Bristol Industrial
Archaeological Society (BIAS)
BIAS@50 - 1967-2017 - Celebrating half a century of research

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BIAS Projects

It is close to forty years since BIAS was established. In the early days there were many IA sites to explore, excavate, research and restore. Members of the Society were leaders in the field and took the initiative, their exploits being written up in Bulletins and Journals over the years. The scene has now changed dramatically, with many `special interest' groups established to become involved with particular locations, industries or subjects. These groups have developed their own expertise relevant to their chosen topic and have forged links with others with similar interests across the UK and even across the world.

Most of these groups continue to be in need of new volunteers and would welcome help. During recent consultations, some BIAS members have indicated that they would be prepared to play a more active part in such groups. so we have contacted those in our region of which we are aware so that we can feature them in this and future Bulletins. We asked them to give us brief details of their needs and how to make contact. Information on other groups would be welcomed.

List of projects:

Vale of Berkeley Railway

In the summer of 2013 a small group, all with significant experience of heritage railway preservation, became aware of the potential to create a heritage railway along the existing Sharpness Branch line from Sharpness to Berkeley Road. After exploring the area and some initial research into the fascinating and interesting history of the Severn & Wye Railway, as well as its current use, we felt this was a very worthwhile and exciting project with lots of potential and so drafted some basic plans and ideas. They have now established a base and engineering restoration facility in the Old Engine House, besides the docks in Sharpness where we have a dedicated team of volunteers working on various restoration projects. In the mean time they are continuing to work towards gaining acess to the Sharpness Branch line with the aim of running heritage trains on the branch within a few years. Read more about their plans, current progress and organisation from They need investment and volunteer support.

A Forgotten Landscape

July 2015: Iím writing to introduce a project your members might be interested in. My name is Katie Scaife and Iím the full-time project officer for A Forgotten Landscape, an HLF-funded Landscape Partnership project running in the Lower Severn Vale Levels until the end of 2018. Weíll be running nearly 60 projects that local communities and individuals can get involved in, exploring, conserving, restoring, and celebrating whatís special about our project area. Iíve attached a map of our project area and our leaflet. We will be running a wide range of natural and cultural heritage projects. All projects come with any necessary training and are absolutely free.

I hope you are aware of our project. During the development phase I know that Miriam Woolnough (now project manager) attempted to talk to all relevant parties in the area. Now we have the funding to actually deliver our project, turning ideas into reality.

Katie will come along to a BIAS meeting on 25 Feb 2016 to let us know what is planned, and take advice on good ways forward.

For more information on our project in the meantime please see

Brandy Bottom Colliery

Brandy Bottom Colliery Brandy Bottom Colliery
The whole group of buildings form a rare example of the surface layout of a 19th century colliery, minus the removable fittings. All the main buildings now on site can be seen in the the plan that accompanied the 1900 sale catalogue. Their survival can be attributed to two things: The first is the slow decline of the site during the last 30 years of its working life as a satellite operation. The other is post-closure aquisition by the nearby Shortwood brickworks.

The Avon Industrial Buildings Trust (AIBT) has been working in partnership with Ibstock Brick, the landowners, and Historic England on the conservation of the surface buildings. The main aim of the project, which started in 2007, is to halt the deterioration in the fabric of the buildings. JH Consulting of Bath was used as the conservation architects for the first stage of the project. This comprised site and topographical surveys, and rectified photography of the surviving walls, and this was completed by the end of 2008. The second stage, which includes structural surveys, any necessary archaeological interventions, and building conservation, is in progress. The scope of any proposed work has to be approved in advance by Historic England. Information on progress, including wonderful photographs, can be found on the Brandy Bottom project progress page of the website.
More details, including work party details. Clifton Rocks Railway This prominent feature of pre-war Bristol started life as a cliff railway in 1893, but stopped running in 1934. In 1940 the tunnel was converted to war-time refuge shelters, where local residents came during the severe bombing raids experienced by the City. BBC studios were also created in the tunnel from which many popular programmes were broadcast. The tunnel also housed a barrage balloon maintenance section. It was not finally abandoned by the BBC until 1960.

Currently the adjacent hotel owns the top section while the Council is in possession of the bottom. Volunteers have cleared much rubble so that group visits can be held. The areas under the many steps and refuge ledges need to be searched to locate any remaining artefacts, but places like the barrage balloon section, the new tunnel under Sion Hill and the BBC section need to be checked by a professional archaeologists first.

We need help on open days and with guided tours, oral history, research. We are a charitable trust, and all funding is raised by donations. We have not decided on what is the best use for the tunnel either, and we need a condition survey to help this decision, so we are not really ready to apply for lottery funding

As can be seen, there are many ways in which volunteers can help. Please contact Maggie Shapland ( or 97 Princess Victoria Street, Clifton, Bristol BS8 4DD if you can help in any way. Pictures are being placed on the BIAS web site charting progress.
Official website

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Jan 2016: The new Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor Centre is just over one year old. The Visitor Centre relies on a team of fantastic volunteers to welcome visitors, lead guided tours, conduct research and assist with education workshops. We have already welcomed over 70,000 visitors in 2015 and are looking to expand our volunteer team! We are looking for friendly and enthusiastic people to join us to help us bring the history of Bristolís most iconic landmark to life. We are seeking: Front of House Volunteers, Education Assistant, Outreach Assistant, Tour Guides for Schools and Tour Guides for Adult Groups.

More information avalable here: Please contact Helen Jeffrey or 0770 360 9277 to discuss.

Combe Down stone mines

A large sum of money for the in-filling of the Combe Down stone mine is being granted, although its actual disbursement is subject to all the usual hurdles scattered along the way by governmental authorities.

Amongst the many millions to be available the amount requested for the 'interpretation centre' was supposed to be 'about a million pounds', but this will still have to be justified, like everything else.

It would seem that a proper interpretation and heritage centre on Combe Down could justify the grant of this sort of money. What is properly called for is a major attraction with international appeal, to resound with Bath's normal promotion of itself as a tourist centre of world significance.

It would need to include meaningful access to the mines for visitors, whether tourists or scientists including archaeologists, architects and geologists. The appeal attached to a personal visit to the underground working is so obvious as to need no emphasis. Consider the sewers and catacombs of Paris, the Boves at Arras, Big; Pit in south Wales, the ochre mines in the Forest of Dean, mines, caverns and troglodyte dwellings from the Loire valley to southern Turkey and beyond.

If further evidence of the lure of the subterranean were wanted, consider the case of Combe Down itself. Everyone who has been in any way linked to the negotiations for funding for work on the mines has demanded a site visit at some stage, often before announcing their decision Ė government ministers, senior civil servants, local councillors and council officers., the chairman of the 'Community Association'.

In default of the lost opportunity for a proper conservation job on the mines, the establishment of an attraction to match or outshine thebaths of Bath and its Georian architecture has to be promoted.

Museum of Bath at Work

The Museum of Bath at Work is concerned with the commercial development of Bath and its immediate surroundings since Roman times and has operated since 1978. With only one member of salaried staff, volunteers have been needed since the beginning to allow the museum to operate. In particular the museum needs help in: Contact: Stuart Burroughs, Director, Museum of Bath at Work, Julian Road, BATH BA1 2RH 01225 318348 or mobaw@hotmaiLcom

The Bristol Fireclay Company

A contributor to the November 2004 issue of 'information', the newsletter of the British Brick Society, has found that the Bristol Fireclay Company supplied the terracotta blocks for the building of an Edwardian Chapel of Ease in Stow Bardolph, west Norfolk. They included some specially designed quoins for the door and window dressings.

The company had its head office at 6 and 7 Castle Street, Bristol, and a works exploiting coal measures shales in Crew's Hole Road. The company went into liquidation in 1910 or 1911, a few years after the building of the chapel at Stow Bardolph.

Does anyone know when the company started operations? Are there other buildings known to have been supplied by the company? Are there any surviving catalogues or pattern books?

Replies to Maggie Shapland will be passed on to the enquirer, Prof John Allen at School of Human and Environmental Resources, The University of Reading P.O.BOX 227, Whiteknights, Reading RG6 6AB

De Montalt Mill, Combe Down

After a brief skirmish with the market, the site as a whole has been withdrawn from sale. A new team of consultants has been engaged to study first the stabilisation, and then the refurbishment of the mill.

There is no intention to depart from the existing planning consent with its many conditions.

Bath Archaeological Trust (now called more simply 'Bath Archaeology') continues to be involved with the development, and it is anticipated that BIAS will be kept abreast of affairs

One difference is that one of the old structures, the so-called apprentice store, has been sold separately. For the moment we have no further news of plans for its rebuilding.

Friends of Troopers Hill

Troopers Hill has close links to Bristol's industrial past but is now an important wildlife site with superb views over the Avon Valley. As those of you who came on the walk in August will know, Troopers Hill has two chimneys - one at the top and one at the bottom! Both chimneys are Grade 2 listed, the top one dating (we think) from copper smelting in the 1790s and the lower one from about 1820 as part of Troopers Hill Colliery. Friends of Troopers Hill were formed in 2003 to help look after the site in partnership with Bristol Parks. We organise events on the hill to raise awareness of the site, its wildlife and history. We also try to bring about improvements and have received funding both from the lottery and through landfill tax for new signs, benches and an improved access path. We carry out practical conservation tasks, such as clearing bramble and repairing fences at our regular work parties. These are held on the first Saturday of every month from IOam till 12 noon, they finish with a chat over coffee or tea and biscuits. Everyone is welcome to join in; we have our own tools. For anyone who cannot make weekends, we are hoping to add some weekday dates this winter. If we can recruit sufficient resources we would like to clear some of the woodland to explore the remains of the duct that used to run up the hill to the chimney. The other avenue for volunteers to help us is to carry out research into the history of the hill and the Crews Hole area. We are hoping to get some funding to produce a leaflet on the history of the site and would like to gather as much information as possible. If you are interested in helping, more details about the group, our work and the hill can be found on our website at or contact Rob or Susan on 0117 947 5037 or via

M Shed

Although the Industrial Museum has now become the new Museum of Bristol, there will be a continuing need for volunteers to work upon the exhibits. The steam tug `Mayflower' is due for a major inspection and overhaul. Work is also starting on the next dock-side crane, No. 32, the 10 ton version. The `Railway Fleet' (if that is the collective term) of locomotives and rolling stock will need continuing maintenance, particularly as the latter have to withstand the elements all year round.

Anyone with reasonable DIY skills will be most welcome, particularly experienced woodworkers and trained electricians who learned their trade when components were a lot more substantial than today's miniaturised electronic devices.

Contact Andy King on 0117 9031569

Radstock Museum

Radstock Museum was founded in 1985 to preserve the social and industrial heritage of the north Somerset coalfield. Staffed by volunteers, the Museum offers its visitors the opportunity to explore various aspects of the lives of the people in our commmunities, their education, religion, places of work and day-to-day lives. At times, volunteers are needed for stewarding, documentation, in the tearoom and to help with our education team. Our prime need at the moment is for someone to add to the labels in the showcases. this would suit someone who would be happy to work on their own and in their own time. Anyone with a few hours to spare each week or every other week would be most welcome to join our friendly group who are eligible for free admission to our slide shows and talks and we have an annual party!

Saltford Brass Mill

The former brass battery mill located on the banks of the River Avon at The Shallows, Saltford is one of the few remaining premises of the thirty or so establishments associated with the extensive eighteenth century brass and copper industry which was centred on the Avon river valley. The site is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument, containing the most complete annealing furnace to survive in the countr,. There is also one working water wheel remaining of the five which provided power for the battery hammers, rolling mills and shears which were once housed in the buildings. Restored from dereliction in the 1980's, the hi11 is maintained by a voluntary Project Group which had its origins in BIAS, a number of current members being part of the Group. Volunteers maintain the fabric and environs of the building, having rebuilt the water wheel and reconstructed part of the annealing furnace over recent times. Regular working parties are held on alternate Saturday mornings when help is needed to continue maintenance and to develop the displays. Members of the Project Group are also on hand to welcome visitors on regular Open Days during the summer months and when organised parties come to view the Mill.

Our Volunteer Co-ordinators are Tony Coverdale and Patrick Beazley 07823 321 768

We donít normally put the displays back until National Mills Weekend in May so the risk of flooding is low - we have been caught out before. The mill is a scheduled monument and grade II* listed building, described by the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments as an unusual survivor of the Bristol Brass Industry. The remains are unique, probably in Europe.

Last autumn in 2018, we dammed the head-race leat and dewatered the subterranean watercourses to inspect the masonry and survey / repair the penstock gates. We were able to carry out a laser scan of the watercourses and a drone survey of the external structure Ė we now have over 300 GB of data to interpret. A report on the survey is at

Three of the penstock gates are now operational and show how the river would have been controlled. We also have a series of working scale models to show how different waterwheels work, and of course the real working waterwheel driving a 1920s dynamo and circular saw.

Within the mill we have a display describing the mining and smelting of copper and the melting of brass. We have a replica battery hammer, a replica set of rolls and of course the real annealing furnace.

Underfall Yard

The Underfall Yard is one of the only surviving Victorian dock workshop complexes in the world, a working boatyard that welcomes visitors and a hidden gem in Bristol. In March 2016 we are opening a brand new visitor centre to engage and excite visitors and are looking for a team of enthusiastic volunteers to help us as we embark on this exciting new chapter. We are seeking: Visitor Centre volunteers, Tour leaders, Hydraulic Pump Operators and Human Accumulator Operators (a model of our accumulator that visitors can ride!). Further information is available through our website: Please contact Sarah Murray or 07742 879 658 to discuss.
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