Buildings of Britain's Industrial Past

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Industrial buildings of Britain. British canals. British coal mines and collieries. Cotton mills. Oast houses. Brick kilns. Bottle neck kilns. British railway history. British railway stations. Slate quarries and slate mines. Tin mines. water towetrs and

Great Britain houses a vast array of old buildings that hold testament to it's history and culture, from it's fine Roman walled cities, to it's majestic Tudor manor houses, from ancient medieval castles to Victorian seaside resorts.

Although just a small island, the geological makeup of it is diverse and this is reflected by it's many industrial buildings borne of it's various, landscapes.

The industrial revolution of the 1700's was born in middle England in what is today it's industrial heartland.

From those humble beginnings rose Britian's vast coal, tin, cotton, pottery and manufacturing empires as well as being an aid to furthering it's already large and thriving fishing and agricultural industries.

Many of these industrial masterpieces still grace Britain's landscape, never letting us forget the cruel and hard world our forebears experienced in order for us to live the way we do today.

The title picture of this article is Iron Bridge, that spans the River Severn in the county of Shropshire.

The bridge was built by iron maker Abraham Darby III, betweeen 1776 and 1779.

The bridge had been manufactured by way of a revolutionary new material called cast iron, an invention by Darby that was to change the world of industry and pave the way for the lifestyle we enjoy today. 



  ( Image courtesy of smalltownhero, wikimedia commons) 


A canal is not a building in the true sense of the word, but they were built by man's fair hand and they were introduced as an aid to industry.

In days of old the roads of Britian were not only few and far between, they were poorly managed and dangerous.

The industrialists of the day needed a way of transporting their goods to their customers and a way of transporting raw materials to and from their factories.

Although Britain is graced with several major river networks, most of them are tidal, rendering them only navigable at certain times of the day or night.

Thus the canal was born in order to give industry an ever usable mode of transport between it's major industrial cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London.

The canals were built by the hands of our forebears who used pick and shovel to manually dig the hundreds of miles of canal networks still in evidence throughout the country today.

Whole new communities grew up along the routes of these canals as well as lock keepers cottages, public houses, factories and warehouses, which all survived by way of the coal, tin, clay and other commodities that were transported around the industrial heartlands, goods that were transported by way of a barge, a long, narrow boat invented purposely for use upon the canals.

Whole families worked and lived on these barges, which were navigated along the canal by way of a horse that would pull the barge by ropes from a tow path that run along the canalside.

Today these barges and canals are still in evidence, most of which are now used only as a way of recreation and historical education. 

However, not all of Britain's canals were built on a small scale,with it's biggest engineering project that of the Caledonian Canal in Scotland, the brainchild of engineer Thomas Telford,linking the Atlantic Ocean at Inverness and the north Sea at Fort William.

The canal was built, by hand, by displaced Highland farmers who preferred the backbreaking labour of canal digging to being sent to Canada in order to make a new life.

The 62 mile ( 100 km) canal was built between 1803 and 1822, linking three of Scotland's lochs in the process, and enabled shipping to pass through the canal instead of taking the treacherous waters around the tip of northern Scotland.

Today the canal is too narrow to take the world's modern ships, so is now part of the extensive Scottish Highland tourism trail.





Coal was the very lifeblood of industry, used in order to keep the machinery of the factories ever running smoothly.

After wood, coal was also the preferred method of warming the homes and cooking the food of the masses, due to it's abilities to burn for much longer periods than wood.

Coal is a mineral found deep below ground in areas of Wales and middle and northern England, that had to be excavated by hand and then brought to the surface.

Coal was Britian's most precious commodity rendering great swathes of the country to earn a living from coalmining.

A dangerous, dirty and unhealthy occupation, the mines were the cause of the deaths of thousands of it's employees over the years, both by accidental mine collapse, injury and lung complaints.

When the mines started to become defunct due to modern alternatives of power, so eager were the people of Britian to see the back of these awful establishments, that many were raised to the ground, and green and healthy recreational areas put in their places, in order to forget about them.

However, some of these monstrosities have been painstakingly preserved and turned into museums and educational centres, so that we never forget the misery our forebears endured in order to keep the home fires burning and the wheels of industry ever turning. 



      ( Image courtesy of Mr Stephen, wikimedia commons)


Great Britian already had a large and prosperous home grown woollen industry, that was worked by way of home spinners and weavers, who would spend their days intricately producing the wool of Britain's thousands of sheep.

It was not until the industrial revolution and easier modes of transport enabled cotton to be brought to her shores, that Britian's rise in the great cotton mills of Scotland, Lancashire and Derbyshire grew.

These vast factories were the pride of the country, using the very latest in technological advancement.

Whole towns grew around this vast industry, where children as young as five years old would tend the massive mill machinery for a few pennies a day in wages.

Many of the mills that exist today have been turned into museums and cultural centres in order to let us know just how dangerous and hard life was in those early days of the prosperous British textile industry. 



 ( image courtesy of Rob Bishop, wikimedia commons)


Man realised quite early on in our history that much of the water he was forced to drink in order to survive, was bad for him.

Because of this, beer or porter, was encouraged to be the preferred drink for the masses.

Breweries have been built all over the land, but in order to make the beer, first the hops had to be prepared by way of drying them out. Hops were grown in only a few places in the country, the largest area of which was the south eastern county of Kent.

Kent was and still is the hop garden of England and it was here in these delightful buildings, that the hops were stored and dried out  heralding the very beginnings of the mighty brewing industry.



     ( Image courtesy of Weydonian, wikimedia commons)


Large, tall towers can be found in several areas of Britain where once there was a thriving pottery or brick making industry.

Pottery has been made for millenia, mostly by hand, all over the world, but when Britain became industrialised, so too did the way we made our pots.

The largest pottery making industry in the United Kingdom was and still is, in the very heart of England, in the city of Stoke - On - Trent in the county of Staffordshire.

This vast industry actually has it's roots just down the road from Abraham Darby's Iron Bridge in Shropshire, at a place called Coalbrookdale.

From the late 1700's the industry moved to the area now known as the Staffordshire Potteries or Five Towns as it is sometimes called.

Two hundred years ago the city of Stoke - On - Trent's landscape was dotted with over four hundred bottle necked kilns, spewing smoke and fumes over the Staffordshire countryside in order that we could eat off plates and drink from cups.

The five towns made cheap, mass produced pottery for the general public as well as fine and intricate bone china pieces for the gentry and export.

The industry was a hotbed of illness, from dust inhalation in the biscuit ( bisque ) factories, to lead poisoning in the paint shops, not to mention the accidents that came from the heavy labour of the workload and the fires of the ever burning kilns.

Today Stoke - on - Trent is a living, breathing museum to the industry that brought both poverty and prosperity to the city and it's surrounding areas.

The brick kilns of England were situated a little further south and east than Staffordshire, mainly in the counties of Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

During Queen Victoria's reign the country was so prosperous the land was completely transformed with the buildings of new towns, new factories and large prosperous merchants and industrialists houses.

The building industry was revolutionised by the making of bricks for these projects, a back breaking and unhealthy job that again saw the demise of many strong men and women due to the awful conditions of this early industry.

Most of the large and older kilns have been demolished owing to them being unsafe,( the heat of the fires within rendered the chalk, brick or stone they were built from very soft and unstable) but there are still a few in existance today that remind us of the way in which are forebears helped to shape our towns and cities.  



   ( image courtesy of Pit Yacker, wikimedia commons)


Great Britian introduced the railway and paved the way for the world to experience a new and faster mode of transportation, both for goods and for passengers.

The railway opened up a whole new era of faster cargo delivery and a way for the masses to see what lay beyond the hills and dales of their hometowns and villages.

Built by the blood, sweat and tears of our forebears, this world changing invention was championed by Queen Victoria herself, who loved train travel and loved the way the fast engines brought opposite ends of the country closer together, enabling people to travel to the coast and spa towns up and down the country, two other things that the Queen championed and encouraged.

Today, few of Britain's 2,000 + railway stations are newly built, with the great railway industry still preferring to upkeep the original and ornately built station houses as a permanent reminder of one of the world's greatest achievements heralded by this small island nation.  



  ( Image courtesy of Gwernol, wikimedia commons)


In the days of wooden and stone built houses, straw was used as a roofing material, but as the industry advanced, so too did the materials used.

The greatest achievement in the building of houses came when man started to use slate for roofing tiles.

This strong and durable rock, cut from the cliff face of the mountainsides of Wales and west England, revolutionised the way homes would be built for the next hundred years.

As with all mining work, the industry was a hard, dirty and dangerous occupation, rewarded by poor pay and housing conditions.

As with the coal mines, once these establishments became defunct, the buildings of the industry were quickly vacated and left to decay, with the working masses glad to see the back of them.

Many of these mines still exist around some former slate mining communities today, with little to show for the industry other than a few rusted gantries and a larger than usual graveyard population at most of the local churches. 



( Image courtesy of Darren Shilson, wikimedia commons)


In the thriving tin mining areas of Cornwall, Britain was once the world's largest producer of this sought after commodity.

Tin was a marvellous find, used in the manufacture of cookwear and food preservation, and used in many industries and for decorative purposes.

As in all mine work, the tin mines of Cornwall were not only dirty and dangerous, they were also a healthhazard of major proportions.

The tin was excavated from deep within the earth's crust by hand of man who worked in conditions which would be described today as toxic.

Many of the towers and squat, square buildings that are the remnants of this once thriving industry,are located in some of the most beautiful of Cornwall's coastal and moorland areas, but they remain as an ever present reminder of how life once was for thousands who earned their living in this awful occupation. 




Once man had found a way of making Britain's endless supply of natural water potable, he had to then find a way of storing it and getting it to the masses.

This was done by way of water towers for storage and pumping engines for dispersal.

With the advent of dams and resevoirs in the early 19th century,these tall towers and beautiful pumping engines became obsolete, but they still remain in abundance around Britain's countryside, owing to the intricate design of the buildings, both inside and out, many of which have been lovingly preserved and are now graded and listed buildings.







Colin Dovey
Posted on Aug 29, 2010
Posted on Aug 29, 2010
M 5446
Posted on Aug 29, 2010
Posted on Aug 28, 2010
Colin Dovey
Posted on Aug 28, 2010