The Wonder of Britain: Our Industrial Story – ITV 1


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Last week’s episode, on great buildings of Britain, was good, but this was the episode I was waiting for. Industrial heritage gets me VERY excited :-). Seriously, it does. And Julia Bradbury’s choice of sites didn’t disappoint. First up, we had a few shots of Ironbridge. The last time I went there was on a university field trip, many moons ago! It wasn’t the world’s greatest field trip (we spent most of it in a rather boring village in Shropshire where there was nothing to do, and the weather was crap), but that bridge is well worth seeing – the ingenuity of the later Georgians and the Victorians never ceases to astound me. Then it was on to a coal mine – the National Coal Mining Museum in Wakefield, to be accurate. The Industrial Revolution was, as Julia pointed out, based on coal, and the conditions down the mines in those times, and even in modern times, took one hell of a lot of dealing with. I don’t know how people stood it.

And from coal to canals – another crucial aspect of the Industrial Revolution, and still important, especially here in the North of England. I was rather sorry that she didn’t show the Anderton Boat Lift, because my maternal grandparents lived near there :-). However, she did show the amazing Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Note to self – must go and see that again next time I go to Chirk Castle. I went a few years back, on the way home from Llangollen one August Bank Holiday. Absolutely amazing. How come something like that could be built 200 years ago, when these days the powers that be can’t even manage to fill in potholes on main roads?! Very, very impressive site.

Coal, canals … and then steam engines. I’m not familiar with the line that was shown, which is in Hampshire, but I’m very familiar with the wonderful East Lancs Railway, and I’ve been on a fair few other steam railway lines as well. People get so excited about steam trains! There are always big crowds to watch them go past, and everyone wants to go on the steam trains rather than the diesel trains. All right, these days they only tend to operate on “heritage” lines, but it’s great that that heritage is being preserved, because the role of steam trains in Britain’s industrial and social history’s hard to overestimate. Then from steam trains to steamships – the SS Great Britain, which now lives in Bristol. There’s a photo of me standing by it in about 1987, with ‘80s hair and wearing a ghastly yellow jumper … er, but that’s beside the point! The point is just how important steamships, like steam trains, were in their day. And, yes, let’s have a bit of jingoistic pride here – it was Britain which led the way!

And the cotton industry which led the way, of course. Eeh, I wrote something gloriously purple prose about the cotton industry in my university dissertation! I even included Senator Hammond’s “No, you dare not make war upon cotton. No power on earth dare make war upon cotton. Cotton is king,” quote … which was a bit unfortunate seeing as it was more about slavery in the Deep South than mills in Manchester, but anyway. Cotton was supposed to be the unstoppable force, the unstoppable industry, onwards and upwards! “The legend of Cottonia” – er, that was what I entitled one of my chapters. Cottonia being Lancashire, and Cottonopolis, of course, being Manchester. Except that Julia decided to show New Lanark. Yes, I know it’s a world heritage site, and I have nothing but admiration for Robert Owen, but still!

Oh well. It was very interesting. And the next bit did show Manchester. Over to the wonderful neo-Gothic civic buildings which the Victorians built – and, specifically, Manchester Town Hall. Gold star for choosing OUR town hall as your example, Julia! It’s just stunning. Not that I’m biased or anything, but it is. Real civic pride stuff. AND you can have afternoon tea there (although she didn’t mention that bit!).

The irony was, as she pointed out, that the majority of people were living in poverty whilst these grandiose buildings were being built. But times they were a-changing, and the growth of “the leisure industry” was an important part of late Victorian society. What’s the greatest symbol of this, as well as being yet another wonderful feat of Victorian engineering? Blackpool Tower, of course! I love Blackpool. Even if I’ve had a rotten week and am in a rotten mood, Blackpool will cheer me up – and that process starts when I get to the part of the M55 from which I can first glimpse the Tower. I love Blackpool Tower. It annoys me greatly that they’ve gone back to stopping you going to watch the dancing in the ballroom unless you pay. One of my ambitions in life is to dance in the Tower Ballroom, even though I am about as good at dancing as I am at sport, i.e. crap. However, I usually go into the Tower every time I’m in Blackpool even so, just to sit by the window for a bit, or have a cup of tea. I don’t usually think of it as a great feat of engineering, but it is. It really is.

And then the programme ended at … Bramall Lane. Home of Sheffield United, for those who don’t know. And once the home of Sheffield FC, the world’s first ever football club – formed in 1855, IIRC, although that wasn’t actually mentioned. And Sheffield’s Julia’s home territory. Manchester’s mine, and, wherever I go in the world, as soon as I mention the word “Manchester” then people will start talking about football. One of Britain’s greatest gifts to the world!

One of many. And a lot of them are to do with the Industrial Revolution. I said that industrial heritage got me VERY excited. See what I mean :-)?


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