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24 September 2014

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Bringing to life the practices of the past
Film crew at work. Picture courtesy of I A Recordings.
The I.A. Recordings team at work
In less than 30 years, much of British industry has disappeared completely, and along with it have gone the skills of those who used to find their employment in industry - and perhaps even a way of life.

Industrial archaeology quiz
Try your hand at our quiz on Shropshire's industrial past.

Breathing new life into an old canal As a new golden age of canals is heralded, we look at the past of the derelict Shrewsbury & Newport Canal - and the plans to restore it to its former glory.

Mining was once a huge industry in Shropshire, and changed the landscape forever. Yet very few obvious traces of mining remain - unless you know what to look for. See our feature on mining in Shropshire to find out.


I.A. Recordings
Find out more about the work of the organisation, as well as the wide range of videos available.
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I.A. Recordings' website, launched in 1995, was the first on the web devoted entirely to industrial archaeology.

The team actually started making videotapes in 1978, but decided to set up I.A. Recordings - and get their own high quality equipment instead of renting it - four years later.

When making videos, the team are careful not to 'direct' the action and just film in 'fly on the wall' style.

Videos are available as productions - documentary-style programmes - or compilations, which usually have no commentary and include more information for enthusiasts.

But, thanks to the work of a Shropshire-based video production group, the old ways have been recorded before they die out completely.

I.A. Recordings is a group of enthusiasts who make a permanent record of past and present industry using the latest video technology.

But unlike other industrial archaeologists, who concentrate on the remains of long gone industries, their approach often involves recording processes while they are still working. This means the knowledge of these old industries is kept for posterity.

So, for the past 20 years, I.A. Recordings have been dutifully recording the living processes of working industry.

Hand-made lock. Picture courtesy of I.A.Recordings
Lock-making by hand in Willenhall

One example of this is the John Bradley Ironworks in Stourbridge. The firm was started in 1800, the locomotives 'Agenoria' and 'Stourbridge Lion' were made there, but in 1982 the rolling mill was suddenly threatened with closure. The skills and techniques of the ironworks were recorded on video, just before the place closed.

Still photographs can't capture a dynamic industrial process, so the I.A. Recordings team saw the need for a dedicated group with film making skills to be available to visit such sites, possibly at very short notice, but working in their spare time. Their idea was to build up a permanent moving picture archive of recordings of industry, which will help the historians of the future to understand the processes of today.

After practising the techniques with a low quality hired portable video kit in 1978, they decided to set up I.A.Recordings in 1982 and purchase their own much higher quality gear. They had to start with second-hand equipment, much of it ex-BBC and ITV, but over the years they have replaced it piece by piece until now they use up-to-date broadcast quality kit.

In order to pay for all this equipment, the rather expensive tapes they use, travelling costs and so on; from time to time they edit some of the material from the archive into programmes and make them available for sale on VHS cassettes.

But editing is extremely time-consuming and so far they have only been able to use a small part of their archive.

With spare time at a premium, they always have to give priority to 'rescue recording' work, when people tell them of a site that needs to be recorded quickly before it closes.

Their first such call out was when W.K.V.Gale, the leading historian of the iron and steel industry, asked them to record John Bradley rolling mill - the week it was due to close!

Aqueduct. Courtesy of I.A. Recordings
Thomas Telford's Pontcysllte Aqueduct near Llangollen

As well as being best for capturing the details of people's working lives, they often find that moving pictures can help even when recording an empty building or a derelict industrial area.

It can be difficult to visualise how a complex works was laid out from a collection of still photographs, but a video camera can pan from place to place and the editor can cut between close-up and wide angle views; all helping to show how one part of the subject relates to another, and helping to give a more complete impression of the whole site.

This means that they record the remains of old industries as well as working ones: exploring old Cornish mine workings as well as filming the
last tin mine before it closed; disused ancient coke ovens in Durham and working coke plants in Yorkshire; derelict dockyards in Gloucestershire
and working docks on Humberside; old textile workshops converted to houses next to new automated factories; the oldest canal boat lift in
England and the most modern one in the world; and even a wartime underground factory which became a nuclear bunker.

At first I.A.Recordings concentrated on the UK as the main birthplace of industry, but they have also recorded various industries in the USA, coal mines and canals in France, Belgium and Germany and the fascinating remains of mining in Ireland.

But they have been careful not to neglect their native Shropshire. Subjects in the archive, only some of which have been released on VHS so far, include: Clive copper mine, the 'Shropshire Union' canal, Muxton Bridge coal mine, the Shropshire tub-boat canals, The Iron Bridge, the Severn trow 'Spry', the Stiperstones lead, zinc and barite mines, a forgotten icehouse, an ancient lost tunnel, and the annual Shropshire Mines Trust displays at Onslow Park Steam Engine Rally.

The famous Snailbeach lead mine has been covered in some depth, in both senses of the word.

So far they have already released three VHS tapes: A history of the mine; part one of an underground exploration which involved descending a 100 metre deep shaft; and a tape specially commissioned for showing in
the Snailbeach visitor centre.

MineCam. Picture courtesy of I.A. Recordings

This has been helped by the use of specialist equipment - not least the Mine Cam, a remote-controlled high quality video camera with a powerful light attached. Packed with sophisticated equipment, it can be sent down mine shafts to film where people can't go.

Work on these has been greatly helped by the I.A. Recordings team's membership of the Shropshire Caving and Mining Club and the Shropshire Mines Trust.

The video archive continues to grow, they try to make more and more of it available for viewing on VHS and from time to time are commissioned by national organisations, trusts and museums to make special documentaries for them.

But they don't receive any grants or external funding for day-to-day running costs. Indeed, if they hear of a subject which needs recording, they will frequently do so at their own expense and try to recoup the costs later by selling tapes.

And in any case, by the time they get to hear about a new project, there often isn't time to try to find a source of finance before the person retires, the factory closes or the site is redeveloped.


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