Our Industrial Past Lies in Peril of Today; At-Risk Probe Shows Decline of North Sites

Article excerpt

Byline: Tony Henderson

MORE than 30 historic sites which helped make the North East an industrial powerhouse are now at risk, it is revealed today.

English Heritage released the findings of the largest research project into the condition of England's industrial heritage together with its annual Heritage at risk register. It reveals 12.2% of the North East's heritage at risk is industrial - proportionately the highest in the country. The regional findings were launched at one of the at risk sites - the Bowes Railway at Springwell.

The world's only working and best preserved rope-hauled railway, Bowes was built by George Stephenson in 1826 and transported coal from the Durham coalfields to the Tyne.

The site is owned by Sunderland and Gateshead councils and is leased to and run by the Bowes Railway Company, an independent charity which opens the Springwell part of the site to the public.

A scheduled monument containing a number of separately listed buildings, the site is vast to maintain and a target for vandals, but the determination of staff, volunteers and trustees has kept the site open against the odds.

Since 1992, English Heritage has offered just under pounds 328,0 to repair elements of the site and most recently it has offered grants towards urgent repairs to the huge Grade II-star listed wagon shop and to establish a business plan to secure the long term future of the site as a tourist attraction.

Graeme Miller, chairman of the Bowes Railway Board, said: "Bowes Railway is steeped in history and the museum is an incredibly important industrial site.

"We are extremely grateful for the support of English Heritage. Hopefully the launch of its Heritage at Risk Register can help increase people's awareness of the railway and how important it is to the North East."

John Kelly, Sunderland City Council portfolio holder for culture, said: "We are delighted that English Heritage has chosen to launch its Heritage at Risk Register at Bowes, and we feel this is testament to the site's importance.

"Bowes Railway is a fantastic historical monument to a bygone era and we are lucky to have it in the North East."

A poll of people in the North East also reveals how important the region's industrial heritage is to most of the population.

It found that 91% agree that it is important we value and appreciate industrial heritage, 77% agree that industrial heritage sites provide an important connection to the area's history and 85% agree that industrial heritage sites are important to pass down to future generations.

Carol Pyrah, North East planning director at English Heritage, said: "Britain led the way in global industrialisation and as a result we are custodians of the world's most important industrial heritage.

It is, however, one of the elements of our heritage most at risk.

"In particular, working sites such as Bowes are facing real challenges up and down the country.

"Many people, even locally, aren't aware that they have this internationally important industrial heritage right on their doorstep."

Industrial sites which have come off the at risk list in the last year include Shildon Engine House near Blanchland in Northumberland, one of the earliest steam engine houses in the North East and which was repaired last year with English Heritage grant aid. …