Past Talks

Industrial Archaeology

Date: 20th March 2006
Speaker: Philip Morris

The meeting was held at ‘The Pop-In’ Centre, Crown Walk, Bicester at 7:30 pm. There were 33 members present. Bob introduced the speaker, Philip Morris, who had developed an interest in industrial archaeology over many years and had recently set up an archaeological society in the Vale of the White Horse.

Philip began his illustrated talk by defining that industrial archaeology had begun studying the artefacts and objects associated with the Industrial Revolution. The discipline had moved on since that time to encompass a far wider spectrum. The term ‘industrial archaeology’ had been used since 1955.

At the finish of World War II there was a sense of optimism and increasing prosperity. New developments came at a price as examples of our industrial, cultural and historical heritage were in danger of being wiped away by new developments and regeneration. Increasing concern was expressed as industrial monuments and sites were laid waste. The WEA took an interest in the development of industrial archaeology and ran courses relating to the subject. Publishers, including David & Charles, began producing publications relating to industrial heritage in the mid 1960s. The Association of Industrial Archaeology encouraged enthusiasts to take photographs, record sites and measure relevant structures in order to maintain a record of their existence and purpose should they be destroyed. It was important to record the tools, trades and industrial methods before those who plied such skills were lost to us. There was much damage to valuable sites in the 1950s and 1960s as they were developed.


Philip went on to review examples of early industrial activities and processes. These included:

  • Breweries and malt houses eg. Morlands at Abingdon.
  • Weaving using spinning wheels, the spinning jenny and looms.
  • Tanning using water, hides, urine and oak bark important to the process.
  • Rope making utilising rope walks, local straw to plait ropes.
  • Windmills and watermills.
  • Engine houses for steam engines including Cornish mines for Newcomen engines.
  • Mining enterprises with specialist shovels, wheelbarrows etc.
  • Gunpowder testing with mortars.
  • Canal transport, narrow boats, locks and wharf side warehouses.
  • Wheelwrights and wagon builders.
  • Bridges including examples of clapper, pack horse and mediaeval structures.
  • Turnpike and toll roads.
  • Animal powered wheels and gins.
  • Saw pits.

The increased awareness of the historical importance of industrial archaeology and the development of heritage sites have led to the restoration of many sites eg Iron Bridge Gorge, Railway Centres etc. Canals have been refurbished to reflect the increase in leisure pursuits. The balance between conservation and development remains but there is now much more awareness of the importance of industrial archaeology and its influence in our past.

Philip answered a series of questions from those present. The Meeting closed at 8:54 pm.