Category Archives: Industrial history

Top Forge

Wortley Top Forge, South Yorkshire

South Yorkshire boasts two of nationally significant historic metal-working sites, the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet on the southern edge of Sheffield and the Wortley Top Forge between Sheffield and Penistone.  Both are scheduled ancient monuments and contain Grade I listed buildings.

They exist because of the foresight of the individuals who formed the South Yorkshire Industrial History Society who recognised the significance of each site and campaigned to protect them from the risk of demolition before the Second World War – back in the prehistory of industrial archaeology and historical conservation.

Abbeydale Works became part of Sheffield City Museums and, along with Shepherd Wheel and Kelham Island Industrial Museum were transferred to Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust in 1998.

Wortley Top Forge, abandoned by 1929, was acquired by the South Yorkshire Industrial History Society in 1953, and the Society continues to maintain and develop the site and open it to the public through its operational arm, the South Yorkshire Trades Historical Trust Ltd.

The leading light of the project was the late Ken Hawley (1927-2014), the celebrated saviour of much of South Yorkshire’s tools and machinery.  His collections are now divided between Wortley and Kelham Island.

The Top Forge, along with the now-obliterated Low Forge, was operating by 1640, though water-powered metal-working was practised in the area from the thirteenth century onwards.

Alongside the remaining original buildings, the Trust has restored and built new structures to accommodate the growing collection of artefacts, including stationary steam engines – a very recent innovation, because the Forge was always powered by water.

A succession of enterprising and innovative lessees imported new techniques to the two forges:  James Cockshutt brought Henry Cort’s reverberatory furnace from Wales to South Yorkshire in the 1790s and in the nineteenth century Thomas Andrews Jnr made Wortley renowned for the quality of its wrought iron for railway rolling-stock axles.  Both these men became Fellows of the Royal Society;  indeed, Thomas Andrews belonged to the Royal Societies in both London and Edinburgh.

Visiting the Top Forge is challenging.  Its site is at least 1½ miles away from Wortley village, deep in the depths of the Don Valley, and access is encumbered by tight bends and the low bridges of the now closed Woodhead railway.  Signage is minimal:  a Yorkshire flag indicates the entrance:  Flag of Yorkshire – Flags and symbols of Yorkshire – Wikipedia.

Those who have the determination to arrive are made warmly welcome, but on ordinary Sunday working days there is little provision for tourists.  The location is beautiful.  The loos are impeccable, but the place is otherwise innocent of visitor amenities.  Donations are gratefully received, guided tours run ad hoc and rides on the miniature railway are free. 

It’s not so much a tourist attraction as a man-cave, populated by friendly, welcoming gentlemen of a certain age in overalls, working with metal and tweaking their engines, who are more than happy to discuss the technicalities of the machinery they tend.

I was shown round by an admirable young guide, Emily, who, once she realised that I know very little about engineering, pitched her tour to my level of understanding.

Open days are a different matter:  then the Top Forge is en fête.  Details are announced on the website events page, which has been understandably disrupted by the pandemic.

The Society’s website provides a detailed history and description of this fascinating place: Wortley Top Forge – The oldest surviving heavy iron forge in the world.

Thomas Hawksley’s grand designs

Former Bestwood Pumping Station, Nottinghamshire, now Lakeside Restaurant (2021)

A pair of remarkable linked architectural experiences are to be found north of Nottingham, where two of the magnificent pumping stations associated with the Victorian engineer Thomas Hawksley (1807-1893) are open to the public.

When I first planned my Cemeteries and Sewerage:  the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness tour to take place in 2020 I couldn’t include Bestwood Pumping Station because the restaurant that occupied the building had closed.

The slightly later Papplewick Pumping Station is so important and so spectacular that I determined the date of the tour to coincide with the steaming-day programme at Papplewick, and I did exactly the same when I had to postpone the tour, first to 2021 and latterly to 2022.

By the time I did final checks for the 2022 dates – Thursday August 25th-Monday August 29th 2022 – the newly refurbished Lakeside Restaurant had reopened, providing the opportunity to enjoy both buildings on the same day, with lunch included.

When Bestwood Pumping Station was built between 1869 and 1873 the landowner, the 10th Duke of St Albans, had only recently completed his grandiose retreat at Bestwood Lodge, and His Grace specified in the lease to the Nottingham Waterworks Company that the waterworks should embellish his estate.

Consequently, the engine house is an elaborate brick essay in thirteenth-century Gothic, with a 172-foot high chimney that’s encased in a Venetian Gothic staircase tower leading to a viewing platform.  (This will be open to the public when building works are finished in due course.)

The engines were dismantled in 1968 and the empty building reopened as the Lakeside Restaurant in 1997 with a décor strongly reminiscent of Victorian country houses, later replaced by an understated colour scheme of sage green and gold.

The latest refurbishment has transformed the interior to a dramatic charcoal and white scheme with tiny touches of gold that admirably brings out the decorative detail of the Victorian structural ironwork.

Papplewick is even more ornate, and for different reasons.  By the time it was started in 1882 the Waterworks Company had been taken over by Nottingham Corporation, and their engineer, Marriott Ogle Tarbotton (1835-1887), closely followed Hawksley’s design at Bestwood.  The Papplewick project was finished below budget, so the surplus cash was spent on a riot of craftsman decoration, all on the theme of water and water creatures.

When I visited the Lakeside to update my photos, and to have lunch, my hostess Theo mentioned that she hadn’t ever visited the Papplewick Pumping Station, and she was sufficiently enticed by my friend’s videos of the engines in steam to arrange to visit the next steaming day with her colleague Katie.

They’re in for a treat, as my guests will be on next August’s tour.

To walk through the imposing front door of Bestwood Pumping for an excellent lunch, and then to drive over to Papplewick and walk through a very similar front door to witness two huge beam engines quietly turning is a profoundly satisfying contrast.

In the warm, hypnotic environment of the Papplewick engine house it feels as if the earth moves.

Bestwood is visually dramatic, and Papplewick is a multisensory theatrical experience.

The Lakeside Restaurant in the former Bestwood Pumping Station is a lunch stop on the ‘Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness’ (August 25th-29th 2022) tour. For details of the itinerary, please click here.

Enterprising potter

Etruria Hall, Stoke-on-Trent

Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) triumphed magnificently over adversity. 

He lost his father when he was nine, and at the age of eleven smallpox left him with a permanently weakened right knee so that he couldn’t become a thrower.  This did, however, enable him to explore the various skills of the pottery trade and gave him the freedom to question and experiment with established practices.

By the age of nineteen he had invented an improved green glaze, become a master-potter and leased a pottery in Burslem with his cousins, John and Thomas Wedgwood.

His business soon outgrew these facilities, largely because of his personal energy, his multiplicity of skills and his adventurousness both as a designer and a businessman. 

He was more prepared than any of his competitors to try new methods.  He insisted on a clean, tidy working environment and his products had a better finish and more shapely proportions – and, indeed, uniformity of size – compared with the rest of the market.

In 1765 he was appointed the Queen’s Potter, and contributed £500 towards new roads in the Potteries area, the first step in a lifelong campaign to gain secure, rapid transport facilities for his precious and fragile wares, which led to his association with the Trent & Mersey Canal, opened in 1777.

Two years later, with his second cousin Thomas, he acquired the site which became his Etruria Works, and the following year invited Thomas Bentley, a merchant with wide experience of the fashionable world, into the partnership.

Wedgwood was a member of the influential group of Midlands intellectuals known as the Lunar Society (because they met and exchanged ideas on the Monday nearest the full moon), including Dr Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) and James Watt (1736-1819).

In 1764 he had married his third cousin, Sarah Wedgwood (1734-1815), and their eldest child, Susannah (1765-1817), married Robert Waring Darwin (1766-1848), the son of Erasmus Darwin:  their son was the famous naturalist Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882), who in turn married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood (1808-1896).

On May 28th 1768, Josiah Wedgwood had his right leg amputated, “foreseeing,” according to the Dictionary of National Biography, “that this useless and often painful member would prove a serious encumbrance in his enlarged sphere of work at Etruria”. 

Etruria Works was opened in June 1769, and by 1773 he had centralised all his operations there. 

The name Etruria refers to the kingdom of central Italy that preceded the Roman republic and connects Wedgwood’s designs with the Etruscans’ elegant pottery.  In fact, the antique pottery so much admired by Wedgwood’s clients ultimately proved to be Greek.

As befitted Wedgwood’s reputation for manufacturing beautiful ceramics, his works was tastefully designed by the Derby architect Joseph Pickford.  The central range, facing the canal, surmounted by a cupola containing a bell, was flanked by two roundhouses.  The northern roundhouse is the only surviving structure of the entire complex. 

By the mid-1760s he had, by shrewdly using recent developments in ceramic technology, perfected the first of a series of innovations – his cream-ware named, by permission, Queen’s Ware, which was followed by Egyptian Black (sometimes known as basalts, first sold in 1768), marble-ware and eventually his jasper-ware, which could be tinted in a variety of colours, of which the pale blue is more familiar than the alternatives dark blue, lilac, sage green, black and yellow, and pearlware, a form of creamware with a blue tint.

His exports included a dinner-service of of 952 pieces for the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, which cost over £2,000 after its decoration with 1,244 individual views of British landscapes and great houses.  Known as the Frog service from its enamel emblem, this unique commission was exhibited, with admission by ticket, at Wedgwood’s London showroom before dispatch in June 1774. 

The family residence, Etruria Hall (1768-71), was designed by Joseph Pickford.  It was screened from the works by a plantation, and because Josiah and Sarah Wedgwood’s family continued to increase two wings were added in 1780. 

The relationship between the works and the owner’s residence is reminiscent of Matthew Boulton’s Soho House in Birmingham and Sir Richard Arkwright’s Willersley Castle in Derbyshire. 

The Wedgwood family continued to occupy the Hall until 1819, and again from 1828 to 1842.  From 1848, it was associated with the nearby Shelton Ironworks until the 1980s, by which time it was used as offices by British Steel.

When the surrounding area was reclaimed for the 1986 Stoke National Garden Festival, the Hall was restored to its eighteenth-century appearance as the centrepiece of the site, and in the following years it was incorporated into a new hotel.

Ironville

King William Street, Ironville, Derbyshire (1973)
Victoria Street, Ironville, Derbyshire (1973)

The catalogue of British industrial model villages, constructed by employers enlightened or desperate enough to provide better-quality habitations to attract workers, usually includes, give or take one or another, such names as –

  • Cromford, Derbyshire (1771)
  • New Lanark, Lanarkshire (1783)
  • Styal, Cheshire (1784)
  • Swindon, Wiltshire (1842)
  • Copley, West Yorkshire (1849)
  • Saltaire, West Yorkshire (1854)
  • Akroyden, West Yorkshire (1859)
  • Bournville, Birmingham (1879)
  • Port Sunlight, Wirral (1888)
  • New Earswick, York (1901)

Such lists rarely include Ironville, Derbyshire, begun by the Butterley Company in 1834, largely because the historic village is no longer recognisable for what it was.

The Butterley ironworks was founded in 1790 by the engineers of the Cromford Canal, William Jessop (1745-1814) and Benjamin Outram (1764-1805), in partnership with the canal-company solicitor, Francis Beresford, and the Nottingham banker John Wright.

The enterprise was founded literally on the discovery of rich coal and ironstone deposits during the building of the Butterley canal tunnel.

The ironworks traded on demand generated by the wars with France from 1792 onwards, but produced only pig iron and cast iron.  Land was purchased in 1796 at Codnor Park, a couple of miles down the canal, for a forge and rolling mill to manufacture wrought iron.

Within ten years four limekilns and a row of eleven cottages called Limekiln Row had been built at Codnor Park, soon followed by the forge and another thirteen cottages, Forge Row.

Further land on the site that was to become Ironville was used to construct two rows each of sixteen cottages, Furnace Row and Foundry Row, completed in 1813.

King William Street was laid out in 1834, with its forty-eight two-up-two-down terraced houses, alongside and similar to Furnace and Foundry Rows, and its public house, the King William IV.

In the following years, street after street appeared – Victoria Street (1837), then Albert Street, Tank Street and Meadow Street, followed by the distinctive three-storey “Big Six”, the biggest houses in Ironville.

The final development in the 1850s and 1860s was the Market Place and Queen Street, larger houses built on the cinder bank that served to fill in a former clay pit.

The new settlement offered a high standard of amenity.  By the late 1840s King William Street boasted a chemist, a draper, a baker and a stationer who published the Ironville Telegraph newspaper.   By 1886 there were twenty-four shops, including the sole branch of the Codnor Park & Ironville Equitable & Industrial Co-operative Society, though to be the smallest retail co-operative society in Britain.

The National School was opened in 1841 and enlarged in 1850.  The Mechanics’ Institute, designed by the Derby architect Henry Isaac Stevens, opened in 1846 and was later used as the Butterley Company Colliery offices.  Christ Church, also by H I Stevens, built at a cost of £6,000 and paid for by Francis Wright, was consecrated in 1851 and the vicarage, also by Stevens, dates from c1852. 

The 1854 Jessop Monument commemorates William Jessop II (1784-1852), son of the canal engineer.  It consists of a spacious memorial hall alongside a 70-foot-high Tuscan column with a viewing platform, reached by a spiral staircase of 150 steps.  The column was severely damaged by a lightning strike in 1861, though it continued to be used despite its precarious condition for years afterwards.  Both the column and the hall were restored in 2007, but are not accessible to the public.

Though Codnor Park and Ironville are geographically separated by the canal they always formed a unit, depending on the shops and social facilities around King William Street.  Whit Monday fêtes at the Codnor Park Memorial Hall were the highlight of the year.  Another long-standing custom, arising from an influx of Scottish ironworkers in the 1870s, was traditional Burns Night celebrations that were perpetuated into the 1960s.

Though Codnor Park Forge closed in 1965, followed by the adjacent wagon works ten years later, the Ironville community and its buildings remained largely intact until the Butterley Company was taken over by Lord Hanson’s Wiles Group in 1968.  The site of Codnor Park works was cleared by 1972. 

Though the derelict canal-side Butterley Company settlement at Golden Valley, a mile up the canal towards Butterley, was well restored by the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust in 1979-81, the streets of Ironville, which had remained largely intact, were either demolished or modernised beyond recognition, pebble-dashed and shorn of chimney stacks by Alfreton Urban District Council in 1973.

Though the resulting conversions are no doubt comfortable, they could have been comfortable and attractive if Ironville had been sympathetically restored.

Ironville was a milestone on the road to comfortable dwellings for ordinary people.  Now it’s simply a housing development, incomplete, unrecognisable, its street plan defaced, its traditions disregarded.

To see the best of nineteenth-century workers’ housing, people don’t come to Ironville; they go to Cromford, New Lanark, Swindon, Saltaire, Bournville and Port Sunlight – places that were valued and cared for.  Ironville isn’t on the list.

Elsecar

Reform Row, Elsecar, South Yorkshire

The coal mining industry created many industrial settlements across Britain, simply because coal was often found in places where there were few inhabitants.

Few of them are as elegant as Elsecar, the mining village of the Wentworth Woodhouse estate, which stands in an area where the Barnsley seam could be anything up to nine feet thick and below it the Silkstone seam, up to six feet thick. 

The “black diamonds” were mined on behalf of the Marquis of Rockingham from before 1750.

When the Dearne & Dove Canal was authorised by Act of Parliament in 1793 two branches, each leading to feeder reservoirs, were provided to Worsborough and Elsecar. 

Lord Rockingham’s successor, the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, opened the Elsecar New Colliery in 1795, and the branch canal reached the colliery site shortly after 1799. 

The village was subsequently laid out as a model of good practice and enlightened self-interest by a dynasty of aristocratic coal-owners who, while very much of their time in their attitudes to – for instance – trade unionism, seem to have taken a sincere, paternalistic interest in their employees. 

The sturdy stone rows of cottages, Old Row (1798), Station Row (1800), Meadow Row (c1803), Reform Row (1837) and Cobcar Terrace (1860), are solidly constructed, functional and visually attractive.  Like many buildings of the period on the Wentworth Woodhouse estate the first two terraces in Elsecar were designed by John Carr of York. 

Vegetable gardens and pig-sties were standard, and at Cobcar Terrace separate wash-houses were provided.  Rents were slightly higher than in other nearby settlements, but there seems to have been little difficulty in attracting workers to this relatively isolated spot. 

In 1850 the fifth Earl opened the distinctive and attractive Model Boarding House to attract young single miners from neighbouring coalfields:  this building housed Elsecar’s first fitted bath and hot-water geyser.

Apart from coal-mining, Elsecar has had other industrial enterprises, none of them so consistently successful.  There were two ironworks, the Elsecar Ironworks (opened in 1795 with the New Colliery) and Milton Ironworks (1803), and a short-lived tar-manufactory which gave its name to Distillery Row

The Elsecar Workshops (1859) provided the ironworks and collieries with everything “…new as regards iron and woodwork and the greater proportion of the repairs required for coal and iron mines, and all machinery, iron and heavy woodwork on the whole Estate particularly steam engines…”.

The Fitzwilliam estate provided all the substantial public buildings in the village – the Church Day School (1836;  closed 1852 but still forming part of Distillery Side Cottages), the Elsecar Steam Flour Mill (1841-2), Holy Trinity Parish Church (1843), the Gas Works (1857, behind Old Row, now demolished except for the Manager’s House), and the Market Hall (1870, renamed Milton Hall after alterations, 1922).

The South Yorkshire Railway reached Elsecar in 1850, vastly widening the available markets. 

Amidst the rows of coal-wagons and the bustle of shunting, one strange feature underlined the intimate relationship between the colliery and its owners – Earl Fitzwilliam’s private railway-station (1870), which still stands in the middle of the village virtually next to the mine, from which would set forth the Earl, his family and guests in their special railway carriage, having travelled by horse-drawn coach from the Palladian splendours of Wentworth Woodhouse.

In the years since the mining industry went into decline, Elsecar has reinvented itself as a tourist site, based around the Elsecar Heritage Centre, which incorporates Earl Fitzwilliam’s private station, the Elsecar Heritage Railway and the only surviving in situ Newcomen pumping engine in the world.

North Street

North Street, Cromford, Derbyshire (1977)
North Street, Cromford, Derbyshire (1977)

Richard (later Sir Richard) Arkwright came to Cromford in Derbyshire seeking water to power his cotton-spinning factory despite the sparse population of lead-miners and agricultural labourers.

Not only did he need to import labour to keep his spinning machines turning day and night, but he and his partners had difficulty initially in persuading weavers to accept the relatively coarse thread that the water frame produced.

Ideally, he needed to employ his own weavers, preferably with large families, so that the men could weave at home in what was still a domestic trade, while their wives and children could with their delicate fingers tend the spinning machines in the mill.

Accordingly, Arkwright advertised in the Derby Mercury in December 1771 for “Weavers residing in this Neighbourhood” as well as offering “Employment…for Women, Children, &c and good Wages”.

This practice is reflected in the architecture of North Street (1776), one of the very first examples of planned industrial housing in England, sixteen plus eleven three-storey gritstone houses with distinctive loom-windows on the top floor of each house. Evidence of further weaving-facilities exists at the Mill, where a three-storey loom shop still survives. 

Each of the North Street houses had a designated garden.  When the loom shops were no longer needed, the long top-floor windows were reduced in size:  the uninsulated rooms must have been extremely cold in winter.

The design of the North Street terraces has survived intact, though in the late 1960s Matlock Rural District Council intended to demolish the houses until dissuaded by a campaign led by Professor J D Chambers of Nottingham University.

The historic significance of Cromford as a whole was first recognised by the Arkwright Festival of 1971, a celebration of the bicentenary of the founding of the mills. 

During the 1970s North Street was rescued by the Ancient Monuments Society and one of the houses, no 10, was restored by the Landmark Trust and is now available as a self-catering holiday let.

The Festival committee became the Arkwright Society, which has spearheaded the growth of academic and tourist interest in what became the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site in 2001.

The two books to consult about this fascinating area are The Derwent Valley Mills and their Communities (Derwent Valley Mills Partnership 2001) and Doreen Buxton & Chris Charlton, Cromford Revisited (Derwent Valley Mills Partnership, 2015).

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2016 The ‘Derbyshire Derwent Valley’ tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

The Bear Pit

The Bear Pit: tail of Cromford Moor Sough, Derbyshire

When I first started teaching in a Nottingham grammar school in 1970, I was allocated a General Studies class and I chose to offer Local History as a mind-broadening experience. 

One of the students wanted to know about the “ruin that looks like Chatsworth” that he’d spotted driving south down the M1 near Chesterfield.  This was Sutton Scarsdale Hall, last inhabited by descendants of Sir Richard Arkwright, the cotton-spinning inventor.

I rang a librarian who told me the person to talk to about the Arkwright family was an adult-education lecturer, Chris Charlton, who explained that Richard Arkwright and his partners chose Cromford for the site of their water-powered factory because of two sources of water – the Bonsall Brook and a lead-mine adit called the Cromford Moor Sough.

Chris persuaded me to bring a minibus-load of sixth-formers to Derbyshire to do voluntary conservation work in preparation for the Arkwright Festival, celebrating the bicentenary of Richard Arkwright’s Cromford cotton mills in 1771.

Our project was to clear out tons of accumulated mud from what was then known as the Bear Pit, which has no connection whatsoever with bears.

This hole in the ground, hidden behind the shops at the bottom of Cromford Hill, is the junction between three watercourses which connected the brook and the sough with the mill-site downstream.

Soughs are tunnels, built at a shallow downward gradient to drain lead-mining areas, prodigious engineering feats in their day, and this one was distinguished by its thermal water, which remained constantly at 52°F throughout the year.

A complex system of watercourses enabled the mills to take supply from either the Bonsall Brook or – especially in times of drought or frost – from the Cromford Moor Sough, or to use either to act as a reservoir to the other.

Much of the water which drained from the Cromford Moor Sough was lost in 1837 when a consortium of lead-miners completed the Meerbrook Sough, which drains lower down the Derwent Valley at Whatstandwell:  after litigation concluded unsuccessfully in 1846 the Cromford Mills diversified away from cotton-manufacture, which finally ceased in 1891.

We laboured with buckets and ladders for several Sundays, aided on at least one occasion by the fire brigade, who were equipped to get water from where it is to where it’s wanted.

By the time of the festival in midsummer the Bear Pit looked respectable.

Several years later, when I was teaching in Sheffield, Chris persuaded me to bring a group of Yorkshire kids to clear out the Bear Pit a second time.  One of the Nottingham group, then his twenties, turned up and roared with laughter at the sight of us shifting another few tons of mud.  He said it was a site for sore eyes.

Meanwhile, Chris Charlton changed my life, recruiting me to teach extramural classes in Matlock and elsewhere.  My part-time career in architectural and social history became Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times, which still provides me with occupation and enjoyment fifty years after the Arkwright Festival.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2016 The Derbyshire Derwent Valley tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

The Pumping Station

Former Cropston Pumping Station, Leicestershire

For most of the nineteenth century, demand for water supply in the borough of Leicester and its surrounding area left the waterworks company – and its successor Leicester Corporation – constantly chasing demand by increasing capacity.

The Leicester Waterworks Company was founded in 1846 and the following year secured an Act of Parliament to build a reservoir and treatment works at Thornton, to the west of the town.

The company struggled to attract capital until the Corporation promised to invest £17,000 of the required £80,000 in return for guarantees of a dividend of 4% per annum until 1883 and all the company’s net profits over 4½% for ever.

Thornton Reservoir began supplying up to 1.6 million gallons in 1853, but within ten years Leicester suffered two serious water shortages, in 1863 and 1864, and Leicester Corporation took shares in the company to finance the reservoir and pumping station at Cropston which opened in 1871.

When the Waterworks Company proposed to increase its capital further in 1874, the Corporation decided to purchase the company outright by means of an enabling Act in 1877.

The water level of Cropston Reservoir was raised to increase capacity in 1887, and in 1890 parliamentary powers were sought to establish another reservoir at Swithland. 

A further severe water shortage in 1893 was relieved only by taking an emergency supply from Ellistown Colliery which customarily supplied Coalville, and construction of the new dam began the following year.

Swithland Reservoir was built at almost the same time as the Great Central Railway line to London, which crosses it on two viaducts.  This stretch of railway now forms part of the Great Central Railway (Loughborough) heritage line.

In preparation for the opening of Swithland Reservoir in 1896, the Cropston pumping station was extended to pump water between the three reservoirs.

No sooner was this system in place than Leicester Corporation went to Parliament for powers to extract water from the Derbyshire River Derwent.  Other authorities had similar ideas and were obliged to collaborate by forming the Derwent Valley Water Board and building the reservoirs at Howden (1912), Derwent (1916) and Ladybower (1945).

The Leicester legacy of this race to build reservoirs includes three reservoirs and two former pumping stations.

Cropston Pumping Station, built for the Leicester Waterworks Company in 1870 and extended by Leicester Corporation Waterworks in 1894, was stripped of its engines and boilers in the 1950s and has been sensitively converted, retaining what was left of the internal installation, to a restaurant, wedding and conference venue by the current owners, Simon and Liz Thompson in 2015: https://www.thepumpingstation.co.uk.

The bar and restaurant space is in the former boiler house and the adjacent 1894 engine house retains the overhead winch which serviced the machinery below.  The 1870 engine house is now a private residence which includes the spiral staircase up the truncated chimney to an observation deck.

Visitors park their cars among the ornamental filter beds, below which is an underground brick reservoir which, in time to come, could become an exciting visitor attraction.

Water supply engineering has the happy advantage of enhancing local amenities.  People are resistant to having their land flooded, but the end-result is attractive, from Derbyshire’s spectacular lakeland to the quieter landscape of the Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire.

The Pumping Station, Cropston is a lunch stop on the ‘Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness’ (August 25th-29th 2022) tour. For details of the itinerary, please click here.

Swithland Pumping Station is not accessible to the public.

Darnall Works

Darnall Works, Sheffield

The biggest, most significant industrial archaeology site in Sheffield is hardly known to the public, though it contains two of the three Grade II* listed buildings in the Lower Don Valley, the city’s former industrial heartland.

A visitor with time to spare can track the development of Sheffield’s steel industry through its museums and monuments.  The early manufacture of blister steel can be understood at the Doncaster Street Cementation Furnace.  Benjamin Huntsman’s pivotal development of crucible steel – and the process of using it to manufacture edge tools – is displayed at the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and Shepherd Wheel

The later growth of the heavy steel trades is shown at the Kelham Island Industrial Museum, and at the former Templeborough works of Steel, Peech & Tozer in the Borough of Rotherham the Magna Centre provides a convincing simulation of the operating of an electric-arc furnace in “The Big Melt”.

Very few people have ever seen Darnall Works on Worksop Road, near to the Sheffield Canal, dating back at least to 1793, when the Darnall Glass Works stood on the site.  The Sanderson Brothers, cutlery and steel manufacturers, took it over in 1835. 

They concentrated their operations on the Darnall site by building several new structures, now the oldest above-ground survivals on the site, in 1871-74, and continued to use it through much of the twentieth century. 

In 1934 Sandersons combined their operations with their neighbours Kayser Ellison & Company, which had used electric-arc furnaces from 1912, and the two companies merged in 1960 as Sanderson Kayser. 

A major modernisation took place in 1967, but towards the end of the century Sanderson Kayser concentrated their business at Newhall Road, and left Darnall Road vacant.

The remains of over two hundred years of activity on the site are a rich archaeological resource waiting to be discovered and preserved. 

These begin with the below-ground remains of the glass cone.  Above them are the foundations of the cementation furnaces that Sandersons used in the early nineteenth century and many of the crucible furnaces, including some powered by a Siemens gas furnace. 

The standing buildings from the 1870s onwards, many of them dilapidated, are capable of rescue.  

Though much has been demolished during successive alterations, the ground levels have generally not been lowered, so there is huge scope to interpret the complex history of the site and to display it.

In particular, the sheer extent of the remaining crucible workshops makes the Works a unique survival. 

There were well over a hundred crucible furnaces at Darnall Works in the 1870s, with the capacity to produce high-quality large castings by continuous teeming at the time when the industry was moving to Bessemer converters which produced coarser steel very rapidly. 

The existing buildings include an intact range of workshops, each with six melting holes, ranged up the slope of Wilfrid Road, and – most spectacular of all – a large casting floor containing forty-eight crucible holes with a central crane.  This space, last used during the Second World War, is a unique and precious survival.

Ruth Harman and John Minnis, in the Penguin Architectural Guide, Sheffield (2004), described Darnall Works as “one of the most important steelmaking sites in the country”.  There is no question that it’s a historic monument of national, if not international significance.  For the time being the most historic parts of the site are safeguarded, but finding a practical, economical way of investigating the archaeology and interpreting its story for public access remains problematic.

I envisage that within the next two decades, Darnall Works will become Sheffield’s premier museum of the steel industry, to which Magna and Kelham Island, Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and Shepherd Wheel will be the jewels in the crown.

Old Dock

Old Dock, Liverpool

Quentin Hughes’ 1964 study of Liverpool’s architecture, Seaport, begins with the inimitable sentence, “The quality of Mersey is not strained”.

The book, reissued in 1993 but now out of print, is illustrated with atmospheric monochrome photographs taken just before the decline in the North and South Docks became terminal.

Nowadays, you can see where the great port started by peering through a porthole in the pavement of the glitzy shopping centre, Liverpool One, to glimpse part of the Old Dock, built by the pioneering civil engineer Thomas Steers (?1672-1750) between 1710 and 1716.

Steers’ career is shadowy, simply because the historical evidence is vague about his achievements.  He came to the north-west from Rotherhithe, and constructed the Mersey & Irwell Navigation (1721-25), the Newry Canal in Ireland (completed 1742) and much else, perhaps more than is now recorded.

In Liverpool Steers was commissioned to build the world’s first commercial wet dock, using lock gates to provide protection from the tides so that boats remained at a constant level for convenient loading and unloading.

He adapted the natural inlet on which the port had developed, building a substantial twenty-foot-high brick wall directly from the bedrock to enclose a 3½-acre stretch of water large enough for a hundred vessels.

The whole project was made possible because the borough corporation had bought the manorial rights from Lord Molyneux in 1672.

Costing £12,000 – twice Steers’ estimate – it was a huge gamble which paid off and laid the foundations for Liverpool’s dominance as a port that grew rich on the notorious triangular trade of cotton, rum, sugar, spices and slaves.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century the Old Dock became too small to be useful and was badly polluted by the sewage of the surrounding streets.  It was closed in 1826 and filled in.

On the site the architect John Foster Jnr (1786-1846) built his magnificent domed classical Custom House (1828-38) which was gutted in the 1941 Blitz and, regrettably, demolished soon after the end of the War: http://liverpoolremembrance.weebly.com/the-custom-house.html.

At the time of the Millennium the redevelopment of Liverpool One provided the opportunity to retrieve part of the site’s archaeology, so that visitors can see the literal foundations of the port on escorted guided tours arranged by the Maritime Museum:  https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/visit/old-dock.aspx.

The Old Dock tour is included in the rescheduled Unexpected Liverpool (June 6th-10th 2022) tourFor further details please click here.