I’m afraid that I must start another report on a sad note after the passing of Ken Andrews, the second vice chairman that we have lost in the 18 months since I returned to this office. Ken’s contribution to our society was both long and influential. He first appears in the list of members that we used to publish in the journals in 1975, was on the committee in 1978 and was chairman by 1980. After a break, he returned to office in the late 1990s as our bulletin editor, prior to Geoff Sheppard’s taking on this job. Ken began his final stint on committee in 2010 and generously agreed to be my vice-chair after the sudden death of Geoff Sheppard in 2012. He was also active as a museum volunteer in Bristol and Bath and in research and publishing his findings. He wrote one of our early BIAS Walks and its successor, The Brunel Walk, which features in the recent BIAS Histories series. He and some other BIAS members joined the local history course at the new Bath Spa University and work on his dissertation reached a wider readership with the appearance of Mr Bowler of Bath: Victorian Entrepreneur and Engineer in 1998. He was later to cooperate with Stuart Burroughs on the history of another Bath enterprise, Stothert & Pitt: Cranemakers to the World, which was published in 2003. He served the society very well and I would like to record my personal thanks for his kindness, willingness to help, even when unwell in his last years, and for his common-sense approach to management issues.
As vice-chair, Ken took part in last year’s discussions on a number of policy issues and plans and, I’m sure, would applaud our recent efforts to move things forward. One of the highlights in late summer was the public launch (as part of Bristol’s ‘Doors Open Day’) of the Brunel’s Other Bridge’ project (BOB for short) with our partners from the Avon Industrial Buildings Trust and the Clifton & Hotwells Improvement Society. The BOB team were there to welcome visitors for the whole of the day but over 40 were to arrive in the afternoon as part of a guided walk from the SS Great Britain that highlighted the great engineer’s other important contributions to improving the Floating Harbour. We were fortunate to be accompanied by the SSGB’s ‘Mr Brunel’ who proved a popular and knowledgeable companion. At the start of my current term as BIAS chair, I felt that we needed to raise the profile and public awareness of our society and BOB has certainly done this for us. Hard work on and off site has attracted the attention of the media with TV and local radio interviews by Mary Stacey. A recent presentation by three BOB engineers was hosted by the local groups of the institutions of mechanical, structural and civil engineers at Bristol University and attracted an audience of over 100, many of them the younger men and women that we often say we lack in our ranks. We have also finally accessed the English Heritage grant that survived the failure of the Sustrans project and a comprehensive programme of investigative work is now underway with the help of our engineers Mann Williams of Bath.
BOB has taken up a lot of time of late but your committee have also been active on other fronts, working to turn ideas developed last year into achievements. Digitisation has commenced with Maggie Shapland putting up the Bristol entries from the compendium The Ports of the Bristol Channel (1893) on our website and those for Bath will soon follow. No objections have been made in response to the announcement in the last bulletin of plans to make early BIAS Journals available in this way, so we can start on this when time is available. Progress has been less positive on the Bristol Gazetteer so we have agreed to buy in some help with this project. The inaugural meeting of the proposed Avon Industrial Heritage forum will be held next spring. BIAS will sponsor this and our Hon. Secretary Stuart Burroughs has generously agreed to host and organise this meeting.A lot has been happening, thanks to your ongoing support as BIAS members and the efforts of past stalwarts such as Ken Andrews, with whom we started this report.