation of industrial archaeology research, taking the lead as we did in the 1990s and 2000s. This should begin with the area generating the most data, the commercial sector; a proper assessment of the developer funded archive from 1990 to 2016 is desperately needed. This work then needs to be integrated with a revision of the Industrial Archaeology research strategies at a regional and national level. AIA has a history of running training workshops and weekends and should be working with the current crop of commercial archaeologists to ensure that key industrial archaeology skills are passed on to the next generation of field archaeologists and that the experience of the voluntary sector is better used in supporting the professional sector. The AIA should be a bridge between these two worlds.

Britain has world-class industrial archaeology remains, both above and below ground (as seen in our World Heritage Sites) and we have some of the leading professional practitioners both in the professional, museum and voluntary sectors. Now is the time to invest in linking these so as to secure the future of the industrial past: no other organisation is as well-positioned as the AIA to do and, I fear, no one else has the vision nor ability to make such a difference.

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