WHEN you visit Whitchurch Silk Mill, Twyford Waterworks or Bursledon Brickworks you are enjoying the fruits of a burst of activity in last quarter of the last century, when enthusiasts worked at preserving the fast-disappearing relics of industrial history.
The proper name for this activity is ‘industrial archaeology’ (IA), though it bears little resemblance to conventional archaeological digs, and is usually concerned more with recording, preserving and researching all forms of industrial relics.
It is actually a British invention – there has always been an interest here in industries that have died, especially in the places where they once thrived. During the 1960s several local IA societies were started and the subject entered the curriculum of the Department of Extramural Studies at the University of Southampton, where railway expert the late Dr Edwin Course, son of a London dockmaster, lectured.
There were other groups elsewhere, in Portsmouth – notably working on naval industries under Professor Ray Riley – and in Basingstoke, but thanks to Edwin it was in Southampton that Hampshire’s contribution to the subject flourished.
A meeting addressed in Southampton in 1968 by journalist Kenneth Hudson, who a few years earlier had written a key book on the subject (he also introduced the subject to the USA), led in the mid-1960s to the Southampton University Industrial Archaeology Group (SUIAG), with Edwin as chairman. Its records are in Southampton University Library and the Hampshire Record Office, Winchester.
For more than 30 years a band of enthusiasts explored and recorded almost every aspect of IA in the county. They published surveys of wind, water and tide mills (which led to the Hampshire Mills Group), roads (spurred on by the county surveyor), breweries, icehouses, brick and tile works, aerodromes and farmsteads, the latter funded by the HCC.
SUIAG, which was open to all, attracted people with a wide range of backgrounds – from sewage pumping to banking. It published a newsletter Focus and later a journal and thrived on a powerful urge to capture Hampshire’s industrial heritage before it fell to the wrecking ball.
By the early 1970s SUIAG was part of a growing national movement that led to the Association of Industrial Archaeology and the first International Conference on the Conservation of Industrial Monuments held at the iconic site of Ironbridge, in Shropshire.
The best overviews of the work of SUIAG are A Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, published in 1984 and edited by Pamela Moore (new edition in preparation) and a booklet, SUIAG – 1968-2001, A History.
The range of subjects is truly amazing: as well as the obvious ones there were hop-kilns, wind-pumps, flour mills, soft drink factories, chalk-based industries, salt production, gunpowder, defence supply industries, horse and donkey wheels, tollhouses, inland waterways, bandstands and much, much else.
The practical activity of SUAIG was in the hands of the Rescue and Restoration Section, nicknamed the ‘Heavy Gang’. In the mid-1980s the Brewhouse behind the Golden Lion pub in Southwick was brought back to life 40 years after its last brew. Part of the exercise involved a petite member of the group being lowered into the narrow entrance of a 350-gallon copper (as brew vessels are called).
The project culminated in a brew with the first pint being sampled by historian Lord Asa Briggs. The brewhouse now acts as a retail outlet for craft beers, as the machinery is too delicate to be used regularly used.
A water power site at Brownwich Farm on the south coast was also excavated, not unlike conventional archaeology. Other projects of the Heavy Gang centred on the Gilkes Turbine in Shawford Mill, near Winchester, an early Otis lift in Preshaw House, near Warnford in the Meon valley and much else.
In 2001 the university-based SUIAG was replaced by a county-wide organisation, the ongoing Hampshire Industrial Archaeology Society. Its chairman Howard Sprenger, said: “There is still a great interest in industrial heritage, and while new opportunities for active preservation work in Hampshire are rare, there are many areas that would benefit from further historical research, such as local ironworks and the seaside industry. We welcome new members, and can provide guidance and support to anyone who would like to find out more about our industrial past.”
The work of SUIAG is recorded in 9,000 slides meticulously described by Edwin Course and held by Historic England. Much else is centred on Bursledon Brickworks. Pamela Moore, secretary of the Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust, which owns the site, said: “We are hoping to digitalise…