Chairman’s Report Autumn 2017

Our half-centenary celebrations are now well and truly underway and the variety of talks and visits in the 2017 programme clearly demonstrate the range, scale and scope of research undertaken by BIAS members and the industrial archaeological related projects with which BIAS has links.

With just over a year in post, I am minded to reflect on the objectives set out in our constitution and consider what actions could be taken to further those objectives in the future. In summary, the objects of the society are to: promote research into industrial archaeology; encourage field work; encourage documentary research; and publish that research.

My day-job is in the field of marine and nuclear safety. Having reached 60 last year thoughts turned to retirement and focusing on other interests, including Industrial Archaeology and encouraging young people into engineering through the STEM scheme. But early this year an opportunity arose to work with a major civil engineering company who offered to bring a new approach to an established industry and sought someone who understood the old but was prepared to evolve and apply something new. A quotation I came across in the ‘job’ was “continuous improvement is a gradual never-ending change which is focused on increasing the effectiveness of an organisation to fulfill its policy and objectives”, or put simply, ‘getting better all the time’. I would encourage us to reflect on that thought and consider how, as an organisation, we could improve delivery of our objectives. Three recognised means of stimulating improvement are benchmarking with others in the field and learning from one’s own experience and learn from the experience of others. I do not propose revolution, but would ask you to consider what we do well and how to consolidate that. But then to benchmark with what others are doing in similar fields and consider what incremental improvements we could make so that over the coming years BIAS can see its way to a robust future for the next half-century.

With this aim in mind I have invested considerable time over the past months (before the ‘day-job’ got in the way) of drafting a new gazetteer of industrial archaeological sites in the region. The aim has been to fulfil an aspiration that BIAS has held for several years to capture in one place a summary of the industrial archaeological sites in our region, to put the individual sites into context in the wider industrial development of the region and to give inspiration to where future research may be profitably be focused. I am minded of a quote from the 1970s radio serial ‘the Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy’. To paraphrase; (Arthur) “what does the book say about Earth – harmless – one word harmless” (Ford) “well there are an infinite number of galaxies but only a finite space in the book”. We wanted a book that was small enough to be used as a field guide, to address a large proportion of sites in the region and with a text size that was easily readable! The result is an A5 format book, 124 pages long summarising 514 sites (noting that Angus Buchannan and Neil Cossons considered 377 sites in their 1967 gazetteer and Joan Day listed 268 sites in her 1988 booklet). The result is a no frills gazetteer. It is purposely not a picture book but it does provide a short pen picture of each site, its location and its key facts. Some will invariably consider that a particular site was left out or more detail should have been provided. I would therefore encourage you to put pen to paper and write an article for the Journal providing that detail.

A further question I would like members to consider is how best to publish our research to reach the widest audience, both now and in the future, the totality of our research being a valuable archive for future generations? My son recently graduated having read history at a leading university. Many of the sources he researched were accessed online and not in manuscript. This begs the question, are we making the most of the internet? How many of you have looked at ‘Grace’s Guide (http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/). The online resource claims to be ‘the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in the UK… Additions are being made to the information daily by a team of volunteers who give freely of their time and expertise”. Grace’s Guide provides links to many original source documents of value to any researcher. The web publication contains 124,538 pages of information and 193,455 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them. We should benchmark with such initiatives and other initiatives using a variety of mediums and ask how could we improve in the achievement of our objectives with the resources available to us?

Our aim should not be to change the objectives of BIAS; they have stood the test of time, but to consider how we could deliver those objectives more effectively and efficiently to ensure that the society has a sustainable future. I would ask you to think about this and how we might evolve to achieve a positive future; answers on a postcard to….