Sir Neil Cossons
Above Living heritage: Mr Tom Allcott and Mr Ron Brown are among a group of highly skilled jewellery makers operating from workshops in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter using original 19th century tools and benches and techniques that date back to the Middle Ages, if not well before. Photos: English Heritage the ‘pre-industrial mind’, which the established archaeological disciplines set out to understand, so there is a ‘post-industrial mind’, which we have hardly begun to explore.
Neil worries that the legacy of the industrial past, on which such a study should be based, is evaporating rapidly. The great age of industry has come and gone – certainly in Britain, the birthplace of the industrial revolution, where we now live in a post-industrial era with economies that depend on innovation, research and the use of knowledge rather than on the conversion of commodities into consumer goods.
Soon there will be no people alive with firsthand knowledge and direct personal experience of manufacturing industry. The comic subtleties of the 1959 film, ‘I’m All Right Jack’ – based around the conflict between Fred Kite, Peter Sellers’ caricature of trades union sanctimony, and Sidney De Vere Cox, Richard Attenborough’s caddish capitalist – are already
We also invented industrial archaeology . . . the very name was a challenge to those who believed that archaeology ended with the arrival of the Romans.
lost on a generation for whom the phrase ‘shop floor’ means Oxford Street, not Cowley or Dagenham. Look at any 19th century Ordnance Survey map of Lancashire, and you will see mills in every village: look at the same area now and the mills have disappeared as surely as if they had never existed. What preoccupies Neil now is how one captures the archaeological and historical legacy of that rapidly disappearing industrial past, so that future generations will have a resource from which to understand it. He believes we should prioritise a representative selection of the physical evidence for conservation, so that future generations can interrogate, analyse and rethink this crucial part of the past.
The emergence of industrial archaeology Without wanting to be nationalistic about it, Neil believes that Britain should set the example: we were the world’s first industrial nation and it is our landscapes that bear witness to the birth and development of what began with mills, canals and railways in the UK but became a global phenomenon. We also invented industrial archaeology, which initially developed outside the established framework of academic history and archaeology. The very name, with its juxtaposition of ‘industrial’ and ‘archaeology’ was a challenge to those who believed that archaeology ended with the arrival of the Romans (do not forget that the Society for Medieval Archaeology was not formed until 1957, and many scoffed at the idea that archaeology could tell us anything about the medieval period that could not be researched more directly in historical records).
The founders of industrial archaeology came, in many cases, from a business or commercial background. The keenest advocates were archaeologycurrent