Few of you will know me so I thought it worthwhile using by first ‘Report from the Chair’ to introduce my self and offer you my views on industrial archaeology and the future of BIAS.
My name is Tony Coverdale. I am a chartered engineer with over forty years experience in the marine and nuclear engineering sectors. I am a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineering and also have qualifications in naval architecture, marine engineering and nuclear reactor technology. During my engineering career I have been involved with design, maintenance and operation of large scale machinery. I served in the Royal Navy for twenty five years as a marine engineer specialist in submarines, serving at sea in HM Submarines WARSPITE, CONQUEROR and SPARTAN (it is of note that HMS COURAGEOUS, a sister ship to HMS CONQUEROR, is now a museum ship in Devonport Naval Base and that while sorting through a stack of naval engineering journals donated to the Museum of Bath at Work, Stuart Burroughs and I came across a paper I had written twenty years ago on reactor instrumentation – does that mean I am now Industrial Archaeology?) That said, I am still a practicing consulting engineer and specialise in the control of major accident hazards. I am also very active in the field of STEM in schools (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) seeking to encourage your people into careers in engineering.
So what is my view of industrial archaeology and what is my involvement in that field of study? A text book definition is that Industrial Archaeology is the ‘the systematic study of material evidence associated with the industrial past’. A volume which graces my bookshelves is Arthur Raistrick’s 1972 book ‘Industrial Archaeology – An Historical Survey’, the first chapter of which is titled ‘What is Industrial Archaeology?’ It clearly involves engineering but it is much wider than just engineering. Industrial archaeology must also include study of the architecture of industrial buildings, study of the geography and topography in which industrial buildings are located, study of the movement of materials and goods, study of the people who populated the industry, study of the economic and political landscapes that enabled an industry to flourish and ultimately decline and much, much more.
My first foray into industrial archaeology was whilst at university where in addition to studying textbooks on current engineering practice that were to serve me in the future I also started collecting older engineering volumes, titles such as ‘Machinery and Mill Work’ and ‘The Steam Engine’ by Professor Rankine (of Rankine Cycle fame) still gracing my bookshelves.
My current focus of Industrial Archaeological study is Salford Brass Mill, where I am Chairman of the Saltford Brass Mill Project. The mill is a Grade 2* listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument. I was originally attracted to the mill by its working waterwheel driving an early dynamo for lighting the building when it was adapted to house a squash court in the 1920s. Indeed we have just replaced the waterwheel sluice gate, last replaced by members of BIAS in 1999; emphasising the need for continuous repair if such buildings are to survive. I have since come to realise that the mill is much more than an example of the application of waterpower. It is the last remaining, mostly intact, relic of what was once a key industry in the economic development of Bristol – the Bristol Brass Industry. The Brass Industry was brought into being by Bristol Merchants, enabled by the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which repealed a number of acts that had restricted Bristol Merchants: trading with West Africa; extracting copper; and manufacturing goods for trade by water powered battery hammers. The industry flourished in the eighteenth century supplying Bristol Merchants engaged in the triangular trade between Bristol, West Africa and the West Indies, and went into serious decline with the Slave Trade Act of 1807. The historic technology present in the mill is a ‘common or garden’ undershot waterwheel but the industrial archaeology of the mill involves political history, technological development, economics and social history.
So what of the future of Industrial Archaeology in general and BIAS in particular? 2017 will mark the 50th anniversary of BIAS. As a society we need to consider not only how we should mark the occasion, but also what we must do to ensure that the society survives for the next 50 years. Looking back to 1967, England had won the world cup the year before and much was happening in the field of industrial archaeology. The Gloucestershire Society for Industrial Archaeology (GSIA) had formed in 1964. BIAS followed in 1967. Angus Buchanan and Neil Cossons published ‘Industrial Archaeology of the Bristol Region’ dedicated to the members of BIAS in 1969. The Somerset Industrial Archaeological Society was founded in 1972 and it was not until 1973 that the national Association for Industrial Archaeology was founded.
What is our geographic boundary? The City of Bristol? The Avon Valley? Industry does not respect county boundaries, as observed by the Bristol Brass Company which operated mills in what is now Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire and brought in ores from the Mendip, Devon and Cornwall. This begs the question what is our region and what is our relationship with societies in neighbouring regions?
My thoughts are that if we are to continue to fulfil the objectives of the society we must be outward looking, seeking to make, maintain and develop links with groups and organisations with similar interests to our own, both within our region and outside our region, and within the membership of BIAS and outside the membership of BIAS,. An embryonic idea is that we embark upon an year long event with a working title of ‘Avon 50’. We have long talked about producing a gazetteer of industrial heritage sites in the Avon region. ‘Avon 50’ would see BIAS engaging, or re-engaging, with the wide range of industrial archaeology related projects throughout the region and taking stock of the knowledge and evidence that remains. The event would be two way. We should produce promotional material which we should encourage related organisations to display to make their members and visitors aware of the wider network of which they are a part and in return we should collate a synopsis of what exists in our region and published that information in a coherent format for the benefit of future industrial archaeologists.
Thank you for allowing me to share my early thoughts with you and I look forward to meeting with you in the coming months and years and working with you to celebrate BIAS at 50 and beyond.