Listing our industrial heritage
The Czech shoe
manufacturer Tomas
Bata chose the village
of East Tilbury as the
unlikely location for a
new industrial complex,
port and associated
garden village.
During the second world war, a friend who had lived
near the Essex coast all his life found himself in
Alexandria in Egypt. His homesickness was relieved
somewhat when, while wandering through its streets,
he came across a lamp-post stamped with ‘The
Maldon Ironworks’.
The concept of industrial heritage conjures images
such as cotton mills in Lancashire, Cornish tin mines
or Midland colliery buildings. But in late and post-
medieval England, East Anglia was a powerhouse of
small workshops, with craftsmen often working from
their homes. The late-medieval industrial boomtowns
included Lavenham and Hadleigh (weaving) and
Thaxted (cutlery).
In the 18th century, the availability of waterpower
and then coal hastened the shift of the country’s
industrial base away to the north and Midlands. The
new markets abroad encouraged mass production,
and the sheer scale of industrial processes brought
about huge mills and factories. Organised labour
lived in surrounding monocultural communities. In
the east and south certain industries collapsed almost
overnight. Colchester had about 1,600 cloth weavers in
1707, but a century later the figure is estimated at 150.
Workers were increasingly tempted to move north for
guaranteed wages and an assured future. Sometimes
the machinery from closed mills was sold to Yorkshire
In the Victorian period the region did not, as one
might have supposed, revert to being a completely
rural backwater. Certain industries, including brewing,
malting, tanning, and brick and tile manufacture, con-
tinued in much the same guise. Fulling mills turned to
corn milling. Other industries expanded. Certain types
of cloth, silk, horsehair, chemicals, iron founding and
engineering industries grew up from the remnants of
old cottage industry or as a result of new foundations.
Small ‘company’ towns like Mistley, where many of
Free’s maltings are now listed, or Leiston, home of the
listed Garrett’s Engineering Long Shop, are hardly on
a par with Middlesbrough or Leeds. But the company
towns were very significant to their locality, and leave
behind an important industrial legacy in terms of
layout, buildings and townscape.
Today, as the region braces itself to become yet again
a growth area, these assets can become an ingredient
in the new task of place-making. They frequently
exhibit many of the heritage values identified in
English Heritage’s Conservation Principles . They have
evidential value of past activities, and their siting can
C O N T E X T 1 1 2 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 0 9
tell us much about the evolution of a settlement and
local landforms. They contributed fundamentally to
the local economy. They have illustrative historical
value, especially when machinery, internal spaces and
external details survive.
Their associations with local families or craftsmen
have resonance. Their aesthetic value can range from
the adaptation of vernacular building techniques, to
polite architecture in brick, iron or glass. Architects
were involved in some of the best examples. They can
have communal value, having once provided social
cohesion – a place of work with associated leisure,
educational and housing facilities close by.
Frequently their size, scale and form add much to the
diversity of the otherwise low-rise, modest townscapes
in villages and smaller towns. They remind us that,
until quite recently, people worked as well as lived in
these places that are now dormitory settlements.
In East Anglia, the importance of industrial archae-
ology has not always been recognised. In the listed
building area re-surveys carried out in the 1970s and
80s, their contribution to the built heritage appears to
have sometimes been eclipsed by earlier, often more
dazzling structures. These included the preponderance
of medieval timber-framed buildings. Sometimes they
were saved in the nick of time by prompt action. In
1989, a building preservation notice was used to secure
the Cliff Quay Brewery in Ipswich with its intact
brewing equipment. However, listing assessors initially
rejected others like the maltings at The Walls in nearby
Manningtree, later described as the ‘earliest surviving
complex in the country’.
This has now been acknowledged in English
Heritage’s ‘Principles of Selection’, last revised in 2007,
which sets out the approaches to designating buildings.
The emphasis is on national significance. However,
the guide for industrial buildings recognises regional
factors. It aims to achieve a representative sample for
each sector of an industry in each region. It also seeks
the identification of regional specialisms, which will
often have strong claims to note on a national level.
This acknowledgement is welcome news. Prior to
2007, industrial buildings had been assessed largely
on architectural merit rather than the other values
mentioned above. Thematic surveys had highlighted
the importance of particular building types. But the
aspects such as the technical processes carried out,
structural innovations and the social contexts were not
given as much weight as today.
The loss of historic industrial buildings can seriously
impair the legibility of a place. In Essex, we have two
examples of medieval settlements transformed by
industrial expansion in the late 19th and early 20th
centuries. In Earls Colne the Atlas Works, developed
by Reuben Hunt from 1869 onwards, became the
economic heart of the village until its closure in 1988.
Hunt and his patronage also provided terraced houses,
managers’ villas, almshouses and a chapel.
All this sprang from the iron foundry itself. The
central white and red brick block of engineering
workshops was listed Grade II just before closure.
The workshops were converted to residential and
commercial uses, unfortunately retaining little of their
exteriors. They stand away from the historic core
of Earls Colne, but the complete loss of these and
their curtilage buildings would have been a serious
impediment to our understanding of the village as it
survives today.
On the Thames estuary, the straggling village of East
Tilbury was best known before 1932 for its riverside
fortifications and its potato cultivation. In that year,
the Czech shoe manufacture Tomas Bata chose this
unlikely location for a new industrial complex, port
and associated garden village. These were all to be built
in the modern style, based on the original Bata town-
ship at Zlin and replicated elsewhere overseas. Some of
the earliest of the mainly flat-roofed houses were listed
Grade II in 1993. Also listed in 1993 were the larger
factory blocks (No 13) designed by Frantizek Gahura.
Their reinforced concrete frame was modelled on the
Many of Free’s maltings
in the company town of
Mistley are now listed.
C O N T E X T 1 1 2 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 0 9
In Earls Colne the Atlas
Works became the economic
heart of the village until
its closure in 1988.
original Czech module infilled with steel fenestration
and brick. The listing of this representative part of
the shoe factory was significant. But a later extensive
English Heritage assessment revealed that the earliest
block (Building 12), erected in 1933, was unprotected.
This relatively unprepossessing single-storey struc-
ture turned out to be possibly the earliest surviving
example of a welded steel frame building extant in
Britain. The building, along with two further five-
storey concrete framed blocks, was listed Grade II in
2009. Their futures look promising, with proposals
for conversion to a mixed-use scheme at an advanced
stage. Certainly the prospect of Bataville without its
factory is hard to conceive.
Other industrial buildings form an important ele-
ment of the historic cores of some of our oldest settle-
ments. In Great Dunmow, the Boyes Croft Maltings
was listed Grade II* in 1971 and is now in community
use. It has a timber-framed main range with crown-post
roof that may have been erected for another use in the
early 16th century. The kiln, ovens and steeping tanks
were added, and the building modified, over the years.
The principle of change to industrial buildings is now
accepted in English Heritage’s ‘Principles of Selection’
as not necessarily precluding them from listing, but as
showing their state of almost continuous adaptation.
Indeed, in the heart of Ipswich, the Isaac Lord
complex (listed Grade II* as early as 1951) comprises
a range of buildings stretching back from Wherry
Quay. These include wool warehouses, maltings and
the owner’s house. It is most likely that a dock allowed
barges to unload within the site. The most recent
industrial use was a coal yard. Now a pub and other
commercial uses have taken over.
In contrast to these long periods of evolution, we
can now remember only the short life of the ill-fated
Gilbey gin distillery, offices and warehouse. These
were listed Grade II in 1993, as one of only 32 post-war
designations. Architect Peter Falconer designed the
striking white concrete and blue slate faced building
in 1962, on a greenfield site at Harlow in Essex. Just
over 30 years later, it was under threat of demolition to
make way for a Sainsbury’s supermarket. The architect
Terry Farrell had drawn up a scheme to preserve the
distillery, but Lord Sainsbury insisted on demolition.
In the end English Heritage did not oppose this.
Falconer was allegedly unconcerned, believing that the
proper life for an industrial building was 30 years.
It is fortunate that most people today disagree with
this dictum. But the road to recognition of significance,
protection from demolition or decay, and the securing
of a new use can still prove a long journey. It is fraught
with obstacles at each stage. As with many other
historic buildings, some are in the right place to attract
interest and long-term investment. One example of
this is the vast complex of maltings and granaries at
Snape, which now house a variety of uses, including
a world-famous concert hall. Other historic buildings,
such as the oldest hat factory in Luton (c1852, listed
1981), are still under threat from demolition.
The threat comes from the continuous pressure for
more retail space and high-density residential develop-
ment. This is despite the recession and, as nearby
factories in this rather undervalued town demonstrate,
the proven adaptability of many of our listed industrial
buildings that is one of their enduring attributes.
Michael Munt is
with English Heritage
in Cambridge.
C O N T E X T 1 1 2 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 0 9