Tony Coverdale February 2017

2017, fifty-not-out, and so we enter our half-centenary year. Plans are in hand to mark the occasion with a series of celebrations and events, the first being a talk by Sir Neil Cossons reflecting on our society’s past. Sir Neil’s industrial archaeological credentials are exceptional. He was director of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust from 1971, was director of the National Maritime Museum from 1983, was director of the Science Museum from 1986 and was chairman of English Heritage from 2000 to 2007. But of most importance to us, Sir Neil started his career in Bristol where he was Curator of Technology at Bristol City Museum from 1964 and was the first secretary of BIAS from 1967. I am tempted to draw an analogy with events in the early eighteenth century. Abraham Darby also started his career in Bristol being the founding ‘active man’ in the Bristol Brass Company and also moved on to Ironbridge, applying the skills he learned in Bristol to a new technology and so was born coke smelting enabling the mass production of cast brass and cast iron. The rest, one might say, is Industrial Archaeology. Sir Neil’s talk will be delivered in the Green Park Railway Station on the 9th March, which is a very appropriate venue. Sir Neil reports that he was part of a debate on the station’s future, chaired by Kenneth Hudson, in 1964! The station is a classic example of a monument to its industrial past which, after restoration, has found a new life in the modern city.

The year’s festivities will continue with a Birthday Party to be held at the Radstock Museum on the 28th May, which will include a cake, appropriately decorated. This again is an appropriate venue, the museum’s theme being the Somersetshire coal industry. In 1967, the year BIAS was founded, much evidence remained of industrial activity in the area. But in the past 50 years, almost all visible evidence of the coal industry has been eradicated and it falls to museums such as Radstock and societies such as BIAS to record its memory and pass on that memory to future generations. We hope to hear from the museum about their plans for the future, in particular how they aspire to revitalise the museum’s image in the modern climate of heritage venues. Without prior knowledge of the industry, the name Radstock would be dismissed by most; hence the significance of the museum may be lost. But the museum has adopted a new title, ‘Somerset Coal Life at Radstock Museum’, which seeks to encourage a new audience to explore the industrial heritage of their region.

I mentioned in our last Bulletin that a small team of us are in the process of writing a new Gazetteer of industrial archaeological sites in our region. We have produced a first draft and are about to format the book. The Gazetteer will describe over 400 sites arranged under the themes: food and drink; mining and quarrying; transport; manufacturing; and utilities. We hope that the book will be available mid-year.

On a happy note, I would like to offer our congratulations on your behalf to Maggie and Mike who were married in December. Reading Maggie’s article later in the Bulletin about the happy event, I am intrigued to find out more about Mike’s musical cake knife and wonder if he will let us to use it again in May to cut our Birthday Cake. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear Maggie on the Radio. I was traveling home from a business trip to Maidenhead and came across a programme on Radio 4 called Open Country, Underground Bristol which included an interview with Maggie in the Clifton Rocks Railway. See if you can catch it on I Player. Well done Maggie and our very best wishes go out to Maggie and Mike.

On a sad note, we learned about the loss of Gill Sheppard in early January. Gill was for many years the BIAS Membership Secretary. I worked with Gill and Geoff as members of the Saltford Brass Mill Project where they were stalwart members of the Old Guard. Gill and Geoff were very active in the mill, Gill invariably busying herself in the mill’s gardens while Geoff investigated the layout and operation of the mill. It was with Geoff that we reassessed the likely layout of the battery hammers and rolling mill from the visible evidence and remains. This has provided a sure foundation for the replica machinery produced in recent years to aid interpretation of the mill to visitors and researchers. Both Gill and Geoff are sorely missed.