Interest for the Industrial heritage building stock was expressed for the first time in the UK much earlier than most of the European countries. In the late 1950’s, with the development of the research field of “industrial archaeology”, a new approach towards the remains of the past industrial activity was introduced. (Palmer et al., 2012, 2).
One of the early adapters of the discipline was the Council for British Archaeology (CBA), founded in 1944. The CBA played a decisive role in bringing the need for industrial heritage protection in the government’s attention. From 1959 to the mid-1960s, the CBA initiated a survey of industrial sites based entirely on volunteers. The venture took a more formal form in 1963 with the launch of the National Survey of Industrial Monuments, following the great loss of the Euston Arch. Its aim was the identification of potential industrial sites for preservation.
In the 1965, a central, classified record based on the CBA’s cards was created, forming the National Record of Industrial Monuments (NRIM)(English Heritage, 2011, 9). The survey of industrial sites continued in the following decade and was formally given the name Industrial Monuments Survey (IMS). Between 1963 and 1981, the IMS looked at more than 4.000 sites and proposed almost half of them for consideration for designation, recording or museum preservation. At the same period a similar survey was taking place in Scotland. In 1981, the IMS was transferred to the Royal Commission on the Historic Monuments of England while the NRIM, which by then contained c. 8000 entries, was absorbed into the National Monuments Record (Falconer, 2012, 32).
In this early formative period for the protection of industrial heritage in Britain, the growing public interest was manifested with the establishment of multiple local and national based groups of specialists and enthusiasts (Palmer et al., 2012, 4). The most important of those was the Association for Industrial Archaeology (AIA) formed in 1973. In 1976, the establishment of the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF), which offered financial aid through loans, facilitated the creation of numerous Building Preservation Trusts (BPTs): charities that played a decisive role in the conservation and reuse of the British Industrial Heritage in the decades that followed.
The 1960s and 1970s, besides the first attempts for surveying and protecting industrial heritage, saw the birth of the first projects of industrial heritage transformation mainly into industrial museums. The Ironbridge Gorge Museum, was a pioneer case that marked the beginning of industrial heritage reuse practice in the country. The Ironbridge Gorge Museum influenced key developments that shaped the care and study of industrial heritage on a global level. Among them the most important were the First International Congress on the Conservation of Industrial Monuments in 1973 which led to the establishment of TICCIH and the foundation of the Institute of Industrial Archaeology in 1978.
A major shift in the political scene of the country and the policies promoted by the newly elected conservative government largely influenced the fate of urban industrial brownfields across the UK in the 1980s. Notable transformations in urban dockland areas, industrial zones and city centres took place as a result of the establishment of the Urban Development Corporations (UDCs). Their aim was “to secure the regeneration of their areas…by bringing land and buildings into effective use” (Stratton, 2000, 20).
The 1980s, along with the action of the UDCs and the continuous efforts of the voluntary sector that was mainly focused on conversions to industrial museums, saw early examples of industrial heritage reuse by entrepreneurs and City Councils.
By the 1990s industrial heritage reuse had become common practice in the UK. Two important developments however boosted further the practice. On the one hand, the establishment of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in 1994 facilitated industrial heritage reuse by providing financial support to actors with restricted economic means. On the other hand, the creation of the charities ‘Regeneration through Heritage’ (RTH) and the ‘Phoenix Trust’ by HRH The Prince of Wales in 1996 offered both practical support and a hands-on approach, leading to the safeguarding and conversion of many industrial sites.
In the late 1990s, along with the action of the aforementioned stakeholders, special developers emerged in the UK, becoming synonymous with conversions of industrial sites into exciting mixed use and residential developments. Urban Splash’ work, including single site conversions in Manchester and Liverpool epitomises this new development approach (Falconer, 2009, 86). In the 1990s a number of public regeneration agencies was established as a result of the State’s policy with most important the ‘English Partnerships’ (1994) that was absorbed in 1998 by the ‘Regional Development Agencies’(RDAs).
In the period between 2000-2007 many industrial sites were converted across the UK including the legendary Lister mills in Bradford (Falconer, 2009, 86). At the same time many already reused sites were upgraded, such as the Ironbridge Gorge Museum in Shropshire and the Custard factory in Birmingham.
In 2008, after 15 years of economic growth, the British economy collapsed as a result of the global credit crush (Pettinger, 2019b). The following years of the recession saw a dramatic squeeze of the public sector’s stakeholders budget, a considerable reduction of front line of front line staff and a notable retraction of commercial developers, who turned to safer projects. This situation resulted in great losses of industrial sites and the decrease of relevant regeneration schemes, posing threats at the same time at the future of the converted sites owned or managed by the public or voluntary sector (Gould, 2015).
In the early 2010s, the British Heritage Agencies and the HLF took noteworthy initiatives, responding to the great challenges posed by the financial crisis to industrial heritage. In detail, in 2011 Historic Scotland created a dedicated Industrial Heritage team. Its main goals, which were both met with great success, were to prepare the nomination of the Forth Bridge for World Heritage listing and provide the Ministers with an Industrial Heritage Strategy (Historic Scotland, 2015). In the same year the management of the industrial heritage in England was taken forward as part of the National Heritage Protection Plan (NHPP)(English Heritage, 2013c). The ‘Industrial Heritage at Risk’ project (Gould, 2015) launched also in 2011 was a significant contribution of the Agency. Lastly, since 2013 the HLF along with the continuous support on people and communities launched the Programme “Heritage Enterprise” funding social enterprise-led projects (Heritage Lottery Fund, 2012).
After 2013, when the British economy showed the first signs of recovery, a growing number of industrial heritage reuse projects was delivered. Among those the cases of the Grade I Ditherington Flax Mill in Shrewsbury, Middleport pottery, CoRE in Stoke on Trent as well as the case of King’s Cross in London stand out.
• English Heritage 2011. Conservation Bulletin: Saving the Age of Industry. London.
• English Heritage 2013. National Heritage Protection Plan: Framework. English Heritage.
• Falconer, K. Sustainable Re-Use of Historic Industrial Sites - Revisited. In: ALBRECHT, H., KIERDORF, A. & TEMPEL, N., eds. Industrial heritage-Ecology &Economy 17th international TICCIH Congress 2009, 2009 Freiberg, Germany. 83-87.
• Falconer, K. 2012. From the Euston Arch to NHPP-half a century of official involvement in industrial heritage. A newsletter of Historic Environment Research: Research News, Number 17/18, 31-33.
• Gould, S. 2015. THE ROLT MEMORIAL LECTURE 2012: INDUSTRIAL HERITAGE AT RISK. Industrial Archaeology Review, 37, 73-92.
• Heritage Lottery Fund 2012. Heritage Lottery Fund Strategic Framework 2013-2018: A lasting difference for heritage and people.
• Historic Scotland. 2015. An Industrial Heritage Strategy for Scotland [Online]. Available: https://www.archaeologists.net/sites/default/files/IH_Strategy_2nd_draft.pdf [Accessed 2 November 2019].
• Palmer, M., Nevell, M. & Sissons, M. 2012. Industrial Archaeology: A handbook, York, Council for British Archaeology.
• Pettinger, T. 2019. The great recession 2008-13. Economics Help [Online]. Available from: https://www.economicshelp.org/blog/7501/economics/the-great-recession/ [Accessed 2 November 2019.
• Stratton, M. 2000. Industrial Buildings: Conservation and Regeneration, London, Taylor & Francis