Industrial archaeology – a study of the well-engineered

twyford pump
The things that make life bearable risk being the ‘Cinderella’ of conservation and record keeping, but are well worth keeping. You can read an awful lot of history books – local or otherwise – that hardly mention the fact that science and technology, including medicine and engineering, have been major drivers of change. Wiping away all this would suddenly bring everyday life to a stop. The day would start in a stone-cold house with no running hot water – let alone a shower –   and merely surviving would be an endless struggle. There would be no mains gas, no electricity, no motor-driven appliances, no cars, no telephone – and, of course, no internet! Food would be basic and meals repetitive. Clothes, for all but the wealthiest, would be heavy, coarse and odorous. For much of the year it would be muddy outside, many roads would be impassable. The daily routine for most would be a tiring round of duties aimed at surviving the climate, avoiding starvation, tending animals and turning a penny at some exhausting activity. Over the past 200 years or more, this depressing scenario has been revolutionised by engineers, scientists and medics.  Historically, the change can scarcely be exaggerated.   Which is why a band of dedicated people are passionately involved in recording and preserving the products of the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath. Much has been achieved in the county by groups such as the Hampshire Industrial Archaeology Society, Hampshire Mills Group, Farnborough Air Sciences Trust, and a raft of museums, including Solent Sky, Bursledon Brickworks, Twyford Waterworks, Whitchurch Silk Mill, National Motor Museum and the Museum of Army Flying. A Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight published some years ago by Pamela Moore– a new edition is expected soon – shows just how widespread the industries are that have made possible the sort of life we now lead. More than 300 water and wind mills in the county represent an industry which locally was once as important as oil drilling in the Middle East. A rash of airfields and aircraft factories led ultimately to millions of us being able to take holidays in sunny climes.  
Gas came to many towns in first half of the 19th century, but has left few relics. The earliest seems to have been in Southampton in 1820, closely followed in the next year by Portsmouth. Also early in the game was Romsey, with works in 1833 that were used until 1950 and Gosport followed in 1835. Amongst surviving gasholders, those at Northam, Southampton, are the most impressive. Similarly, power stations were a key advance, though their remains are slight, with little to show for Southampton’s (1896/7), Fareham’s (1897-1932), or Ringwood’s (from 1924). The industries that led the field, especially in the Hampshire, were those associated with defence of the realm.  Science and technology have played a huge part in helping to defeat enemies. In 1803, the first steam-powered mass production factory in the world was set up in Portsmouth Dockyard to make wooden pulley blocks, huge numbers of which were required to rig sailing vessels, as any modeller knows. According to Jonathan Coad, the distinguished architectural historian and author of The Portsmouth Block Mills, “The English royal dockyards, victualling yards and hospitals formed what are arguably the largest industrial centres in Britain before the Industrial Revolution…”. The quote appears in an article on the subject by Dr Celia Clark in the latest issue of the Hampshire Industrial Archaeology Society Journal. For many years she has been active in the field of what she calls ‘defence heritage’. Her struggles with local and national authorities are charted in Barracks, Forts, and Ramparts: Regeneration Challenges for Portsmouth Harbour’s Defence Heritage, co-authored with Martin Marks OBE (Tricorn Books, Portsmouth). It is a ‘playbook’ for all conservationists, with tales of cheerleading success and tearful failures. She said: “It’s about preserving and sustainably reusing the physical survivors of the centuries of defence activity around Portsmouth Harbour, whether they are in the dockyard [or not]: dry-docks, covered slips, workshops, ropery, storehouses, or the twelve forts defending the harbour, the military lines at Hilsea and Stokes Bay, the army, marines and navy barracks, Gunwharf and Priddy’s Hard ordnance yards, Royal Clarence Victualling Yard or Haslar Hospital. Portsmouth Harbour, is an international model of both the challenges and the successful reuse of defence heritage, especially in the development of defence heritage tourism by Hampshire County Council and the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust.”
The existing Portsmouth Naval Base Heritage Area followed the downgrading in 1982 of HM Royal Dockyard Portsmouth, as it was, to a Fleet Maintenance and Repair Base. The change of name and attendant loss of craft traditions was marked in The Times of October 1, by a sardonic line which read: “HM Royal Dockyard Portsmouth passed peacefully away at 12 o’clock last night after nearly 800 years of faithful service.” It had been fed to the press by Dr Clark as secretary of the Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Historical Society to express the feelings of a workforce that had been putting in 18 hours a day for the Falklands Task Force. Despite best efforts, two ‘Ship Shops’, Nos. 3 and 4, have been lost. At one time they had the widest roof spans in the world, engineered in 1845 – before the advent of wide-span railway sheds – by Baker & Son of Lambeth. On the plus side is the Apprentice Display in Boathouse No. 7, which shows the work of shipwrights, riggers, painters and other skilled craftsmen.  An attempt to set up a Museum of the Dockyard to mark the millennium failed to raise the necessary funding. A back-up collection of specialised tools, documents and equipment is in store. Dr Clark said: “The disappointment is that [this material] would be ideally housed in the Block Mills, where the block-cutting machinery is.” Similarly, in 2006 plans to designate Portsmouth Harbour a World Heritage Site got nowhere after six years’ work, despite the involvement of 100 stakeholders. It failed when Portsmouth City Council, the lead local authority, withdrew its support. Dr Clark commented: “It was the leader of the PCC who cancelled the bid, because he believed it would deter people from investing in the city.  You only have to look at Liverpool to see how wrong he was! Industrial archaeology, including historic structures developed in the dockyard and its supporting facilities, are important to our sense of local identity, but they need to be preserved and sustainable new uses found for them in the ever-changing present and future.” Barracks, Forts, and Ramparts: Regeneration Challenges for Portsmouth Harbour’s Defence Heritage is available from Dr Clark for £44 inc. p & p ( Past issues of the HIAS Journal are online at: Contributed by Barry Shurlock, first published in the Hampshire Chronicle, 13 May, 2021.

Did you find this interesting? Please click on the buttons below to share it with your networks