The current state of industrial archaeology

One of the things that I have been very struck by in all the discussions surrounding the potential saving of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is how little currency industrial archaeology now seems to have in the politics of conservation. In the 1970s and 1980s, as Professor Toshio Kusamitsu made very clear in his submission to the Bell Foundry Inquiry, industrial archaeology was a very important movement, mirroring the collapse of industry and ensuring the survival of the major relics of industrial history, putting industrial history close to the centre of the way history was understood and interpreted, alongside the movement to write history from below, History Workshop, and new interpretations of the early stages of industrialisation; but I haven’t detected that anyone in Historic England is any longer much interested in this aspect of architectural heritage. At the Inquiry, I was struck by how totally uninterested Michael Dunn, the Principal Inspector of Historic Buildings, was in the bell foundry, giving a very deadpan rebuttal as to any reason why it might be remotely worth preserving. The London Advisory Committee should have intervened, but was encouraged not to. Is it because issues of gender and race have replaced an interest in work and labour ? Or is it because industrial history is treated as a northern concern, not relevant to London ?


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