Industrial England: Pictures of our past and present

The Clifton Suspension Bridge Image copyright CSBT/Robert M. Vogel Collection
Image caption The Clifton Suspension Bridge has successfully survived into modern use

They are relics of a revolution that transformed England forever. Yet, around the country, some of the great industrial landmarks of times past are falling into decay and are in danger of collapsing.

One such example is Belper's East and North mills in Derbyshire.

Built by Jedediah Strutt and his family in the 1800s, the North Mill forms part of a World Heritage Site and is one of the oldest surviving examples of an iron-framed building in the world.

However, campaigners and Amber Valley Council say the mills have suffered "significant damage" under their current owners, Jersey-based Carfrae Holdings, and need urgent repair.

Historian Adrian Farmer said: "It's shocking, really. The mills have been let down by the owners.

"I dread to think what will happen if action doesn't take place soon. They could fall down."

Image copyright Adrian Farmer
Image caption Belper's mills "could fall down", according to campaigners

The management company that operates the mills said they were "far from derelict" and plans were in place for a mix of residential, retail and office uses for the properties.

But why do some buildings translate so well into the modern world, while others are left to decay?

The Clifton Suspension Bridge, in Bristol, is one example of a Victorian creation that has survived into the modern age.

The trust that maintains and manages the bridge puts the success of the Grade I listed, ironwork structure entirely down to the vision of the man who designed it - the great engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Image copyright Baltic Mill
Image caption The Baltic flour mill in Gateshead re-opened as an art gallery in 2002

"Brunel was always thinking about the longevity of his projects as he was designing them," said Laura Hilton, visitor services manager.

"He designed the chain system that meant the infrastructure of the bridge is still able to carry heavy loads.

"If another cable system had been proposed, it is possible the bridge might only be for pedestrian use now."

Image copyright Getty Images/Google
Image caption The old Bankside Power Station became Tate Modern

Lining the Thames in London, two former power stations - Battersea and Bankside - serve as examples of industrial buildings that have been taken into a quite different realm from their previous use.

Bankside finished generating power in 1981 and now famously houses the Tate Modern art gallery.

Battersea was decommissioned in 1983 and is currently undergoing an £8bn overhaul to become a development of hotels, shops, restaurants and offices.

At the other end of the country, Gateshead's Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art is another example of how a former industrial building - in this case, a flour mill - can be transformed.

Elsewhere, England's industrial heritage has not survived quite so well.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption There are also plans in place to transform Battersea Power Station

The six towns of Stoke-on-Trent were nicknamed "the Potteries" with good reason.

Companies like Royal Doulton, Spode, Minton and, of course, Wedgwood, brought jobs to thousands.

Today, according to historian Fred Hughes, who campaigns against the destruction of Stoke's industrial heritage, most of those buildings have gone.

"Tunstall had 11 pottery sites, most of which have become retail parks," he said. "All of the Etruria Wedgwood factories have been turned into a business park which is something I regret."

However, one building that has survived Stoke's retail park-building onslaught is the Wedgwood Institute.

Image copyright Raven Photography/The Prince’s Regeneration Trust
Image caption Despite many factory demolitions, parts of Stoke's industrial heritage are "alive and kicking"

The former library and art gallery was built in 1865 by public subscription as a tribute to Josiah Wedgwood.

It closed its doors in 2007 and currently sits on Historic England's top 10 Heritage At Risk buildings in the West Midlands but its lease has now been taken on from the council by the Prince's Regeneration Trust.

The trust and the council are raising funds to restore and redevelop the site and make it into an enterprise hub.

"There's very little left of the old times but if you don't mind walking and looking around corners and down alleys, you will still find the Potteries alive and kicking," Mr Hughes said.

Image copyright Boots
Image caption Boots continues to maintain its 1930s buildings

Those pottery factories that do remain have now been incorporated into modern-day ceramic sites, such as Steelite, which continues to operate from a Victorian pottery works that has been gradually modernised.

"Bless them for keeping that," said Mr Hughes.

Other examples of industrial heritage are still very much part of modern manufacturing sites.

At the Boots head office, in Nottingham, the company continues to maintain and use its 1930s factories, including the Grade I listed D10 building, built in 1932.

"It's still the main site for Boots' contract manufacturing," said company archivist Sophie Clapp.

Along the road from D10 is D31 - an amenities building dating from 1938 that formerly housed the staff canteen, classrooms and a gym.

"At that time the company was family-run and, like several other British companies of that period, it wanted to create a family atmosphere for its staff," said Mrs Clapp.

Although the building is presently not in use, staff still gather for lunch breaks on its manicured lawns.

"It's tricky, but the company continues to invest in its historical buildings," said Mrs Clapp.

"There is still an emotional connection there, but they are also impressive buildings which it is important to maintain."

Image copyright Historic England
Image caption Parts of the Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings have recently reopened

Often, according to Laura Alvarez, a lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, the decision on whether to save a piece of industrial heritage comes down to property prices and land value.

"It's as ruthless as that," she said.

However, occasionally, if somebody has a vision for a site and can attract funding, a whole area can be revitalised.

Currently in Shrewsbury Historic England is working to save an 18th Century flax mill and maltings, which closed in the mid-80s, in a £2.3m regeneration project.

A visitor centre has recently opened on the site and offices are planned for the main mill.

"If the flax mill had been in London or the South, it would have been developed years ago," said project director Tim Johnston.

"There is no doubt old industrial buildings convert very effectively but there can be real structural challenges."

"It's about having the right vision," said Miss Alvarez. "You need a vision for the site that is anchored by the heritage instead of just preserving the heritage."

For more on this subject watch Inside Out on BBC One East Midlands at 19:30 GMT on Monday 18 January and nationwide for 30 days thereafter on the iPlayer.

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