Made in metal: Writing the industrial background of Graham Sutherland’s war art

Graham-Sutherland-246x269Earlier in the year I spent some weeks in the summer researching and writing a survey of the links between Cornwall and South Wales, particularly those evidenced in the metal industries of copper, iron and steel, and tin.

It resulted in a wonderfully illustrated book called Graham Sutherland: From Darkness Into Light. War Paintings and Drawings, co-authored with Sally Moss and Paul Gough, and published by Sansom and Company.

 

Buy the book. RRP. £17.95.

Read Made in Metal in preprint version on my Academia.edu site.

it is not often that you will find modern art discussed in equal measure to the historical context of its subjects.

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A bad curator blames their tools

M-Shed, tells the story of Bristol especially its industrial and social history

M-Shed, tells the story of Bristol especially its industrial and social history

I have been a member of the Social History Curators Group (SHCG) for a few years now. Of all the professional groups and societies dedicated to museum and collections work I have found SHCG to be the most useful. Most degrees and qualifications in museum studies (or indeed heritage management) lack opportunities for sustained subject-specialist training unless it is part of an internship, vocational attachment or similar activity. That’s why SHCG and other curatorial networks are so important.

FirstBASE is SHCG’s recently launched online resources centre, an invaluable library of information for anyone dealing with social (and industrial) collections. SHCG also organises training events and when I saw one advertised for identifying tools I leapt at the opportunity. Here is my review, which will also appear in a forthcoming SHCG newsletter.

Training Review: What is it? Identifying mystery objects: trade tools

Venue: M-Shed, Bristol, 4 March 2013

I didn’t know a twybil from an adze before the training. By the end of the day I could enthusiastically explain the difference between a dado plane and a plough plane.

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List of industrial World Heritage Sites

Levant Mine, part of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape, designated in 2006.

Levant Mine, part of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape, designated in 2006.

45 industrial heritage sites, centres and lanscapes have been designated as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO since 1978.

44 currently hold WHS designation as Dresden Elbe Valley, Germany, was delisted in 2009, having only achieved designation in 2004.

Liverpool Mercantile Maritime City is currently on UNESCO’s danger list.

I am in the process of revising a paper I gave in 2011 on how people’s perceptions of industrial heritage are shaped, using copper as a theme. Starting with a global perspective, I have been counting those that are designated World Heritage Sites. I wanted to share the list for interest. I have included sites related to transportation and communication, urban sites with a substantial representation of historical commerce, and those bearing testimony to pre-modern industry. Those highlighted relate to copper.

Please leave a comment to me know whether I have left any out.  Continue reading

Approaches to regenerating industrial heritage sites

Vivian and Sons engine house and chimney, 1860, Hafod Copperworks, Swansea

Vivian and Sons engine house and chimney, 1860, Hafod Copperworks, Swansea

Following on from my survey of industrial heritage education this article discusses different approaches to the regeneration of industrial heritage sites. By their very nature, industrial heritage sites are often also classed as ‘brownfield’ sites and therefore fairer game for redevelopment than areas of ‘greenfield’.

This was well-illustrated in English Heritage’s Industrial Heritage at Risk report of 2011. I was particularly taken by the figure that placed metal and coal mines most at risk in the Register.

I live and work amongst the most significant mine workings in the world (West Cornwall) and the conservation work on mine workings over the last 30 years has been extensive, culminating in the inscription of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape in 2006. The Cornish engine house is now an icon that is synonymous with Cornish identity and culture and several sites have regenerated into visitor attractions so compared with many other parts of the world mining heritage, at least here seems to be enjoying a new lease of life.

Having worked extensively on historic copper smelting landscapes, particularly of the Lower Swansea Valley, that really are in danger of physical collapse and until recently, erasure from collective memory, I wonder about the criteria for assessing risk? Some of this is bound up in the different statuses of structures that are Scheduled or Listed. I have recently completed work on producing a prospectus for the heritage-led regeneration of the old Swansea copperworks sites of Hafod and Morfa and it became quickly evident that those structures that were not Scheduled or Listed were most in danger of being omitted altogether from the regeneration plans. Listing and scheduling can create islands out of features that were once part of inter-dependent working landscapes.

Heritage-led regeneration at industrial heritage sites have also brought extensive opportunities for bring large properties and land back into use while also preserving some of an area’s historical character.

Heritage-led regeneration: Reuse vs visitor attraction

Industrial heritage sites, like other historic structures and landscapes, have undergone regeneration in a variety of ways. The benefits or otherwise of reusing a building for new purposes such as housing, retail, other commercial uses or as a museum or cultural centre have recently been debated on a LinkedIn thread on the use of industrial complexes as cultural centres.

As part of my report in the regeneration of the Hafod-Morfa copperworks site I had a stab at trying to categorise different types of heritage-led regeneration in a UK context although it is fair to apply several of these categories to industrial heritage in Europe and beyond.

  1. The open-air museum.
  2. The working museum/site which retains traditional processes and products.
  3. Industrial park with visitor centre or museum as central focus.
  4. An industrial building or complex converted exclusively to heritage activity.
  5. Brownfield site regeneration which retains heritage features and offers some interpretation but primarily functions with unrelated businesses and activities.
  6. Conserved structures retained in the landscape with no designated centre and minimal interpretation.

The following examples have been chosen to be representative of the full range of industrial heritage site or landscape present in the UK and are not intended to be geographically inclusive. In addition there are great numbers of projects that have regenerated industrial buildings but could not be considered ‘heritage-led’, for example the Toffee Factory in Newcastle which might be usefully defined in a seventh category of ‘vestige’. A sort of façadism. This is not a criticism, it just isn’t what I would call ‘heritage-led’.

Examples

1. Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre
Situated in the former Amberley Chalk Pits, now dedicated to the industrial heritage of the whole of South East England featuring narrow gauge railway and historic bus service, traditional craft demonstrations and a regular series of events and festivals.

2. Whitchurch Silk Mill
Working early nineteenth-century silk mill in Hampshire, still producing traditionally-woven silk for interior design. Visitors can see the internal workings of the mill and silk weavers at looms (now powered by electricity, not mill wheel).

3. Wheal Martyn China Clay Museum and Country Park
Set in spent china clay pits which have been largely given over to park and woodland with museum containing displays and artefacts from the industry, access to viewing point to see a commercially working neighbouring pit, and access to Clay Trails cycle route.

4. STEAM. Museum of the Great Western Railway
Situated in the restored former Swindon Grade II-listed railway works. The entire works complex has been integrated into a single museum building. Displays incorporate artefacts, static locomotives, archives, film and audio footage of the railway and dioramas. The museum runs themed and non-heritage events programme.

5. Heartlands, Cornwall
Set in the derelict area around Robinson’s Shaft, previously part of South Crofty tin mines, in Pool, Cornwall, the complex is now billed as a ‘cultural playground’ with ‘state of the art’ exhibition space containing displays related to Cornish mining, an adventure playground themed on Cornish mythology, landscaped gardens with flora and features related to Cornish migration abroad, craft studios and offices, and soon to be extended to a new housing estate. One of the site’s principal attractions are its rolling series of events, markets and activities for visiting schools.

6. Derwent Valley Mills
World Heritage Site since 2001, designated as the ‘birthplace of the factory system’ for textile production, it comprises a series of conserved water mills along a 15-mile stretch of the River Derwent from Matlock Bath to Derby. The Derwent Valley Heritage Way has been instituted as a series of walks which lead visitors through the landscape’s historical and natural environments.

Conclusions

Let’s state the obvious first. There are many approaches to heritage-led regeneration. Each is specific to the period in which the site was redeveloped, the funding available, the potential for future income and the vision of those charged with undertaking it. Some are more successful than others. In many cases it is too early to tell what will actually become of the industrial heritage of the site or area.

And this brings me to my second conclusion and one about which I will write more soon, that the interpretation of a site’s industrial past is crucial in qualifying it as ‘heritage-led’. Interpretation can take many forms, such as activity or demonstration as in allowing the public to view Victorian silk weaving techniques at Whitchurch Silk Mill, through displays and exhibitions, through a sensory experience such as riding on the narrow gauge railway at Amberley, or just simple self-guided heritage trails–using a leaflet or smartphone app.

I fear that sites more recently regenerated are allowing interpretation and opportunities for immersion in the industrial past to play second fiddle to ‘inspired by’ activities such as art installations, public sculpture and the performance of plays. These are stylised activities that may entertain but often do not convey an authentic sense of the past to audiences, even if they are infused by it. And at sites that were hives of activity, often busy, smelly and noisy, the experience you get at many industrial heritage sites and lanscapes is almost the opposite..

Old pilchards and Cornish industrial fishing heritage

Pressed and salted pilchards, Newlyn Pilchard Works

Pressed and salted pilchards, Newlyn Pilchard Works

Industrial heritage in Cornwall is completely dominated by mining, and most of that is heavily focused on tin mining and china clay extraction as opposed to that of other metals and minerals such as copper, arsenic and so on. Even more neglected is Cornwall’s fishing and fish processing heritage.

The Cornish Quaysude gallery in the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, in Falmouth, provides a tantalising glimpse of fish processing and export, specifically that of pilchards (salted and pressed) which took place in St Ives, Mevagissey and Newlyn amongst other fishing centres. Other interesting exhibits can be found in a number of the smaller museums of Cornwall, such as St Ives Museum, Padstow Museum and Fowey Museum.

Penzance no longer has its maritime museum and Newlyn, today home to the largest fishing fleet (in terms of numbers of boats) in the UK, has no centre for its fishing heritage. However this was not the case until relatively recently, and may change in the near future. Villagers in Mousehole, west Cornwall’s most ancient port, is currently looking at integrating some of the region’s fishing and maritime heritage into displays in the project to establish a new community centre (in the derelict sail/net loft which also housed pilchard processing pits on Duck Street). Talk of old pilchards reminded me of the now defunct Old Pilchard Works Museum in Newlyn.

I had occasion to revisit some photographs I took back in Summer 2003 of the Old Pilchard Works in Newlyn when it was open to the public as a working museum. It remains one of the most memorable museum experiences I have had. The working part of the museum allowed visitors to get a feel for an ancient delicacy which the vast majority of Brits and Cornish would probably turn their nose up at. Salted and pressed pilchards, or Cornish sardines. Caught in abundance off the Penwith coast, pilchards landed in Newlyn would be salted and then pressed, then arranged in barrels ready for export to Italy (and sometimes Spain). Think anchovies and their growing status as a trend ingredient in British gastronomy, then think of a more rounded, almost sweeter flavour and you will have an idea of the wonder that is a salted pilchard.

Press play to view a slide show of my photographs or view on Flickr.

The pilchard presses resemble book presses and there is something timeless about seeing military rows of fish lined up and piled up ready to have their life extended to at least a year through this processing. Barrels were marked with various marks according to the importer, one of them being ‘Cigno Bianco’ or White Swan as you can see in one of the photographs of a box of ‘salacche inglese’ –in future that would probably read ‘salacche cornovagliese’. Part of the museum experience was having the chance to do ‘brass rubbings’ of the copper stencils that marked the boxes and barrels. To my sadness, I can no longer find the one I did but I do remember it was of the Cigno Bianco mark. The museum also introduced visitors to traditional fish processing and the particular relationship between the Cornish and Breton fishing industries, especially those of West Penwith and the region of Concarneau.

As you will hear in this video, from Terry Tonkin who worked here, they were a particular delicacy of the Italian dish, spaghetti alla puttanesca. So prized were the Cornish salted pilchard that they were considered superior to the usual Italian acciughe or anchovy. This dish is a classic of southern Italy, particularly the south-eastern region of Puglia (Apulia) and parts of Sicily. It’s a brazen dish (possibly accounting for its unashamed name, ‘whore-like spaghetti’) made with fresh tart tomatoes, salty black olives, anchovies or other salted fish and capers. It’s time of year is from harvest time at the end of summer to Christmas when these preserved delights are made and put in store for the winter.

Some time in 2005-6 the museum closed, for various reasons, mainly financial, but also because the demand for salted pilchards began to decline. As the Managing Director Nick Howell said in a statement regarding the circumstances of the closure, no amount of good publicity from TV chefs such as Keith Floyd and Rick Stein could persuade the British public to embrace this delicacy. The privately run museum was subsidised by the business which had also just begun to use traditional Breton canning methods to preserve Cornish pilchards and mackerel (in olive oil). You’ll be hard pushed to find a salted pilchard in Cornwall at the moment but thankfully you can still buy Pilchard Works canned fish all over the country. I hope we see salted pilchards in British and Cornish cuisine in the future.

Copper research funding success!

Excerpt from a copper ore book

Excerpt from a copper ore book

I was delighted to hear on Friday that I had been successful in my application for a small research grant from Glamorgan County History Trust for continued research on my project entitled, Biographies of British copper: The heritage of a global commodity, c.1700-1980. The Trust supports research into any aspect of the history of Glamorgan, south Wales.

The specific aspect of my research this funding will benefit is for further work into business archives relating to the copper industry found in Bangor University Archives. Following my survey of copper business archives held in Swansea, I identified related papers held in Bangor which not only have direct relevance to understanding the supply chain between mines and the Glamorgan smelters but also to further my knowledge about how the Grenfells operated during the formative 1800-1830s period.

The key relation to the Swansea Grenfell Collection are the records in the Williams and Grenfell Copper Smelting Firm collection, 1829-34, held at Bangor University Archives. I will use the grant to enable me to travel to Bangor and study the records and then use copied material for furthering this project in subsequent months. Having already consulted the small number of business records relating to the early years of Grenfell involvement as mine agents and speculators in the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies in Aylesbury last winter, this will be a crucial stage in gathering evidence for reconstructing supply chain information through the development of one company.

The most valuable part of these fonds are twelve bundles of ticketing documents dating 1829-34 which document a formative period in the growth of the copper industry and the centralisation of smelting and refining processes in Glamorgan, especially Swansea.

These documents are rare survivals which have hitherto escaped the attention of scholars. They bear testimony to the business negotiations that took place between smelters’ agents (overwhelmingly based in Swansea, Neath and Llanelli) and mine companies. The ticketing events took place in Cornwall (Redruth) for Cornish ores and in Swansea for the sale of Welsh, Irish and foreign ores.

While statistical synopses are available for this period in contemporary editions of the Mining Journal and other serials, analyses of these documents will enable me to map actual relationships between specific mining companies and smelting concerns. It will also help to establish how the supply chain centred in Swansea compared with that of Cornwall.

Combining this new research with that I have already undertaken on the Swansea and Buckinghamshire documents, I hope to publish an article on these archives that will also highlight their value as sources for understanding the nature of how business was done and also more about how industrial history can be better appreciated through tracing the biographies of the commodities themselves.

Industrial heritage education at risk?

Industrial heritage at London Canal Museum

Industrial heritage at London Canal Museum

In this post I outline some of my ideas for better education in industrial history, archaeology and heritage. There are currently no dedicated Masters-level programmes in industrial heritage/history/archaeology and I wanted to find out why (with no agenda either way as to whether or not they ought to exist as specialist programmes). In the first half I discuss English Heritage’s major study on Industrial Heritage at Risk as it has important implications for education. In the second I share my findings after a brief and informal survey of industrial heritage courses taught at postgraduate level, and discuss how the two could come together to improve levels of the knowledge and understanding of heritage practitioners, scholars and public.

My conclusions are given at the end and are at present ideas and thoughts based on my observations and experience. I hope to develop some of these based on more rigorous research. If you would like to contribute ideas of your own please leave a comment.

Industrial Heritage at Risk

Industrial Heritage at Risk was a major project undertaken by English Heritage in 2011 to quantify and assess the condition of England’s industrial heritage, particularly in the light of the considerable development seen at brownfield sites over the last two decades.

Overwhelmingly the public think that it is as important to preserve our industrial heritage as other types of heritage such as castles and country houses (80%).
(From survey of 2000 respondents conducted by English Heritage as part of the Industrial Heritage at Risk project)

Some of the findings that stood out for me are:

  • 4% of listed buildings and 4% of scheduled monuments are industrial.
  • The average estimated conservation deficit (cost of repair in excess of the end value) of industrial buildings at risk is twice that of non-industrial buildings at risk.
  • Approximately 40% of industrial buildings at risk are capable of beneficial use, compared to 44% of non-industrial buildings at risk.
  • Only 40% of listed industrial buildings at risk could be put to sustainable and economic new uses. The remainder are reliant on voluntary effort, public funding and philanthropy to survive.
  • Lead, tin, copper and coal mines are the industrial sites most at risk on Register.
  • 52% would like more opportunity to give their opinion about which industrial sites they think should be protected, while 44% are interested in getting involved with helping to protect the industrial heritage in their local area.
  • Younger people are less interested in industrial heritage than those aged 55 and over.

The criteria for assessing risk is outlined in the Heritage at Risk Methodology Statement (opens PDF) that is applied to all types of heritage, not just industrial.

English Heritage has pledged to undertake a number of measures to help ensure the future viability of industrial heritage sites and areas. These mainly concern offering advice, encouraging local groups to take on industrial sites and providing handbooks and guides. English Heritage obviously does not have the resources to be more hands-on with its assistance and it is right that organisations and groups in the localities in which industrial sites are based should take some responsibility for them if they are the same people who are worried about their future survival.

English or British industrial heritage?

English Heritage is only mandated to oversee historic sites within the political unit of England and as such the Industrial Heritage at Risk report does not make connections with sites elsewhere. This is a point of frustration because so much of English industrial heritage is intimately linked with that of Wales and Scotland, notably in coal and metals, and textiles. Comparable research data does not exist (at least publicly) for EH’s sister bodies in Wales (Cadw and RCAHMW–but see Cadw Buildings at Risk document), Scotland (Historic Scotland–but see Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland) and Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland Environment Agency).

Industrial heritage without borders

The history of industrialisation in Britain is a story without borders. Businesses, entrepreneurs and scientists paid scant notice to national or regional identity within the UK when making profits and pioneering new technologies. The rapid success of British businesses engaged in mass industry relied on fast networks that first globalised these isles and then rapidly globalised much of the planet by its domination of maritime trade and nascent empire building. This is much more evident in the thousands of business archives held in public, private and corporate collections than perhaps in the vestiges of industrial heritage sites.

My current project to reconstruct historic supply chain information of the copper industry from business archive collections and museum collections aims to better integrate the information we have from documentation with that of archaeological and built remains. It is a material-driven approach that intends to provide a context for the quantifiable inputs and outputs that is the traditional fayre of economic and industrial historians. Teaching industrial history using this approach may well attract a wider range of students and learners who are increasingly interested in the cultural impact of economic change both locally and globally.

Industry and regional identity

However industries were undeniably regionally specific because of their locations near raw materials, as hubs in national and international transport infrastructures, and the development of specialist factory workforces that percolated down the generations, often defining entire places, whether hard rock mining in Cornwall or cotton manufacture in Lancashire. Copperopolis (Swansea), Tinopolis (Llanelli), Jutopolis (Dundee), Cottonopolis (Manchester)… are epithets that are testament to the huge impact of regionally-specific industry on perceptions of place. The capacity for industry to bestow regional distinctiveness on a locality has strongly influenced the way in which many sites and areas have been interpreted, much more so than the global story and connectedness of which it was once part.

What about education?

The Industrial Heritage at Risk project has identified the need for better educational resources and to this end has provided a set of teacher’s kits to help teach school children  about industrial sites in their area. The topic range is broad and I am particularly glad that the creators of these packs urge teachers to address issues of why we preserve industrial heritage sites and their value to society. We don’t know how much having debate like this will affect the views of children when they become adults but I am pleased that attempts are being made to de-adultify industrial heritage. Of all the fields of history and heritage, the interest in industry has been the preserve of (mainly male) enthusiasts, economic historians and historians of science and technology. And the average age profile of these groups is currently much higher than other sectors such as art and social history. But I digress.

Having set some of the scene of industrial heritage in the UK today I want to continue by exploring how industrial history and heritage is taught. While the English Heritage Teacher’s Kits go a long way to providing high quality resources for schools I am naturally led to question the level of knowledge and understanding of teachers, trainers and lecturers themselves, and where you might go as a prospective learner to ‘up-skill’ in the area of industrial heritage. There are four main areas I would like to investigate:

  • Key Stage 5 (A-level / Baccalaureate etc)
  • Tertiary / Higher Education (Diplomas, First Degrees, Vocational)
  • Postgraduate Taught courses
  • Adult Learning / Continuing Professional Development / Lifelong Learning courses

Postgraduate education in industrial heritage/history/archaeology

It is at postgraduate level (Masters level) that many students have the opportunity to pursue the advanced study of a subject and it is at this level that my exploration of the current state of industrial heritage education begins. This follows an email enquiry to a number of mailing lists, followed up by correspondence, about where people have taken industrial heritage courses and what forms they have taken.

I was keen to find out why there are currently no dedicated taught Masters courses in industrial heritage/history/archaeology in UK universities. My underlying motive is to find out how collaborative resources created through research, particularly those from heritage-led knowledge exchange initiatives (e.g. Welsh Copper Project) could be developed into modules, courses and entire programmes whether taught through distance learning, traditional lecture and class sessions, work-based training and blended learning (combining any of these).

My enquiry received over 35 responses via email and a few via Twitter. Responses came from those teaching industrial heritage/history/archaeology, or who had taught it in the past, and from those who had taken courses. A small number of responses came from the USA and I have included these for comparative purposes, although my main interest is in what is happening here in the UK.

Where courses are/have been taught and taken

I am including responses from those who have taken courses in the past that are now defunct (marked ceased). This list is response-driven and is not an exhaustive search for industrial heritage modules within other programmes.

  • MA Historical Archaeology, Sheffield, 1997, taught by David Crossley. Included industrial heritage, ceased
  • MA Heritage Management, Ironbridge Institute (University of Birmingham), 1989-current (distance learning option since 2004)
  • MA Historic Environment Conservation, Ironbridge Institute, 2005-current
  • MS and PhD, Industrial Heritage and Archaeology, Michigan Tech University, Prof. Patrick Martin
  • MA Archaeology, University of Nevada, Reno, led by Dr Don Hardesty, American mining archaeology
  • Department of the History of Science and Technology, John Hopkins University
  • MA Industrial Archaeology, Ironbridge Institute, 1985-6, taught by Barrie Trinder and late Michael Stratton, ceased 2007/8 (est. 1981), relaunched by Roger White 2001, last modules taught 2005/7, ceased
  • MA Industrial Heritage, Ironbridge Institute, 1994-1999, ceased
  • MA Archaeology of Buildings, University of York, one module Industrial Buildings
  • MA Historical Archaeology, University of York taught by John Schofield, John Finch, Kate Giles
  • MA Historical Archaeology, University of Leicester (distance learning option)
  • Postgrad Diploma Industrial Archaeology, Wroclaw Polytechnic, Poland, 2001
  • MLitt Lead Mining industry in North Pennines, Newcastle University
  • Undergraduate course in Industrial Archaeology, Newcastle University, 1990s/early 2000s taught by Stafford Linsey, ceased after retirement
  • MSc Mining and Industrial Heritage Management, Camborne School of Mines (University of Exeter), taught by Tony Brooks, head of Mining, ceased after retirement
  • MSc Heritage Science and Professional Archaeology, Queen’s University Belfast
  • Ordinary Degree Industrial Archaeology module for English, History, Geography, Geology and other subjects, College of Higher Education, Liverpool, validated by Lancaster University, 1980s
  • Industrial Archaeology topics taught at Bristol University

Motivations

Why did people choose to take a course or programme in industrial heritage/history/archaeology?

  • Course near to where student lived
  • Had already done first degree at same institution
  • Ability to do degree part time while working in cognate profession (commercial archaeology)
  • To aid career prospects or prior to undertaking PhD
  • Inherent / personal interest in subject
  • To formalise existing research undertaken privately

Positive points

What people like about learning and teaching industrial heritage.

  • Inclusion of work placement
  • Practical surveying techniques
  • Learnt applied skills for use in architecture
  • Course based on an industrial site
  • Using industrial site visits and projects to teach broader issues of sustainability, conservation practice
  • Skills-based learning including desk-based and field work, photography, surveying, documentary study
  • Wealth of material on British industry 1650-1939 materials and practices
  • Interpretation of sites and monuments including conservation of buildings and artefacts

Negative points

What people did not like about learning and teaching industrial heritage.

  • Topics dated
  • No introduction of new ideas
  • Disinterested lecturers. End of course malaise
  • Dwindling student numbers making it financially unviable
  • Too much emphasis on museums
  • Can be conservative
  • Courses are expensive to run
  • Career opportunities limited in UK
  • Cost cuts and need to take on more students lowering standards
  • Recruitment low because career prospects poor/cannot see benefits
  • Industrial sites need to engage with community’s history as much as technology
  • Local politics

Other issues arising

  • Vocational courses like Heritage Management recruit better, into 20s and 30s FTE. Teach industrial heritage as part of that
  • Disciplinary differences in the US: industrial history thought in History of Science and Tech programmes or Science, Technology and Society (STS) programmes
  • Heritage is considered ‘public history’ in US
  • History of science has emphasis on written record rather than material culture—industrial archaeology offers this pathway (but not a major field in US)
  • Many courses heavily relient on subject specialism of tutor/lecturer, when they retire or leave course does not continue
  • There remains a disparity between what is required by archaeological profession and what is taught in universities
  • Growth of historical and contemporary archaeology as a field of study on a par with prehistory

Conclusions: Is industrial heritage education at risk?

The main conclusions reached by this survey of opinion are:

  • After the heyday of dedicated industrial heritage/archaeology programmes in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly those offered by the Ironbridge Institute and the University of Leicester, the subject is now taught mainly through historical archaeology and heritage management modules and programmes
  • The offering of industrial heritage/history/archaeology courses is more heavily dependent on research expertise present in a department or institution whereby replacement is not necessary sought once a person leaves or retires, than other subject areas
  • Changes in professional needs and aspirations of prospective students have changed the nature of postgraduate taught programmes towards teaching broader-based skills in archaeology, heritage and historic environment
  • There is a divide between those who learn industrial heritage through history of science and technology programmes (documentary based study) and archaeology programmes (site and landscape based study)
  • There is a skills gap. What is taught to students is not necessarily what is needed by heritage practitioners, especially field archaeologists (see Archaeology degrees stuck in the (far distant) past by Matthew Reisz, 6 Oct 2011, Times Higher Education, including response by Prof. Marilyn Palmer)

My conclusions (in no particular order)

  • Industrial heritage/history/archaeology is still a minority subject in spite of a clear public interest in the subject indicated by English Heritage’s Industrial Heritage at Risk research and a general increase in participation in humanities programmes
  • There is a lack of research interest in industrial heritage/history/archaeology within universities as a direct result of its absence in many postgraduate curricula
  • The growth in knowledge exchange/knowledge transfer/community participation projects is generating unprecedented amounts of high-quality publicly-circulating research that can be repurposed to provide teaching and learning materials beyond the life of the project
  • The increasing number of high-profile industrial heritage sites provide ready opportunity for academic collaboration not just for public engagement but for course development
  • There is a lack of intellectual engagement with the subject area contributing to a near absence of theory and ideology applied
  • The decline in interest in industrial heritage as a subject of study or research seems to parallel the decline in economic history
  • Course development for a new industrial heritage needs to embrace documentary and archaeological aspects, particularly business archives and site-specific or desk-based field study
  • The subject has the potential to fulfil several employability needs for students including research, analytical and scientific techniques
  • There is huge potential for studying industrial heritage/history/archaeology as part of global history as several industrial case-studies are international by their very nature (e.g. global copper industry)
  • There is huge potential for studying industrial heritage/history/archaeology with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects.

Copper, business history and material culture

Following the discussion of some of the themes I have been exploring related to the historic copper industry through the lens of business archives, I have begun to think more holistically about the relationships between place-industry-business-commodity. My recent relocation to West Cornwall put me in mind of its world-class mining heritage and a landscape and society shaped by the demand for the commodities of copper, tin, and other minerals particularly during the 18th to early 20th centuries. Mining history is the staple of industrial heritage in Cornwall and Britain as a whole and mining landscapes in the rest of the world are beginning to receive similar attention, such as in South Africa and Australia.

But from the perspective of a material culture historian, mining is only part of the story and it has surprised me so far that both scholarly publications and public interpretation has largely been cursory in its treatment of ‘what happened to all that copper, or tin…?’ Those  who appreciate the value of biography as an epistemological tool (or theoretical framework) will have a natural desire to follow a commodity through the whole materials cycle.

The idea of studying the whole materials cycle in an historical context was mediated to me as I wrote a recent piece on the historic copper business, ‘Pioneers and profits‘ for Materials World, the magazine of  the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3). This is an organisation that focuses on contemporary issues related to materials from extraction to their eventual use and even recycling. Their description sums up this approach well:

The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) is a major UK engineering institution whose activities encompass the whole materials cycle, from exploration and extraction, through characterisation, processing, forming, finishing and application, to product recycling and land reuse.

Historical studies of business and industry tend to compartmentalise one or two aspects of the historic materials cycle. Those that deal with the whole will usually privilege one stage, e.g. mining and extraction or smelting over others. This is particularly the case with the history of metals and metallurgical processes. It was with this in mind that I have begun to hammer out a plan to research copper through several of its materials cycles to try and understand how the supply chain operated, the skills involved, which individuals and companies were connected together (current work on historic social networks will come in handy here) and how changes in demand and technology manifested themselves in this cycle.

I described some of the ways I have been using business archives to  at a recent workshop on the value of business archives in research, held at Swansea University and organised by the Powering the World project. In this paper I suggested that focusing on a firm that dealt with buying raw materials for smelting and refining copper and then supplying its products to onward manufacturing industries was an effective way to exploit the full potential of business archives held in local and specialist collections. Pascoe Grenfell and Sons is one of the firms I am most interested in. Not having been the subject of any major study, PG&S’s activities spanned mining, smelting, refining, transport and part manufacture of copper and brass. Archives related to their business concerns spanning the late 18th to late 19th centuries can be found in Swansea, London, Cornwall, Aylesbury, Birmingham and beyond. They illustrate the huge complexity and balances required in the procurement of materials to produce saleable commodities.

An example I gave of constructing a biography of copper was of craft copper, such as developed in Newlyn at the end of the 19th century. It’s very schematic and only intended to illustrate the idea of looking at materials cycles. Determining accurate percentages of actual Cornish copper in what was crafted in Newlyn and elsewhere is of course an impossible question to answer at the moment. Also bearing in mind that it is estimated that 80% of copper ever mined is still somewhere in use today, the study of materials cycles become even more compelling.

Newlyn copper biography

Newlyn copper biography

Reconstructing the historic global copper industry from business archives

Upper Thames Street, site of 27

Upper Thames Street, site of 27, at Paul's Walk, previously Paul's Wharf, headquarters of major copper firms in the 19th century (Tehmina Goskar)

On 9 November I will be participating in the Historical Metallurgy Society‘s Research in Progress meeting in Sheffield. The day promises to be extremely varied where experimental archaeologists, historians, scientists and others will be getting together to share various aspects of their work. Subjects will range from the excavation of a medieval smithy in Oxfordshire to the lead and copper ‘isotope signatures’ of North American native copper.

Read the draft programme for information on all the contributors (opens or downloads PDF).

My contribution to the day will focus on recent work I have been conducting on the business archives relating to major copper concerns that operated smelting and refining works in Swansea. These copper archives add essential information and colour to a broad picture historians have been building up of the global copper industry, predominantly in the 18th and 19th centuries, since the 1950s. However many of these histories have been reliant on runs of statistics from mining and geological journals, import and export information from mercantile shipping records and occasionally, official records government records and occasionally, correspondence and letter collections of prominent figures such as Thomas Williams of Anglesey and the Vivians.

Business archives are found in many county and special collections all over the country. Their content often relates to more than one firm and more than just local activity. For example, the Grenfell Collection held by the Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University, comprises records relating to their head quarters at 27 Upper Thames Street, London and many of their dealings abroad, including with Spain, in addition to important detail about their major smelting works at Upper and Middle Bank in Swansea.

My Research in Progress paper aims to give an outline and a few examples of the way in which these archives can be used and linked together to reconstruct the elements of the historic global copper industry that remain obscured in mainstream histories that have not delved into these records in any great detail.

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