Factories can be beautiful

PUBLISHED: 07:51 23 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:04 22 October 2010


East Anglia was never at the heart of the Industrial Revolution. But now a north European network is being set up that brings together the belching smokestacks and sweatshop factories with the small-scale sites that celebrate the cottage industries that were this region’s key contribution to the western world’s great leap forward. STEVE DOWNES reports.

East Anglia was never at the heart of the Industrial Revolution. But now a north European network is being set up that brings together the belching smokestacks and sweatshop factories with the small-scale sites that celebrate the cottage industries that were this region's key contribution to the western world's great leap forward. STEVE DOWNES reports.

History lessons did not do much for the image of the Industrial Revolution.

Towering chimneys spewing black, choking smoke over row upon row of overcrowded terraced houses that were breeding grounds for disease and despair.

But the passing of time has softened the view of a period which paved the way for all the mod-cons that we take for granted.

Now people are prepared to look more favourably at the factories which were the lifeblood of Europe's own great leap forward.

Some have even gone so far as to celebrate the sometimes-prosaic buildings that were once places of torture for overworked employees.

The machinery is salvaged, polished, cherished and kept in museums to maintain a link between the past and the future that it helped to produce.

That love of living history has reached its apogee with the recent formation of a network to link the museums and factories of northern Europe which celebrate the Industrial Revolution.

In the European Route of Industrial Heritage (ERIH), the coal museums of Wales and northern England rub shoulders with the Rhine shipyards of Germany and the textile museums of Holland.

Industry on a grand scale is celebrated - inviting enthusiasts to take themed trips to see how the region thundered forward from agrarian to industrial in the space of decades.

But space has been left for the smaller scale sites that remind us of industry's crucial contribution.

Denver Mill, the Time and Tide Museum at Yarmouth, North Norfolk Railway at Sheringham, Roots of Norfolk at Gressenhall, and Bridewell Industrial Collection in Norwich have joined the network.

The aim is to raise their profile, improve their facilities and increase the number of visitors seeing the small part they have played in some big societal changes.

ERIH is a partnership programme, led by the North Rhine and Westphalia Tourist Board in Cologne, Germany, and funded via the European Union's Interreg IIIB and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Essex County Council, the University of Manchester and Noord-Holland Province are among a host of partners in the multi-million pound project to develop the first network of industrial heritage.

The network includes a host of smaller routes and regional routes for areas of special interest.

Some of the quirkier examples already on the industrial heritage route are the Heineken Experience at a disused brewery in Amsterdam, and the Gasometer in Oberhausen, Germany, which belonged to the disused Good Hope steel mill and was saved from demolition before being opened as an unusual museum.

David Morgans, ERIH co-ordinator for the East of England, said: "It's a pilot scheme funded by the EU to generate more tourism.

"What we've focused on in the UK and north-west Europe is the great wealth of industrial heritage sites which have so far not received any official or unofficial support. They've been rather left on their own.

"We've looked at how we can bring these industrial heritage sites together as museums and other places that symbolise the story of the world around us."

He added: "We're looking at the period from 1750 to the present day.

"It's a mixture of attractions: some of which have tourist facilities and others which are under development.

"In Norfolk we've got a wide range. The Time and Tide Museum at Yarmouth was born out of local interest in the herring industry.

"By drawing people to the sites with infrastructure, we can point them in the direction of visiting other places that are not so well known."

The idea of a "route" conjures images of maps and arrows on the ground. But the real route lies on the internet, at, where people can devise their own tours of places that interest them.

The next stage, Mr Morgans explained, is less virtual and more complicated.

He said: "We've got a lot of disused railway lines which have been converted into cycle paths and long-distance walkways. The long-term idea is to link those with the museums so that there is a physical series of routes in place.

"For example, in Holt you've got a steam railway, and in Letheringsett there's a working flour mill. All over East Anglia there are wonderful examples of what individuals have done.

"There are some fantastic places out there, and we want to bring them to people's attention."

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