Sir Neil Cossons
Below Over 400 ships were built at Chatham Naval Dockyard, including HMS Victory, before its closure in 1984. It has now been proposed as a World Heritage Site for its pioneering development of mass production and for its crucial role in the development of Britain’s global influence. Photo: RCHME
that it can include the study of the way that pre-industrial craft-based society evolved into its urban manufacturing-based successor – for example, how the myriad farm-based edgetool forges and workshops of peaks and valleys surrounding medieval Sheffield turned into the massive global manufacturing enterprises of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Because industrial society is, by definition, all about scale, the setting of research and conservation priorities has to wrestle with the sheer amount of physical evidence and the sheer range of industrial activity, from match and pin manufacturing to massive power stations, coal mines, steel works and gas works. How do you decide what to preserve faced with a heritage that is so extensive? It takes clear thinking to see a way through this path in order to decide what is most important, most worthy of protection.
Neil himself places a very
Below The earliest of eight surviving Brunel iron bridges in England, this 1838 bridge over the Grand Union Canal near Paddington Station was rediscovered a week before it was due to be bulldozed in 2004 hidden within a modern brick road bridge. English Heritage hopes to raise £3.5 million to restore and re-house the bridge. Photo: Andy Butterton for English Heritage high priority not on individual buildings or machines, but on whole landscapes – as he well might, given that, as the first Director of the Ironbridge Museum (from 1971 to 1983), he forged an innovative and inclusive approach to preserving and illustrating industrial archaeology in which spoil tips, quarries and ruined furnaces, chapels, cemeteries and workers’ houses were all linked to form one large ‘museum without walls’ in the wooded valley that gave birth to the Industrial Revolution.
There are perhaps some 600 such landscapes in the UK that have been identified as having especial significance for industrial archaeology because of the variety and range of the evidence that they preserve, and Neil has played a key role in raising their profile, not just at local or national level, but at the ultimate court of heritage arbitration, the UNESCO World Heritage Sites committee.