CHAPTER 30. JANUARY 2001, CONSERVATION MATTERS.

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CHAPTER 30. JANUARY 2001, CONSERVATION MATTERS.

Post by Stanley » 15 May 2012, 05:32

JANUARY 2001, CONSERVATION MATTERS.

It’s almost the end of January 2001 and I have been triggered into the realisation that not only is there is a gap in the memoirs I have already ‘finished’, but we need an update because the story moves on.

What started this was Janet asking me for some pics of engines and me. I sent her one of Newton and me repairing Bancroft Engine in 1978 and it struck her that she hadn’t got a lot of pictures of these aspects of my life. I did a search and found a few which I sent to her and at the same time scanned some other pics I came across which would go well in my copy of the memoirs. One of these was a picture of the boiler at Jubilee Mill, more of this later. I looked through the memoir to find the right place to insert the pic and realised that I’d never told the story about this and some related aspects of my life. So, here we are hard at it writing the memoir again! I’ve called this section conservation matters because it will include matters other than Jubilee but which are closely related and in some cases, more recent. Right, sit down and concentrate, there may be questions afterwards!


THE LAST STEAM DRIVEN WEAVING SHED IN LANCASHIRE.

One aspect of human behaviour that has intrigued, amused and at times infuriated me at various times during my mature (?) life is the preoccupation with superlatives. If something is the ‘biggest’, the ‘oldest’ or the ‘last’, its stature is enhanced. It’s easier to attract interest to something if it can be so described. This is a very lazy and immature way of making decisions, particularly in the field of conservation. It is almost as though there is some inertia in the system which can only be overcome by some easily recognised and irrefutable quality and these adjectives have disproportionate powers. In truth, the criteria which govern selection should be based on merit but this very seldom happens. Let me illustrate this with an account of the effort to preserve the ‘last steam driven weaving shed in Lancashire’.

In 1978 I was already in fairly close contact with some of the most influential people in the conservation of the industrial heritage because of my involvement with Bancroft and the Lancashire Textile Project. The LTP was another last minute project, gathering oral evidence as to how the textile industry in Barlick actually functioned before it vanished forever. Even then I knew that the approach was flawed, something of interest sat there for a hundred years and its importance was only recognised at the last minute. The consequence is, in all these cases, that what could have been a measured and scholarly approach becomes a cavalry charge. When there were thousands of steam driven mills nobody had any interest in preserving one. By the time we had got down less than half a dozen, in 1978, the matter was being addressed. Here is what happened.

Early in 1978 when we knew Bancroft was going to close I had a visitor at the engine house, Peter White. He was a London based civil servant working with English Heritage, the government organisation concerned with heritage preservation and at that time rejoiced in the title ‘Her Majesty’s Inspector of Ancient Monuments (NW) . I tried to persuade him that Bancroft should be preserved as a fine example of a typical East Lancashire steam driven weaving shed. My reasons were that it was a late mill in good condition, classic girder shed construction and it was as-built, it had never been altered. It had plenty of land around it and so could easily be augmented with essential things like a visitor centre, car parking and administrative facilities. It was situated in the right place, at the gateway to the Dales to make it an easily integrated part of a wider tourist-based economy. It had a skilled work force which could be nurtured and employed and finally, it had enough space to accept Henry Brown Sons and Pickles in a section of the shed which could be saved from inevitable extinction and become a training and maintenance resource for the whole of the heritage industry. With the benefit of over twenty years hindsight I still believe this was a powerful and convincing case which should have been taken seriously but it was ignored.

The first question Peter White asked me was where the money would come from. I told him I saw no problem. How many tea towels, dusters and dust sheets did the government buy in a year? Give the contract for weaving them to Bancroft at an economic price and run it like a business. In modern terms, make it a cost centre. It would make money without a doubt. The cost of doing this was £60,000 for the mill and site and enough capital injected as a loan to start the enterprise off. Remember, these were two businesses that were making a profit in the commercial world with no favourable contracts.

I was told that this was impossible as the government could not be seen to be acting commercially. I asked him how this squared with the Royal Ordnance Factories or the Royal Dockyards but this was brushed aside. He then told me that as far as he was concerned, the decision had been taken. Bancroft would be allowed to go to the wall and this would leave only two major steam mills running, Queen Street at Harle Syke near Burnley and Jubilee Mill at Padiham. There was another, Sutcliffe and Clarkson’s at Wiseman Street, Burnley but this was never seriously considered. The demolition of Bancroft would be used to make a case for the preservation of Jubilee Mill as that was the preferred option. Queen Street was seen as a good mill but handicapped by its position and lack of room to expand visitor facilities.

I didn’t agree with any of this at the time and with hindsight I’m still convinced that I was right in advocating Bancroft as the ideal candidate. Nothing that has happened since has done anything other than reinforce my conviction.

What did happen? Well, it’s a matter of record that Bancroft was demolished but the engine and boiler house were saved by a local initiative supported by the Pendle Council and backed indirectly by English Heritage through a derelict land grant. The result is a running engine in an isolated engine house in a housing estate which is completely out of context. I’m glad it’s there but am painfully aware of what might have been. I was the first chairman of the Trust but stepped aside once we had got it going.

Wiseman Street closed and the engine is still in there but everything connected with it is gone, including the boiler house I think and there is no realistic prospect of it ever running again. Even if it did, there is no context.

What happened to the grand plan to preserve Jubilee? This is where we get an insight into how well preservation was being managed from London. Jubilee Mill was built in 1887 by the Padiham Room and Power Company. It was powered by a slide valve cross compound engine by Yates and this engine is I think the oldest Yates engine still surviving and also the only engine I know with Meyer Expansion gear on the high pressure. The engine drove the site until the late 70’s and was retained on site after the mill stopped. By 1979 Bancroft was under the hammer and on 24th July 1980 the engine house was scheduled as Monument 188 (Lancashire) Note that a ghastly mistake had been made, the boiler house, chimney and mill were given no protection at all.

In April 1986, Jubilee Mill was bought by N&R Contractors of Portsmouth Mill, Todmorden. My old mate Norman Sutcliffe and his brothers bought to mill to demolish it and sell the land for housing. All this was perfectly legal. Robert Aram and I got wind of this shortly after demolition started. Robert went straight down to Padiham and bought the scheduled monument and the artefacts out of the workshop and paid N&R to make the building secure. He knew that if this wasn’t done the engine would be vandalised. I rang EH and informed them that the grand plan had gone awry, that the mill was being dropped and that there was nothing they could do about it. I also told them that Robert had stepped in and taken the engine under his wing.

The net result was a disaster. True, the engine was saved and in good hands but it was an isolated artefact, out of context with no boiler and chimney and I told Robert we were on a hiding to nothing if we tried to do anything with it. I shan’t detail the initiatives we attempted but suffice it to say that every overture we made to the local council, EH and the Science Museum all came to nothing. The situation we had was a decaying engine house in the middle of a housing estate and no chance of doing a Bancroft with a dedicated band of volunteers because, to a man, the locals wanted it demolishing. They couldn’t understand why this eyesore had been left to blight their property prices.

Eventually Robert bought Masson Mill in Derbyshire and we put up a proposal to move the engine down there and install it in steam in a proper context attached to a mill. I handled this for Robert and in August 1996 we were granted Scheduled Monument Consent to move the engine to Masson. The intention was to move the engine as soon as consent was granted and we were promised that this would be given by end December 1995 but due to the fact that the consent was eight months late, the window we had for removal to Masson in terms of the work schedule down there and the availability of funding (all out of Robert’s back pocket!) had evaporated and the engine had to sit there awaiting a new opportunity.

This opportunity arose in 1999 and with the full consent of EH we set on Gissing and Lonsdale and removed the engine for installation in Derbyshire. At long last, we could breathe a sigh of relief, the Yates engine was safe. How much danger was it under at Padiham? Between 1986 and 1999 the engine house was set on fire twice and broken into several times. My estimates for the total cost of damage over the period were about £11,000. To this must be added one of the strangest cases of theft I have ever come across. As key-holder for Jubilee I was contacted by Padiham police on 27th August 1990 to ask whether we had sold the boiler that was lying in the mill yard as a man was cutting it up! I told them to collar the man immediately and I would come straight over as we hadn’t authorised any work. I should explain that as part of the plans to find a role for the engine Robert had bought a redundant Lancashire boiler early in 1989 from Dura Mill at Facit when it closed and transported it to Padiham for potential re-use there. The 35 ton boiler was laid in an enclosed yard behind locked gates and we thought it was reasonably safe. How wrong we were!

I went down to Padiham and found that Mr Chadwick the General Manager of a reputable firm of scrap merchants, Lethbridge’s of Blackburn had bought the boiler for £600 from two people called ‘Smith Brothers’ in a pub in Padiham. He had set on his contractor Steven Kennedy to cut it up and he, in turn had set on a man called David Stott who was in the cells. This poor little bloke was entirely innocent, he was only doing what he was told and I got him released immediately. The story was, of course, very suspect and I’ve never really understood why Lethbridge’s ever got involved in such a dodgy deal. I was talking to the detectives about this and one of them said ‘Once a scrapman, always a scrapman!’ I think that’s probably as good an explanation as we’ll ever get. This affair dragged on for two years but eventually we got full restitution for the loss of the boiler and all other costs but only at the door of the court.


QUEEN STREET MILL.

If you’ve been following the story, you’ll realise that the number of possible candidates for preservation has been falling! Bancroft and Jubilee demolished and Wiseman Street a non-starter. As far as anyone concerned knew, there was only one candidate left for ‘Last Steam Driven East Lancs. Weaving Shed’, this was Queen Street at Harle Syke. Remember that this had never been a strong contender because of its situation but all of a sudden, it was the only candidate on the horizon. EH kept a fairly low profile on this one and it was left to Burnley Council to initiate a move in this direction. I knew nothing about what was going on as I was busy doing me history degree at Lancaster as a mature student. I got word that Burnley Council had bought Queen Street on the 7th of February 1983 and gone into partnership with Pennine Heritage from Hebden Bridge. Both Robert and I forecast that it would end in tears because we knew quite a lot about PH and none of it was good. However, it was Somebody Else’s Problem and we ignored it.

In May 1983 I was a year out of Lancaster and managing an Interpretative Team down at Pendle heritage when I was approached and asked to put myself up as a candidate for the post of manager at Queen Street Mill. It seemed like a good idea to have a crack so I applied. It was a three day interview process run by the Council and Pennine Heritage. I remember that David Fletcher and his manager, Bill Breakell were on the panel together with some Burnley people. It was all very strange, they didn’t seem to want to hear what anyone was saying, all they wanted to do was tell the candidates how they were going to run the project. I only knew one of the other candidates, Anna Benson from Helmshore who was a driving force at Higher Mill. I told her there was something funny going on but I decided to stick with the process.

I got a very clear indication of how wrong things were when they got me in for interview and started to tell me what good condition the plant and engine were in. I told them to think again and showed them a picture of the bore of the HP cylinder showing the big groove in the bottom where the broken piece of piston ring had worn a groove after Arthur Martin, the engineer, had run it for God knows how long without oil. They asked me where I’d got the pics and I told them I’d taken them when I was with Newton Pickles who had done the repair. They lost interest in me immediately.

When I got outside I told Anna she was going to get the job and she wouldn’t believe it, she asked me how I knew. I told her that what they wanted was someone they could control and she was spot ball. This didn’t please her but as it turned out I was exactly right. When I got home that night I got a phone call from a mole in Hebden Bridge who had heard a conversation in the pub between David Fletcher and someone else. Part of the conversation alluded to the fact that Anna was going to be given the job but they were going to complete the interviews.

First thing the following morning I went to Queen Street and withdrew my application on ‘personal grounds’. As I left I told Anna she was going to get the job and I warned her that she should only accept if she could do it on secondment from the Lancashire Museum Service. She asked why and I told her it would end in tears but I think she suspected me of being jealous of her. As things turned out I was right again and I suspect that if you were to ask Anna for her side of the story of the next five years she would have a sorry tale to tell.

By May 1989, Queen Street was in trouble, Anna Benson was the mill manager but Pennine Heritage had been squeezed out by the Council. EH threw in £50,000 to keep the mill open during the summer but it was obvious that there was either going to have to be a completely new initiative or else the mill would have to close. I was over at Ellenroad at Rochdale sorting the Ellenroad Engine out and I got a call one day in 1987 from John Lowe who was the architect for the Council. My profile had been raised in the Borough because Robert and I had spent a lot of time with the council discussing possible avenues for dealing with Jubilee. John wanted to take me to lunch!

I knew they wanted something and basically the question was, ‘What do we do about Queen Street?’ My answer was the same as it had always been, if you want to save a mill, let it run and make money. I told him they should get on to the Co-op at Balloon Street, get their help and form a cooperative weaving shed. Weave cloth in the shed by steam and make up in the disused units at the back and get some professional marketing people in. The union shirts they were making were superb and there was no reason why they shouldn’t make a profit. As a throw away line I told him that if they wanted an easy way out I could find them a buyer.



I suspect John shot straight back to Andrew Walker with the good news and almost immediately AW was back on to me like a ton of bricks. Robert and I had talked this right through and on March 15th 1987 I met Andrew Walker and gave him Robert’s proposal. Basically, Robert would buy the mill off them for £5 and give them the option to buy it back for the same sum five years later plus whatever he had spent on it. I was to inspect the place, draw up a plan and draft a set of articles for a company limited by guarantee, to name but a few. We did all this, met the senior officers, put the proposal and plans on the table and left it to them. I kept sending reminders but in effect they put us on the back burner. In July 1992 I got a letter saying that the mill had been sold to Lancashire County Council and that there was to be a ‘new initiative’. They thanked us for our interest and apologised for the delay!

So, QS sailed off into the future under the guiding hand of Mr Blundell the Lancs. County museum chief with Ian Gibson actually doing the work. Not surprisingly I hold the same opinion I had in 1978 at Bancroft. The only way to make something like QS work is to get it started generating money. It has to be looked at as a business problem. It shouldn’t be like this, museums like Queen Street and Helmshore should be funded to the hilt from the public purse on the grounds that they are World Heritage sites but until this happy day arrives we have to do anything we can to protect them from destruction.

My reading, as I sit here banging this story out for you in 2001 is that QS and Helmshore are on a knife edge. Nobody can guarantee that they will be there in five years. What a condemnation of our system!


AN AMUSING DIVERSION

I can’t remember the exact date, it would be about 1993 or 94, I had been invited by Peter White to accompany a Council of Europe jolly across northern England looking at industrial heritage sites. The excuse for me being there was the Lancashire Textile Project and all the work I had done on big artefacts. I couldn’t be with them at the start and joined the party in Durham. Put your hard hats on, there’s going to be some serious name-dropping here! I was in the crypt of either the cathedral or the castle taking wine with Lord Montague, the chair of EH and various senior members of the organisation and I decided to be naughty. I asked Lm if I was right in thinking that the basis for the decision to fund Queen Street was that it was the ‘Last Steam Driven Weaving Shed’. He said that this was correct. As I opened my mouth I could see heads shaking in the background and eyes rolling upwards as they realised what I was going to say next.

I said, ‘Are you aware there’s another steam driven weaving shed in Rochdale?’ It was a moment to cherish, the buggers all knew there was but they weren’t interested in it so they ignored it. LM was very interested and asked me to send him details. I did, I sent him a full set of pics of the mill and received in reply the standard small ‘your communication has been received’ postcard. End of story, deep-sixed. In truth Bating’s Mill at Norden wasn’t a very interesting building but it had all the elements of a steam driven shed. What pissed me off was the fact that they all knew about it but ignored it for their own ends, it would have been ‘untidy’ to recognise it.
Last year I got a request from Robert. He asked me to get over to Batings at Norden and photograph the loom-breaking and dismantling of the engine. I did this and it was just like the old days, blood and mud and smoke and destruction. As Robert said, It’s the last one we’ll see. When I got home I rang EH in London and got a nice young lady who knew nothing. I was very kind to her and told her that if she wanted to spread joy in the office she should go to her boss in the NW division and say ‘Stanley says you’re safe. Cudworth’s are scrapping everything at Batings Mill’. She asked for my name and number but of course, nobody ever got back to me………


TRENCHERFIELD MILL ENGINE.

I’ve spent enough time on this today, but here’s one last conservation matter for you. A few months ago, John Ingoe called in for tea with Vanessa and Alex. Just as they were leaving he asked me if I’d like a trip out to Trencherfield at Wigan Pier. He had a contract there to fit some oil drip trays and there was a problem with the barring engine. I said yes and we went over there, I should add that this was with the full knowledge of Steve Redfern who was Dalkea’s site manager. Dalkea is the new name for Associated Heat Services and they ran all Wigan MBC’s boilers and steam plant for them. Part of his responsibility was the Trencherfield Mill Engine which was run daily for visitors.

When we got there I watched the barring engine running, identified the fault and told them what to do about it. Privately, I told John what I suspected the real fault was, they had piped the drains and exhaust into a system that was building back pressure on the engine. This turned out to be correct but that was that, problem solved.

While I was looking at the engine I pointed out to Steve that the keys were bleeding in the RH flywheel, a sure indication that they were quietly coming loose. I told him it wasn’t desperate but he should take note as it wouldn’t get any better. I said that while I was there I would have a look at the other side on the LH flywheel. (On a big engine like that there are usually two flywheels mounted next to each other) I walked round, took a look and told him he had to stop the engine immediately, or rather not run it any more. The RH flywheel was off it’s stakes and had been for a long time. What I mean by this is that it had moved on the wedges that held it on the shaft and was only jammed on the edge of the keys. It was very dangerous and they had parties of schoolchildren walking within ten feet of it!

I’ll gloss over a lot of what followed, basically Steve didn’t want to know, he wanted a quiet life. On the other hand, as I pointed out to John, he and I were under a duty of care and I had to send him a report which he must forward to Dalkea. I did this and the shit hit the fan. I was banned from all AHS sites for ever, John was threatened with commercial implications as much of his work was with Dalkea, in short, it all got very nasty. Eventually, common sense prevailed and the Council stopped the engine and invited me to go down and meet them. I raised another problem when I told them I didn’t want any payment. The concept of doing things for nothing, as a gift, completely threw them. This is still rumbling on, I have told them what they should do to rectify matters and they are ‘looking into it’. I did leave them with one uncomfortable thought. If they started running the engine again my duty of care would be revived and I would only have one recourse, to blow the whistle to the Health and Safety Executive. This would really put the cat amongst the pigeons because the whole field of running engines for the public is a minefield and if the HSE really looked into it they would shut them all down. Or rather, let’s put it this way, if I was in charge I’d shut them all down immediately pending certain safety measures. Take it from me, they wouldn’t like it.

Right kids, that’s it for the conservation update. I’ve no doubt there will be other matters that will need attending to but for the time being, that’s me. Be good!



SCG/Monday, 22 January 2001
4465 words.

Update to Conservation matters. August 2004.

Jubilee mill engine.
This project has been quietly going forward and even though I am retired, I am keeping an eye on progress and advising when necessary. The engine is now almost completely erected in the engine house at Masson and we are moving steadily towards commissioning it in steam using a mobile boiler some time in the near future.

Queen street mill and Helmshore
Queen Street continues to stagger on but at enormous subsidy for each visitor. I have serious doubts about the long term future of both Queen Street and the Helmshore Museum. This is a tragedy because they are unique sites and should be preserved at any cost.

Bancroft Engine and Ellenroad
Bancroft still carries quietly on, run totally by volunteers it runs occasionally in steam and is a shining example of what a few enthusiasts can do if given half a chance. Ellenroad runs on the first Sunday of every month and whilst it seems to be managing I fear for the long term future. There have been some significant changes in the management during the past year and there is disaffection amongst the volunteers. Once they lose heart the project is in trouble.

Trencherfield at Wigan
It has never run since I pointed out the severe problems they had with it. At one point I was asked down to advise the council by Emma Birkin, the lady who was in charge of the project. They were pleased with my advice and impressed by the fact I had knowledge that didn’t exist inside the council. I never charged them for my time but asked for travelling expenses. It took a letter to the Chief Executive to get this money after two years! I have an idea that I upset them when I pointed aout that the large amount of money they had spent preventing oil from getting into the canal had been wasted. All they needed to do was run all the drains into a jack well which would have caught all the oil on the surface. I put them in touch with Gissing and Lonsdale at Barnoldswick and they tendered for re-staking the flywheel, taking advice from me. This never came to anything and the next news I received was a copy of an inspection that had been done on the engine by Doctor Jonathan Mimms of the English Engineerium at Brighton. I don’t know the man but it is obvious from his recommendations that he has no practical knowledge of steam engines. The measures he proposes are ridiculous and if carried out will result in the most dangerous engine in Britain. I contacted the Council and told them this but they didn’t want to know. I sent a written statement so that I had discharged my duty of care and forgot all about it.

All this bothers me because I can see the possibility of a serious accident with an engine in steam one of these days and as soon as that happens every such exhibit in the country will be closed down and Draconian regulations imposed. I contact people every now and again and warn them but nobody takes any notice. I suppose I’m just an old fart and one of Yesterday’s Men!

Well, that’s my duty done and another piece of the story brought up to date. I shall crash on with life and just keep a watching brief….

SCG/22 August 2004
Stanley Challenger Graham
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scg1936 at talktalk.net

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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