Losing our Industrial memory

I find it a little ironic that next year has been designated European Industrial and Technical Heritage Year just as Bath begins dismantling the city’s two major landmarks which symbolise – and help memorialize – its industrial past.

L to R. New apartment block, gasometer & Destructor Bridge.
L to R. New apartment block, gasometer & Destructor Bridge.

Neither the Destructor Bridge nor the last-remaining, skyline-breaking gasometer will be around to help Bath celebrate the role that industry played in its social and cultural history.

There is in existence an organisation called E-Faith. It stands for the European Federation of Associations of Industrial and Technical Heritage and it is already hard at work organising special projects to mark next year’s special celebrations.

One project involves mapping all historical cranes in Europe, organising a short history on their development and exchanging information on best practices of restoration and conservation.

Irony piles on irony as we remember how Bath’s very own Stothert and Pitt developed and built – in its now derelict factory – many of the fine cranes that still line shipyards and harbours around the world.

Down the road Bristol’s Floating Harbour has an impressive array of Bath-produced engineering. At one point is installed the Fairbairn Steam Crane – now a scheduled ancient monument – built at the Bath factory in 1875 and – outside M Shed – four electric cranes – delivered by the workmen of Stothert and Pitt in the 1950’s.

The 1904 Stothert and Pitt steam crane at Western Riverside
The 1904 Stothert and Pitt steam crane at Western Riverside
 Fairburn Steam Crane © Wikipedia
Fairbairn Steam Crane © Wikipedia

Thanks to the efforts of local councillor Bryan Chalker – Heritage champion for B&NES – we have at least one example of a Bath-built crane rather awkwardly positioned – and completely dwarfed by its surroundings – in front of the new Western Riverside housing development.

Maybe that will get a fresh lick of paint to mark the European engineering celebrations of 2015. It certainly needs it.

I am sure someone told me there is a bigger crane still remaining in the old Newark Works – one that runs along above the factory floor and was used for lifting materials?

Another European project being developed for next year is one entitled Factory Chimneys and Collective Memory. The idea being to use them as landmarks advertising the industrial heritage site below.

I would like to quote: ‘ To contribute, through the topic of factory chimneys, to developing awareness and recognition by the public and institutions of 1) the central role of industry in the construction of European territories, 2) the importance of the saving and keeping, the protection and valuation of industrial heritage as a historic marker and witness of the dynamics of these territories.’

I cannot see that Bath has much to contribute to that. Though there are pumping station chimneys? on the Kennet and Avon Canal and the Bath Laundry Chimney – cleverly disguised by the Victorians in its classical stone jacket – beside the Roman Baths.

The old laundry in Swallow Street
The old laundry in Swallow Street

I am not sure of the fate of the factory chimneys at Somerdale?

This is of course my point of view – which is why most paragraphs are starting with ‘I’ but – in my opinion – something clever could have been done with the last Bath gasometer. We were one of the first UK cities to produce our own town gas.

Whether the developers will mark its footprint in any way l do not know. I have asked and – as yet – received no reply.

Chimney at City of Bath College
Chimney at City of Bath College

I have found another chimney in Bath. It’s at the City of Bath College – where many of the stone masons who will maintain Bath’s Georgian heritage in the future are being trained.

The Factory Chimneys and Collective Memory project also suggests lighting industrial chimneys at night – so maybe there is a paint/light project for some enterprising students there?

Be nice to get some reaction from you – the readers and viewers of The Virtual Museum of Bath. Do take a look at the http://www.e-faith.org website.