The Challenges, Opportunities and Future of Our Industrial Heritage in design, architecture, plannin
Many thanks to Michael Plageman, who has provided the below. Michael is a Chartered Architect, Registered Conservation Architect, at Davies Sutton Architects and is a Design Review Panel member, attending Design Review Panels across the UK including in the south west, south east, east, London, east midlands, west midlands, north east, north west & Yorkshire & Humber.
Since the middle of the 19th century there has been no leading economy that is not an industrial power. Therefore, given the significance of industrialisation, it would seem obvious that industrial heritage should be a prime concern in the desire to care for the nation’s heritage. However, industrial heritage, dependent on its age, scale and condition, is sometimes perceived as the poor relation to the more manicured, ‘traditional’ buildings that perhaps more readily spring to mind when discussing our historic environment and built past – it is often over scaled and overwhelming!
Our industrial heritage is special in a number of ways – in particular its pre-eminence in world terms. At the heart of the portfolio are sites and landscapes that reflect the origins - worldwide - of ‘the great age of industry’. They are places that defined Britain as the first industrial nation.
Research into understanding the nature of the key developments and associations that historically influenced industrial development enables us to begin to understand the significance of the legacy. It also however, gives a glimpse of what has been lost and what threats exists to that which remains.
Davies Sutton Architects in association with Planning Solutions Ltd, recently won a bid to produce an options appraisal study identifying sustainable future uses for two derelict Grade II listed buildings and Scheduled Ancient Monuments, on the site of ‘The British’ in Talywain near Pontypool. This 1300-acre site is the largest remaining site of dereliction in South East Wales and takes its name from the British Ironworks which was founded there in the 1820’s.
1886_Monmouthshire XVIII (includes/ Abersychan; Goetre Fawr) 1886 map of ‘The British', showing the scale of the operation
The ironworks operated until the 1880’s, before a number of collieries and drift mines were opened on the site between 1900’s and the 1970’s – the last mine was closed in the mid-1980’s.
‘A rare surviving photograph of ‘The British’ in operation’)
As a result of its former uses, the site contains a number of hazards, including disused mine workings, shafts, adits, watercourses which flood, and a number of colliery spoil tips. These, together with its sheer scale, has historically presented significant barriers to the future development of the site.
In addition to this, concerns often exist regarding management strategies for industrial heritage. These concerns are further enhanced by a perceived limited understanding and level of research in the area, and it is therefore paramount that as much research as possible is undertaken when approaching such developments. Like many sites of former heavy industry, the context of ‘The British’ had already been altered through well-meaning land reclamation schemes undertaken in the 1980's. These have affected the setting of the buildings that we were asked to look at, and eroded some of the understanding that a more considered approach to context would have produced.
‘Photographs of the existing listed buildings and scheduled ancient monuments of ‘The British’. Their context has now significantly changed offering new possibilities moving forwards’
Despite the passing of time since the closure of the ironworks, through conversations during the progression of the project, the importance of the buildings to the community was clearly still apparent. This was despite the ironworks not being operational in the lifetime of the current community. The ironworks are ultimately the reason for the communities being – it was its working heart and has remained visually imposing in its landscape. Subsequent development on such sites therefore needs to reflect this.