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Posted: 22 Apr 2012, 07:20
by Stanley


I keep mentioning the Important Phone Call. You’ll be pleased to know that we’ve arrived at it at last! I was sat in King Street minding my own business one night in late October 1984 when the phone rang. The bloke on the phone was called Gavin Bone and he was the executive in charge of special projects for a company called Coates Brothers who manufactured high quality printing inks. They had bought a mill near Rochdale on junction 21 on the M62 at Newhey. The reason they had gone for the site was that in terms of transporting their products it was the best site in the North of England. They intended to demolish the mill and build a new factory which was to replace all of their small branches in the North. They had a problem, there was a steam engine in the mill and they wanted to know what, if anything, they could do with it. Could I meet him and a colleague at the mill to discuss the matter? The answer was yes and we set a date. I was interested because I knew the mill he was talking about, it was Ellenroad Spinning Mill and contained one of the most famous mill engines in Lancashire. It was the largest remaining textile mill engine in the world and was, to the best of my knowledge, still in working condition.

Over the next few months I pieced together the story of what had brought Gavin to the point where he picked up the phone and rang me. We have to go back a year and take note of a surprising connection but before I do that I’d like to do my thing about the Random Improbability Factor.

After almost 65 years of bouncing around in this world of ours I am convinced there is something in Chaos Theory. Further, it doesn’t only affect systems like the weather, it is at work in every sphere of life. Douglas Adams in his four part trilogy (Yes, that’s right, four parts) which is usually known as ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ posits a theory in the first book in which he says that there is a force at work in the universe which he calls ‘The Random Improbability Factor’. His theory is that there is a set of odds against any event in the universe happening. For instance, the chances of me being run down by a defective bus driven by a man called Fortescue must be extremely remote. If somebody had the resources and time they could put a figure on the odds. The actual odds don’t matter, we all know that such an event is possible. If it did happen, Adams’ theory says that for some reason the odds suddenly dropped from whatever to 1 to evens. He says that this happens because the Random Improbability Factor has come into play. We have all seen instances of this. In our lives the result is that by ‘chance’ or ‘luck’ extraordinary conjunctions sometimes happen and they almost always carry an opportunity. Whether we grasp the opportunity or not depends on us.

Back to how this all came about. Remember my mate Robert Aram, the collector of chimneys, mill dams and almost any industrial archaeological artefact? One of the ways Robert kept his finger on the pulse of what was available was to tread the ground. He used to allocate time each week to travelling round the region and visiting little known and out of the way sites. Of late he had got more time for this, he had taken my advice when I told him he had to make up his mind whether he was a property developer or a teacher. He couldn’t be both. He had given up teaching and was developing some of the sites he had bought to finance his lifestyle and his activities as the most active private collector of artefacts pertaining to the Industrial Revolution in Britain.

Sometime during 1983 he called in at Ellenroad. The mill had closed in 1982 and Robert knew it was empty but guarded by a local security firm. He had a cup of tea with the guard and during the course of the conversation the man said the mill contained 2,500,000 square feet of space. Robert told him he was wrong but the man insisted. He said he would bet Robert a tenner that he was right, Robert said “Righto!” and they went round to the side of the mill that faced the motorway and the guard directed Robert’s attention to the sign advertising the property for sale. Sure enough, the sign said 2,500,000 square feet! It was a signwriter’s mistake and should have been 250,000 square feet but Robert told the guard he was right and gave him a tenner! The guard was surprised, he had only been using a figure of speech. He took the tenner and when Robert gave him his card and asked him to remember his name if there was anything he should know, the guard took notice and pinned it on the wall in his cabin.

During 1984 Gavin Bone was a regular visitor to the site as Coates made up their mind whether to buy it or not. He was sat having a cup of tea with the security guard one day, this was of course the only place where this was possible on site, everything else was shut down, and voiced a problem he had out loud, “Where the hell do I find someone who knows about steam engines?” The guard pricked his ears up, grabbed Robert’s card off the wall and said to Gavin “Try him, he knows all about them.” Robert’s tenner was beginning to pay off!

Gavin rang Robert and asked him about the engine. Robert told him he had the wrong man and gave Gavin two names, one was John Robinson at the Science Museum and the other was me. Gavin rang John who told him the bloke he wanted was Stanley Graham. Gavin said “That’s funny, you’re the second person to tell me that this week!” So Gavin rang me and this whole connection fell into place. What happened next was up to me.

Bear in mind that at this point I knew nothing about the engine or Coates plans. I had heard about Ellenroad but had never seen it, I was always too busy with my own engine, going to see another would have been like a busman’s holiday! To this day people are always surprised by the fact that I have visited so few of the engines left in preservation. All I knew was that they were talking about demolishing the mill so I did no preparation as I had no facts to start from.

Years later I got an inkling, never voiced to me but there were clues along the way, that Coates had been offered a deal by Rochdale Council. The Council knew about the engine of course and it was seen as a liability. Heritage and the preservation movement had taken firm hold and Ellenroad was definitely a candidate for some sort of scheme. The problem was that it was so big that it frightened everyone to death. They all knew what should be done but nobody had actually addressed how to do it. When Coates bought the mill I think the Council saw a possible opportunity to get this problem off their backs and so they offered Coates a deal whereby if they could do something positive about the engine, the Council would back their application for a grant to build a new access road to the site from the main road. I heard seven figure sums being bandied about at one time. I have to stress that I have no direct evidence for this but it would certainly explain why Coates Brothers were so keen to do something.

Came the appointed day and I went to the mill and met Gavin Bone with his colleague Tony Welton. Gavin was good but Tony was really impressive, he was as sharp as a knife and every question he asked went straight to the point. He was definitely slit trench material in my book! At first the questioning was general and aimed at ascertaining just how much experience I had with these things. All this happened in the engine room and I can still remember being awe-struck when I walked in. It was dirty, rusty and there were pigeons flying in through the broken windows but even in this state it was magnificent. The flywheel was gigantic, I later found it weighed 85 tons and was 28 feet in diameter. The whole thing was awesome. They started to get to the point when Tony asked me if they could do anything with it. I asked them a question, ”What’s your core business?” When Tony said ink manufacturing I said “Here’s my first piece of advice and it’s free. You’re looking at £3,000,000 minimum here if you want it to run again. My advice is to scrap the bugger and get on with making ink. It’s not scheduled yet and I can get the lads in this weekend and we’ll shift it in a week.” They looked at each other and then Gavin said, “That may not be the preferred option. Assuming we gave you the job of saving it how would you go about it?”

This was the crunch point, I had to think on my feet and produce an answer. Straight off the top of my head I gave them the following plan. Even now I am amazed because in the end, with one exception and one hold-up, neither of which were foreseeable, it was exactly what we did. Tony Welton never forgot it and when he finished at Coates he said it was the one thing he always remembered about that first meeting, the fact that I got it right first time without any preparation. That has always pleased me.

“The first thing we have to do is to assess what we have, decide whether it can ever run again, steam it to make certain and then get out a costed plan of what actually has to be done to the buildings and the artefacts. Next we have to get the local council on board and involve them, we will need a steering committee in the first place and the seats should be equally divided between the council, Coates and English Heritage as major funders. Then we have to set up a charitable trust as a company limited by guarantee and sort out a management structure. Once we have these elements in place and ownership of the site settled we have to start a programme of works, all arms of which have to proceed in parallel. We make the place safe and secure, we re-furbish the whole of the machinery and the buildings, we form a Friends Organisation and train them to run the engine, we build an external facility which will hold all the services necessary to run the engine house as a visitor attraction and finally, we recognise that the engine house will always lose money and therefore eventually we need a facility which includes fifty bedrooms, and all the necessary facilities to hold weekend study conferences primarily aimed at steam technology but doing anything else which will bring money in and visitors to the site. This last can wait on the back burner until we have all the rest in place, however, we need to set up an interpretative team straight away to start to gather the materials we will need to interpret and teach on the site.”

Tony pulled me up at this point and I can remember that at the time we were in the old board room of the mill, “Correction Stanley, the study facility is, in the final analysis, the key to the whole operation. It goes on in parallel with the rest.” He was the only person apart from myself who ever saw the importance of that element. Apart from me nobody else ever mentioned it again.

They withdrew for a moment and then came back. “How much do you need to make this work?”. I said that before I answered that question I’d want a couple of months to assess the place, then I’d have enough information to give some concrete opinions and blue sky figures. They agreed to pay me while I assessed the project, we decided that this had to be done before the end of February 1985. They also asked for some references so I went home with a job and a lot to think about. I got on to my friends and asked them to put a word in, DJ, David Sekers, John Robinson and Robert, they all sent letters of recommendation to Coates and eventually Coates informed me that subject to the results of the assessment of the site they would like to have me on board. Yippee! I went home, rang Robert and had a good drink!

You may be puzzled as to why I advised scrapping the engine. Looking back, I am convinced that my mind was in overdrive that day, it was exactly the right thing to say at the time. I had been asked to go down to Ellenroad and advise them as to what they should do. In terms of their business, scrapping the engine was the most economical, effective and certain way of dealing with the problem. Remember that I didn’t know anything about possible linkages with the council at that time, all I knew was that we were looking at the biggest single heritage problem in Britain at the time. Therefore, my advice was sound and absolutely in line with what I had been asked. In addition, there’s nothing like disarming criticism! If the project was to go ahead, I wanted to be able to say to them at some time in the future when things got sticky, “Remember what I told you in the engine house?” The occasion did arise a couple of times and my reminding them of this was always a show stopper! In case you’re wondering what I would have done if they’d said yes, even I don’t know the answer to that one, I suspect I’d have gone into salesman mode and sold them the project. However, as you’ll see later, I was quite capable of scrapping artefacts as big as this but the Dee Mill saga belongs to a later chapter!

This is as good a place as any to divulge one of my favourite and most effective weapons in the constant fight to get my own way! The morning after my meeting with Coates at the mill I wrote both Tony and Gavin a letter. This was something I had learned from David Moore. When you have had a verbal exchange with some party, either a meeting, a telephone conversation or any circumstance in which the details of the transaction weren’t recorded at the time, send them one of these letters. You always start by thanking them for the time they gave to have the meeting or call, specify the date and time. The next paragraph always starts; ‘My understanding of what we agreed is……..’ Then give a list of points, you can cheat a bit here and insert anything you wanted or delete anything you didn’t like. Also you can word the description of the point to give it the emphasis you want. After the list the final paragraph always says; ‘If your understanding varies from my own, please let me know by return of post.’ What you have done is put the ball squarely in their court. You have told them exactly what you are going to do and unless they get their act together and write back immediately they haven’t got a leg to stand on in any dispute. The reason why so many people conduct important business by telephone is because they don’t want any evidence that can pin them down. Another point is that most people’s comprehension of the written word is so bad that they won’t recognise that what you are doing is modify the agreement to suit yourself and in any case, in nine cases out of ten a bureaucrat won’t bother to do anything other than acknowledge the letter. I promise you, this works like a charm. Another associated ploy is that whenever you have a telephone conversation, keep a file note of the time, date, person’s name and a brief account of what was said. This can be invaluable when the shit hits the fan.

Associated with this subject is the concept of the ‘Pearl Harbour File’. Susi told me about this one and it’s a cracker. Always keep copies of memoranda and letters in a personal file of your own. This is your property and you keep it at home. Always plan for worst case and if and when you need it, a PHF can be a killer! I have to admit I have been known to send memoranda with nothing but a PHF in mind. The technical term for this is ‘Covering Your Arse!’. Once again, people are idle and don’t read things. When the storm comes and someone denies having known something you just wave the piece of paper at them and they fall over.

Back to the job in hand. Winter was upon us and as I pondered about how to attack the assessment of Ellenroad I learned from Gavin that Coates had a serious deadline. In order to qualify for a large EEC grant, they had to have the factory built and producing by November 1985 so they had to start on the demolition. He asked me if I had any recommendation as to who to set on. I told him to speak to N&R at Portsmouth Mill, Todmorden and ask for Norman Sutcliffe. N&R had demolished Bancroft and I liked them. Like all demolition contractors they were a slippery lot but they had the tackle and did a good job. Gavin went off and did his homework and shortly afterwards told me he liked my choice, he had had a look at one or two firms but had settled on N&R who had agreed to do the job for a demolition credit of £51,000.

A word of explanation here. The demolition credit is the amount the contractor pays to the owner of the building for the privilege of knocking it down and becoming the owner of any plunder. The main source of income for N&R out of this job was any cut stone and metal they salvaged out of the structure. Gavin was pleased with the price he had negotiated but I told him to beware. I said that from my experience he had better regard this money as a short term loan from N&R because Norman was as cute as a barrow load of monkeys and would get it back out of him in extras. Gavin bridled a bit at this, he informed me that he was used to negotiating and there was no way he would allow Norman to get away with anything. I got the definite impression that he had under-estimated Norman and so left it at that!

I started the assessment in January 1985 and at about the same time N&R moved on to the site to demolish the mill. A lot of things happened at once here so I’ll split them up and tackle what I had to do as regards the engine house first. I should add that Coates asked me to act as their agent in the matter of the demolition and advise them as it went on so I was doing my own thing and liasing with N&R at the same time. This was a good thing as it gave me access to the N&R cabin for a warm and a brew whenever I wanted it. It also helped me to get a better idea of what demolition actually entailed which was an education.

The first decision I had to make was how much of the mill I would need to make a decent heritage attraction. I needed all the buildings containing the plant associated with the engine and space for car parking and any additional buildings we would need to make the place work. This meant I wanted the engine house, the boiler house, the rope race, the pump room, generator house and chimney. All these existed. In addition but not so obvious I needed control of the river, weir, cloughs and the tunnels and wells at the back of the engine house which carried the condenser water to the engine. I would also need space in the field outside for the additional buildings. These added up to a considerable piece of real estate and I began to get a feel for the size of the operation.

The first part of the assessment was to physically get myself into every nook and cranny of the complex and inspect them. The open spaces of the buildings gave little trouble, the problems arose with everything above and below ground. I remembered that Peter Tatham, Robert’s steeplejack, lived half a mile up the road in Milnrow at Tim’s Terrace. I went up and had a word with him and told him I wanted Ellenroad chimney laddering and inspecting. He was pleased because when he first started as an apprentice with his grandfather, Ellenroad had been one of their regular contracts and they only lost it when Firs, a Manchester firm, put in a lower price. Peter also laddered the inside of the rope race so I could get access to the roof space above the engine house. This doesn’t sound too big a job but it involved a straight climb of about sixty feet up the inside of the race to gain access to a small door in the gable of the engine house itself.

While Peter was doing this I started with the underground elements. I lifted the manholes on the three wells at the back of the house. The wells were ten feet in diameter and about twenty feet deep and full of water. I persuaded the fire brigade to come to Ellenroad for a practice and after we shut the clough, they pumped the system dry and sent a rescue man down with me while I crawled through the system to inspect it. At one point they got a bit paranoid and dragged me out but I persuaded them to let me finish. Looking back, they were right, it was dodgy but I think they were impressed. Whenever I went back to them for help they always came and did whatever I wanted for nothing, it was always booked down as training I think!

The next element was the flues. I gained access under the boiler and inspected the settings then I went into the main flue between the boiler and the chimney. What a mess I found. The maintenance had obviously been neglected during the latter days of the mill running. They had stopped using the remaining Lancashire boiler and had installed a small package boiler for heating which had been run on forced draught. The effect of this was that there had been a heavy carry over of partially unburned coal into the main flue and it was full to within eighteen inches of the top. We are talking about a six feet square section flue running right across the back of the existing boiler and down the side of the engine house, under the access passage and on to the chimney base. Looking back I was crazy to go in there alone, the only precaution I took was to let Norman know I was going in and get him to come and give me a shout every hour to make sure I was still alive! I crawled all the way over the dust to the chimney base and came to the conclusion the whole flue had to be rebuilt together with the boiler settings.

There remained one other trip underground into the pipe tracks which carried the intake and outlet pipes from the condenser to the wells. This started in the cellar and was a horrible, restricted seventy five yard crawl through a wet tunnel. I didn’t enjoy this bit at all but got it done and was relieved to find there were no obvious problems. Later on I had to go in here again to install some pipes for the cooling system in the new factory. They needed a cold water supply and the river was the obvious place to borrow it from. The original plan was to dig a trench down the back of the engine house but I pointed out that there was no need for this as there was a pipe duct already in place. The only problem was that the contractors wouldn’t use the existing duct, they said there wasn’t enough room. I told Gavin to leave it to me and I put the pipes in one weekend ready for when the contractors started on the Monday morning. I didn’t do this to be clever, the last thing I wanted was to go down that hole again but doing it gave me brownie points with Coates and I needed them onside.

By this time Peter had laddered the chimney and the rope race so I climbed both and we had a good inspection. The most enjoyable part was the chimney, I am scared of heights but if you want to see the top you’ve got to go up the ladder. There is a tremendous sense of elation when you’ve conquered a fear like that and gained your goal. There’s nothing like the view from the top of a 220 feet high chimney and surprisingly enough, the gentle sway of the head in the wind can be quite relaxing. A lot of people can’t believe this, but chimneys are never absolutely stationary. They always transmit vibrations in the ground and magnify them and in any wind at all will sway appreciably. This feels worse than it is because it is so unexpected.

I had to sit down then and write the report. On the whole it was good, as far as I could see there was little wrong with the boiler and engine and no irreparable faults in the rest of the structure. The chimney needed the drum on top replacing which had been removed by Firs some time in the 50’s and there were a lot of general repairs and replacements needed but the bottom line was that there was no obvious catastrophic damage which would preclude putting the engine back in steam. My blue sky figure of £3million hadn’t changed. I fired all this lot off at Gavin and informed him verbally that I intended to run the engine but he had never heard me say this as strictly speaking, it was illegal. I also neglected to inform him of the fact that if anything went seriously wrong Coates would be liable! It seemed best to keep this bit of information to myself..

You’ll have to forgive me if I go on a bit here but I am going to deal with one of the high points of my career as an engineer. What I was proposing to do was to run the biggest textile mill engine in the world for the first time since 1974 with no insurance and several serious faults in the system. I didn’t do it lightly, I knew the risks but I also recognised that nothing would enthuse Coates more than seeing the engine in steam. Besides, I had the biggest Meccano set in the world to play with and I wasn’t going to pass this chance up!

I had an engine connected to a boiler and about ten tons of coal in the bunker. What I didn’t have was a feed pump that would work against pressure because of a frost damaged main. I also had no electricity supply. I started by giving the engine a thorough oiling and injecting a mixture of diesel and oil into all the cylinders to soak into the rust and the rings. I kept on doing this for a week until I was sure I had got as much lubrication into the bores and moving parts as I could. Then I took the lid off the boiler and put about 3,000 gallons of water in with a fire hose. When I had it full to the top I put the lid back on and fired up. As soon as I had steam I got the big Weir steam pump in the pump house going and tested the feed line. As I suspected it was cracked by frost and this meant we couldn’t put any water in while there was pressure on the boiler. I went home that night leaving a crack of steam going into the engine to warm it through. I had already warned Newton Pickles and the next day in February 1985 he and I went to Ellenroad and had a real play out!

While Newton did last minute oiling, essential because we had hardly any lubricators on the engine and would need all the initial lubrication we could get, I fired the boiler until we had 140psi on the clock. I should say at this point that there was an additional problem with the engine as in its last year of running, the right hand connecting rod had been removed and the engine was run on the left hand side only. We had no knowledge of how well the connecting rod had been re-installed. The parts of the engine are so large that you couldn’t just go and shake a bearing to see how much play there was in it, I had inspected it and as far as I could see it was safe enough to run. We would know more about it when we got it moving.

We had reached the point where we had to go for it. We couldn’t put any more water in the boiler and so had to gauge the fires against the water level. We locked the engine house door, Newton took station next to the valve gear and held the steam valve on the cylinder wide open and I opened the 18” stop valve. Nothing happened. There were surprisingly few leaks but even so, the engine house started to fill with steam. My heart was dropping into my boots when there was a grunt from the engine and Newton shouted “It’s away, the seal has broken!” He meant the grip of the rusty piston rings on the cylinder bores had been overcome by the pressure. By this time I couldn’t see anything at all because of the steam, I was blind and running on sound alone. I heard a groaning noise as the pistons scraped their way through ten tears accumulated muck and rust in the bores on the first stroke and then there was a tremendous shudder ran through the air. “What the hell was that?” I shouted, I was really worried. “Thar’t all reight, it was only the pigeon shit falling off the top of the flywheel!” shouted Newton. There was some thumping from the bearings but the engine started to gather speed, I cut back on the steam in case the governor didn’t get hold but it was OK. As we got up to about 50 rpm the governor took hold and the engine settled down to a noisy but relatively steady running speed. The only draw back, but this was temporary, was the foul smell from the cellar as the four air pumps delivered thousands of gallons of stagnant water into the drain back to the river.

As the seals established themselves the fog started to clear and we saw a glorious sight, the Ellenroad Engine in full flow for the first time in ten years! It was a wonderful moment but we didn’t have a lot of time to appreciate it because we had to start running round pouring oil into the bearings. It was a wonderful quarter of an hour, the engine was badly out of adjustment both in terms of the valves and the bearings but was running and as far as we could see there was nothing fundamentally wrong with it. We decided we had pushed our luck far enough and Newton went to shut the steam off. I told him I wanted to do an experiment as he shut down, I wanted to block the governor open and see how much effect the vacuum had after the steam was turned off. I jammed a brush head under the governor rod and Newton shut the valve down. The engine didn’t slow, it started to speed up and the brush head was stuck fast under the rod. It was getting really serious before it eventually began to slow down. Newton and I agreed afterwards that it must have been doing near enough a hundred revs a minute, far faster than it had ever run in its life before. This was very dangerous as the main danger with these engines is that overspeed increases the tension in the castings of the flywheel so much that they break and the wheel explodes. We got away with it but I made a mental note to do something about it.

This all sounds dangerous, and you’re right, it was. What has to be recognised is that we were in unknown territory here. Nobody had ever run the Ellenroad Engine at full speed with no load, not even ropes on the wheel. Even with the low pressure we were using we were dealing with tremendous forces and we had to know how the engine would react, especially if someone made a mistake. Neither Newton or I ever imagined that there was enough vacuum in the condensers to make it pick its feet up like it did, it surprised even us, but we had to find out and what I did was the only way to do it. I remember reading a memoir by a very famous American engineer and builder of steam engines in the 19th. century, Charles T Porter. In it he said that the faster you run an engine the less movement there is in any loose bearings. He demonstrated this by deliberately slackening bearings off and running his engines at high speed to demonstrate how quietly and well the bearings ran. I never quite believed this until we ran Ellenroad that day at 100rpm. I can assure you it ran like silk even though there was a quarter of an inch of play in the right hand cross head and crank brass! Porter knew his stuff but how else would we have found out?

Eventually, 300 tons of iron came to a stand still and we brewed up, had a pipe and did the inquest. The first thing I asked Newton was why he didn’t run when it overspeeded. “I was waiting on thee!” he said. Now that really is slit trench material! We both agreed that it had run a bloody sight better at 100rpm than 50 because the bearings hadn’t time to knock but we weren’t going to try it again! All told we were like a couple of dogs with two tails apiece. We had reason to be because we’d just made history and proved that the Ellenroad Engine, though it might need some TLC, was a runner! Now we knew we had an engine, we agreed to run it again for Coates. I arranged it with Gavin and he and a few others turned up the following week and we ran one more time in semi-public just to whet their appetites. I think that if any encouragement was needed, this steaming did the trick. None of them had seen anything like it before and they were all suitably awe-struck. Newton and I passed among them in nonchalant manner as if this was something we did every day of the week!

The second time we ran was less eventful of course because we had no dramas on starting or stopping. We ran it for about half and hour this time and almost put a polish on the rods. There was however, one thing different. When we came to light the boiler the day before, the chimney wouldn’t draw. In other words, there wasn’t enough natural draught on the flue to get hot gas drawn into the chimney and gain artificial draught due to the difference in temperature between the flue gasses in the chimney and the exterior air. Actually this isn’t quite accurate. The draught on a flue is the product of the difference in weight of the column of gas in the stack and the air outside. This difference in weight because the flue gas is hot reduces the atmospheric pressure in the furnace below the ambient pressure and it is this difference that drives air in to the furnace and supports combustion. The flue is under a disadvantage when you first start up with coal because the black smoke, loaded with carbon particles because of incomplete combustion, is heavier than clean air and so as it fills the stack you have to have quite a differential to get it lifted to the top. It worsens as the smoke cools in the cold stack. Even the forced draught fans won’t lift it and so extraordinary measures have to be taken. In Newton’s words, “You have to larn the chimbley to smook!”

To do this we opened a door in the main flue at the back of where the old economisers used to be and built a wood fire in there to further raise the temperature of the gas. After a few minutes you could feel the air being drawn into the chimney and the wood started to roar as it burned. At this point we shut the door, and shovelled some more coal in, we were away. Another point to mention is that at this time we didn’t have any automatic stokers, we had to fire by hand direct into the furnaces.

A couple of days after we had steamed the second time I was up on the chimney and there was a strong smell of sulphur. I asked Peter about it and he said he had noticed it since the second firing. We went down and opened the flue door and had a peep in, the whole of the flue was on fire, we had set fire to the flue dust which was actually partially burned coal. We shut the door and left it to it. There was nothing we could do, it wouldn’t do any harm and in the event it did a good job because it burned for three months and kept the flue dry all winter. It also reduced the level of dust in the flue to about a foot of proper flue dust on the floor. This was the industrial equivalent of mother sweeling the flue at Norris Avenue in my childhood!

While we are talking about flues I’d like to recount one incident that happened much later when I was running the engine each weekend for the public. We started doing this as soon as we had a viable engine, properly insured and this was before I had trained the volunteers so I ran the engine every weekend by myself for 18 months. I got it to a fine art and knew that if I got to Ellenroad at about four o’clock in the morning I could fire up, warm the engine and be ready to run at ten o’clock. It may sound strange but I often used to think as I drove over to Ellenroad first thing in the morning that it was nice to unique. I was the only man in the whole world setting off to run a 3,000 hp engine on my own. There must be thousands of people who would have given their eye teeth to be doing this.

On the particular morning this incident I want to describe happened it was very cold and foggy. I lit the fires as usual but had no draught and the products of combustion were blown back by the fans on the stokers into the boiler house. I knew I had to shut the stokers off and open the flue door at the bottom of the chimney in order to light a fire at the chimney base to get the column of air moving in the stack. There was no wind and when I opened the flue door the smoke fell out of the chimney and gathered in the yard like a big black pool! I’ve seen smoke fall from the top of the chimney down to the ground in similar conditions but I’d never seen it as bad as this. It intrigued me and I tried an experiment. I lit a piece of oil soaked rag and threw it into the smoke just to see what happened. There was no danger of explosion because it wasn’t confined. The rag was extinguished immediately it hit the smoke, there was no oxygen at all in the mixture.

Curiosity satisfied I waited until the smoke had run away along the ground and the chimney base was clear and then I hung an old raincoat soaked in diesel in the flue entrance, lit it and waited for a minute. It soon started to pull and was roaring away. I went into the boiler house, turned the stokers on and then went outside and shut the flue door. That did the trick and the draught soon built up to normal as the hot flue gases warmed the flue. The point about this story is that it shouldn’t have happened because a flue doesn’t normally lose it’s draught in a week, it takes much longer than that. In this case, I reckon it was my fault because I’d started a green fire on coal too soon, I should have burned wood or very small quantities of coal to keep the smoke down on starting. However, I was in a hurry and careless and what I’d done was try to get the chimney to lift heavy smoke, heavy enough to overcome the draught and literally choke the flue. I’d never seen this before and it just goes to show that we can always learn from our mistakes.

By the time this incident happened we had completely renewed the brickwork settings and flues round the boiler. I had taken the opportunity to put some of my own ideas into effect while we had it down and did things like incorporate sliding expansion joints in the side walls. Ten years later there is no sign of movement in these walls and I have never seen a boiler setting side wall that didn’t move when built in the conventional way. Another thing we did was pay particular attention to the sizing of the side flues. I made them as narrow as I possibly could and paid a lot of attention to sealing them against leakage. All this showed up when we first fired the boiler. We raised steam from cold to working pressure with only 30cwt of coal. I’ve never seen it done with less than four to five tons before. One reason for this that I worked out later was that because we had such a large chimney for a single boiler we had plenty of draught with the side flue dampers only open about four inches. Normally, with a cold boiler and flue the dampers have to be wide open to give enough draught to get a good fire going. If you think about it, the hottest, and therefore the most useful, gas is in the tops of the side flues. When the dampers are wide open this is all going to warm the flue. At Ellenroad with the dampers almost closed we were only allowing gas from the bottom of the flue to escape up the chimney, this was cold in comparison with the gas higher up and so the boiler ran more efficiently. None of the formulae in the old reference books take account of this and I really do think we discovered something significant about flueing a Lancashire boiler by these modifications at Ellenroad. That’s prime source industrial archaeology for you but unfortunately, by the time I worked it out the industry was dead!

While Gavin and his superiors at Coates digested my report they asked me to carry on working with Norman on the demolition of the mill. It was to be early in March before I got my next grilling about the engine so I’ll describe what Norman as up to. We have to talk about demolition and associated matters.


Everybody, at some time or another, has seen men at work tearing a building down. The classic TV image of this is either the steel ball hitting the wall, the precisely shaped charges bringing down the redundant block of flats or the chimney slowly falling to the ground and breaking to pieces. These are spectacular images but very little to do with the day to day work of the demolition contractor. Ask most people what their definition of demolition is and they will say wrecking buildings, mine would be re-cycling the materials the building is constructed from. This definition states precisely what the contractor is doing and this is where he makes his money. Properly treated, there is a market, or at least a use, for everything in the building. We shall deal with the stages of demolishing Ellenroad Mill.

The first thing to be placed on site is the cabin, hook it up to water, electricity and sewage and you have the nerve centre ready to operate. You also have the place where you can get warm and brew up. A demolition site in February is one of the coldest places on earth.

The first people into the building are Norman’s sub-contractors, men who specialised in one particular aspect of the salvage of the mill. One gang will be lifting any clean flags, i.e. not oil soaked, and carefully loading them up and taking them away, these are more valuable than the scrap metal. Another lot will be lifting the maple floors and stripping out any other useful wood. A man who specialises in wiring and fittings will remove everything electrical which is useful, light and power fittings, switchboxes and motors. When all this is out of a floor Norman’s men move in and smash all the glass to discourage vagrants and encourage ventilation. At this stage Norman has a quick inspection and his men remove anything else of value like heavy copper cables, loose artefacts and furniture. I got him to save some of the fine woodwork and etched glass panels out of the board room. When all this is completed Norman moves in with a big tracked back hoe with a bucket on and demolishes all the exterior buildings around the mill.

Once these are down and everything is cleared away, he has access to the main structure all round and this is the point where he usually moved in with the crane with a 120ft jib and a thirty hundredweight steel ball on the end of the cable. This is used to smash the building down until all that is left is a pile of rubble. I had an amusing conversation with Norman one day when I asked him what happened if he took a swing at something and missed. Norman gravely informed me that if you got your ball wrapped round your jib it was a very serious matter! More tracked back hoes with buckets move into this heap of rubble and start to process the wreckage, removing all the cast iron pillars and steel girders. These are transported away to the scrap metal merchants and weighed in. This metal is the biggest return Norman will get and he has to be able to estimate what weight there is in a building very accurately in order to price a job. The rubble that was left was dumped in nearby land fill but nowadays things have changed, the tax on landfill is so high that it pays the contractor to import a large portable crusher and convert the irregular lumps of rubble into graded hard core which can be sold or used on site.

Norman told me that N&R were the first firm in the Manchester area to use back hoes to process buildings like this. Previously, the way metal was removed was to fasten a wire or a chain on to each piece and drag them out of the rubble. The back hoes were a far better tool but of course needed a greater investment. I never tired of watching John, one of Norman’s drivers, using the enormous Liebherr back hoe to extract girders, lay them on the ground, straighten them roughly by leaning on them with the bucket and then picking them up like straws and placing them in the trailers that took them to the scrap yard. I once asked John how accurate he was with the bucket and he drove a six inch nail into a timber with it! This bucket was big enough to hold a car! The power of the machines was awesome, N&R had a metal shear for the Liebherr and it could cut a girder eighteen inches deep just as easily as you or I could cut a thread with a pair of scissors.

In the case of Ellenroad there was another process to complete before Norman could move in with the ball. Part of the contract was that he had to demolish the mill in such a way that he didn’t damage the parts of the building we wanted to save. This was a major complication because, apart from the chimney, they were all integral with the main body of the mill. This was to be where the demolition credit evaporated away. Norman and I developed a strategy to deal with the problem. We decided that he would physically cut the connections between the main mill and the parts we wanted to save before dropping the mill with the ball. This was easier said than done as the integrity of the main structure depended in part on the integrity of the whole. We couldn’t just cut everything away, we had to leave enough connections to preserve the safety of the whole structure without risking damage to the parts we wanted to keep when the rest was dropped. This meant cutting down through the mill at all the points where the heritage part and the redundant structures met and cutting all the girder connections except for about an inch of the bottom web of each girder. Norman reckoned this would hold the main mill against wind stress but would tear when the girder was shifted during the demolition. In the event he was right. Remember that during all this there was a deadline in that the mill had to be dropped and the site cleared by March to give the building contractors a chance of getting the factory built in time for the November deadline.

The work went on in all weathers and thanks to Norman’s wonderful skill, he achieved his goal of dropping the mill without damaging the heritage bits. We reached a stage in late February where he had cleared the whole of the site and the rope race stood there like a playing card on end at the back of the engine house, gently swaying in the wind. That was my problem, the rope race was particularly valuable to us because it was the finest example left in England. Unfortunately the builders had never envisaged it standing on its own, it was designed as an integral part of the mill and the walls were only two bricks thick. It stood a hundred feet tall, sixty feet in depth and only fourteen feet wide. As the wind blew from the south west on the huge expanse of brick it swayed gently. I told Norman to get his crane up to it and I asked him to tap the wall with the steel ball. He did so and a ripple ran up the brickwork to the top and then down again to the bottom. A couple of loose bricks fell off and I lit my pipe and had a ponder. I was on top of the water tower at the time and Norman came up to me. “What are we going to do?” I had made my decision so I told him I didn’t know what he was going to do but I was going to the pub at Newhey to have a pint of Guinness and a beef sandwich. “When I come back I want that thing gone!”. Norman nodded, I went to the pub and half an hour later when I came back we hadn’t got a rope race.

I’d seen this coming and had plenty of time to think about it. My reasoning was that the only way we could make the rope race safe was to corset it in scaffolding. I reckoned we were looking at £350,000 to do this and stabilise the structure. This would have ripped the heart out of the project because we hadn’t any major funders at that point and what would any funder’s attitude be anyway to an emergency call for that amount of money. It wasn’t on and it had to go. In preparation I had got Norman to move the big alternator out of the bottom of the race before it became unsafe. I had done the best I could but we had lost one of the glories of the site. Apart from the physical space, we lost all the countershafts and the magnificent cast iron staircase that zigzagged up the back wall from the cellar to the roof. Nobody questioned the decision at any time. I think they were all glad they hadn’t had to make it. It was necessary but I was sad to have to do it.

With the rope race sorted, clearing of the site went on apace and Norman finished on time. I think Coates finished up owing him £5,000 so I was right about the short-term loan! Gavin was pissed off but even he appreciated watching a master at work. The strange thing about all this was that Norman was almost illiterate and innumerate. He could keep records in his own way but nobody else could read them. I went into the site hut one morning and he was sat there with the Financial Times. After a while I asked him whether he was checking on his shares and he said “No, I’m looking to see what news there is of the state of the St Lawrence Seaway.” Intrigued, I asked him why. He explained that he had a contract with Shepherds the scrap metal merchants to deliver 1,500 tons of metal at a certain price. After that he went on to market price. At the moment the market price was higher than the contract price so as soon as he filled the contract he went on to a better rate. However, he knew that there was a lot of scrap waiting on the shores of the Great Lakes and as soon as the ice melted in the St Lawrence and this metal moved on to the market, the price would fall. His strategy was to get on as fast as he could with sending the scrap in but keep an eye on the St Lawrence so he got notice of any change! Note, this was a man who, to all intents and purposes, couldn’t read or write!

There were a few funny stories during the demolition, once again, indulge me while I tell one or two of them. We had almost cleared the site and the only thing left standing was the southern toilet block which looked very forlorn particularly as it was emulating the leaning tower at Pisa, it was gradually moving out of plumb to the south! This was because now we had taken the weight of the mill off the site the ground was readjusting to the change in load and was rising slightly like a shallow dome where the mill used to be. The 90 feet high tower was on the outside edge and was being pushed over slowly. The reason why Norman had left it was because there was no plunder in it, it would all have to go down the tip. The Safety Officer from the building contractor turned up one day and noticed the lean. For some contractual reason he was in charge of safety on the site but had had the good sense to keep away while we were dropping the building. He now saw an opportunity to assert his authority and declared a no go zone around the offending object, nobody had to go within 150 ft of it. Norman nodded but said that gave him a problem, his jib was only 120 ft. so how was he to knock it down, throw bricks at it? The Safety man said that wasn’t his problem and left. I asked Norman what he was going to do, Norman winked and said “Knock the bugger down of course, we’ll tell him it fell over!” Twenty minutes later the tower had gone. Blokes like Norman are worth their weight in gold. I know we have to have regulations but a bit of flexibility and common sense could keep you on track when all the regulations were against you. He knew it and so did I, it was reprehensible acts like this that made the difference between success and failure.

Norman usually had a simple solution to most problems. When we first started on the mill some concerned passer-by got the RSPCA to call in to enquire about the welfare of the kestrels who were nesting behind the brick facia on the east end of the mill. Now I’m all in favour of being kind to animals but this was getting things out of proportion. Gavin thought so as well when he heard about it, he had a November deadline in mind. Apart from anything else it was far too early in the year for them to be laying eggs. I don’t know what Norman did but I noticed that shortly afterwards the kestrels had flit and were nesting on the top of the chimney! They moved from there when we started on the head and I don’t know where they finished up. I can’t remember whether it was at Ellenroad but I seem to remember a similar incident when a Robin nested in the jib of the crane. Norman reckoned that it didn’t mind the crane being used and carried on. He swore blind that it hatched its eggs but I have my doubts!

There was another small problem at the rear of the mill which reared its head after the main contract had finished. N&R had another contract to clear and fence the land at the back of the mill and raise a bund to give privacy and cut down on noise. The Ellenroad Company owned the land but over the years several home owners had encroached on it by building illegal garages. The Mill Company had informed them they would allow the encroachment but had taken steps to ensure that they could gain no rights in law so the garages had to go. All the owners agreed except one right under the back boundary wall of the mill. He was obdurate, it was his garage and he wasn’t going to shift it. Norman took all the necessary steps to warn him and give him notice to move his stuff but he was a stubborn man and held his ground.

The morning of VE Day 1985 dawned and an N&R low loader drew on the site carrying a Sherman Tank! Norman drove it off the trailer and approached the offending garage. By this time a small crowd had gathered and the man who owned the garage had come out to defend his property. Norman popped up through the turret of the tank and shouted at him, “Do you know what day it is?” No reply. “This is the fortieth anniversary of the surrender of the German forces in Europe. Do you know how we beat them?” Still no reply, “By a pincer movement! Look behind you!” The bloke looked round and saw the bucket of the new Liebherr back hoe descending on the roof of his garage. It crushed it completely and the poor bloke, defeated, slunk off into the house. I asked Norman why he had done it and he told me that apart from the crack he was going to a rally that weekend with his tank, he collected military vehicles as a hobby, and this was a good chance to try it out. Incidentally it also drew the man’s attention away from the garage so he couldn’t do anything stupid like take up residence. There was method in Norman’s madness. Norman had another hobby, he bred Pekinese dogs and a more surreal site than an eighteen stone demolition contractor cuddling a Pekinese I have yet to see!

As you are probably beginning to realise, I had a lot of time for Norman Sutcliffe. He was a hard man to work for and cut a lot of corners but he was nothing if not able and I can always give a bloke space for that. He was also a great man for ‘The Crack’. No, we’re not talking about class A drugs here, we’re talking about humour, practical jokes and all the things that make a hard job pass a bit more comfortably. That’s right, you’re going to get a few Norman stories! All of them have one thing in common, there’s a strand of humour running through them somewhere. If there’s one thing that I miss in our modern world it’s the capacity of people to have a laugh, most people are so busy rushing round trying to make money that they’ve lost the capacity to extract humour out of everyday life. I’m not talking about leisure and entertainment here, but the humour of the work place. People like Norman, and others you’ll meet later on, had the gift of seeing the funny side even under very stressful conditions. Some manufactured the humour themselves.

Norman and his men were working on a small contract in the Todmorden Valley and they were having a bit of trouble with a bloke who insisted on parking his car in front of his house every day even though it was in the way of the wagons getting into Norman’s site. He kept asking him to move it but in the end decided to do something about it. The lads put some slings round the wheels of the car and Norman lifted it with the crane up on to ledge on the hillside where there were some allotments. Later that day the bloke went for his car and it didn’t take him long to realise not only that it wasn’t where he had parked it but that there was only one way it could have got where it was now. He went to Norman and complained bitterly but Norman told him he’d put it there out of harms way and he’d lift it down for him each night. They put it in front of his house for him later and the bloke never parked it in the way again.

Norman had a bloke called Jim Barnes who used to do a lot of work with him. Jim lived with Sue, his wife, up at Crey Farm in Whitworth. The first time I ever saw Sue she was putting a new engine in Jim’s Bedford truck! Some woman! Jim was working for Norman down on a site they had cleared in Rawtenstall. They had almost finished and Jim was doing some final clearing up. Norman told him he had to go off for the rest of the day but a bloke would be coming down to have a look at a portable conveyor that was on the site. Norman said that the bloke would buy it and he wanted £750 for it. “Don’t let him take it until he’s given you a cheque!” and off he went. A while later, this bloke turned up and had a look at the elevator. “How much does Norman want for it?” Jim told him seven and a half. The bloke had another look, said it was OK and went off for his wagon to tow the conveyor away. When he came back he gave Jim the cheque which he stuffed in his shirt pocket while he helped hitch the conveyor up. After they had gone it dawned on Jim that he’d never looked at the cheque so he got it out of his pocket and got the shock of his life. It was made out for £7,500! Seven and a half isn’t accurate enough if you are buying something off someone like N&R! Norman never even gave Jim the price of a drink but he told me the tale afterwards because he thought it was funny.

The best laugh of the lot with Norman was when he died. It happened suddenly while he was demolishing a mill in Rochdale and we all gathered in Cliviger for the funeral. The church was packed, all the usual suspects were there. Just before the service started a coach turned up and about thirty Asians came into the church. The only seats left were in the choir stalls and so they all filed in there. I’ve never seen Asians at a funeral before and it says something about Norman that they turned up. We had the wake in the pub across the road from the church and it was the best blow-out I’ve ever seen. As one bloke said to me, there was only one thing wrong, Norman should have been there. I made a mental note to have my wake before I die. It’s a lot more fun that way!

One celebration Norman did attend was my 50th. birthday party at Overdale. I remember him going into the corner with Janet and getting her to write something in the birthday book they were making up for me because ‘he had left his glasses at home.’ I told Janet why he had done it afterwards and she said she thought it might be something like that. Someone came in during the party and asked who owned the Mercedes parked outside. It wasn’t that it was in the way, they had never seen a two door Mercedes with the 600 engine in it before. Trust Norman to have something different!

By this time, at Ellenroad, the contractors were on the site surveying. I went and had a word with them and asked how accurate their survey was. The bloke showed me their modern equipment and told me they didn’t expect more than a 5mm. error. I said that in that case they’d better check their levels carefully just before the building started because the ground was rising and their levels would be all to cock in a week. They did a check and found I was right, Gavin said I’d earned my wage just with that alone, he and Coates were pleased. Where the mill had been was a plain expanse of concrete, this was originally the cellar floor. I pointed out to Gavin that each pillar base was ten feet square and went down fifteen feet into the ground. They had better mark them before they levelled the site and route any pipe tracks or drains between them. Once again, I got brownie points. Gavin said I had saved them about £7,500.

As we’re talking about demolition I want a quick word now about chimney felling. Ellenroad chimney wasn’t to be felled of course but in the normal demolition job, they have to be dealt with. Chimneys are only felled when there is room to do it safely. In many cases, such as Swabs at Middleton which was right next to the main road, they have to be dropped brick by brick and this is very expensive. Felling is much cheaper and is always done wherever possible. There are three main ways of felling a chimney. Peter Tatham’s preferred method on a secure site was to mark the centre line on the line where he wanted the chimney to fall, mark a point to each side that he thought they could cut to without the chimney toppling and then start to cut the brickwork out each side, propping with light props where necessary to stop the brickwork above the cut forming an invert and falling on the workers and then cut away until the chimney became unstable. At this point it will start to rock in the wind and a crack will open up at the back. A small piece of wood is inserted in the crack and cutting re-commenced. A man stands at the back watching the tell-tale and as soon as it starts to move, blows a whistle and everyone gets out of the way. The chimney falls and the job is done. This is a lot safer than it sounds if done by skilled men as the stack moves very slowly at first. The only drawback to it is that you can’t forecast accurately when the stack will fall.

Another method, favoured by Fred Dibnah, the TV steeplejack, is to cut away the bricks but fill the gap with heavy wooden props wedged firmly into place. When the crack opens at the back you carry on cutting until you are sure you are past the point of no return. At this point you stop and build a fire against the wooden props. The natural draught on the chimney turns this into a blow torch and drags all the flame on to the props and up the flue. After a short time they are so weakened that the chimney falls. With luck, you can predict the timing of this fall reasonably accurately and so it is a good thing if you are a showman. The problem that can arise is that if you haven’t cut enough out the stack won’t fall. When Ronny Goggins dropped Jubilee mill chimney he made an error and the fire burned out but the chimney didn’t fall. Very embarrassing. They had to wait for the wind to change and that brought it down. The thing that caused this was that the firebrick liner was in a lot better condition than anybody thought and was taking the weight.

The last and most certain method is to drill the base, insert charges and blow the bottom out of the structure. In skilled hands this is the most controllable method of all but great care has to be taken to get the right weight of charge in the right place. Dee Mill chimney was dropped by Mervin Simpson from Heywood very neatly by this method but when the same method was used by another contractor on the redundant cooling towers at Halifax Power Station around this time he got it wrong and all he did was make them ten feet shorter and very unstable. N&R were called in to clear this one up!

I photographed many chimney fellings both for myself and the DOE. One of these was by Fred Dibnah at Moss Mill in Rochdale. I was seen on the programme as I did the pictures of Fred going about his business for the DOE. Years later in Dordrecht in Holland, a friend of mine and myself went to buy a birdcage in an antique shop and the lady said “I have seen you on television!” I told her she was mistaken but she described the chimney coming down and I realised she must have seen the Fred Dibnah programme!

By the end of March construction was in full swing on the site at Ellenroad building the new factory. I was needed occasionally for esoteric questions about the drainage etc. but otherwise I was able to attend to the Engine House. There was one matter which straddled the two really. I found out who had the plans of the coal mines in the area and got them for the site. The whole of the ground under the surrounding area and the large motorway junction was riddled with mine workings at a depth of about 500 ft. These were full of water and indeed, were used by the local water authority as a supply of drinking water. However, under the mill buildings themselves there was a solid pillar of coal left untouched. We weren’t going to suffer from subsidence even if everybody else did!

By March 1985 my report was with Coates and they were about to give me their decision. I had been told unofficially that they wanted me to go ahead. It was time to stop goofing about. I had to get down to actually making Ellenroad happen. This process started when I had a visitor on site one day, a man called John Youngman, Chairman of Coates Brothers and husband of Phyllida who was a major stockholder in the company. John was, to say the least, impressive. He had the same effect on me as my headmaster at Stockport Grammar School. He’ll laugh if he reads this but it’s true. He asked me a direct question, “How much will it cost to support you and your work for a year?” I did a quick sum, these buggers never gave you time to think! £50,000. There was a short silence and then John said “Right, get on with it. Sort the details out with Gavin.” That was it, I had the project, a year’s funding and a clean slate. Double Yippee!

This was the point where the real learning curve started. I had never done anything on this scale before and there was so much I didn’t know. However, I had a certain amount of common sense and was never afraid of saying “I don’t know.” or asking for help. Gavin had taken note of my original plan and we soon had a Steering Committee set up with equal representation from the Council, Coates and the Funders, in this case, English Heritage. The chair of the Steering Committee was John Pierce, the Planning Officer. He was later to become Chief Executive of the Council and proved to be a rock. John believed in Ellenroad from the start and, once we had the initial funding, if there was any one input which made the difference between success and failure, it was his. He never ever let me down, always gave good advice and we are still firm friends.

I’m not going to try to tell the story of the project in detail, it would take far longer than we have time for. I’ll just lay out the major steps and tell a few of the stories that cropped up along the way. Assume for the purposes of this narrative that for the first twelve months I was flying blind and it was only good friends, good luck and wall of death management that saved me. To my credit, I had got the structure of the project right in the first place and never deviated from that in the next eight years.

Before I start I want to give my view of how it all happened in the first place. I was never told but I am sure that I wasn’t the first to have a look at the possibility of saving Ellenroad and doing something with it. It was too big not to have been the subject of discussion. I think that the size of it had put everybody off and that unofficially the view was that it was Mission Impossible. Then, suddenly, this bloke crawls out of the woodwork, has the confidence of Coates, a track record in the field and wants to take on the whole thing at virtually no cost to the Council. I should imagine the attitude was “What have we got to lose?” I was given my head and found my feet before the Trust did. Because of this lead, I had enough sense to lay down the principle that there cannot be ultimate responsibility without absolute power. I demanded both and it was in everybody’s interest to give it to me. I even had an imprest account, topped up every month and I could spend £500 without reference to anyone. All I had to do was account for the spending at the end of every month. I never abused this privilege and there was never a single question about any expenditure by this route. I have always said that nobody ever again will have so much autonomy and actual spending power when dealing with a project like this. I was very lucky and they got a good result.

Another power I had which was very useful was ‘virement’, this is a legal term which has roots in Norman French and what it means is the ability to swap funds from one account heading to another. This is the single most important power that someone in my position could have had. I will admit now that some of the funding moved about the accounts so quickly that only I knew exactly what was allocated where. I can assure everyone that I never overstepped the line but will admit there were times when I was tempted and got very close to impropriety. The protection here, for me as well as for the Trust was the annual audit by KPMG, one of the best accountancy firms available. I had insisted we have someone of this calibre even though they were so expensive. Apart from anything else it gave funders added confidence when they saw who was doing our books. You would be amazed at how long it took to get it through to some of the directors that we needed a top class firm of accountants, not some half qualified clerk in a back street in Milnrow!

I can’t say what the first thing I did was because there were so many things going on at once so what follows will be simply a list. I got English Heritage on board and started the process of actually Scheduling the Engine House as an Ancient Monument. This gave it a legal status which aided protection but more importantly opened up areas of possible funding both governmental and private. I talked to department in the council, Community Projects, which managed Manpower Services schemes in the borough. I started to look for an architect. I drew up a Memorandum and Articles of Association for the trust, I based this on my experiences at Pendle Heritage, there was no way I was going to tie a noose for my own neck! I also had to start planning three years ahead because until I had projects and costs I couldn’t raise funds and I needed to get on with this so as to have funding in place at the end of the year when the initial Coates funding finished. In short, there was a mountain of work to do.

Getting a relationship going with English Heritage was the first thing as I needed to get funding in place for major repairs like making the engine house secure and waterproof. The first expenditure from this source was an asbestos clearance carried out by N&R. What was at one time seen as cheap and effective insulating material was now regarded, quite rightly, as a deadly poison and the engine house was full of it. N&R undertook to clear it all out before we put any workers in there. I got a Manpower Services scheme in place which gave me forty workers, two foremen and a manager. There was supporting funding for materials and tools with this so we could start doing work straight away. The first manager was Peter Cunningham and I remember when he first came to the site to look at the size of the rabbit. We walked round and I showed him some of the jobs we had to do and he went quieter and quieter. We got into the site hut and brewed up and I asked him what he thought. He told me it frightened him to death! I agreed with him and said I felt the same but if we just started and quietly nibbled our way into the cheese there wasn’t anything we couldn’t do. If it got beyond the skills available we would have to get contractors in. He cheered up a bit, set to and was a good man for me until he moved on to another job and Graham Riley took over.

Finding an architect proved to be a bit more difficult, I was pointed at a couple of candidates one local and one from Preston but wasn’t impressed. Then, by chance I heard about a firm called Cooper and Jackson. I can’t remember how this came about but somebody did me a good turn. I made an appointment, went to see a bloke called Peter Dawson and all my problems were solved. In terms of individual contribution, Peter Dawson was the best man we had on the construction side. He did his job well and in all the time we worked together and all the contracts we set on there wasn’t one mistake. Needless to say, I am still talking to Peter ten years later!

I got my version of the legal side of the trust together and dropped it in the lap of the deputy Town Clerk, David Shipp who was a lawyer. He sorted out my legalese and approved the Articles of Agreement. We decided on a panel of members and set up the Trust to replace the Steering Committee. Then I had to apply for charitable status and I remember being pleasantly surprised how easy it was.

Six months in we had a site which was well-organised, humming with activity and beginning to take shape. I had a local builder re-roofing the place, temporary closures in the windows and a scheme of work in place to keep us going for several years. The site was clear of asbestos. As Ellenroad got going so did Coates. They got the factory built and hit their target of production by November so there was great rejoicing all round. At this point I started to hear ugly rumours about John Youngman’s position as regards the funding for the first year. The story I heard was that he had agreed to the funding unilaterally, this was a public company remember, and every time the matter was raised by the board he claimed ‘Chairman’s Folly’ and refused to discuss it until there was news to report. Gavin told me that the best possible outcome would be if we could come up with the funding to buy the lease on the engine house before the Annual Meeting. I forget all the details but we were talking a lot of money, anyway, I found it and on the day when everyone expected the shit to hit the fan John stood up and announced that there was a problem with the engine house at Ellenroad. Gavin tells me that it was a fairly dramatic moment as John had his critics. John announced that the company auditors had advised him that unless they made an immediate donation of £10,000 to the Trust, Coates would have to pay tax on the capital gains from the sale of the lease of the engine house. The donation was voted through and John came out as clean as a whistle!

This would be round about March 1986. A lot of these dates will be approximate because all the documents dealing with this period are in the files of Ellenroad so I have to rely on memory. Standing back and making an assessment from the vantage point of 1999 I can truthfully say that I am amazed how well I did. As father said, there’s a providence looks after drunken men and idiots. It was working full time then and doing a bloody good job.

I think that we have the major side issues out of the way now. We are at March 1986, the Trust has been formed and is about to achieve Charitable Status. I’ve started the funding drive and we have an MSC team working on the site and actually getting things done. I’m travelling to Rochdale almost every day and working in the evenings on the paperwork. Life is very full and rewarding and I’m learning so much so fast that it’s hard to believe from this point in time that I could have taken it all in. I was doing all right, but there was still a lot to learn!



I’ve decided that the only way I shall make any sense out of Ellenroad, and keep this narrative to a reasonable length, is to describe what we did there into broad themes and allow the chronology to overlap. I’ll try to keep this section to the mechanical elements of the puzzle I was faced with. Other matters will creep in of course and I might even dredge up the odd story or two!

If you were to ask most enthusiasts what the most important element of Ellenroad was I suppose they would say the engine. This is as good a place as any to nail my colours to the mast. I am not a steam enthusiast and if you want to insult me, keep calling me one, I guarantee you will get a reaction. This is not to say that I hate them, this would be equally unacceptable to me. I suppose the best way to describe my feelings about engines is that I respect them as machines and understand what their significance is. When I look at Ellenroad engine I don’t just see 300 tons of iron skilfully shaped into a functioning machine, I look down a vista in time, opened up by the engine and populated by all the people who used its power to build their world. In this view, the little spinner on the top floor working to build up her bottom drawer before marriage is just as important as Emanuel Clegg, one of the original investors in the mill. My reason for saving Ellenroad was that we needed to make sure that the opportunity to understand that vista was preserved for those who could see it. Having made that decision, the only way to use the engine is to blow people’s minds and in order to do that it needs to be running in steam. I made this very clear to the Directors as soon as the Trust was formed. I told them that my mission was to do just that and anything else I did at Ellenroad was a bonus.

The basic elements of the mechanicals at Ellenroad were the boiler, the engine and the ancillary plant.

The boiler was basically in as good condition as when it was installed in 1919 when the engine was upgraded to a double tandem and the power raised from 1800hp to 2,500hp. The boiler had to be stripped to its shell and all the fittings refurbished. The settings were in poor condition so we had to jack the boiler up and support it and then remove all the brickwork from around and underneath it and replace the lot. Just at this time MacAlpines, the big road contractors had a contract to install a fourth lane on the M62 up to Rockingstones. They needed a base camp for the works and I persuaded Coates to let me allow them to use the field in between the engine house and the motorway. In payment, they supplied all the refractory brick [not firebrick, Class1 refractory bricks, very important as they were a far better brick, accurately sized and this meant we didn’t need thick bedding joints. The settings at Ellenroad are top class now] we needed and allowed us to clear the site after they had finished. I got enough reinforcing bar to do all the foundations for the new back wall of the engine house when we came to do it and literally tons of assorted timber, site huts, bricks and mesh reinforcement. There were enough refractory bricks to repair the main flue as well. The MSC team did all the work except for the refurb of the boiler fittings, I did those myself in my workshop in the garage at Addingham.

When we took over the boiler was fitted with Bennis shovel stokers which were obsolete both in terms of spares and combustion efficiency. Funnily enough this gave us a useful lever with Bennis Combustion because there was still one set of these stokers running in Ireland. They had destroyed all the patterns and when the Irish company wanted spares, Bennis sent a fitter over to Ellenroad who removed the part they needed to supply and took it back so that they could make a pattern off it. When they had done they returned our part. This meant that when we needed to install new stokers, Bennis did it for nothing and saved us thousands of pounds.

The only way we could get away with the smoke regulations and fire economically was to fit under fired stokers. This was a problem until I heard that Oldham Royal Hospital was to be demolished. I had a word with the area engineer and in return for some help with labour the Health Authority gave us permission to gut the boiler house and take anything we wanted. I put a gang in there and we took everything except the boilers, the building and the asbestos! This provided our stokers and all the pumps and other spares we needed. Installation was no problem as I have said already, Bennis moved in and installed them for nothing.

When we rebuilt the wall which framed the front of the boilers I got Norman Sutcliffe to give us the front five feet of a boiler he was scrapping at Jubilee Mill in Padiham. He transported it across free and we installed it in the new front wall we had built and from the front it looked like another Lancashire boiler. We shifted the old Bennis shovel stokers on to the front of this dummy boiler so that people could see how it looked originally. From the back, visitors could see inside the dummy and appreciate how boilers were constructed.

We installed completely new electric feed pumps backed up by a Weir steam pump, installed a feed water tank and re-piped the whole of the water and steam mains all the way to the engine including new control valves and safety arrangements. The boiler was fitted with full automatic controls which governed feed water, firing, steam pressure and all modern safety measures to shut the plant down in case of any dangerous circumstances. We left the original feed water arrangements in place in the pump house so that we could use these as a separate exhibit.

The final stage of the work on the boiler was to have it insured. We went back to the original insurers National Vulcan and their surveyor Allan Roberts kept an eye on our progress throughout the re-seating of the boiler. He was an ex-marine engineer and was completely at home with riveted vessels and the plant at Ellenroad. When we eventually finished the work he supervised the hydraulic testing of the boiler during which we filled it completely with water and pressurised it to 150% of its designed working pressure plus ten pounds, a total pressure of 280psi. We then steamed the boiler for him and demonstrated that all the safety measures were in order. We set the safety valve to blow at 60psi as I calculated that was all the pressure we would ever need to run the engine. The boiler and its associated plant passed all the tests and was fully insured for its original working pressure when new.

There was very little needed doing to the engine itself. There were only four bearing brasses missing and Newton made these for us and fitted them. All the brass lubricators were still on the engine apart from the two largest which fed oil to the crank pins. These and the banjo oilers that carried the oil to the cranks while the engine was running were missing. I refurbished all the lubricators, including the Kirkham’s high pressure cylinder lubricators and whilst visiting John Kirkham in Bolton I asked him whether he had any patterns for large lubricators. He had so I asked him to do three sets of castings for us. A few weeks later, when they were ready for collection I asked if he could make them up for us but he said that all his brass-turners who had the necessary skills had retired so Newton and I decided to make one apiece to save time. We each made one and I remember we kept track of the hours we spent, Newton did his in 22 hours and mine took 26. I reckoned up the present day cost of making these and it was in the order of £800 for each lubricator if all the current prices had been paid and a profit put on them. As it was, I paid Newton a nominal sum, I did mine for nothing and John sold us the castings at cost. I suppose the cost of the two was below £150.

The only other items that were missing were the name plates off the engine. There was a mystery about these because there were two conflicting reports of the names. One report said “Victoria” and “Albert”, but the original report of the engine first starting in 1892 said “Victoria “ and “Alexandra”. After a bit of investigation I found where one of the original plates was, it had been stolen and the only way I could get a look at it was to promise I would keep my mouth shut. My main interest was to get the dimensions and design of the plates right, I wasn’t really bothered about recovering one worn plate and anyway, it was in a surprising place and there was the potential for a lot of embarrassment if knowledge of where it was had become public. I took the original to a pattern maker in Keighley and he made two patterns, one for Victoria and the other for Alexandra. I got the plates cast at Naylors in Pitt Street at Keighley who did all my small casting jobs but who have since gone the way of most of these small firms. I finished them at home and fitted them to the engine and everyone agreed that even though it was a small task, it was a giant leap forward in terms of the looks of the engine.

[Added August 7th 2005: The old chestnut about the names of the engines cropped up again. Here’s what I told the Trust.   The engines were christened with the names they have now.  There is a report of the naming ceremony.  Despite this, I still got flak about the names.  I first knew the truth when I heard that an old mate of mine in Rochdale knew where the original plate was.  It had been stolen and he wouldn't tell me where it was but went and borrowed it for me.  Later, when I had more time I researched it properly and found a report in the McNaught archive on job number 873 dated Jan 1st 1891 which was the original specification for the engine.  The description is annotated with the following;  "Engines run on May 9th 1892"  "Name plates Victoria and Alexandra.  Christened May 21st 1892". There were still people who didn't believe it, evidently there are some about now.  They have seen one piece of evidence and ignore everything else.  If they were to use their heads they would realise that Albert was dead in 1892 but Victoria was still alive.  Alexandra was the next queen, so it was named for the present and future queen.]

 The biggest task was cleaning the engine. We set a gang of lads on to this and for two years we had an average of four men a day working full time on this. They did a wonderful job without using any harsh abrasives and by the time we came to run even the old engineer couldn’t have found much fault. All we did to the pilot engine in the generating house at this point was clean it up.

I was very conscious that the engine was potentially very dangerous even at the reduced pressures we would be using. The attitude of almost all the official bodies was that the way to make the engines safer was to run them at reduced speed but I never agreed to this. Apart from the logic of the matter there is nothing looks worse than an engine labouring at half speed when what you really want to show the clients is it running exactly how it did when it was powering the mill. I have argued this case with every engine I have ever refurbished and have always ended up running at the correct speed. The reason for this is that when the logic is explained properly to the authorities governing the decision like the insurance company and the Health and Safety Executive, they will always agree.

My case was that the original engineers had picked what they regarded as the optimum safe speed for the design of the engine and who were we to argue. It got slightly more technical than that, I had to demonstrate that if you did two curves on a graph, one for the torque going into the crank and one for the centrifugal force in the flywheel the point where they crossed was near enough to the original running speed. In other words, this was the point where the engine was under least stress. It took a bit of salesmanship but the case was good and the authorities agreed. Where I went further than any regulatory requirements at Ellenroad was that I persuaded a firm who specialised in computerised controls to design a system for the Ellenroad Engines that monitored the key parameters constantly while the engine was running and if any slipped outside acceptable values, shut the engine down and broke the vacuum. All this was installed and only needed commissioning but I could never get the funding to complete it. Eight years later as I write this the present management still sits on a state of the art system and hasn’t done anything about it.

Part of the safety installation was a modern stop valve in the new steam main to the engine. I made a temporary stanchion and valve handle in order to get us going but always intended making a proper one as soon as I could get the castings. I looked for these for about three years and was always on the look out for something I could use that would be in keeping with the rest of the engine. I was in Naylor’s yard at Keighley one day when I noticed something in the scrap pile of the engineering shop next door. It was a casting for a valve wheel stanchion that was exactly right for Ellenroad. I got some odd castings made for the small parts and took great pleasure in making a handwheel and valve stanchion that was a perfect match for the engine house.

The only other big problem was the fact that the Health and Safety wanted the engine fencing completely so that the public couldn’t touch it. This looked like a big and expensive problem but in the end the solution was suggested by Peter Dawson and was surprisingly simple and efficient. We bought the same type of railing which is used to stop pedestrians crossing the road, installed it and painted it black and then got Boholt Fine Joinery from Oldham to come in and cap it with a magnificent mahogany banister rail. I was surprised then and still am how unobtrusive this is.

The water resource, the weir and cloughs behind the engine house, was in basically good condition but overgrown. I had a word with the North West Water at Warrington and persuaded them that it would be a good flood prevention measure to clean out the River Beal at this point. They agreed, sent in a dragline and a gang of men and cleaned up the river for us. We put an MSC gang on to revetting the banks around the cloughs and weir and finished up with a very tidy and functional water resource.

Finally, we replaced the alternator in the bottom of what was left of the rope race ready for coupling it up to the engine if this was ever needed.

I suppose heating comes under the mechanicals. There isn’t usually any heating in an engine house because when the engine is in steam it provides all the heat that is needed. What we wanted to do was provide frost protection for the building and plant. I got a heating engineer in and all sorts of expensive solutions were mooted and costed. In the end I realise we had to do something imaginative so I went out and bought a 3KW electric fan heater, mounted it in the cellar, wired it to the mains and we simply switched it on in September and left it running until March! It did all we wanted and frost was never a problem.


The structures associated with the engine were the most expensive items in the whole of the refurbishment. Starting with the roof and working down we re-slated the whole roof, lifted the copings and replaced them on a waterproof membrane. The boiler house roof was more complicated. We dismantled the existing wrought iron and glass skylights and completely rebuilt them, MSC labour did all this. The roof itself was stripped and the asphalt covering completely replaced by a contractor.

The whole of the building was pointed, all new window frames and glass fitted and the structure injected to guard against dry and wet rot. The roof space over the engine house was cleaned out and all timbers affected by rot replaced then the whole was treated chemically against any recurrence.

The back wall of the rope race was completely missing after the demolition and the engine house open to the weather. Initially we installed a temporary closure of plastic corrugated sheeting but eventually bricked the whole of the rear of the engine house to tidy up the demolition scars and render it weatherproof. This wall was sixty feet high and a massive job.

There’s a story connected with the wall. I always tried to use local firms and in this case we set a local builder, Fred Baumer on to do the wall. We left him alone and let him do it at his own pace and eventually we had a good wall. Ten years later, my daughter in Perth, Western Australia was supervising the building of three houses on a piece of land she and her husband had bought in Scarborough Beach. She was talking to her bricklayer one day and he said “Do you come from Barrowford?” Surprised, Janet said “No, but you’re close, it’s Barnoldswick actually.” He said “That’s funny, I used to know a bloke from Barnoldswick, he gave me and my dad the job of building a wall sixty feet high.” Janet said “That would be at Ellenroad.” The brickie was amazed and asked her how she knew, “It was my dad!” The Random Improbability Factor had struck again! The brickie was Fred Baumer’s son Harold who had migrated to Australia.

We replaced all five of the steel roller shutters on the boiler house and installed a new main door into the engine house passage. Inside the boiler house we replaced all the foundations under the cast iron pillars supporting the roof and put three new pillars in to replace some which had been original steel girders but which had corroded. In the engine house cellar we cleared all the rubbish out and replaced any brickwork that had deteriorated. In the course of this we found a void in the foundations that when we cleared it out, made a large and very useful store room.

The site of the old economisers was a mess and it was while I was inspecting this area one day in 1986 I made a very expensive discovery, one of the lads had moved a lot of rubbish in an area under the stone steps up to the engine house and he came to me to ask me to have a look at what he had uncovered. It was solid asbestos and I had no option but to withdraw all the labour, get the Environmental Health in and have tests done. The result was a disaster, they found asbestos in several areas and it became obvious that the original clearance had been botched and we had to do the whole exercise over again. I got some prices and then arranged a meeting with our major funders, English Heritage. I was going to leave funding until later but we should address what happened here because apart from anything else, it’s a good story!

In Summer 1986, Gavin Bone and I went into the meeting with English Heritage with a few problems, the biggest of which was the asbestos. Funding negotiations like this are usually very difficult, there is nothing funders hate more than expensive surprises. We started our list of requirements and after a while I asked if we could adjourn for a smoke for a minute or two. I got Gavin outside and told him that I smelt a rat. The coded signals I was getting from English Heritage were that no reasonable request would be refused. We decided to put it to the test and went back in and asked for a decision to fund in principle on a whole raft of measures. EH agreed to it all and in addition, said they would fund the asbestos removal 85% which was unheard of. Eventually, after the English Heritage people had gone, Gavin and I sat down together and tried to work out what had happened. We failed, all we knew was that we had got everything we asked for and a brown paper bag to take it away in.

Years later I worked out a possible reason for what had happened. Evidently when the old London County Council, presided over by Ken Livingstone, was disbanded, the residual body found when they took over that many of the computer files were corrupted. One of the effects of this was that they weren’t able to proceed with claims for funding against English Heritage for conservation projects under their control in London. This meant that EH had a shortfall in their spending and rather than allow this to revert to the Treasury they decided to make the money available to projects already under way in the country at large. The problem here was that it takes a long time to plan, cost and negotiate funding so EH were looking to bring forward schemes already in place. Gavin and I were in the right place at the right time and Ellenroad got the benefit of the windfall.


The chimney at Ellenroad was 70 yards high originally. You will find that most stacks built at this time are measured in yards. It was built of brick and had set offs at about every thirty feet. That is, as the stack rose it lost one brick of thickness for every thirty feet but was still three bricks thick at the head. It tapered as it rose, this is called the batter and the rate was three quarters of an inch in one yard of height. The Ellenroad stack was different than most in that the initial set offs at the base where the broad foundation narrowed to the diameter of the main structure were above ground. I think this is because they wanted the base of the foundation to be above the water table and remember, Ellenroad was in a valley bottom next to the River Beal. In some land adjacent to the chimney we dug a hole thirty feet deep during the demolition phase to get rid of some very large pieces of concrete. We were in black loam all the way down and hit water. This was to be significant later in another respect!

At some point in the late 50’s as near as I could make out there had been a problem with the integrity of the chimney head and the steeplejacks had ’cured’ it by removing the drum from above the oversiller, this is the flange shaped rim of stones just below the head. This ‘oversiller’ is common to most brick or stone chimneys and is an effort to reduce down draught at the top of the stack. The stones which form the oversiller are cantilevered out to give the flange and rely on the weight of the drum above to keep them in place. Removal of the drum damages the integrity of this structure and it should never have been done. One of my first jobs was to replace this drum.

Round chimneys are constructed with specially shaped bricks. The stretchers are curved and the headers are wedge shaped. The amount of curve and taper varies with the diameter of the chimney and alter as the chimney rises. At the time we rebuilt the Ellenroad drum these bricks were no longer made so I had to find a source.

At this time a steeplejack called Ronnie Goggins had the contract to dismantle the redundant chimney at Mons Mill in Todmorden. I went there one morning to see whether the bricks they were dropping were of any use to me. Mons Mill chimney interested me because I knew that it had been altered after it was built. The mill was originally to be called Hare Mill and about two thirds of the way up the chimney there had been a glazed brick panel about twelve feet deep which depicted a running hare and the name ‘HARE’. During the construction of the mill the entrepreneurs ran short of money. They had contracted with the firm of Carels Freres from Mons in Belgium to supply the gigantic 3,000hp cross compound engine that was to drive the mill. No doubt in an effort to ensure their contract was paid, Carels invested money in the mill on condition that its name was changed to Mons. This presented a difficulty as the panel depicting the hare had already been incorporated in the structure as it was built. The story I had heard was that the chimney builders were instructed to cut out the redundant panel and replace it with one saying ‘MONS.’ They did this but I reckoned they wouldn’t have been able to replace the header bricks that keyed back into the next course in. I was curious to see if I was right.

When I arrived on site, young Ronnie Goggins and his mate were on the head working on the demolition. I climbed up their ladders which were very badly fixed. They hadn’t cut new dog holes for their dogs and wedges but had followed any unfilled holes they could find on the stack. The consequence was that the ladders meandered all over the place and were a trifle insecure in places! When I got to the top ladder there were three rungs missing out of it and it wasn’t fastened at the top. I halted and addressed young Ronnie. “I know you’ll think I’m a wimp but could you please tie the top of the ladder on before I come up it?” Ronnie laughed and walked round the rim of the chimney. We were at about 180 ft and what made it impressive was the fact that four years earlier, Ronnie had lost a leg in a motorcycling accident! I crawled on to the rim and sat there while I examined the state of the bricks. They were just what we needed and had been made at Newhey Brickworks just behind Ellenroad where all the original brick for the mill had come from. I arranged with them to drop the good bricks separate from the others and I would send a gang across to gather them up. We did this and used this brick on Ellenroad chimney head. We were still some bricks short but Ronnie was dropping Jubilee chimney at Padiham at that time and we made up our numbers with ten tons of bricks from there.

One last thing about Mons chimney. The locals always said it was so high there that you could always see snow from the top! The reason for this becomes clear if you think about what MONS looks like if viewed upside down. I told Ronnie about the change of name and he told me later that when they came to the panel it was as I suspected. There were no key bricks, the whole panel was a single skin construction separate from the body of the chimney. Ronnie said it peeled off in big sections when they came to it.

Back at Ellenroad Peter Tatham and I had to decide how we were going to tackle the job of rebuilding the head. I had already found a big flue door on site which was redundant and we decided we would cut a hole in the square flue box at the base of the chimney to give us access to the base and that when we were finished we would put the large cast iron door in so that we had easy access to the flues for maintenance afterwards, We scaffolded the top of the stack, put a snatch block on the structure and had a rope almost 500 feet long from an electric winch at the bottom into the bottom of the stack round a snatch block anchored in the chimney base and up to the head, over the snatch block mounted there, and down to the bottom where we fitted a large cast iron weight and a hook on the end of the rope. In effect we had converted the stack into a mine shaft and the addition of a five gallon bucket meant we could hoist all our materials up to the top through the flue. This worked well and eased our labours considerably.

The next job was to decide what height the drum should be built to, we had no drawings, only a photograph taken in 1915 when the mill burned down. Peter and I were discussing this on the top of the chimney and he said that when he used to work on the stack with his grandfather he remembered that he couldn’t quite see over the top of the drum when stood on the batten of the scaffold. I got him to stand there and marked the scaffold pole at the level of his eyes then I added two inches for shrinkage over the years! We cut a mark on the scaffold pole and that was the height we built it to. When we had finished the eye told us that we had got it as near right as we could have. It looked exactly the same proportion as the original photograph.

The most important part of a chimney head is the finishing courses on the drum. This is what gets all the weather and is attacked by the fumes in the flue gas. When new, various materials were used, solid stone, cast iron or specially cast terracotta segments. Peter cast the concrete rim at Ellenroad in eight segments joined together by one inch diameter copper bars, two to each joint. The joints were sealed with bitumen. This made a very strong and durable rim which would last for longer than we cared to think about! He told me he once saw that Firs were demolishing a chimney that he had put a new rim on by this method and he had a word with the jack in charge on the site intending to warn him about this. Professional rivalry arose and it became evident that Firs’ man didn’t want to know anything Peter told him. Peter said that the consequence was that when they dropped the chimney, the rim rolled off down the hill like a big Polo Mint and demolished part of the mill! He added that they weren’t much good as they felled the stack on their air compressor! Their is always an element of rivalry in trades.

There was one funny story about our job at Ellenroad. Peter had a young lad working for him at the time. He was a cheeky little bugger but sharp with it. I arrived one morning just as he was setting up at the chimney base to start hauling bricks up to the top. He was looking puzzled and I asked him what was the matter. “I don’t like this chimney, it’s haunted!” I asked him what brought him to this conclusion and he said he’d show me. He went into the chimney base and held the weighted hook on the fall of the tackle until it was still. Then he stood back and said “In ten minutes that hook will be swinging until it touches the wall!” I took him to the hut and we had a cup of tea. When we went back, sure enough the hook was gently swinging like a pendulum and was almost touching the side. He said “There you are, I told you so. It must be haunted, there’s no wind to move the chimney!”

He was right of course, it wasn’t the wind but it wasn’t haunted either. I told him that what we had was probably the best Foucault Pendulum in the world as its moment was over 200 feet! I explained that what he was looking at was a vibration caused by the earth wobbling on its axis as it turned and that the principle had been understood for hundreds of years. I don’t know whether he believed me but he seemed happier about it afterwards!

Over the eight years I was there we did a lot of work on the chimney. Peter retired before we had finished. He recommended that I get Brooke Edgeley as my jacks, they came from Batley and were excellent. I used them on all my chimney work afterwards. The final job we did was to strip all the bands off the chimney, refurbish them and re-instate them. We pointed the whole of the chimney and coated it with three coats of boiled linseed oil as protection. This was a massive job and I remember Tommy Brookes and Keith Batley telling me that nobody would ever do a stack so well again! Peter died at about this time and was cremated at Rochdale. Daniel Meadows came up for the funeral and as we stood outside the crematorium Dan looked back and said “I suppose it’s the last chimney Peter will ever climb!” The nice thing about it was that when the lads from Brooke Edgeley came to ladder the Ellenroad chimney at the beginning of the final contract, the one who was fixing the ladders asked me who had rebuilt the drum. I told him and he said he wished he could have served his apprenticeship under Peter. I thought that was a great compliment and called in to tell Dot, Peter’s widow, on the way home. She was pleased as well. Jack Brookes told me it was the last chimney they would ever do to that standard as nobody cares about them nowadays. I agreed with him but remembered this conversation much later!

By the time we had finished with the chimney it was like new and a credit to all concerned. I always said it was my memorial, when I die they can cremate me and put my ashes in the chimney base, I reckon it’s as good a memorial as any you could want.


I did a lot of travelling but no, I didn’t go to Siberia! So why the heading? There is a mill at Brierfield Called Finsley Gate and the locals always called it Siberia because they said it was so cold. Newton Pickles had removed the engine for storage by the Science Museum, they intended to re-erect it in the museum at South Kensington in London. They eventually did this but Brown and Pickles wouldn’t have anything to do with it because as Newton said when he heard they were going to run it with an electric motor, “I don’t want anything to do with clockwork engines!” If it wasn’t going to be steamed he wasn’t interested!

Plans changed however and a decision was made to run it in steam. All the work was done and in December 1985, Rod Law who was Keeper of Steam at South Kensington, asked me down to have a look. He wanted to show his new toy off I think on the quiet. I went down and looked at the installation and to put it bluntly, I was horrified by what they’d done.

I know, you can smell another of Stanley’s stories where he knew better than anybody else. That’s about the size of it and I’m not going to apologise, all I can do is tell the truth, not because of the fact I was right, but to illustrate what can happen when ‘experts’ decide they know better than anybody else.

I shan’t go into a long list of technicalities but will briefly list where they went wrong. The interesting bit is what happened later. The engine itself had been properly and competently installed by a firm called Riley’s from Heywood near Manchester. The only problems I could see were that the receiver between the cylinders was too small and the wrong sort of drains had been fitted. Where the designers had really slipped up was in the water supply to the air pump. The term ‘air pump’ is a misnomer really, it is more properly an exhauster, its function is to get the condensed steam out of the cylinder and drop it into a drain, it was never intended to lift condensing water a long way or discharge it at any distance. The set-up at South Kensington included a long run of pipe work to a remote cooling tower and as soon as I saw it I pointed out that it was wrong. There was very little interest in what I was saying but I told them and sent a letter afterwards to a bloke called Wright who was taking over Rod’s job. As far as I was concerned, that was it. They did ask whether I wanted an invitation to the first steaming and I told them I’d rather not be anywhere near it!

Later in 1986, about the end of June I think, I was with David Sekers from Quarry Bank and after we had finished our business we had lunch together and he told me of an incident at the Science Museum the week before. He had been in Neill Cosson’s office, Neill was in charge at South Kensington, with another High Panjandrum from the heritage industry and they were having a fairly high powered discussion about various matters when a person came into the office and said something to the Director about water on the floor in the museum. Neill left in a hurry saying he would return shortly and left the other two wondering why Neill was so bothered about the cleaning arrangements, they thought he might have delegated this matter! He returned shortly afterwards and they finished the meeting and left. Now as soon as David said this my ears pricked up. I don’t know whether David knew what had happened, he certainly didn’t tell me and personally, I think he just thought it was a quaint occurrence and that was why he told me. I stored the information away and kept quiet.

A few days later the phone rang one evening and I think it was John Robinson who had been delegated to approach me. As soon as he came on the line I told him I knew why he was ringing me. He said I couldn’t possibly know so I told him I thought they had run the Siberia engine and either got a slug in the low pressure and cracked the cover or they’d split the air pump. There was silence for a second and then John asked me how I knew. I told him that I’d heard on the grapevine that there was water on the floor in the East Hall and I’d put two and two together. He told me I was right, they’d split the air pump and would I come down and have a look. I told him I wasn’t interested in being a member of a committee and I’d only come if I was the sole source they were consulting, further, I said I wanted to take Newton as well, the more practical brains we had the better. They sent us two tickets and Newton and I went down.

Newton knew about the cock-up with the installation because I had told him. He agreed with me on the train down that my diagnosis was correct, there was too much head on the air pump and they’d split it. When we got to the museum we were taken straight to the engine which was just as they’d left it after the accident. Newton had a look round while I asked for some spanners and started taking the cover off the inboard end of the pump because that was where I suspected the split would be. I had it off in short time and felt inside. The casting was corroded away until it was like thin cardboard and there was an annular slit three parts of the way round just inside the cover. They asked me what they should do. I said it wasn’t worth getting another one cast, I advised them to take it out and get a replica fabricated in boiler quality steel, it would be quicker, cheaper and stronger. Newton agreed. Further, I told them that they hadn’t cured the problem when they did this. The lay-out was wrong and if they ran it like that, sooner or later they would get a build up of condensate, a slug in the cylinder and they would have an even worse smash-up. In other words they had got away lightly because the air pump had acted as a weak link and given up before anything serious happened to the engine. Once the air pump was strengthened the fault would go to the next weak spot, the low pressure cylinder. I sent them a report when I got home which said the same things and suggested a remedy. I don’t think they even acknowledged the letter. I never heard anything more about it. Apart from the train tickets, all Newton and I got was a meagre lunch. Ah well, at least we had the chance to tell them!


The Ellenroad Project as it had become known was functioning well by the beginning of 1986. I had obtained enough initial funding and manpower to press on with my programme and could devote some serious time to yet more fund-raising. The first thing to say is that I didn’t raise all the funds for the project. Alan Brett and Andrew Underdown, the local councillors and John Pierce were instrumental in obtaining funds, or triggering me off to approach funders that were local. I dealt with day to day matters on site and all the private sector and central government funding. It might be helpful here if I told you what my basic approach was.
The first thing to recognise is that if you are seeking funding from any source the most important thing to start with is a good cause. This sounds simplistic but is at the root of the matter. Ellenroad was a worthy case, it had so much going for it. It was the last large steam textile mill engine in its original house with all its artefacts intact and was so sited that it had a good catchment area. Because of the proximity to the motorway network, if you drew the isochrones for Ellenroad on the map, (these are lines showing travelling times) the 1 ½ hour line enclosed an area with a population of over 15 million people, one of the best ride times in Europe. In order to support this case you have to have clear objectives, a well worked out and costed overall plan and separate, clearly identifiable segments of that plan which you can cost accurately, give proper time scales for and use these as the basis for funding applications. Funding bodies like to have a menu. They also like to feel that whoever is applying the for the funding is in complete control, both by knowledge of the project and familiarity with all the technologies involved.
The next principle to grasp is that funding is almost always plural, in other words a partnership between the Trust and a number of funders for one segment. The most important funding in this segment is that which the Trust brings to the table which is the result of its own efforts. In other words, funds raised by volunteers dedicated to helping the project. A few hundred quid from jumble sales can trigger off tens of thousands, funders need to know there is local support
The next important thing to realise is that funders are in the business of giving money away. They are never happier than when they are handing out large cheques. The faster they can do this, the sooner they can get out on to the golf course! So, the essential thing you have to do is to persuade them that you are kosher. The best way to do this is to be able to show that one of the funders is so prestigious as to be a guarantee to all the other participants. I tackled this one early on and decided that apart from English Heritage who were high prestige but almost duty bound to fund, we needed something special. I remembered the National Heritage Memorial Fund which was initially funded after the war from the sale of war surplus goods. In later years it became the funder of last resort for national treasures or works of high art which, if not bought by a museum, would leave the country. The only industrial artefact they had ever funded to my knowledge was Clevedon Pier and I think there were some quite serious problems with that. When I approached them and invited the acting Director to come up and see what we were doing I was flying a kite. He came, he saw, we conquered! They became 25% funders of the main structural elements of the project like the back wall, the chimney and big refurbishing jobs on the structure of the engine house itself. The ability to say that you were funded 75% by EH and NHMF was probably the best commendation any segment of the project could have.
The next most important attribute that attracts funders is success. If you can reel off details of total cost of project, proportion funded in say three years and then give menu of projects left to accomplish you excite people and they want to be associated with success. A concomitant of this is the fact that you have to demonstrate that you are keeping the momentum, that the overall project is rolling forward like a juggernaut. This internal dynamism is a most valuable asset and generates confidence and funding at the same time. It is most damaging if the impetus is lost for any reason. A classic example was the failure of Pennine Heritage at Queen Street Mill, this was a tremendous set-back for that project and has never been entirely overcome. Strangely enough, the most likely source of loss of momentum is not some unforeseen need for funding, like the second asbestos clearance at Ellenroad but internal schisms in the management structure of the organisation. This is the reason why it is essential to get the management structure and responsibilities clear at the outset. Even with all this in place there is no guarantee that problems won’t be generated internally.
There was a case in point at Ellenroad. I was always on the lookout for new talent. People with special skills who we could co-opt into the organisation to give us the benefit of their specialist knowledge. Early in 1987 I found such a man, Ray Colley. He was a retired TV executive who was living in Rochdale who was looking for fresh fields to conquer. We approached him and he came to help as a volunteer, sitting on several committees and generally being a useful adjunct to the organisation. I can’t say that I got on well with him, he was a little too abrupt for my liking but there was nothing that said we had to like each other, just that we got on with our jobs.
Earlier on, I had head-hunted another volunteer, Horace Longden. I needed someone to act as chairman of the Friends Organisation I wanted to found to provide the cadre of volunteers to actually run the engine eventually. This was a major stone in the foundations of the project because, in effect, because of the way I had written the Articles of Agreement of the Trust separate from the organisation of the Friends, the Friends would actually run the enterprise and the Board of Directors only control was over the broad policy, major funding and the Project Manager who was the buffer between the Friends and the Board. I tried twice to get the Friends off the ground and failed. It wasn’t until I got Horace to have a go and I stepped back that it succeeded. I was the wrong person for the job and it took two failures to convince me! Slow learner again.
Horace was a star, a gem and one of the most perfect gentlemen I have ever been privileged to meet. He was totally reliable, always absolutely correct and one of the most able organisers I have ever seen in action. His forte was people, he understood them far better than I and his management style was the epitome of the iron fist in the velvet glove. Indeed, the glove was so velvet that a lot of people who know him would not recognise that description. If Horace decided that a principle was involved he was a force to be reckoned with. By 1987 he was chairman of the Board of Directors at Ellenroad and I used to wonder at the members of the committee who mistook his measured and low key style for bumbling. I had no control over the Directors and wondered at times about some of them.
Back to 1987. I think it was sometime in summer, July perhaps, I got word that there was a move afoot to remove a lot of my power, reduce my wage and install Ray Colley as Project Manager. My attitude was that I didn’t want to play this game, if the directors were so disloyal, or dissatisfied with my work that they wanted me out that was up to them. I wasn’t going to argue because I had achieved my main objective, I had saved the Ellenroad Engine and made sure the buildings were stable. I was sure I had a lot left to contribute but I wasn’t going to go into a decline if they took that away from me.
I always attended the Board meetings to make my reports and give advice. Horace asked me to go up to see him on the day of the meeting. I went round to his house and he told me exactly what was going to happen. He said that Gavin Bone was going to back a motion that would result in me taking a back seat at a reduced salary and Ray Colley was going to be proposed in my place. I told Horace what my attitude was, I wasn’t interested, if they wanted me out I would go but there would be no back seat driving. My assessment was that what they were after was the job and the salary, they wanted me to stay on to do the same work I had done all along at a lower wage. Forget it! Horace gave me a long lecture about strategy and told me that I had to keep my temper and leave it up to him. I trusted him so I left it entirely in his hands.
The Board Meetings were held in the Gothic splendour of Rochdale Town Hall, a wonderful building designed by the same architect as the House of Commons and having possibly more wood panelling and encaustic tiles to the square foot than Parliament! Very soon after the meeting started Horace announced that a motion was proposed which affected my position and asked me to withdraw. I left and went for a beer in the Flying Horse, a nearby pub. After about half an hour I was asked back in and my new terms were announced, I was to get 50% more money and all my powers were left intact. Ray Colley was offered a minor role at a small salary but I think he eventually refused it. Later I asked Horace why he had backed me, he said he thought I was too passionate and headstrong to be a good manager in normal circumstances but the evidence was that it was these characteristics that had brought Ellenroad so far so fast. He also doubted if anyone else had the funding contacts and the basic knowledge of steam engines. I took this as a vote of confidence and carried on but after that I always watched my back. As for my mate Gavin Bone, I crossed him off the Christmas Card list and managed without the benefit of his input.
Looking back, all this was a big shock to me. I discussed it at length with Mary and others who’s opinion I respected and came to some conclusions about it. Cast your mind back to West Marton Dairy and what I said about the reasons why it was so enjoyable working there. We all knew our job and apart from day to day adjustments of timing or priorities, we were left alone to get on with it. We never had to worry about our mates wanting our jobs, nobody was looking to use us as a stepping stone to greater things. The same applied at Bancroft. What I was experiencing at Ellenroad was a symptom of what was happening in industry outside my zone of comprehension and experience. There was no such thing as loyalty, everyone was expendable. I recognised what I called Management by Attrition creeping in at Coates. People were being pushed to deliver more for the same money. Posts vanished overnight and the workload was spread amongst the survivors. The whole ethos was accountant led, the bean counters were coming to the fore and as far as I can see are still in charge. I was having a conversation with Tom Clarke, the founder of Silentnight,, the bedding company in Barlick once in his hi-tech office at Salterforth. I asked him what it was like to be heading the biggest bedding company in the world and how things had changed since he started making mattresses in his back yard after the war financed with his gratuity. He told me it had gone to hell in a basket. In the early days he had been in control but now, as head of the biggest mattress makers in the world he was powerless. He put it down to his accountants and gave me a definition that I have always remembered, “An accountant is a man who turns the radiators off as he passes them in a corridor.” I like that, think about it!
I made up my mind then and there that I would never do anything where I had to rely on other people again. Basically I function best as a loner and that was the goal from now on. For the time being however, I had a project to run.
My biggest single task was chasing funding. I drummed it into the directors time and time again that it wasn’t the project manager’s job to get the funding, the directors should be responsible. They never saw it that way and left the subject alone because I was doing so well. On the quiet, this suited me because it made me the single most important asset the Trust had got. I loved standing up and announcing that we had gained additional funding of X thousands of pounds for such and such a segment of the work. Nobody ever said “Well done!”, they just sat there and noted the figures. At one point I was advocating that we should register for VAT but kept being put off by the Borough Treasurer who said it would be no advantage. Eventually I persuaded the directors to let me have a crack at it. I applied for VAT registration, got it and told the directors we had a refund coming on all the capital spending we had done, I forget the amount now but I think it was £28,000. You’ll laugh at this but this was actually fairly small beer at the time. I was pulling funding in as though there was no end to it!
What very few people realised was the amount of work that went into getting this money. I used to go home at night and do six hours letter writing and application building almost every day. When things got bad I’d leave Graham Riley my manager in charge and spend all day on funding, say 16 hours! All these letters are in the files at Ellenroad but I don’t suppose anybody actually reads them. One thing I did religiously, every morning, first thing before I did anything else, I’d pull one file out and sit there and read it right through. I used to mark the position of that file with a card and the following day I’d read the next one. I can thoroughly recommend this to anyone in the same position. It was the single most valuable task I did in the day. Apart from reminding me what the original objective was it triggered off the back half of my head and a couple of days later a thought would pop up from nowhere which was useful and often productive. Read the files!
Mention of Graham Riley, who succeeded Peter Cunningham as manager of the MSC team reminds me that I should say something about his contribution. He was a wonderful site manager. He knew where the bodies were buried in the council and many a time would come to me with a thought or suggestion that usually led to a van load of materials or equipment landing on the site. I always used to describe him and me as ferrets, we always had a piece of chalk in our pockets and if we went anywhere that could be a source of plunder we marked up what we wanted and then got permission to send the lads in to get it. Our targets were council departments, hospitals, engineering firms and any demolition site in the area! I always said that the bald figures in the accounts only told half the story, we stole as much as we bought. I used to get into trouble for describing it as stealing but it seemed more romantic and dangerous that way! A good example of Graham’s contacts was when he came to me one day and said he knew where there was some ‘interesting stuff’ in the foothills of the Pennines beyond the motorway on the way up to Rockingstones. He was a bit cagey about it but I told him to get a van, take the lads and go looting. He came back with most of the biggest set of cylinder boring tackle I have ever seen in my life, including the steam engine that drove it! It was reputed to be the boring tackle used at Ellenroad between the wars. When he started at Ellenroad Graham was a typical, play-it-safe council employee but I soon corrupted him and he became one of the best foragers I have ever seen. He was worth tens of thousands of pounds to the Trust and they never knew it!
Any account of Ellenroad funding would be incomplete without mention of the close links I always had with the Chief Executives office at the Town Hall. In the beginning it was John Towey who saw the potential of Ellenroad and was instrumental in setting up the Steering Committee which got the project off the ground. He made John Pierce, the Chief Planning Officer chair of the committee and in 1986 John retired and John Pierce took over as Chief Executive.
Rochdale was always a forward thinking council, largely because it was Labour controlled in my opinion, and they had a very strong twinning policy. There were regular visits between Bielefeld in West Germany and Rochdale and Ellenroad soon became a essential venue for a visit as the guests toured round the borough. It was good for the town to be seen as sponsors of the biggest industrial archaeological project in the country and full advantage was taken of it. I soon got to know some of the regular visitors, Klaus Schwickert, who was the mayor of Bielefeld was particularly impressive. I remember that the first time he came he listened to all we had to tell him, looked carefully at everything and then took me on one side. “Do you know the German phrase that Audi use in their advertisements?” he said. “Yes.” I replied, “Vorsprung durch technic.” “Do you know what it means?” “Yes, ‘Progress through technology’” “Good! Do you know the meaning of the Yiddish word chutzpah?” “Yes, one definition is a man who throws himself on the mercy of the court as an orphan after killing his parents!” “Good, I suggest you should have a similar expression as a slogan at Ellenroad, Vorsprung durch chutzpah!” I think that was possibly the best definition we ever got of our corporate management style!
Years later John Pierce told me about the first visit made to Bielefeld by Rochdalians. He said that one man was in conversation with a local lady and she asked him whether he had ever been to Bielefeld before. He answered yes, he had been many times years ago. She asked if he recognised any of the features from that time, he said not really, all German towns looked the same from 3,000 ft. when you were bombing them! On the same visit the mayor took his guests to the top of a turret in the castle from where there was a magnificent view of the country around. One mill owner was heard to say “By heck, I’ll bet you had a good view of the bombers coming in from here!” Like Stockport, Bielefeld had a strategic railway viaduct and we were trying to knock it our right through the war. It was eventually destroyed by one of Barnes Walliss’ ‘Earthquake’ bombs.
John was a wonderful ally in the fight to keep the Ellenroad Project going. I was always conscious that he was actually CEO of a company that employed 10,000 people and there were tremendous demands on his time but he always responded when I called for help. He will reappear when I talk about the Whitelees Engine.
I could go on to very boring lengths about funding but I shan’t. I think in the end the figure for actual cash was something like £3 ½ million, add in gifts in kind, the MSC contribution and indirect subsidy through MSC from the council and I think you reach a figure of approximately £4 ½ million. I still boggle at this figure myself, it was an enormous sum and as someone once pointed out to me, if this had been on a national monument in London I would have got the OBE! No chance of this happening in Rochdale, my version of it is that I upset too many people in the drive to accomplish our aims.


You may well ask what these subjects have to do the conservation of Ellenroad. I would have had difficulty answering this question if I’d been asked at any time in the first 18 months at Ellenroad but it soon became obvious that the long term success of the Ellenroad Project depended on factors which at first, seemed entirely separate. Some explanation is needed.

When I had my first meeting with Tony Welton and Gavin Bone in 1984 I set out an overall plan for the project. Two key parts of this plan never got done. One was the provision of the residential educational facility which would have given academic and financial depth to the project. The other, and more pressing matter was the provision of an external service building to give the facilities necessary for the day-to-day running of the engine house.

This latter was, to my mind, crucial to success in that we would be able to raise the quality of the experience of visiting the engine and, in the short term, would give us room for some community based activities. What we were looking at was a building that could provide space for an office for the Trust, toilet accommodation, a café, a meeting room and a small reception and exhibition area. It would become the main entrance to the engine house and the final layout of the conversion of the boiler room was designed with this in mind.

There was a piece of land between the engine house and the motorway which was owned by the council and had been earmarked in the Town Plan as the site for a hotel catering for traffic on the motorway. This made it into a potentially very valuable piece of land. Remember the catchment area I mentioned earlier. Under Treasury Rules the council had a duty to obtain the best price it could in any disposal of the site so their hands were tied, they couldn’t let the Trust have the land at an advantageous rate. It soon became obvious that the route to getting what we wanted on the land was by participating in the planning process connected with the sale of the land and the building of the hotel. The council recognised this and made it a condition of any sale that the building had to be designed sympathetically so as not to clash with the engine house and that the Trust should get some land and car parking out of the deal. This was the best we could hope for and Peter Dawson, the Trust’s architect and myself joined the process and fought our corner for the Trust.

Little did we know what we were letting ourselves in for! We spent five years in meetings and learned a hell of a lot about the economics and designing of hotels but fate always snatched victory away from us at the last minute. I’ll give a very simplified version of the course of the negotiations. Take it as read that there were many more firms and people involved on the periphery.

We started with a French company called Campanile who were never a really serious starter because all they wanted to do was put up a concrete box and sell cheap grub to motorway travellers. After twelve months of desultory negotiations they fell out of the frame.

The next approach was from a firm called Pleasureama who operated casinos but had a subsidiary company called Commodore Hotels. They were looking for sites and one day Peter Dawson and I found ourselves in a meeting with a bloke called Tom Keegan. The purpose of the meeting was to establish the basis for negotiations between Commodore and the Trust. I think that when Commodore came they thought that they were paying a courtesy call to smooth the way to pursuing their scheme and regarded it as a PR exercise more than anything else. They got a bit of a shock when they realised just how much control we had over what happened on the site. However, we weren’t in the business of raising obstacles and soon convinced them that we weren’t a threat but an ally. We were raising the possibilities of co-operation, mutual promotion and laying the basis of a fruitful partnership. In the end we convinced them that there was merit in having a major heritage attraction on their doorstep and the meeting relaxed. It got so relaxed that Tom Keegan started to tell us his life story which, if it was true, was quite incredible. The facets of his career bounced from British Leyland, General Motors, entering a monastery and running a housing association on the Wirral to his present position as a major shareholder in a casino operator. Peter and I were enthralled. When we came out of the meeting I told Peter the guy was either the best con-man I had ever met or a genius, I didn’t know which, the jury was out.

Negotiations with Commodore moved slowly forwards and we got to the stage where we had the whole thing buttoned up. Peter had put a lot of time and effort into designing the exterior of the hotel and laying out the site and we thought we had quite a good result for the Trust. Then came the bombshell. Pleasureama were the subject of a take-over bid and yet another developer fell out of the frame.

Back to square one but so many firms had been helping to develop the plans for the hotel, all at risk, that the only way they could recoup their losses was to encourage another developer to take over the scheme. It wasn’t long before a bloke called Julian Peck from Manchester turned up with another prospect, British Airports Authority. I think their subsidiary which managed their hotels was called Associated Leisure. We started another round of negotiations on another hotel!

We went through the whole weary process again. In my efforts to get the best deal for the Trust I gave as much help and advice as I could. I brought everybody’s attention to the fact that when the culvert under the motorway which carried the River Beal had been designed the design criteria had been inadequate and there was a danger that what was known as a ‘Fifty Year Event’ , in other words a flood that could be expected once every fifty years, would overwhelm the culvert and that the way out for the water was via the hotel site along the side of the motorway embankment. The brownie points I got for pointing that out and saving a costly mistake in the design enabled me to get my way in siting the provision of water and gas supplies to the hotel. My interest in this was dictated by the fact that the engine house was running on an inadequate water supply and no gas main.

We got to the point where a date was set for the start of the works and the surveyors moved in to start pegging the site out for the groundworks. Another bombshell dropped. BAA decided at main board level that all future hotel developments would be on their own land, in other words, at airports. The whole scheme went into the bin! Peter and I were annoyed to say the least. The only interesting thing that sticks in the mind about this set of meetings was the day that we were privy to a decision on how large the hotel was going to be. Peter and I sat in a meeting and had what was probably the best seminar in hotel design anybody could have. We noticed that they had brought a very old man with them. He was slightly infirm and they had to assist him into his seat. We wondered what he was doing there because he sat there and never said a thing. That is, until they got down to the specifics of room sizes and allocation of space within the building. Then the reason why the old bloke was there became clear. He had the answer to every question on the tip of his tongue. He knew exactly how big rooms had to be, how wide the corridors, how much space should be allocated to the different functions in the hotel and utility areas. In other words, he was a walking encyclopaedia on hotel design. It was a treat to watch him work. Another interesting thing we learned was that in the first year of operation the hotel would have 50% more staff than in subsequent years. This was to ensure that a reputation for service and efficiency could be built up quickly.

The bottom line was that Peter and I never cracked the problem of the exterior services for the Trust and this was to be a major stumbling block for the Trust. At the time of writing it still is so. I hear that Coates have managed to buy the land now but I have doubts whether enough corporate memory of the original concept remains embedded in the Trust to drive forward a final solution to the provision of the external services let alone the residential complex. Until this is done, Ellenroad will remain yet another amateur operation clinging on to the plot by the tips of its fingers and relying entirely on nostalgia to keep it afloat. It makes me sad but it’s not my problem any more.

All the time, while the hotel planning was going on I was looking sideways to find other ways of extending Ellenroad’s options. I heard they were going to re-design the motorway junction to give access to the biggest piece of undeveloped land in the Greater Manchester area, the Kingsway site on the other side of the motorway. I suggested a link road between the Ellenroad site and Kingsway which would have opened up a lot of possibilities for us but it was never taken seriously.

Then I got wind that the Metro Link system in Manchester was to be extended to Rochdale. I suggested a station at Ellenroad and the use of the dead land inside the motorway junction as a car parking area for a park and ride facility at Ellenroad. Everybody agreed it was a good idea, especially if combined with a link road to the Kingsway site but again, the idea died for want of support.

Finally, my biggest plan was that Ellenroad should build an exhibition centre and start a firm of exhibition designers and builders as a way of generating funds for the Trust. In this latter I was aided by Bruce Robbins who had the original idea of the design facility and took it on himself when the Trust decided they didn’t want anything to do with it. I shan’t go into all the details but Bruce and I got the backing of the Arts Council and I drew up a spreadsheet to test the viability of the project. I got a result which showed that even if we gave away the exhibition space for six months of the year we still finished up with an amazing profit. I found a developer who would get us the funding and asked John Youngman, the Chairman of Coates Brothers, if he would get his finance director to cast his eye over my calculations as I didn’t trust them. He did and came back to tell me I was wrong, I had made a mistake, I had underestimated the profits! It was a licence to print money! However, when I presented it to the directors they refused to have anything to do with it. End of another brave try!

It was round about this time that Coates were taken over by the French firm Total Oil and I soon got them interested in supplying us with oil and looking favourably at our operation. Another prospect was the Co-operative Wholesale Society who had announced they were going to build their new headquarters in Rochdale. I started corresponding with them and laying the foundations of a funding approach to them. Time and time again I drove it home to the directors of the Trust that they should be looking for funding and further, that they should recognise that the lead-time to substantial funding was often measured in years. It’s eight years since I severed my connection with the Trust and it would be interesting to see what funding they have that couldn’t be traced back to the seed corn I was putting down ten years ago.

I think that’s enough about fund-raising. When I started at Ellenroad I knew next to nothing about site management, fund-raising and managing complex relationships between the Trust, the Council, Coates and the various funders. By the time we had finished I was pretty impressive. It was all new, a very steep learning curve and exactly what I was suited to at the time. I was lucky Coates found me, they were lucky they got the right bloke.

1986 and 1987 ODDS AND SODS

Once again, we need to dispose of a few small matters. 1986 was a very busy year apart from funding.

You will have noticed how much time I was spending writing grant applications, letter, minutes and memoranda. I’m sure you will also remember that I saw my first Apple computer in California in 1979. I was driving home one night and as I passed through Burnley a sudden thought came to mind and I parked up and walked into Dixon’s the electrical retailers. Ten minutes later I walked out with an Amstrad Word Processor with a massive 256k memory! I took it home, plugged it in and started my love/hate relationship with computers. It was a quantum leap forward but anyone who started with computers at that time will remember the trials and tribulations we had to go through. I can remember more than one occasion when I lost half a days worth of work and had to start all over again. Even so, productivity leapt up and I can remember how impressed everyone was when they realised that the Trust had embraced the computer age.

It was 1986 when I made another technological leap on the engine. I persuaded Dave Jones of SOS NDT at Bury to do a Non Destructive Test of the vital parts of the engine and charge us nothing. He came and did the same job for us he would have done for the Central Electricity Generating Board on one of their turbines. The engine passed with flying colours, there were no flaws in any of the rods or cranks. I asked Dave what his overall verdict was and he said that if the CGEB could get the same results with their turbine shafts they would be delighted.

Susan, my middle daughter married Paul Norman and they went to live in Bovington on the outskirts of London. Mary and I went down to the wedding and Georgie and Daniel came up from Wales. All the family was there and they had a splendid reception in W S Gilbert’s old house. A very happy occasion and the first of the daughters to get married.

While we are on the hatched, matched and despatched, David Moore got divorced in May 1987and in July he and Dorothy Hartley married and there was another splendid reception at Gawthorpe Hall. It was wonderful to see David and Dorothy so happy. He was still Principal at Nelson and Colne College but had his own firm, Sovereign Education which Dorothy ran from Broadclough Hall in Bacup, her home. David eventually retired from the college in May 1989 and we had a suitably drunken send off for him. He said that during the inevitable paperwork necessary to end his tenure and pass the baton on to the next principal it transpired that his appointment at Nelson and Colne had never been ratified by the Governors. Technically he had been unlawfully in post all those years! The sad thing was that within 18 months David had been struck down by a massive stroke which left him paralysed down one side, almost dumb and with no short term memory. I visited him over the years but of course, never enough. It was terrible to see him locked inside his body, unable to communicate fluently and he was so angry about it. All he wanted to do was die and it was to be five long years before a massive coronary attack took him. Dorothy was a star through all this time. She nursed David right up to the end and it must have been terrible for her. I was glad when David died and I think he was as well. I remember that when Dot rang me to tell me he was dead I told her that wherever he was he was jumping in the air, clicking his heels and shouting yippee! He had escaped from his prison. As I have said before, someone, somewhere has a very strange sense of humour.

David Moore was possibly the most influential person in my life. I was not alone in this. There are countless people like me who were touched by David at some time in their lives and things were never the same again. I look at what I am doing many a time and recognise that the root of whatever it is can be traced back to DJ. He was a wonderful, flawed, human, exasperating friend. I miss him and I shall never forget what he did for me.

In July 1987 Mary and I had two visitors at Overdale, Mary’s house at Addingham. They were John Robinson from the Science Museum and a bloke called Eberhardt Wechtler who was in charge of the Industrial Museum in Dresden in what was then the DDR, in other words, East Germany. He was over here to lecture and see some of the developments in British museums and John had brought him North to see Ellenroad.

It was while we were having a splendid meal in a Greek Restaurant in Ilkley that Eberhardt made a request. Evidently he had some sterling from lecture fees which he wanted to change into West German Marks before he left UK so that he could buy medical equipment for his daughter who had spina bifida, before he returned to the DDR. I asked him how much and he said that it had to be done in ‘modules’ of £500. And there were several ‘modules’! This gave me a bit of a problem as we were due to be at Ellenroad at six the following morning and Eberhardt had to be on a train out of Manchester at a quarter to nine!

There was only one thing to do, I rang Horace Longden! Horace ran a travel business and I reckoned he would have some contacts who would carry a stock of West German currency. I explained the problem to Horace and he said to leave it to him. The following morning we had a wonderful early morning ride over to Ellenroad via Lord Saville’s Moor and down into Hebden Bridge with the Mozart Requiem playing full blast on the stereo. We kept stopping to admire the field patterns and geological features. Eberhardt loved Ellenroad when he saw it and at seven o’clock prompt, a taxi drew up at the engine house and took Eberhardt and John away. John told me afterwards that he didn’t know where the taxi had taken them but they seemed to go to every travel agents between Ellenroad and Manchester. Eberhardt changed all his money and the driver refused to accept any fare when he dropped them off at Piccadilly Station in time for the train. Eberhardt was impressed but it was all down to Horace, that was the sort of organisation we had at Ellenroad then, all things were possible!

Back on the family front, Janet did her finals in June and we had a trip out to Nottingham to see her receive her degree. My little girl sailed out into the world and went to work for Marconi at Chelmsford. I remember particularly that she omitted to let any of us know her address and for about three months we had no idea where she was!

There was a sad event in October 1987, Florence Street, the lady who had done Open College with me died. Win Crossley, her niece let me know and I went to the funeral at Nelson crematorium. When Win rang me up she said that Florence had left a message for me. Just before she died she told Win to remind me of my promise to her about attending her funeral. Win asked me what it was. I told her that Florence had once asked me if I would go to her funeral and of course I said yes. Florence said that I had to be properly dressed in a dark suit, black tie and an overcoat and hat. I told Win I would make sure Florence wasn’t disappointed!

At Addingham we had a neighbour, Reg. I used to borrow his overcoat for funerals. However, that weekend before the funeral on Tuesday, Mary and I went to the local dramatic society’s latest production which was ‘The Cure for Love’. One of the central plots in the play is when the wife pawns her husband’s new Crombie overcoat in order to finance the eldest daughter’s elopement. As I was watching the play I told Mary that I wasn’t going to borrow Reg’s coat, I would go up to Eric Spencer’s in Ilkley and buy a Crombie! I should explain here that a Crombie overcoat used to be a mark that you had arrived as a person of substance. It was the best coat you could buy and I had always fancied one.

I went and found I had gone at a good time. They had Crombie coats by Crombie in stock at the old price. I came out with two! A charcoal grey flannel for funerals and a tweed one for everyday wear in winter. I went to the funeral immaculate in my dark suit and grey Crombie and at the wake afterwards found out that everybody knew about my promise to Florence. They were very impressed when I told them I had bought a dark Crombie especially for Florence. I hope she was watching and approved. She was a lovely, intelligent old lady and it was a privilege to have known her.

Mary and I had settled down into a very comfortable relationship. It wasn’t the love to end all loves but we were right for one another at the time. Both she and her friends recognised a change in her, she was less frenetic and more settled. True, many of her friends couldn’t understand what the attraction was, I was completely out of their orbit but they saw how well Mary was doing and I was accepted into the circle. I looked after Mary and she gave me a base at Addingham which enabled me to fly free at Ellenroad. It was an unusual situation but it worked well. I was the right bloke at the right time but always knew that it couldn’t last. We actually got engaged at one point and bought rings for each other but it never developed into marriage.

It was about this time that Mary was having trouble at YTV with a secretary who was out to get her job. Mary never recognised this and couldn’t understand why her boss hadn’t done anything about the woman. I did two things. I told Mary that if she could get some time I would pay for a ticket to Australia for her so she could have some time away from all the hassle. I also told her she should go to her boss and tell him what was going on as I was pretty certain he didn’t know. Mary did this, her boss acted, the problem was solved and the consequence was that Mary climbed on the plane to Australia in wonderful condition. The funny thing was that any wisdom I had in this matter was solely due to my experiences at Ellenroad, another example of the learning curve.

One more domestic matter and then we go back to Ellenroad. In late summer 1988, Janet went to India for a holiday and when she was due back rang and asked if she could come and stay with us while she got over a ‘tummy upset’. We had more room than Vera and so it was agreed she should come to us. I went to pick her up and was astounded when I saw her. She had Soni Dysentery and was down to about six stones. We nursed her back to health over about six weeks and as it was a notifiable disease the man from the Environmental Health called round for a sample of our stool every two days! When she left she was back up to her normal weight, Dad’s bacon sandwiches and cooking had put a shine on her muck again!


By 1988 we had got as lot done at Ellenroad. The engines were ready to steam regularly for the public and I started doing this in summer. My problem was that I was the only person who could do it. For 18 months I ran the engines every weekend, year round, except for Christmas and New Year. I don’t think anybody realises to this day what hard work this was, I was working seven days a week and putting in an average of 100 hours. I knew this couldn’t go on and called for volunteers from the Friends organisation to attend a course at the engine house during which I gave them a basic grounding in the history, design, principles and day to day management of steam boilers and engines in general and Ellenroad in particular.

I forget now how long the course was I think it was about six months. We finished it by dividing the volunteers into teams and they ran the engine with me supervising. I gradually got to the stage by late 1989 where I could leave them on their own. I’ve always said that apart from getting the engines back in steam, this was the best piece of work I did while I was at Ellenroad. In effect, I made myself redundant once the heroic bit was done!

Embedded in the training of the volunteers was one historic moment for which I claim full and absolute credit. There were two ladies on the course who were very interested in the engine, Joan Smith from Northwich and Thelma Pollitt from Manchester. They were very good students and really took it all in. When I felt that they had reached the stage where they were ready for action I arranged for them to meet me at the engine house and run the engine with me, exactly as we had done several times before..

On the day appointed when they turned up at the engine house early in the morning I told them the bad news. They were running the engine on their own! I would follow them round and keep an eye on them but they were going to do it all on their own. I’ve seldom seen two women nearer to flight syndrome in my life! However, they soon got used to the idea and started by lighting the boiler. I’ll admit that the hoppers on the stokers were already full but then the lads used to do that for me anyway.

They never made a mistake and fired up, warmed and oiled the engine, started it and ran it from ten in the morning until four in the afternoon. I told them that as far as I was aware, this was the first time in the history of engineering that two women had run a 3,000hp. engine completely unaided. I was so pleased with them and made sure that they knew it. Funnily enough this didn’t go down well at all with the other volunteers. There was already a bit of infighting and jockeying to see who would be top dog, Chief Engineer in their terms, and the injection of competition in the shape of Joan and Thelma triggered off a bad attack of ill-concealed chauvinism. It wasn’t just the blokes who were volunteers, I well remember one visitor who was evidently an old engineer telling Joan one day that she ought to be making tea, not running the engine! I don’t think he will ever realise how near he was to having his face re-arranged! Joan’s day job was as a nurse on violent wards in a mental hospital. I told her, she could do my job but there was no way I could do hers. If ever I call in at Ellenroad and either of these two are there I’m always assured of a warm welcome and it’s one of the finest memories I carried away from Ellenroad.

During 1988 I had an enquiry from a firm of developers who were building a large shopping centre in the middle of Rochdale for the CWS. They wanted to have some sort of dramatic centre piece in the centre and had got their eye on a preserved engine in a modern house at the top of the town. They wanted my advice on moving and installing the Whitelees Beam Engine.


In 1841/42 John Petrie, engine maker of Whitehall Street, Rochdale, built a 20nhp beam engine for John Hurst at Whitelees Mill, Littleborough at a cost of £650. It ran successfully under various owners until 1942 and, apart from a steel flyshaft replacing the original cast iron one, was never modified. In 1957 the Co-operative Wholesale Society were owners of the mill which was weaving blankets at the time. They wanted the engine out to give room for expansion and Holcroft Limited of Rochdale who’s foundry was on the site of the original Petrie works offered to build an engine house and erect the engine there as a monument to Rochdale engineering. It was powered by an electric motor and could be run for the public on special occasions. The engine house was glass-fronted and Rochdalians got used to seeing the engine sat there on the side of the road.

Things remained like this until 1988 when the owners of the foundry, Reynolds Gears, decided to close the works and re-develop the site as a retail barn. The engine would have to go. It was not scheduled or protected in any way and therefore was up for grabs. The people building the Wheatsheaf Centre heard about it and decided they would like it for their showpiece. It was at this point that someone told them they ought to talk to me before they made any irrevocable decisions.

I went to meet them and pointed out that they couldn’t just plonk it on the floor and put an electric motor on it. The first problem was getting it out, it was next to the road but as this was a busy major route it made it inaccessible from that side. Further, they would need a pit twelve feet deep underneath it and then a clear thirty feet above. It soon became clear to them that this was a bit more than they had bargained for. They asked me to come up with alternatives and I eventually found them a large wood saw built in Rochdale by Tommy Robinsons, a deep well pump headgear and a small steam engine to couple up to the pump. They settled on this and I arranged for the whole lot to be refurbished and installed by the Rochdale Apprentice Training School. All this took time but was completely successful.

As soon as I knew that the Co-op weren’t going to take the engine I had a word with Peter Dawson and we sketched out a preliminary scheme for installing the engine in the bare space in the boiler house where the other Lancashire boilers had been. I also approached the Science Museum and English Heritage and told them what I wanted to do and asked their opinion.

At this point I should explain that English Heritage do not consider themselves competent to make judgements about machinery. They rely on the opinion of the Science Museum who, though nominally the minor partner in this process, actually hold ultimate power on funding decisions. I was astounded when they turned the idea down on the grounds it would dilute the ‘purity of the concept’ at Ellenroad. I couldn’t understand their reasoning and no matter how I pressed them couldn’t get them to reconsider. I was baffled.

Then I got a letter from David Sekers at Quarry Bank informing me that he had got the Whitelees Engine and was going to install it at Styal. The letter included the phrase ‘Ha Ha, we’ve got it!’ I also found that David had used a selective quotation out of a private letter to John Robinson which he had obtained as supporting evidence for his case to move the engine. All this bothered me. For a start there was no need for supporting evidence as the engine wasn’t protected in any way by the Ancient Monument Acts. Secondly I knew there were close links between Quarry Bank and the Science Museum and I can’t believe that David would consider installing the engine without informing them first. It all smelt to me of discussions in closed rooms and a fait accompli. I have to admit I lost my temper and I’m not ashamed of it. I wrote David a controlled but venomous letter and copied this to the Science Museum and English Heritage. I heard later that photocopies of it had been put on various notice boards in English Heritage and had caused some amusement.

My next move was to contact John Pierce and inform him that Rochdale was being burgled and what was he going to do about it. My case was that the engine had been brought back to the town as an example of Rochdale engineering and, even though nothing was ever committed to paper, it was obvious that the Co-op and Holcrofts had intended Rochdale to be its final home. Further, I wasn’t at all sure that Reynolds actually owned the engine or had the right to give it away. I had an idea that if the matter was traced back to its roots, the Co-operative Wholesale Society were still the legal owners of the engine. John didn’t let me down, he went off and did what he was best at, I was never consulted and to this day I don’t know what he did but the upshot was that Trevor Grice, the CEO of Reynolds informed David Sekers that the deal was off. I was asked to come up with a scheme to install the engine in a glass case outside the Town Hall but I got the impression that apart from the practicalities of this scheme, it was never seen as a viable alternative to installing it at Ellenroad in steam. I was also led to understand that in any dispute with any of the funding bodies, I would most likely get backing from the council. None of this was on paper but it was right up my street.

In January 1989 I did a report for the council that shot the glass case down and then I made a convincing case for installing it at Ellenroad in steam. The next I heard was that Reynolds would give the engine to the Trust and if we could get it out within ten working days they would give us approximately £30,000 as a donation. The exact amount depended on how successful they were in reclaiming tax on the donation. At this point I raised the matter of the ownership of the engine. I pointed out that there were three levels of proof of ownership in law. These were possession, title and provenance. Possession was with Reynolds, I suspected title was with the Co-op and they would have records of purchase that could prove provenance, or in other words, the audit trail. I said that what we needed was a letter from the Co-op which acknowledged that we had the engine and devolved any residual rights they had in it to us. In other words we would have all three elements of ownership and this could never be questioned. I went for this because in my years with museums I have come across so many cases where a museum had artefacts which they couldn’t actually prove belonged to them. John Pierce agreed with me and set in motion the machinery for getting us the documentation from the Co-op. Having done this, I could get going, I was, to put it mildly, in my element. I went down, had a look at the rabbit, arranged for access and went away to lay my plans.

My first move was to get hold of Duncan Smith, an excellent millwright I knew at Huddersfield and set him on to help me dismantle the engine. We started straight away and took the engine to pieces inside the house. Norman Sutcliffe was demolishing the foundry and I had a word with him and made sure he could carve a way through to the engine house so we could get near it with a crane and wagon. After seven working days we had the engine in pieces but still had the problem of getting it out of the house. I found out afterwards that a lot of people were watching me and Duncan and were trying to work out how we were going to do it. With only three days to go things were looking bleak to the observers but then I put plan ‘A’ into operation.

I’d looked at the building very carefully and had made up my mind what to do. On the day, a crane with a 120 feet jib arrived on the site. My compressor and two jackhammers were lifted on to the roof and Duncan and I started cutting out the first Bison Beam in the roof. The roof was constructed as a flat roof formed by hollow concrete beams laid across from wall to wall. These are know as Bison beams. Once we had cut the first one out all we had to do was cut a hole in each end of the next beam, attach chains and lift the beam out like a rotten tooth. There was a bit of damage as we tore the beams out, bits of the parapet were dropping near the road but nothing to worry about. By shortly after lunch we had the roof off and started to load all the small pieces on to a wagon. We took these to Ellenroad and got them under cover.

The following day I had the biggest low loader I could find on site and we lifted all the large pieces out and got the whole engine on in one load. By four o’clock in the afternoon we had the wagon and crane at Ellenroad. It was siling down with cold rain and dark but we decided to get it unloaded. I slipped the driver £50 as a backhander, he rang his wife, one of the lads went for fish and chips and we had the lot off by nine o’clock, all under cover and the doors closed. I can tell you that I went home that night, had a shower and a fair dose of single malt. We had the engine and, when they had sorted the tax out, the £30,000!

We have to move forward now to November 1991 in order to follow the Whitelees story to its conclusion. In the interim, we had kept the engine parts dry and oiled, I had found a drawing of the engine by Frank Wightman of Stretford and Peter had drawn up a scheme which sited the engine in such a way that we could install a mezzanine floor, a lift and a walk way through the engine to give access to the main engine house. All this was based on the original plan which was to have the external services. This was a very complicated piece of design and Peter did a brilliant job. We had to have it right to an inch in order to do things like give headroom on the walkway and room to manoeuvre wheel chairs. The whole scheme was based on my measurements of the engine parts. I had to do it this way because the measured survey that the council had done for me in 1988 of the original engine had been lost by the Planning Department when the surveyor who did the drawings left for a new job! Frank’s drawing wasn’t accurate enough to trust. We got to the stage where the design was done and I met Peter in his office.

You’re not going to believe what I did next but Peter can vouch for it! We looked over the drawings one last time. I looked at Peter and said “Will you do one last thing for me?” He looked at me askance, I think he sensed something was coming, we knew each other too well! “Yes, what is it?” “Make the pit a foot deeper.” “Why?” I told him I didn’t know, I had a funny feeling and all I could say was that it would be easier to pour a foot of concrete in than dig a foot out. This made sense to Peter and so we did it!

By October 1991 we had gone out to tender for the pit, decided on a contractor, signed up with him and we were waiting for him to, start. He was a week late and I went off for a week on Eigg leaving Graham Riley in charge. I got back on the following weekend and was in early on Monday morning. I went into the boiler house and found the most dreadful mess I have ever seen in my life! There was a jagged gash across the floor, protruding out of it were various bits of scaffolding pole and the edge of a sheet of plywood. This was bad enough but when I looked closely I saw that the hole was full of set concrete to within six inches of the top. I couldn’t believe it, I went into the hut and had just brewed up when Graham arrived. “Have you seen it?” he said. I said, “Sit down, tell me all about it.” So he did, and what a sorry tale it was!

The contractor had arrived on site on Monday morning and Graham said he was worried from the start. He said they didn’t seem to be very sure about what they were doing. They started to cut the floor and when they had opened up a narrow trench, started digging by hand. This was according to the scheme of work we had set out but they were being far too cautious and were digging too narrow a trench. At about four feet they hit running sand and water and panicked. They tried to hold it back with the plywood and scaffold poles and when this didn’t work, they poured cement on the trench. At this point Graham had the sense to stop them and call Peter Dawson. Peter came up, took one look and said “This is a job for Stanley!” He told the contractor to go away until he was called for.

Being El Supremo is heady stuff and most of the time it was great fun but every now and then a decision drops in your lap which has to be dealt with and there is only one good answer, the right one. This situation was a classic example and was just one of many I had to take while running the project. We had made a promise to deliver the Whitelees Engine in steam at Ellenroad the following May and it would be tremendously damaging if we didn’t fulfil our promise. The botched trench in the floor of the boiler house was only the tip of the iceberg, this was only one part of a very complicated problem and as I sat there with my cup of tea in the site hut, I had to get all the facts marshalled, sort out the priorities and decide what was the best way forward. As Sherlock Holmes once said, ‘this is a three pipe problem’. I lit up and pondered.

You’ll remember that I mentioned earlier that when Total Oil took over Coates I had approached them and asked them to supply us with oil for the engine free and they agreed. This initial overture had matured over the months and Total, via Coates had become very interested in the engine for PR purposes. After a lot of discussion we came to an agreement which was that when we had the Whitelees engine in steam, Total would host an open day at the engine house. They wanted this to be in May 1992 and a lot of pressure was put on me to agree to this. I knew it was an incredibly short timescale but I also knew that this was a crucial opportunity for the Trust so I took the gamble and agreed. This set in motion a train of events that couldn’t be stopped as Total geared up the PR exercise and started to make preparations for the day. Remember, this was in late summer 1991 and all we had was a heap of engine parts and a bare concrete floor.

Apart from the administrative pressures there were some very serious practical problems. We were proposing to dig a hole fourteen feet deep, forty feet long and fifteen feet wide within three feet of the foundations of the engine house and, more importantly, the engine beds of the Ellenroad engine. Further, this hole didn’t start at ground level, the floor of the boiler house was six feet lower than ground level before we started. In effect we were going to go down over twenty feet into an alluvial flood plain and nobody knew exactly where the water table was. All I knew for certain was that we were at least ten feet below the level of the River Beal and it was a virtual certainty that we would hit water.

Put like this, I can forgive anybody who is reading this for coming to the conclusion that I was mad! There were plenty of people about who would have agreed with you but to my way of thinking, this wasn’t a problem in respect of whether the project was possible, it was simply a difficulty that had to be addressed and a solution found. I had to start from the point where I believed it was possible and we could do it. The first thing to do was think clearly about it. The water was no problem, all that was needed to combat this was a good pump or pumps that would dewater the excavation as fast as water flowed in. The danger, and it was a big danger, was that if we hit pockets of sand in the sub strata, these would become liquid and start to flow until they attained a level. If these sands formed part of the sub strata under the engine house foundations we would. In effect, pull the foundations out from under the building and the engine.

Peter and I had taken all this into consideration when we let the contract out but it was fairly obvious that the contractor had totally mislead us as to his abilities and that we had to have a rethink about everything. I told Peter that we hadn’t to get downhearted about what had happened. In effect, we had dug a trial hole and established how serious the problem was. More importantly we had received a warning that our concept of setting a contractor on to excavate and pour a foundation was fundamentally flawed, a normal contractor didn’t have the expertise that I needed.

Now then, this is going to sound like a diversion but it isn’t, it’s a valuable piece of advice! I’ve always been a nosy bugger, if I see something that intrigues me I always go and ask questions, this is how you learn. Another point, never underestimate the value of serendipity and lateral thinking when you are planning anything. They can be diversions sometimes but occasionally, they help you to come up with innovation and can be very effective.

I was still in the site hut, drinking tea and smoking my pipe. Peter had gone back to his office and Graham was leaving me alone. By the way, don’t forget we had a signed contract worth about £25,000 hanging out over the precipice with a contractor who was going to have to be fired! I put that can of worms on one side for the time being and drifted off into deep thought. Another little point, if anybody had come in at that moment they might well have asked themselves what this leader was doing, half asleep in a chair in the corner!

My mind drifted off to Morecambe Bay the previous summer. I had been up there for some reason and noticed a lot of activity out on the sands. A construction gang seemed to be digging holes out in the bay. Nosey bugger syndrome took over and I walked out to look at what they were doing. They were digging a trench in the sand fifteen feet deep and below water level in sand! I got talking to them and asked how the hell they could get away with it. Anyone who has ever dug a hole on the beach knows what happens to sand when you get down to the water table, it goes liquid and unstable, this was exactly the problem we had at Ellenroad. The bloke in charge of the site showed me, they had installed a refrigeration system along each side of the line of the trench and had frozen the sub-strata, this allowed them to dig deep enough to lay the sewage outfall pipe which was the reason for the trench. I was fascinated by this and stored it up in my mind. More to the point, I remembered the name of the firm, MGF from Astley near Manchester.

I picked up the phone and after a few enquiries found myself talking to John Kelly at MGF. I arranged for him to come up to the engine house that afternoon and have a look at the rabbit and then I went down to Rochdale to see Peter.

The conclusion I had come to was that we were looking at the problem in the wrong way, we were thinking in terms of a concrete lined hole ready to drop the engine into. What we really needed was a piece of trench the right size to build the concrete pit in. This hole had to be safe and waterproof in the bottom to allow us to work. I flew this past Peter and told him about John Kelly and he brightened up a bit. Then his face clouded as he remembered the small matter of the contract! He told me that the contractor could take us to the cleaners if he wanted to. I said “Forget about that, it’s my problem, I’ll go and see the bloke.”

I rang the contractor up and he was in his office so I went to see him. I called in at an off-licence and bought a bottle of whisky (which the Trust never got charged for) and thus armed, descended on the unfortunate bloke. He was sat in his office looking very miserable. He cheered up a bit when I plonked the bottle on the table, asked for two glasses and said “We’ve got things to talk about!”

I’m afraid I didn’t have much mercy on him. I started by laying out the facts. He had bitten off more than he could chew. The mess he had left us was a major complication. We had two ways of proceeding, either I invoked the terms of the contract, we went to law, and after spending a fortune on lawyers one of us won and the other lost, or, I gave him a cheque for £1500 and we tore the contract up. It didn’t take him long to decide, I gave him the money, he gave me the contract and a letter saying he was withdrawing. I left the bottle on his desk and drove away wondering how I was going to explain this to the Trustees!

Peter arrived at the engine house after lunch and I told him what I had done and gave him the contract and the letter. Remember, this was five hours after first seeing the problem, we had a possible solution, we’d thrown £1500 at a big problem and made it go away and we had a trenching contractor coming in that afternoon. Not a bad morning’s work by anybody’s standards. Recognise that all this was only possible because I had the power to act, the imprest account and good support. In any normal set up we would have been into a long round of meetings and in the end would have come up with a compromise that probably wouldn’t have worked. Actually, if that had been the case I think the Trustees would have jettisoned the project!

John Kelly came and I liked him straight away. He was a big, young, pleasant Irish bloke and he gave every evidence of knowing what he was talking about. Inside two hours we had agreed what we were going to do, set a price and arranged for them to start that week, I think actually it was the following day but am not certain about that.

John didn’t see any big problem. What he suggested was that we dig a trial hole right up against the foundations of the house and go down as far as we needed to find out just what was happening. Meanwhile, we opened one of the shutters into the boiler house and make a temporary ramp with rubble so that we could get an excavator and a dump truck into the boiler house. Once we were ready, we would start digging down into the floor over the whole of the area we wanted. We were going to take the hole out in one lump. As the hole went down we would sheet pile it round the outside to protect us and the foundations from cave-in. We couldn’t use Larsen piles which are the normal sheet piles that would be used because these would have to be driven by a pile driver and we couldn’t have that sort of vibration near the foundations. Anyway, there wasn’t enough headroom to take the pile driver. We needed another system.

John had the answer. We would use sheet piles but without the locking flange that sealed Larsen piles. These would be arranged loose but overlapping around the periphery of the hole and would be supported on the inside by a large box section frame that contained hydraulic jacks. The idea was that these could be pressurised and as they expanded they forced the piles against the sides of the excavation. The method of excavation was that the area at the bottom of each pile was dug out by hand until about two feet was clear below the pile. There was a hole in the pile at the foot and the chisel of a pneumatic jack hammer could be used to drive the pile down until it was firmly seated again in the base of the hole. Then the same operation was repeated all round the trench until all the piles were down to the two feet level. At this point the excavator could start to remove the two feet of trench bottom freed up by dropping the piles. The beauty of this was that the only place where sand and water could run was at the point where you were working on the original pile. If this happened it was easy to drive the pile down with the jack hammer and stop the flow. As we got deeper, another reinforcing frame was inserted and so on until we had reached the depth we needed. At this point we would pour 18” of concrete in the hole to anchor the bottom of the piles, take out the bottom frame and shutter up for the wall of the pit. Once the bottom four feet of wall was poured the rest of the frames could be taken off, the piles cut of at ground level and the rest of the pit poured to specification. Nowt to it!

Of course, there was a lot more to it than this but we had the right firm now and work went forward very quickly. There were only three men on the job, the excavator driver, a labourer (He was the most Irish Irishman I have ever come across in my life and a tiger for work!) and Jack the Pit Boss. The latter was a bloke who had been working on the Channel Tunnel and had come out of the job because he said it was too dangerous. We couldn’t have had a better man, he knew exactly what he was doing and all the tricks of the trade. His methods were very simple, for instance, we had a pump running all the time draining the hole and the big problem with this is that the water is so dirty, liquid mud in fact, that it would normally choke any centrifugal pump. Jack’s answer was simple, on the first day he asked me to get him some bales of hay. Every morning he would put a bed of hay down in the sump and sit the pump on top of it, this acted as a simple filter and the pump could do its job. He used hay as well whenever there was an inrush at the bottom of a pile, he would simply stuff a cake into the site of the inrush, the debris caught in the hay and made its own seal. Problem solved.

There was one other major danger, this was what is known as ‘boiling’. What happens is that it is possible to reach a point where the pressure of water from below is enough to break through the material in the bottom of the pit. The effect of this if it happens is that the whole of the bottom of the pit looks as though it is boiling as the water breaks through. I asked Jack about this and he said he didn’t think it would happen. As we got further down the material we were working in was boulder clay with isolated pockets of sand. The pockets would boil but Jack reckoned that the strata was strong enough to withstand the pressure and we wouldn’t get a big boil. It was good to watch the three of them working together. There wasn’t a lot of shouting when we got a minor boil, everyone knew what to do.

The way Jack managed the problem was that while the excavator was working, he always kept about five tons of dry borrow stacked up just to one side. Jack would direct the shovel to where he wanted him to dig and would indicate how much bite he wanted. He was watching the ground all the time. If they hit sand and it started to boil, Jack signalled the driver who dropped the bucket of spoil that had caused the problem to one side, swung round and got a bucket full of dry borrow. While he was doing this the labourer would have grabbed a cake of hay and he and Jack would be dancing on this like dervishes! The excavator then dropped the dry material on the boil and they did this until it was stopped. If it was near the side of the hole Jack would drop the piles close to it before making another attempt. If this didn’t cure it he would leave that place and work round it until it had become higher than the rest of the pit bottom, at that stage it could usually be dug out. We never hit a really serious boil and managed to contain all the sand we hit. I asked Jack what he would do if it all boiled and he said “Get out! But there’s no problem as long as you can see daylight!” I knew what he meant. There was all the difference in the world between a boil in the Whitelees Pit and one twenty miles out under the Channel!

While the pit was sinking, John Kelly, Peter and I had a look at the plans for the pit. John said he’d like to quote for the concrete work, it was a bit outside their normal brief but he had the equipment and the men and would like to see the job through. We only had one standard to go by, their work on the pit, judging by this we could do worse so we set MGF on to do it. The nice thing was that even with the money I had shelled out to get rid of the original contractor, we were inside the original price. Deep sighs of relief all round.

A word now about the pit itself. The first thing to recognise is that what we were actually doing was building a concrete boat and putting it into possible twelve feet of water in a rainy season. I had some experience of this when Cyril Richardson built a big pit at Little Stainton to hold the slurry from the farm buildings. I told him it was wrong when the contractors built it but he never took any notice. All was well until he emptied the pit in the spring when the water table was high. As they emptied it, the pit floated up out of the ground and cracked! The bottom line is Archimedes’s Principle: ‘If a body is partly or wholly immersed in a fluid, the up thrust or loss in weight is equal to the amount of water displaced’. In other words, the construction of the pit has to be heavier than the same volume of water. In the case of the Whitelees we used a 100% safety margin. We couldn’t give it the weight in the walls because we were short of room so we put a massive concrete collar all round it to locate it and make sure it was far too heavy to float. [The funny thing about this was that our incredibly expensive structural engineer had missed this completely]

In addition, the pit had to be poured very accurately as it had to fit the dimensions of the engine. We couldn’t pour it all at once because of the frames and even when we had finished the walls, the central pillar that supported the flyshaft bearing couldn’t be cast until its relationship with the walls could be accurately measured. This support had to be accurate to 1/16 of an inch. Another complication is that large amounts of concrete generate considerable heat when it is setting. This raises problems with expansion and contraction which are approximately quantifiable but a lot depends on the skill of the person building the shuttering. John and Peter were reasonably happy with all this so we decided to let the contract out on this basis.

Meanwhile, Jack and his mate had to deal with the mess left by the original contractor. The concrete had to be cut out as the piles went down and I reckon it put another £1000 on the job. Even so, it was a cheap price to pay for good work. As the pit sank the hole looked enormous. It was of course wider, longer and deeper than the finished pit which had to fit inside it. It looked big enough to drop the Ellenroad Engine in and have room to spare! In the end we got the depth, put in a mat of reinforcing steel and poured 18” concrete in the bottom to stabilise the piles. Jack and his mate were finished on the job at this point and there was one funny incident. We had all taken a shine to these two, apart from the fact they were masters of their craft and were getting us out of (or into!) a hole, they were nice blokes. Jack treated his labourer shamefully, he swore at him terribly all the time and I asked the labourer one day why he stood it and never swore back. “He’s the boss and while we are in the hole what he says goes. My time comes when we finish!” On the day they finished the labourer got his turn, egged on I have to say by us. He started into Jack and swore at him solid for what seemed like five minutes, Jack never said a word. When it was done, they had a good laugh and a cup of tea and disappeared from our lives. I can’t say how much admiration I have for men like that. When all the suits and the shoes have finished managing, blokes like them simply climb into the hole and do the job. Given the choice, I am in the hole with them rather than the conference room.

The next gang that moved in installed the complicated network of reinforcing bars and erected the first lift of shuttering. When all was ready we hired a concrete pump and ordered the mixer wagons. We pumped the first pour in and gave it four days to set then we removed the rest of the hydraulic frames, cut off the pile heads below finished ground level, raised the shuttering and poured the rest in one day. After a week we struck the shuttering and revealed the pit in all its glory. There was a bit of making good to do but very little, it was a wonderful job and definitely rock solid and waterproof.

There were still two elements of the pit that needed to be done, one was the central pillar for the flyshaft bearing and the other was the cylinder base. I was fairly confident about my measurements but decided to leave these until we had the beam in place and I could do some accurate final measurements. As it turned out, this was a very wise decision! Apart from this, we now had a pit, all we had to do was build the Whitelees Engine!


At about Christmas 1991 we had the pit ready for the Whitelees engine and a deadline of March 21st to have it in steam for the Total Open day at Ellenroad. We also had a problem in that I was running short of funding. This had been building up for a bit but I had been concentrating on getting things done on the ground more than funding. This wasn’t a matter of policy on my part, it was simply priorities. The Directors were getting restless but I told them I didn’t see any problem, I would carry on working and booking my time but they could pay me when they had the money. They weren’t really happy with this but had no alternative, I just shoved all this to the back of my mind and got on with the job in hand.

I had been laying plans for a while, I knew I had no money for skilled help and had to build the bloody thing myself so I had a word with a firm at Castleton who supplied lifting gear and they gave me eight 30cwt chain blocks and trolleys that had just come out of Lucas’ from long term hire and I installed one on every beam in the roof of the boiler house above the pit and all the way across the floor. I had them tested and insured and so had a way of shifting all the pieces of the engine single handed. Some of the pieces weighed more than 30cwt but I had the beams tested to 3 tons and knew the blocks would stand the overload so that was all right. I bought some nylon slings and won a couple of pull lifts from a friendly engineering works and we were ready to begin.

I had a word with Rochdale Training and they lent me two apprentices for the duration and Cecil Hufton, one of the volunteers said he’d come in and help me full time. Cecil was an old bloke but he was invaluable because apart from giving a hand with the heavy stuff he cleaned all the parts as we got them out of the stack.

At the same time I had a firm of pipefitters working to put the main in to the engine. I had begged a very expensive pressure reducing valve and the money for the pipefitting was already budgeted so that bit was sorted. I think we finally got cleared up in the boiler room by mid-January, there was a lot to do because we had to dig the temporary ramp out and clear all the muck away left over from the pit construction..

At last, we were ready and I quickly slipped into a routine of 14 hours a day building the engine. I’m going to give quite a full description of this because it isn’t a subject you’ll find documented anywhere else as far as I know so I may as well get it out of my head and down on to paper. First of all, a general point. Every time I have stripped or moved an engine under English Heritage supervision they have always laid great stress on the fact that every part has to be identified and numbered. I had no hassle with them over the Whitelees because they weren’t funding it and as far as they were concerned it didn’t exist. They knew what I was doing and had refused to fund on the grounds that it would ‘dilute the concept’ of the project but the funny thing was that nobody ever came back to us and asked for the return of the funding we had already had. They would have been entitled to do this if they had stuck to the rules after they refused to countenance funding because in legal terms, what I was doing was breaking the funding agreement by installing the Whitelees.

I didn’t discuss this with anyone except Peter Dawson, I told him I had an idea I knew what was going on and that EH had got themselves into a position where they couldn’t actually do anything. Besides, I had indications from them that regardless of the Science Museum opinion, they would ‘give a fair wind’ to the installation of the Whitelees. In any case, what could they do? If they asked for the money we hadn’t got it and under the terms of the constitution of the Trust which I had drawn up, if the Trust liquidated guess who had to take control of the Project? The Museums .and Galleries Commission, in other words, the Science Museum. All they could do was allow the volunteers to run it so what the hell! As for numbering every part, this was crazy as it was already done. All engines were erected and fitted in the shop before being dismantled and shipped to the site. The old fitters marked every piece that needed it and the rest just fell into place if you knew what you were doing. I had photographed it all in situ at Holcrofts and I had the Frank Wightman drawing. This was all I needed.

Three months after writing this I have come back to it to revise and check it and I’m struck by how my thinking has progressed about the politics of the Whitelees in the interim. I haven’t any proof that machinations were going on behind the scenes but I have a feeling in my water that this was what had been going on. I was getting fairly proficient at de-coding bureaucratic letters and what I was reading between the lines was that the opposition came from the committee in the Science Museum. I knew enough about the people who sat on that committee and the linkages between them and David Sekers to make some fairly well educated guesses as to what was afoot. There again, I might be being paranoid, I have no proof. But, to quote the old adage, just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you!

The first thing we needed to do before we could start the erection was make a very strong frame to hold the entablature beam and erect a pillar to hold the outboard end of this. Normally the entablature beam would have sat in the side walls of the engine house and these would be very heavily built to support the weight and the other forces that came on it when the engine was working. In our case one of the side walls was missing and the engine was too far away from the main wall of the engine house to carry the other end. This was because of how we had to site the engine to take into account all the other design considerations. I had no problem with this because the entablature beam was cracked and had been repaired at some time. This is quite common with cast iron entablature beams. If the engine gets a slug of water or there is some other malfunction there can be a lot of lifting strain on these beams and being cast iron they frequently crack. What we were going to do was erect a pillar made of thick wall steel pipe and put in two girders across to the wall which would accept the original entablature beam between them and restrain it. This held the beam in its correct position and strengthened it against any future strain. Even if it broke in two, the engine would function.

My problem was that this was a heavy construction and we had no money! I went down to Rochdale Electric Welding and had a word with Matt Ingoe and his son John. REW had been my boiler repairers at Bancroft and were the bee’s knees. They could do any type of heavy repair on boilers in either welded or riveted construction. They had some wonderful craftsmen working for them and had never let me down. They did all the upgrading on the Lancashire boiler when we re-commissioned it. They had also inserted the replacement pillars in the boiler room for us and in the course of that job John had come up with a slightly more risky but very effective way of doing the job. This had reduced the time needed to do it and he offered to lower the price. At the time, this would have caused more hassle than anybody needed because I had already agreed the funding so I told him the original price stood but that he owed me. I never told anyone about this but in February 1992 it was pay back time! John gave me some terrible stick but the upshot was that the following day Paul Greenwood and Stuart Lomax turned up with a plant wagon and with no drawings started to do the job for me.

They fabricated the base for the pillar, erected the pillar and cut out the wall of the engine house for the two girders. We lifted the girders into place and as they tack welded everything into place I went out to the site hut for a pot of tea. Actually, I started off to go for the tea but on the way noticed Cecil dragging a lump of cast iron out of the heap of engine parts ready to clean it. Now I’ve always claimed to have a crap detector in the back of my head. It whines when I get close to anything that can be described as crap! It started whining as I watched Cecil and my brain suddenly kicked into gear. I looked at the offending lump of iron and said “What the bloody hell’s that?” Cecil looked up, he said he didn’t know but there were two of them. I looked at the lump and I knew what it was, it was a raising block for a pedestal bearing. The problem was I couldn’t think where it fitted, I had no memory of it. As I looked at it I realised that there was only one place they could fit, under the trunnion bearings which sat on the entablature beam and supported the engine beam. If this was true, we had a problem because all my calculations were based on the fact that we only had three inches of clearance between the beam end and the roof when it was running!

I went into the hut and got the working copy of the Frank Wightman drawing out. I saw the reason for the problem straight away, Frank had missed the raising blocks out when he drew the engine. I hadn’t worked off his measurements but had used the drawing as an aide memoir when I was measuring the individual parts to get the dimensions of the pit. I had missed the blocks out of the measurements. A quick trip into the boiler house and a measure up showed me I was nine inches out! Remember what I said about my conversation with Peter when we finalised the drawings of the pit? Was some subconscious mechanism at work in my head? I’ll be buggered if I know but was I ever glad I’d listened to my voices! I went in to the boiler room and shouted up to Paul, “Can you do a bit of a modification for me? Drop those two girders nine inches.” Paul looked at me and asked if I was joking, I told them what had happened and I’ll always remember what Stuart Lomas said after I had apologised. “Don’t worry Stanley, they call it engineering!” Luckily all they had to do was cut out the web of a short piece of girder on top of the pillar and cut another nine inches out of the wall but what a let off!

Our next problem was to lift the entablature beam into place. This weighed about two tons and it was a complicated lift to get it above the girders and manoeuvre it into its place. We managed it and started to weld in the restraints that would hold it firm. Meanwhile I had to address a problem I had identified while we were lifting the beam in. We had just enough room to work but we wouldn’t have enough room to lift the engine beam in over the top especially when the raising blocks were in place. The problem was that there was room for the beam but not enough room for the space taken up by the chain blocks and trolleys which ran on the beams in the roof. I had to retire for another think!

We had some 30cwt pull lifts, these are a useful tool, not really meant for lifting but they take up very little room and are a ratchet winch that has a very short lift. I could do the final part of the lift with these but I hadn’t got a sky hook. A sky hook is the finest asset a fitter can have, it is a mobile hook that you can stick to the sky anywhere you want it and so get a lift! I remember when we were re-roofing the rope race in the early days I looked at Peter’s drawings and the roof was to be supported on substantial wooden joists, perfectly adequate for the job. I told him they were no good, I wanted steel beams 18” deep. He looked at me as though I had gone crackers and said “Do you think they’ll be strong enough?” I told him they weren’t there to hold up the roof, they were there to help whoever had the job in future of hanging something in the rope race or doing a lift below. “When that fitter goes to have a look at the job he’ll look up into the roof and he’ll know straight away that it was a fitter who specified those beams. He’ll be a happy man!” Unfortunately I hadn’t designed the roof of the boiler house with the Whitelees Engine in mind so I had to improvise.

We punched a hole in the concrete roof and put a strong beam across the hole with a wire sling hanging down through the hole. The beam was packed up on bricks until there was just a small loop inside the boiler room. We had a sky hook! This was used for the final lift, we got the beam as high as we could, then inserted the raising blocks and trunnion bearings and sat the engine beam in its place. Job done and we could all go home for some tea!

Now we had the beam in place I could do my final measurements to locate the central pillar and the cylinder base. I thanked my lucky stars that I’d had sense to leave this until I had the beam up. Remember, I’d lowered the whole of the engine nine inches! When we lifted the cylinder out of the engine house at Holcrofts I hadn’t dismantled it, we hadn’t enough time. It had been sat there for two years with its cover on and the piston and rod still inside it. I had to pull this to bits to lessen the weight and also to get accurate measurements of the stroke so that I could get the cylinder at the right height. The cylinder of a steam engine is longer than the stroke and the piston should be mounted so that at mid-stroke the piston is at mid point in the cylinder. This leaves an equal amount of clearance at each end. This is necessary to accommodate any small amounts of water that may be carried over to the engine. If there isn’t any room, the slug of water, being incompressible, stops the piston dead before it has reached the end of its stroke and something has to break in the engine.

When I got the cover off and lifted the piston and rod out I was intrigued by what I found. The bottom of the cylinder had been scarred by deep channels chiselled into it leading across to the outlet for the cylinder drain right in the bottom. I didn’t understand why this had been done but noted it, measured the bore, made my calculations and built a temporary girder frame to hold the cylinder at the correct height, this was calculated to give equal clearance at both ends of the stroke. Next, I went into the workshop at home and made all the holding down bolts out of two inch black bar and cut and threaded authentic square nuts for them. All this took about a week during which Cecil and the lads carried on with sorting and cleaning engine parts. I had told them which we would need next and they were making a good job of them. The place looked like a proper fitting shop as all the parts of the flywheel and the various keys and wedges lined up in gleaming rows waiting for the build.

I marked up the position of the concrete pillar in the pit, adjusted the height of the pocket in the wall of the pit for the outrigger bearing of the flyshaft and mounted the cylinder on its temporary frame. Then I rang John Kelly at MGF and they came down to do the final concreting in the pit.

I did my final measurements before we located the central pillar. This was a very ticklish job and we used far more strongbacks than usual to support the shuttering. We poured it all except the last two feet then I fitted the bed plate for the flyshaft bearing in exactly the right place. At the same time we shuttered round the temporary framework supporting the cylinder and poured the concrete in that. The rest of the concrete was poured in the pillar and we gave it a week to cool down before we struck the scaffolding. The pillar was as near perfect as we could get it. If ever you go to Ellenroad watch the crank as it swings round at the back of the pillar and notice how small the clearance is between it and the pillar.

I was ready now to start on the flywheel. I had been looking forward to this because it was potentially the most challenging job on the engine. If I didn’t get it right it wouldn’t run true and as it was a geared drive, this wouldn’t do at all! With the help of Cecil and the lads I got the main bearing housing on the pillar installed and the outrigger bearing on the side of the pit. One last measure up and check with the level and I was ready. I waited until they had gone home and then set to to lift the flyshaft and flywheel boss into place. I did this on my own because it was a very heavy lift, far heavier than anything else we would have to do and actually was pushing the tackle to its limits. I used two blocks all the time and had to keep the whole lot balanced. Working slowly and with many a pause for thought and inspection I moved it quietly over to its place and lowered it in. I breathed a sigh of relief as it sank into its bearings and there was something about the way it rested there which made me sure I had got it right, it looked comfortable. The nicest part about this of course was the look on the lads faces when they came in the following morning. I told them the good fairy had been busy in the night!

I settled down to some honest fitting from this point. First we installed a chain block directly over the centre of the wheel and then we started fitting the spokes to the boss. The spokes were all numbered and were fitted into borings in the boss where they were retained by double cotters acting as opposed wedges. They were a beautiful fit and the only fitting that needed doing was on a couple of the wedges which I reckoned had been re-made at the time the engine was erected at Holcroft’s in 1957 because they were planed. The great fascination about building something like this for me is that you are following in the footsteps of the old fitters who first erected the engine in Petrie’s shop in 1841. You come across all their difficulties and deficiencies. One thing about the Whitelees which was obvious was that for its time, it was very accurately built. The other thing that was noticeable, as in the keys that needed re-fitting, was that they hadn’t got a planing machine. These had only just been invented then, all the plane surfaces on the engine were either chipped and filed by hand or generated on the lathe which would be the only machine tool they had at that time. It must have been a big lathe as well, the flywheel boss was no lightweight.

Once all the spokes were in the procedure was to fit the rim segments and then finish off by fitting the gear segments to the outside of the rim. This was routine, repetitive work but had to be done very carefully as the wheel was out of balance. This had started as soon as we got one spoke in of course. The cure was to restrain the wheel with a chain block at each side. These had to be re-attached each time the wheel was tuned and it was at this point when only one block was holding the weight that you had to be very careful. Once the wheel was complete we spun it round and I was delighted to find it was actually running nearer to truth than it had been at Holcroft’s. I don’t claim any credit for this apart from the fact we must have been more consistent with our fitting than the 1957 gang because the truth of the wheel depended primarily on the accuracy of the machining and that was superb.

We then mounted the governor on its pedestal above the flyshaft bearing and concentrated on the other end of the beam. I had decided that it would be easier to fit the parallel motion and the piston and rod while the con rod end of the beam was free. The first thing we did was fit the cover temporarily as this gave us a true centre on the cylinder. I hung a plumb bob from the centre of the bearing position for the end of the piston rod and first tried the line for centre on the cover and then on the base of the cylinder. I did this by making a piece of wood that fitted exactly in the bore and marking the centre through the cover. We then took the cover off and transferred the piece of wood to the base of the cylinder and checked the line against it. We made a few minor adjustments with wedges under the base until we had the centre perfect. Finally I did one check with the plumb bob on the mark in the cylinder bottom and the cover installed. As near as I could see we had it perfect. Then we took the cover off, removed the wooden target and did a final check measurement on the equality of the distance from the cylinder ends on both ends of the stroke. I was within an eighth of an inch and that was OK by me. We put permanent packings in in place of the wedges, tightened the holding down bolts, did one final check with the plumb line and then installed the piston, piston rod and cover.

I had fabricated a girder frame and welded it in place above the cylinder. This was put in to act as a stay for the entablature beam and also to give us a sky hook to install the anchor points of the parallel motion. I wasn’t looking forward to setting the parallel motion up as I had never done one before from scratch. I could hear Johnny Pickles telling Newton that on no account was he to alter the parallel motion on the big beam engine at Victoria Mill at Earby because if he did he'd never get it right again! I’d talked to Newton about it and he didn’t really have any specific advice beyond listening to what I thought would be the right way to go about it and telling me to use my head.

I’d given this a lot of thought and had come to the conclusion that the best way to do it was to set the engine beam dead parallel, that is, at mid-stroke and then set the parallelogram of the linkage dead square and level and measure the anchor points of the linkage from that position. There was a certain amount of adjustment on the connections so I thought we would be near enough. In theory it should have been perfect but there was always the chance that I’d get the anchorages slightly wrong. We did it this way, attached the piston rod and barred the engine over to see how we were. We were dead true across the line of the beam and only an eighth of an inch out on the centre line so I left it at that. The packing would tolerate that amount of play. I’m sure we could have fiddled with it and got it better, the basic positioning was good and the adjustments would have fine-tuned it, but I had my eye on my deadline and good enough was all right by me.

Next, we fitted the connecting rod between the opposite beam end and the crank. This fitted perfectly and when we barred the engine over it cleared the central pillar easily and evenly so that was all right! We then shifted operations back to the cylinder end, we had to fit the valve chest to the cylinder.

The valve chest was a beautiful cast iron construction and was a bit of a puzzle to me. I knew it was made up of separate castings but they were so well fitted that we couldn’t find the joins or even any trace of how it was fastened together! I had no intention of dismantling it but needed to know as much as possible about it before attempting to fit it as I was working at a big disadvantage. I knew nothing about the internal arrangement of the ports in the circular slide valve and they were almost totally inaccessible. I could measure the valve itself with ease as it was out of the bore but the positioning and shape of the seats was a different matter. I knew that they had used the common practice of cut-outs in the seats to give a rudimentary form of lead by allowing a small quantity of steam in before Top Dead Centre and BDC but I had to get measurements in order to set the valves correctly. I reasoned that it was no good relying on the evidence of the old fitting marks on the flyshaft and eccentric as we had rebuilt the engine and these would almost certainly have changed. As it turned out, I was right but not for the reasons I had deduced!

In the end I got the measurements by using a wooden batten with a nail driven through it at the end. I passed to batten up the bore and found the top edge of the port, the bottom edge and the depth and shape of the cut-out. All this was done by feel but I had some clues from the bottom port which I could see and so had a rough check on my measurements at the top. I decided eventually that I had a pretty reasonable set of measurements and could fit the anchor plate for the motion, the circular slide valve and the rod and cover. We were ready to fit the valve chest to the cylinder.

The first thing to say is that the valve chest was a big lump. There was very little difference between its weight and that of the cylinder It fitted on a two small faces about nine inches square cast on to the cylinder and these were the admission and exhaust ports to the cylinder so they had to be steam tight. When fitted, the valve chest was hung on the front face of the cylinder and all the weight was supported by these two faces. This was the reason I had taken so much trouble with the cylinder foundation as, when it was all erected, the cylinder was way out of balance on account of the weight of the valve chest hung on the front of it.

Once I was ready to lift the valve chest I had another set of problems to address before I could attempt to fit it. The first was the condition of the studs and nuts which held the chest on to the faces. They were pretty rough. They hadn’t been perfect when the engine was built and after over 150 years of undisturbed corrosion, both they and the tappings they fitted into on the cylinder had deteriorated. I decided to make new studs and make the threads that went into the cylinder slightly oversize. I was making all new nuts so the outboard end could be standard Whitworth thread. These were fitted and bedded in Manganesite. This is a very old jointing compound made out of double boiled linseed oil and manganese dioxide powder. It is black and sticky and when raised to steam temperature it bakes hard and sets like cement.

You’re working hard here to follow this lot so let’s have a Manganesite interlude! Being an old-fashioned bugger and knowing what’s good for me I am a big fan of double boiled linseed oil. In my experience it is wonderful stuff for preserving, sealing and combating corrosion. I have never known a joint made with Manganesite to fail on account of the jointing, only by reason of bad fitting. I remember working with Newton one day when we were fitting a new cylinder packing on the Bancroft Engine. He cut his hand and I noticed that he dipped his finger in the Manganesite tin and rubbed some into the cut. The joke with this stuff is that if it gets rubbed into your skin it’s no use trying to wash it off. The only way you get rid of it is to let it wear off! I laughed at Newton and asked him what the bloody hell he thought he was doing. He told me that it was the best stuff in the world for protecting a cut and promoting healing! I told him he was a daft old bugger and left it at that. Many years later I heard an item on Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 in which they were talking about the latest treatment for healing varicose ulcers in old people. As you probably know, these can be terribly slow to mend. The new, state of the art dressing was impregnated with manganese dioxide! I went straight round to Newton’s and told him he might not have been as daft as I thought. It just goes to show, don’t dismiss old style cures out of hand. Remember Mother Hanson and my carbuncle?

Back to the valve chest. Once the stud problem was out of the way I had another thorny issue to address. When Duncan and I split the valve chest from the cylinder before removing it from the Holcroft site, we had puzzled over the seal between the valve chest and the cylinder. As far as we could see at the time it was simply metal to metal, two fitted faces. We didn’t bother too much about it then, we had other fish to fry. Once I got the valve chest laid out on the boiler room floor and cleaned it up I realised that it wasn’t two fitted faces at all. The seal had been made with jointing cement which had set as hard as the parent metal and when I tested it, was magnetic. I took a piece home and found it drilled and tapped like cast iron. I decided in the finish that it was a mixture of cast iron filings and, you’ve guessed it, double boiled linseed oil! I took a piece of it down to Edward Keirby’s in Rochdale who made all my packing for me and showed it to Roger and his dad but neither of them had seen anything like it before. My problem was that I could soon make some fine cast iron powder on the lathe and could get the linseed oil but I didn’t know how long it would take to set, neither was I sure that my diagnosis was right. All I was sure of was that we only had one chance to get it right and if we got it wrong there wouldn’t be enough time to strip the whole thing down to rectify it so, once more, Stanley had a decision to make!

I thought long and hard and in the end decided to get Keirby’s to make me two proofed asbestos packings 3/8 of an inch thick. These would be bedded in Manganesite to give the seal. The problem was that these wouldn’t be rigid enough to give me the mechanical strength I needed in the joint so we made the packings an inch wide and filled the remainder of the space with a mixture of ceramic fibre and Manganesite. I reckoned that if we put the valve chest back bedded on to this but only nipped the joints we would have enough strength to make it integral and that we could leave the final tightening down until we warmed the cylinder when we got steam on it. By that time the compound should have hardened a bit and would bake with the rise in temperature. In the end this was what we did and as far as I know there has never been the slightest sign of any leakage on the joints. One thing is sure and certain, if ever there is they’ll need to read this chapter before they strip it down to re-make the packing!

Having made the joints, fitting the valve chest was straightforward but an awkward lift and very stressful. I had this mental image of the tackle failing and us dropping the casting and breaking it. I could have fabricated a replacement but our deadline, budget and the quality of the job would all have gone to the wall, in other words, disaster! As it was it went straight on with no bother and we nipped the fastenings up and stripped the tackle. It was looking more and more like an engine.

We then fitted the valve gear, the twist motion that helped even the wear out on the bore of the valve and the eccentric rod and associated parts. Once we had done this I barred the engine over and at the time thought it was very stiff. This got worse and when I had a look to see what was causing it found to my dismay that part of the twist motion had come loose, displaced to one side and bent the valve rod going up into the valve chest! One of the lads had forgotten to tighten some nuts and I was at fault because I hadn’t checked them. We dismantled the gear, drew the rod out and I took it down to a friendly engineering firm at Castleton, told them what I had done and they straightened it out for me and skimmed the bottom end where it ran in the packing. This was a ticklish job but they did it well and for free! Problem solved, rod back in, nuts tightened properly this time and all was well. In fact, it was better than before and sealed better in the bottom gland because 150 years of wear had been taken out of it.

The next part we had to address was the condenser and air pump which sat in the pit below the cylinder and were connected to the cylinder by a cast iron eduction pipe. This pipe had been sealed into the top of the condenser with rust setting compound. This used to be the standard method of making a pressure tight joint between two cast iron pipes. Mechanically, the joint consisted of a tapering plain end that fitted into a flanged female seating. The joint was caulked with lead wool driven in with a hammer and caulking iron and then the space left was filled with a paste of cast iron borings and sal ammoniac. (The old name for Ammonium Chloride) There was a chemical action between the sal ammoniac and the cast iron which in effect was accelerated corrosion. The paste swelled and set hard and it was a permanent joint. The joint on the condenser had been done like this and the paste had swelled that much that the pressure had split the flange so there was no way I was going to disturb it. The condenser and the air pump sat on a flat cast iron chamber called the ‘coffin bottom’ which had a one way rubber flap valve in between the two sections, access to this was via an inspection plate on the top of the coffin bottom.

We had broken the whole construction down into its separate parts, cleaned them up, refurbished the valves and faces and made packings for all the joints. I got some thick rubber sheet and was prepared to make a new valve but the old one was in such good condition that I left it in place. We had to position the coffin bottom precisely because it was fixed at one end by the eduction pipe and at the other end had to be directly below the air pump rod which drove the pump and was hinged to the engine beam above. This wasn’t as complicated as it sounds because it had all been fitted up before. All we had to do was drop the coffin bottom into the pit. Install the condenser on it making the joint between the condenser vessel and the coffin bottom at the same time. Wedge the coffin bottom up until it was level and at the correct height to make the joint with the cylinder fit, check that the centre line of the opening which took the air pump coincided with the attachment point for the pump rod on the beam and then fit the holding down bolts to the coffin bottom before pouring concrete into the pit to a level slightly higher than the bottom of the coffin. The reason for this was that the coffin was corroded badly and setting it in concrete meant there would be no leakage from that source even if it perforated..

I noticed that the eduction pipe was an awkward fit on to the cylinder but we managed to get it in place and jointed up whilst preserving our relationship with the pump rod. We poured the concrete and went on to do other jobs while this was setting. While we had been building the engine the pipe fitters had been hard at work installing the steam main to the engine and I had been busy in my workshop at home refurbishing the stop valve, equilibrium valve and other small parts of the engine.

It was time to fit the air pump. This was a simple job, we dropped the casting into the pit, made the joint, fitted the piston, rod and top cover and connected it up to the beam. No problem. Then we barred the engine over and found we had a big problem, the bucket of the air pump fouled the delivery plate at the top of the stroke and the engine couldn’t turn over. If it had been under steam it would have smashed the engine or the pump or both. I was baffled at first because this couldn’t happen! I took a leaf out of Sherlock Holmes’s book again and decided this was another ‘three pipe problem’! I retired to the site hut, brewed up and to all intents and purposes went to sleep in the corner again.

Diagnosis of problems like these is by far the most satisfying part of fitting. It’s like a detective story, you have to collate all the information and think it through carefully. As Holmes said, ‘If you eliminate all the possible causes or explanations, the answer has got to be the impossible’. This is very often the case, of course the answer is that what you thought was impossible was actually definitely possible. Never eliminate anything until you are certain it’s wrong.

I’m going to do my Stanley as engineering superman bit again. Sorry, but I’ve got to tell the truth. Years before, I had had a part-time job at Hey Farm reconditioning Land Rover engines for a bloke at Crawshawbooth called Walter Johnson. I was sat at home one night and he rang up, he had a problem. They had a Land Rover which had come in because the clutch had failed, the centre of the clutch plate had ripped out of the plate. They repaired it and sent it out but it had come back with the same fault twice in a fortnight and Walt knew they were missing something. I told him I was going for a bath and I’d think about it while I was soaking and ring him back. I went and soaked, identified the problem and rang him back. I told him that the only thing that could break the centre out of a clutch plate like that was metal fatigue, the plate must be flexing while it rotated. The only thing that could cause this was if the gear box was out of alignment with the engine and this could only happen if the fastening between the bell housing and the engine casting was loose. Due to the design of the engine this wasn’t disturbed when you replaced the clutch. Walt went away and had a look and rang back about ten minutes later, he said he’d crawled underneath and found a gap at the bottom of the bell housing where it butted up against the gearbox. I was right, problem solved and Walt went away swearing I was a genius.

When I had my new Bedford TK wagon at Harrison’s it started giving problems after I had a day off because I couldn’t keep the securing nuts tight on the right hand half shaft. I told Billy that the axle casing had been bent and nobody believed me. In the end it started breaking half shafts and it went in to Ferrands. They measured it up and the axle was bent back over an inch. It transpired that the spare driver had hit a large stone at Broughton Hall and never told anyone. Even Billy was impressed. The point about this is that it demonstrates Holmes’s point, it was impossible to bend an axle like that. I’ve never seen one before or since, but that driver had managed to do it.

So I sat there in the hut and pondered. I remembered the cuts in the bottom of the cylinder and the fact that we had difficulty making the joint between the eduction pipe and the cylinder and came to the conclusion that they had made a mistake in the foundry 150 years ago when they cast the eduction pipe, it was about two inches too long! When the fitters had erected the engine temporarily in the shop in 1841 they had found this fault but had compensated by raising the cylinder two inches. This meant that the steam piston was almost hitting the bottom of the bore at the end of the stroke and so they’d chiselled the grooves to help it deliver any water in the bore to the drain. This was probably what had cracked the entablature beam all those years ago, there had been too much water for the cylinder to get rid of, the piston had stopped before top centre on the crank end and the momentum of the flywheel had carried the engine on, lifted the entablature beam and cracked it. I had installed the cylinder correctly giving equidistant clearance at both ends of the stroke and so had installed the coffin bottom two inches too low. Therefore, the air pump bucket was short of two inches at the top of its stroke.

There were two cures, I either dropped the bucket two inches by lengthening the air pump rod or I raised the pump itself two inches by inserting a packing ring two inches thick between the pump and the coffin bottom. I remembered seeing some thick Tufnol sheet down at Rochdale Training so I popped down to see my mate Rod. Tufnol is a plastic material made by impregnating layers of linen with resin and then curing the sandwich under pressure. It has virtually the same mechanical strength as cast iron and is not affected by corrosion. Rod had a sheet of Tufnol which had come out of Tommy Robinson’s when they finished. It was two inches thick and big enough to make the packing. He gave this to me. I went back to Ellenroad, made a template of the joint with cardboard and took this and the sheet of Tufnol to Tatham’s the textile manufacturers in Milnrow. They cut the packing out of the sheet for me, again for nothing and I went back to Ellenroad with the solution. We fitted the packing piece, jointed with a thin packing each side and a lot of Manganesite and re-assembled the pump. Problem solved and unless you knew about it you would never see what we had done because when it was covered with oil and grime it looked just like the original casting.

We barred the engine over again, the stroke was all right but the pump rod was catching where it passed through a yoke in the parallel motion. I had no cure for this apart from getting up there with the oxy acetylene cutter and washing enough metal out of the yoke to allow the rod to function with a minimum of distortion. It felt like, and was, vandalism but Time’s Winged Chariot was hurrying near.

All the major elements of the engine itself were in place and it was just a matter of checking all the fastenings, making sure all the cotters were tight, setting the valves and making the connections between the engine and the boiler. There were drains to fit and pipe up and small items like lubricators and other accessories to refurbish and fit. The lads and Cecil helped me when I needed it but they had another task as well.

We had an engine but no connection with the river for water for the condenser. It was a long pull from the river but because the air pump was actually below river level I reckoned that once we had a connection it would draw water all right. There was a nine inch connection via a non-return foot valve into the middle well outside. This had been installed in 1975 as a supply main for the Mather and Platt electric sprinkler pump in the main engine house cellar. I set the lads on to dismantling this pump, shifting it out of the way and knocking a hole through the engine house wall into the cellar from the boiler house. Once they had done this the pipe fitters moved in and installed a six inch suction main in between the nine inch connection in the cellar and the inlet port on the condenser. Just as a precaution we put a valve in this line to hold the water in the condenser when the engine was stopped. As a matter of fact I was more bothered about a siphon effect flooding the pit but as it transpired it wasn’t necessary. This wasn’t a problem as it was a useful thing to have in the line for maintenance purposes.

To get water away from the air pump while the engine was running I made a steel trough that ran away to the end of the pit where it dropped the water into a four inch centrifugal pump. This was piped to a hole cut in the top of the main drain in the engine house cellar which dropped the water from the main engines back into the river below the weir. My idea was that this pump would be running all the time and would keep the trough clear of water. We finished this and all the other small jobs by about Wednesday on the week before we were due to steam for the Total Open Day. It was time to fire the boiler and find out if I’d got everything right. I knew in my bones that there would be something wrong but didn’t have a clue what it would be. There was only one thing to do, run the engine in steam for the first time in 50 years. How the hell did I manage to get myself into these situations?

On the Tuesday we steamed the boiler and got about ten pounds of steam, we could set the automatic controls to hold this pressure. We cracked steam through the main and barred the engine round until the steam was passing through into the base of the cylinder. I reckoned there was enough play in the piston to allow circulation to the top so we opened the drains and left the engine warming through for 48 hours. While it was all hot and under very low pressure we nipped all the joints on the pipework and engine except for the connection between the valve chest and the cylinder. The reason for nipping all the joints is that no matter how tight you get them while they are cold you can always get another couple of turns when the metal has warmed up. I always call this following the joints up and it should be done on any piece of equipment when it has been re-built.

On this point, it never failed to amaze me how some engineers running steam plant got away with neglecting things like this. I remember once helping a firm to get a gas burner on a boiler working after it had been repaired. I found the fault and we started the boiler from cold on ‘kindle’ which is a low setting on the burner designed for slow steam raising so as not to damage the boiler by thermal shock caused by too rapid firing. The engineer said they never bothered about this and put it straight on to ‘High Flame’, the top setting. I kept quiet and stood back, awe-struck by his ignorance. At this setting the boiler started making steam after about twenty minutes and I noticed a few wisps of vapour on the top of the boiler. By the time I got up there to have a look it was a full blooded rush and you couldn’t get near it. It was steam escaping out of the top manhole on the boiler which was a mile off being tight. I told the engineer about it and he said it had always been like that since Rochdale Electric Welding had repaired the boiler. He said it would shut itself off as pressure blew the lid up against the seat! It did too, but I suggested it would be as well to tighten the holding up nuts as soon as he had a chance! There is a lesson to be learned from this; never underestimate the capacity of the human race to be stupid!

Back to the Whitelees. I couldn’t put it off any longer, I did a last minute check and then opened the steam valve. It’s very hard to communicate the tension that you feel when you unleash an unknown quantity like that. Starting the main engines had been just the same. I don’t think you ever reach a higher point of awareness and readiness for instant action than when you’re doing something like this. The best way I can describe it is rigidly controlled panic! It’s the best example I can think of to illustrate the phrase ‘Putting your money where your mouth is’. If you’ve made a serious mistake your life expectancy could be extremely low! The Whitelees was worse than some because due to the design of the engine you were literally inside the orbit of the engine when you started it, there was no comfortable separation like there was on the main engine. Not that this would do any good if something went wrong but psychologically, a bit of separation can be a comfort!

There was a whoosh as the cylinder filled and the engine started straight away and ran beautifully. Only one thing was wrong, we were running on the water we had put in the rising main to the condenser to prime the pump and as soon as this was removed by the air pump two things became blindingly obvious. First, we weren’t getting any water from the well and second, the centrifugal pump didn’t seem to be handling the tail water from the pump. The first fault was the worst and we stopped, the scavenging pump shifted the tail water and we filled the rising main and the condenser manually again and then tried once more.

We had exactly the same result and I decided that the problem was most likely outside, in the well. We went out and lifted the manhole cover but this didn’t do us much good because all we could see was the nine inch pipe vanishing into fifteen feet of muddy water. This is the time you need friends so I rang John Ingoe and asked him to send his low loader up as it had a very large hydraulic crane mounted on the back. We broke the joint in the pipe and thanked our lucky stars that Mather and Platt had had the sense to fit a lifting eye on the bend where the pipe turned before diving under the water. Same as a sky hook but the other way round! John brought the sky hook himself and we drew the pipe out of the well.

I opened the chamber which held the foot valve and found the problem straight away. Because the installation hadn’t been used or tested for several years, the rubber face of the bronze foot valve had stuck down on to the seat. I had to give it a clout to get it loose and remove it so we could clean it all up. The valve was wonderfully well made and in perfect condition, all it needed was freeing and re-assembling. I was having a cup of tea while the lads started to put it back together. I was watching them through the open door of the site hut and noticed they seemed to be having a bit of bother. I went out and asked them what was the matter and they said they couldn’t get the valve back in the housing, it was too big! I tried myself and they were right! In the end, everybody had a try and nobody could see how we were going to get it back in. I went and had another look and all of a sudden it dawned on me that when I took it out I must have turned it over in the housing and not noticed because I was more interested in the seat. I turned it upside down, pushed it in the housing, turned it over and it fell into place perfectly. I went back and finished my tea while they re-fitted the cover. You’ll often meet up with this sort of thing especially when you’re tired. A simple matter that should be blindingly obvious becomes a problem. This is always the time for a pint of tea and a smoke! We dropped the pipe back in the well, made the joint, dropped the lid on the well and went home for tea. Tomorrow was another day, we would see how much good we had done then.

The following day we raised steam again, warmed the engine through, oiled round and had another go. This time we did far better, we had water at the condenser and about fifteen inches of vacuum. Wonderful, the connection to the river was working well! The only problem we had now was that the scavenge pump which was supposed to pick the water up from the end of the trough carrying the tail water away from the engine was air-locking and not coping with the water. We very soon had six inches of water in the pit and had to stop. We had a sump pump running in the pit to deal with any spillage and we left this running while I retired to the site hut for another pint of tea, a pipe and a good think.

It was obvious from the speed the scavenge pump shifted the water when it was working that it was man enough for the job. The problem was that it wouldn’t self-prime once it had gulped the first lot of water out. We either needed a new pump with different characteristics or a reservoir to drop the tail water in and have the pump controlled by a float switch. As we had no money and no alternative pump the reservoir option looked the best bet. In addition, with only a couple of days to go, this was all happening on a Saturday, I needed a solution that I could be confident with. I rang John Ingoe again and within a couple of hours he had sent up an 800 gallon hot well tank and Paul Greenwood with a plant wagon. I rang Alex Mill our tame electrician, told him he was working for free as well and arranged for him to come up and re-wire the pump through a float switch.

We set to and by nine o’clock that evening we had the tank installed, piped up and the electrical wiring almost completed. On the Sunday, Alex finished the wiring and we ran the engine again. This time we had a complete cure, the engine ran reasonably, the air pump delivered water from the river and the new arrangements coped with the tail water with no problems at all. We had a working engine and a couple of days to make minor adjustments and tidy up. We ran for the Total Open day and apart from one hitch on the last run when the air pump boiled, had no problems. Everyone was very pleased, as well they should be!

At one point I was stood there with Peter Dawson while one of the lads ran the engine and Peter turned to me and said “It’s a good job we gave it that extra foot in the bottom!” I told him I still couldn’t account for why I had done it, I thought we’d better just put it down to luck. Eight years on, the Whitelees is still steamed regularly with the main engine and seems to get better and better as time goes on. At one point the Trust got the idea in their head that they could make the piston a better fit in the bore. They took it out and made all sorts of plans about it. I told them at the time that the best thing was to leave it alone but they wanted to do it their way. In the end, they put it back and it runs as it did when I first started it. Funnily enough it is far safer like this. Volunteers are splendid people but they haven’t the depth of knowledge and instinct that years of practical working gives you. If someone does make a mistake and gets water in the cylinder, the fact that the piston is a sloppy fit in the bore is a good thing, the water can escape up past the piston. If it was to be made a perfect fit, they would run into all sorts of problems. I always used to tell them that we had no worries, we weren’t running 300 looms and everyone depending on us. We could afford to run uneconomically but safe, the engine only had to run, it wasn’t driving anything.

Building the Whitelees was a wonderfully satisfying job and taxed me to the limit. I made a couple of mistakes and if I could go back and do it again there are a couple of things I would do slightly differently. Having said that, I take credit for a significant achievement, building a full size engine with no drawings or experience and having it running on time was pretty bloody good and the nice thing was that there were a number of people who realised this and told me so. My main joy was to be able to follow the blokes who made the engine and erected it in the first place. I found all their mistakes and appreciated all their good work, I really did feel as though I had reached back 150 years and shaken hands with them.

One last matter. Some time later we had a visitor from another museum and he saw with horror that punched on the castings of the flywheel was the legend ‘Rebuilt 1991, S Graham’. He took me to task about this so I rolled the wheel round a bit further and showed him the names of the fitters who had rebuilt it at Holcrofts in 1957. I asked him if he’d ever looked inside the back of an old watch and seen the initials and date of the watchmaker who had done repairs on it. What we had done was exactly the same thing and part of a long tradition. So, if ever you go down to look at the engine, look on the flywheel for my memorial!

The dust soon settled after we ran the Whitelees Engine for Total Oil and I had to get back to the can of worms which is what the Trust and the project had turned out to be. Truth to tell I was exhausted after three months of unremitting mental and physical work. I had lost over a stone in weight and what I really needed was a fortnight’s holiday. I didn’t really analyse what was going on at the time but hindsight is 20/20 vision so they say and I have a fair assessment to hand now of what the problems were. The internecine conflicts within the Trust had subsided after Horace intervened on my behalf but they had never gone away. Horace was dead so that line of defence was closed. My version of what was going wrong is as follows.

By the way, if you detect a sort of moveable feast in that I sometimes call them the Trustees and sometimes the Directors there’s a good reason for it. They were Trustees when we started but for some reason which I never fully understood, changed their title to Directors so regard the terms as interchangeable!

In the early years of the project I was seen as some sort of miracle worker. I remember John Pierce once referring to me in a speech as “Mr Ellenroad” and I took him to task afterwards. I told him that it was a big mistake to identify the success of the project with one person unless it was posthumously. Even so, I was delivering the goods so fast that I think some of the directors thought I walked on water. Bear in mind that in hard cash donations alone, I brought in over £3,500,000. Add gifts in kind, services and subsidy through MSC and you are getting very close to £5,000,000. This is big money in anybody’s terms and we were showing concrete progress for it. My wage and the expenses of running the Trust were about £20,000 a year. This was peanuts for a project of this size and compares more than favourably with other schemes. However, many of the directors hadn’t a clue as to what was going on or what was needed to run something like Ellenroad and every time the figure of £20,000 was mentioned they assumed it was going into my back pocket.

Another aspect of my thinking which the directors as a body never took on board was what I’m sure they saw as my empire building. Every time I came up with a scheme like the residential block, the exhibition centre, the exhibition building enterprise or the park and ride facility and the link road to Kingsway they dismissed it out of hand. I’m not saying that all the directors were blind to what I was aiming for, but they were ruled by the majority and there were some small-minded people of no great imagination or intelligence sitting as directors and you don’t need many of them to knock the enterprise out of the rest. I’ll give you a couple of examples. There was a big article in the Rochdale Observer one week which tore into the Trust because of the fact it was spending too much and was nearly bankrupt. The situation at the time wasn’t unusual for us. We were taking a lot of money in but spending it on major works. The problem was that the source of the story, and he was quoted by name, was one of our directors! I had to stand up in the board meeting and point out that there was no problem, that even if there was, the directors were party to it because they had full information and accounts and had ratified every action the Trust had taken. Further, did they realise what the consequences of any proof of wrong-doing was? They were under the impression that because we were a Company Limited by Guarantee the directors could only be held liable in the sum of £1 each under company law. I pointed out that if the Trust was found to have traded unlawfully the directors were liable for the whole amount of any shortfall. This caused great consternation as some of them had never read any of the papers given to them and didn’t understand their liabilities. If I remember rightly I had to ask John Youngman to come up and give them a lecture on collective responsibility. Another example which I was able to nip in the bud straight away because I heard about it as soon as it happened was when another director had a couple of beers in a local pub and said the Trust was going to liquidate! Enough of this, just take it as read that the directors weren’t always the most helpful element at work in the project.

As the project found its feet and started to produce concrete results people started to forget how steep the hill had been when we first started to climb. They began to see Ellenroad as a wonderful example of local enterprise which had been very successful up to now and so would continue to be so. What nobody ever realised was the amount of work that I put into fund-raising. I never told them because it would have been seen as simply another ploy from Stanley to get more money out of the Trust. I was looking at some of the old computer files of correspondence and memoranda the other night and was struck by the number of them which were timed before eight in the morning and after eight at night! There are plenty which are after midnight! I told the directors time and time again that the lead-in time to funding could be anything up to five years and that what we should be addressing when we had plenty of money coming in was where the next five years worth of funding was coming from. This never sunk in.

By 1990, we had only one major source of income and that was Total Oil. There was a chance of other funding but it was just at this time that Ray Colley proposed that my hours should be cut down to two days a week. Behind this was the assumption that I would continue fund-raising on the same scale, presumably in my own time! I forget how this finished up but I think it got buried in the hard fact that I had to work full time to get the Whitelees Engine built and running and the Trust hadn’t got any money to pay me anyway. I was keeping it going by working simply on the premise that when they had the money they would pay me what they owed me. To make matters worse, negotiations with the Co-op which I was convinced was our next major funder were handed over to Malcolm Dunphy, one of the directors, and I am certain he never put enough time into it. He certainly never came to me for the materials which I would have considered necessary for bringing in a funder as big as that. My impression at the time that this was something which was best handled by the top men having a quiet word after they had finished their main business. This was the root of the problem, the Trust’s funding was the main business as far as I was concerned and in my book, the best way to get funding was to state a clear, logical case and support it with written evidence. It’s all water under the bridge now but very few of the directors really understood the principles behind funding. They were businessmen and thought like businessmen. In their book the project was tailored to the budget. In mine, you decided what you wanted to do, costed it, added at least 50% and that was the budget you had to fund. I never trimmed a segment of the project to fit a budget, always the other way round.

Early in 1991 I did a paper for the directors which was entitled ‘Why the Trust should sack Stanley’ or words to that effect. My argument was that if they weren’t going to go for the external services and the residential accommodation they didn’t need me and should start to make plans to replace me. I laid out all the things a replacement would have to do and gave them every assistance to do some head-hunting. I knew I was on a losing wicket because the first thing they would try to do was reduce the figure of £20,000 I had always put on the cost of a year’s management and if you pay peanuts you get monkeys!

By May 1992 everything was winding down. We lost the MSC workers and due to my full time commitment to Whitelees no fund-raising had been done for six months and all I wanted to do was to get out. I spent a month tidying up the Trust’s affairs and moving paper from home to Ellenroad and it was not a happy time.

What made things worse was the fact that the directors made up their minds that they wanted to clear up their debt to me. They hadn’t enough money to do this and I suggested that they pay people like Alex Mill our electrical contractor the money he was owed first. Eventually Total and Coates, who recognised my position and sympathised with me, put in I think about £2500 each on condition that it all went to me. I thought this was wonderful and a concrete indication of what they thought about my work. This left about £3,500 owing to me and I was asked to attend a meeting at Malcolm Dunphy’s factory one evening. There were only a few directors there and I knew I was going to get shafted as soon as I walked in. Briefly they told me how much they could pay me and if I didn’t accept it they would declare the Trust insolvent, restart and I wouldn’t get anything. I never argued, I just asked for a piece of paper, wrote a draft of the letter I would send them, got them to approve it and walked out. Peter Metcalfe came out with me and we went for a drink. He didn’t say a lot beyond the fact that I’d surprised him by not losing my temper. “What’s the point?” I said, “They hold all the cards and they are doing exactly what they see fit.” It was as simple as that. I wrote off the £3,500 or whatever it was that they owed me and walked away from them a sadder and wiser man. The directors never even thanked me for what I had done for the Trust.

A few days later I was at Ellenroad for a steaming and the Friends surprised me, they gave me an engraved tankard, a picture of me asleep while tenting the engine and a single red rose. Guess who I remember with most affection.

There is nothing easier than sitting on the sidelines sniping but I think I’m entitled to give my assessment of Ellenroad. As far as I know they are still running on funding which I laid the foundations for. There is no initiative to build the external services, install the disabled access or build the residential and study facility. Until these matters are addressed, or something very similar to them, Ellenroad will struggle on as it does today, an amateur heritage attraction staffed by volunteers which will never gain enough impetus to lift itself into profit. In other words, without major intervention it is eventually doomed to fail. It’s sad but it’s somebody else’s problem now. One thing is sure and certain, if it hadn’t been for me it would never have happened and they can’t take that way from me. There are still one or two people about who hold the same opinion but, as I said to one of them the other day, we’re yesterday’s men, leave them to it.


It’s almost the end of January 2001 and I have been triggered into the realisation that not only is there is a gap in the memoirs I have already ‘finished’, but we need an update because the story moves on.

What started this was Janet asking me for some pics of engines and me. I sent her one of Newton and me repairing Bancroft Engine in 1978 and it struck her that she hadn’t got a lot of pictures of these aspects of my life. I did a search and found a few which I sent to her and at the same time scanned some other pics I came across which would go well in my copy of the memoirs. One of these was a picture of the boiler at Jubilee Mill, more of this later. I looked through the memoir to find the right place to insert the pic and realised that I’d never told the story about this and some related aspects of my life. So, here we are hard at it writing the memoir again! I’ve called this section conservation matters because it will include matters other than Jubilee but which are closely related and in some cases, more recent. Right, sit down and concentrate, there may be questions afterwards!


One aspect of human behaviour that has intrigued, amused and at times infuriated me at various times during my mature (?) life is the preoccupation with superlatives. If something is the ‘biggest’, the ‘oldest’ or the ‘last’, its stature is enhanced. It’s easier to attract interest to something if it can be so described. This is a very lazy and immature way of making decisions, particularly in the field of conservation. It is almost as though there is some inertia in the system which can only be overcome by some easily recognised and irrefutable quality and these adjectives have disproportionate powers. In truth, the criteria which govern selection should be based on merit but this very seldom happens. Let me illustrate this with an account of the effort to preserve the ‘last steam driven weaving shed in Lancashire’.

In 1978 I was already in fairly close contact with some of the most influential people in the conservation of the industrial heritage because of my involvement with Bancroft and the Lancashire Textile Project. The LTP was another last minute project, gathering oral evidence as to how the textile industry in Barlick actually functioned before it vanished forever. Even then I knew that the approach was flawed, something of interest sat there for a hundred years and its importance was only recognised at the last minute. The consequence is, in all these cases, that what could have been a measured and scholarly approach becomes a cavalry charge. When there were thousands of steam driven mills nobody had any interest in preserving one. By the time we had got down less than half a dozen, in 1978, the matter was being addressed. Here is what happened.

Early in 1978 when we knew Bancroft was going to close I had a visitor at the engine house, Peter White. He was a London based civil servant working with English Heritage, the government organisation concerned with heritage preservation and at that time rejoiced in the title ‘Her Majesty’s Inspector of Ancient Monuments (NW) . I tried to persuade him that Bancroft should be preserved as a fine example of a typical East Lancashire steam driven weaving shed. My reasons were that it was a late mill in good condition, classic girder shed construction and it was as-built, it had never been altered. It had plenty of land around it and so could easily be augmented with essential things like a visitor centre, car parking and administrative facilities. It was situated in the right place, at the gateway to the Dales to make it an easily integrated part of a wider tourist-based economy. It had a skilled work force which could be nurtured and employed and finally, it had enough space to accept Henry Brown Sons and Pickles in a section of the shed which could be saved from inevitable extinction and become a training and maintenance resource for the whole of the heritage industry. With the benefit of over twenty years hindsight I still believe this was a powerful and convincing case which should have been taken seriously but it was ignored.

The first question Peter White asked me was where the money would come from. I told him I saw no problem. How many tea towels, dusters and dust sheets did the government buy in a year? Give the contract for weaving them to Bancroft at an economic price and run it like a business. In modern terms, make it a cost centre. It would make money without a doubt. The cost of doing this was £60,000 for the mill and site and enough capital injected as a loan to start the enterprise off. Remember, these were two businesses that were making a profit in the commercial world with no favourable contracts.

I was told that this was impossible as the government could not be seen to be acting commercially. I asked him how this squared with the Royal Ordnance Factories or the Royal Dockyards but this was brushed aside. He then told me that as far as he was concerned, the decision had been taken. Bancroft would be allowed to go to the wall and this would leave only two major steam mills running, Queen Street at Harle Syke near Burnley and Jubilee Mill at Padiham. There was another, Sutcliffe and Clarkson’s at Wiseman Street, Burnley but this was never seriously considered. The demolition of Bancroft would be used to make a case for the preservation of Jubilee Mill as that was the preferred option. Queen Street was seen as a good mill but handicapped by its position and lack of room to expand visitor facilities.

I didn’t agree with any of this at the time and with hindsight I’m still convinced that I was right in advocating Bancroft as the ideal candidate. Nothing that has happened since has done anything other than reinforce my conviction.

What did happen? Well, it’s a matter of record that Bancroft was demolished but the engine and boiler house were saved by a local initiative supported by the Pendle Council and backed indirectly by English Heritage through a derelict land grant. The result is a running engine in an isolated engine house in a housing estate which is completely out of context. I’m glad it’s there but am painfully aware of what might have been. I was the first chairman of the Trust but stepped aside once we had got it going.

Wiseman Street closed and the engine is still in there but everything connected with it is gone, including the boiler house I think and there is no realistic prospect of it ever running again. Even if it did, there is no context.

What happened to the grand plan to preserve Jubilee? This is where we get an insight into how well preservation was being managed from London. Jubilee Mill was built in 1887 by the Padiham Room and Power Company. It was powered by a slide valve cross compound engine by Yates and this engine is I think the oldest Yates engine still surviving and also the only engine I know with Meyer Expansion gear on the high pressure. The engine drove the site until the late 70’s and was retained on site after the mill stopped. By 1979 Bancroft was under the hammer and on 24th July 1980 the engine house was scheduled as Monument 188 (Lancashire) Note that a ghastly mistake had been made, the boiler house, chimney and mill were given no protection at all.

In April 1986, Jubilee Mill was bought by N&R Contractors of Portsmouth Mill, Todmorden. My old mate Norman Sutcliffe and his brothers bought to mill to demolish it and sell the land for housing. All this was perfectly legal. Robert Aram and I got wind of this shortly after demolition started. Robert went straight down to Padiham and bought the scheduled monument and the artefacts out of the workshop and paid N&R to make the building secure. He knew that if this wasn’t done the engine would be vandalised. I rang EH and informed them that the grand plan had gone awry, that the mill was being dropped and that there was nothing they could do about it. I also told them that Robert had stepped in and taken the engine under his wing.

The net result was a disaster. True, the engine was saved and in good hands but it was an isolated artefact, out of context with no boiler and chimney and I told Robert we were on a hiding to nothing if we tried to do anything with it. I shan’t detail the initiatives we attempted but suffice it to say that every overture we made to the local council, EH and the Science Museum all came to nothing. The situation we had was a decaying engine house in the middle of a housing estate and no chance of doing a Bancroft with a dedicated band of volunteers because, to a man, the locals wanted it demolishing. They couldn’t understand why this eyesore had been left to blight their property prices.

Eventually Robert bought Masson Mill in Derbyshire and we put up a proposal to move the engine down there and install it in steam in a proper context attached to a mill. I handled this for Robert and in August 1996 we were granted Scheduled Monument Consent to move the engine to Masson. The intention was to move the engine as soon as consent was granted and we were promised that this would be given by end December 1995 but due to the fact that the consent was eight months late, the window we had for removal to Masson in terms of the work schedule down there and the availability of funding (all out of Robert’s back pocket!) had evaporated and the engine had to sit there awaiting a new opportunity.

This opportunity arose in 1999 and with the full consent of EH we set on Gissing and Lonsdale and removed the engine for installation in Derbyshire. At long last, we could breathe a sigh of relief, the Yates engine was safe. How much danger was it under at Padiham? Between 1986 and 1999 the engine house was set on fire twice and broken into several times. My estimates for the total cost of damage over the period were about £11,000. To this must be added one of the strangest cases of theft I have ever come across. As key-holder for Jubilee I was contacted by Padiham police on 27th August 1990 to ask whether we had sold the boiler that was lying in the mill yard as a man was cutting it up! I told them to collar the man immediately and I would come straight over as we hadn’t authorised any work. I should explain that as part of the plans to find a role for the engine Robert had bought a redundant Lancashire boiler early in 1989 from Dura Mill at Facit when it closed and transported it to Padiham for potential re-use there. The 35 ton boiler was laid in an enclosed yard behind locked gates and we thought it was reasonably safe. How wrong we were!

I went down to Padiham and found that Mr Chadwick the General Manager of a reputable firm of scrap merchants, Lethbridge’s of Blackburn had bought the boiler for £600 from two people called ‘Smith Brothers’ in a pub in Padiham. He had set on his contractor Steven Kennedy to cut it up and he, in turn had set on a man called David Stott who was in the cells. This poor little bloke was entirely innocent, he was only doing what he was told and I got him released immediately. The story was, of course, very suspect and I’ve never really understood why Lethbridge’s ever got involved in such a dodgy deal. I was talking to the detectives about this and one of them said ‘Once a scrapman, always a scrapman!’ I think that’s probably as good an explanation as we’ll ever get. This affair dragged on for two years but eventually we got full restitution for the loss of the boiler and all other costs but only at the door of the court.


If you’ve been following the story, you’ll realise that the number of possible candidates for preservation has been falling! Bancroft and Jubilee demolished and Wiseman Street a non-starter. As far as anyone concerned knew, there was only one candidate left for ‘Last Steam Driven East Lancs. Weaving Shed’, this was Queen Street at Harle Syke. Remember that this had never been a strong contender because of its situation but all of a sudden, it was the only candidate on the horizon. EH kept a fairly low profile on this one and it was left to Burnley Council to initiate a move in this direction. I knew nothing about what was going on as I was busy doing me history degree at Lancaster as a mature student. I got word that Burnley Council had bought Queen Street on the 7th of February 1983 and gone into partnership with Pennine Heritage from Hebden Bridge. Both Robert and I forecast that it would end in tears because we knew quite a lot about PH and none of it was good. However, it was Somebody Else’s Problem and we ignored it.

In May 1983 I was a year out of Lancaster and managing an Interpretative Team down at Pendle heritage when I was approached and asked to put myself up as a candidate for the post of manager at Queen Street Mill. It seemed like a good idea to have a crack so I applied. It was a three day interview process run by the Council and Pennine Heritage. I remember that David Fletcher and his manager, Bill Breakell were on the panel together with some Burnley people. It was all very strange, they didn’t seem to want to hear what anyone was saying, all they wanted to do was tell the candidates how they were going to run the project. I only knew one of the other candidates, Anna Benson from Helmshore who was a driving force at Higher Mill. I told her there was something funny going on but I decided to stick with the process.

I got a very clear indication of how wrong things were when they got me in for interview and started to tell me what good condition the plant and engine were in. I told them to think again and showed them a picture of the bore of the HP cylinder showing the big groove in the bottom where the broken piece of piston ring had worn a groove after Arthur Martin, the engineer, had run it for God knows how long without oil. They asked me where I’d got the pics and I told them I’d taken them when I was with Newton Pickles who had done the repair. They lost interest in me immediately.

When I got outside I told Anna she was going to get the job and she wouldn’t believe it, she asked me how I knew. I told her that what they wanted was someone they could control and she was spot ball. This didn’t please her but as it turned out I was exactly right. When I got home that night I got a phone call from a mole in Hebden Bridge who had heard a conversation in the pub between David Fletcher and someone else. Part of the conversation alluded to the fact that Anna was going to be given the job but they were going to complete the interviews.

First thing the following morning I went to Queen Street and withdrew my application on ‘personal grounds’. As I left I told Anna she was going to get the job and I warned her that she should only accept if she could do it on secondment from the Lancashire Museum Service. She asked why and I told her it would end in tears but I think she suspected me of being jealous of her. As things turned out I was right again and I suspect that if you were to ask Anna for her side of the story of the next five years she would have a sorry tale to tell.

By May 1989, Queen Street was in trouble, Anna Benson was the mill manager but Pennine Heritage had been squeezed out by the Council. EH threw in £50,000 to keep the mill open during the summer but it was obvious that there was either going to have to be a completely new initiative or else the mill would have to close. I was over at Ellenroad at Rochdale sorting the Ellenroad Engine out and I got a call one day in 1987 from John Lowe who was the architect for the Council. My profile had been raised in the Borough because Robert and I had spent a lot of time with the council discussing possible avenues for dealing with Jubilee. John wanted to take me to lunch!

I knew they wanted something and basically the question was, ‘What do we do about Queen Street?’ My answer was the same as it had always been, if you want to save a mill, let it run and make money. I told him they should get on to the Co-op at Balloon Street, get their help and form a cooperative weaving shed. Weave cloth in the shed by steam and make up in the disused units at the back and get some professional marketing people in. The union shirts they were making were superb and there was no reason why they shouldn’t make a profit. As a throw away line I told him that if they wanted an easy way out I could find them a buyer.

I suspect John shot straight back to Andrew Walker with the good news and almost immediately AW was back on to me like a ton of bricks. Robert and I had talked this right through and on March 15th 1987 I met Andrew Walker and gave him Robert’s proposal. Basically, Robert would buy the mill off them for £5 and give them the option to buy it back for the same sum five years later plus whatever he had spent on it. I was to inspect the place, draw up a plan and draft a set of articles for a company limited by guarantee, to name but a few. We did all this, met the senior officers, put the proposal and plans on the table and left it to them. I kept sending reminders but in effect they put us on the back burner. In July 1992 I got a letter saying that the mill had been sold to Lancashire County Council and that there was to be a ‘new initiative’. They thanked us for our interest and apologised for the delay!

So, QS sailed off into the future under the guiding hand of Mr Blundell the Lancs. County museum chief with Ian Gibson actually doing the work. Not surprisingly I hold the same opinion I had in 1978 at Bancroft. The only way to make something like QS work is to get it started generating money. It has to be looked at as a business problem. It shouldn’t be like this, museums like Queen Street and Helmshore should be funded to the hilt from the public purse on the grounds that they are World Heritage sites but until this happy day arrives we have to do anything we can to protect them from destruction.

My reading, as I sit here banging this story out for you in 2001 is that QS and Helmshore are on a knife edge. Nobody can guarantee that they will be there in five years. What a condemnation of our system!


I can’t remember the exact date, it would be about 1993 or 94, I had been invited by Peter White to accompany a Council of Europe jolly across northern England looking at industrial heritage sites. The excuse for me being there was the Lancashire Textile Project and all the work I had done on big artefacts. I couldn’t be with them at the start and joined the party in Durham. Put your hard hats on, there’s going to be some serious name-dropping here! I was in the crypt of either the cathedral or the castle taking wine with Lord Montague, the chair of EH and various senior members of the organisation and I decided to be naughty. I asked Lm if I was right in thinking that the basis for the decision to fund Queen Street was that it was the ‘Last Steam Driven Weaving Shed’. He said that this was correct. As I opened my mouth I could see heads shaking in the background and eyes rolling upwards as they realised what I was going to say next.

I said, ‘Are you aware there’s another steam driven weaving shed in Rochdale?’ It was a moment to cherish, the buggers all knew there was but they weren’t interested in it so they ignored it. LM was very interested and asked me to send him details. I did, I sent him a full set of pics of the mill and received in reply the standard small ‘your communication has been received’ postcard. End of story, deep-sixed. In truth Bating’s Mill at Norden wasn’t a very interesting building but it had all the elements of a steam driven shed. What pissed me off was the fact that they all knew about it but ignored it for their own ends, it would have been ‘untidy’ to recognise it.
Last year I got a request from Robert. He asked me to get over to Batings at Norden and photograph the loom-breaking and dismantling of the engine. I did this and it was just like the old days, blood and mud and smoke and destruction. As Robert said, It’s the last one we’ll see. When I got home I rang EH in London and got a nice young lady who knew nothing. I was very kind to her and told her that if she wanted to spread joy in the office she should go to her boss in the NW division and say ‘Stanley says you’re safe. Cudworth’s are scrapping everything at Batings Mill’. She asked for my name and number but of course, nobody ever got back to me………


I’ve spent enough time on this today, but here’s one last conservation matter for you. A few months ago, John Ingoe called in for tea with Vanessa and Alex. Just as they were leaving he asked me if I’d like a trip out to Trencherfield at Wigan Pier. He had a contract there to fit some oil drip trays and there was a problem with the barring engine. I said yes and we went over there, I should add that this was with the full knowledge of Steve Redfern who was Dalkea’s site manager. Dalkea is the new name for Associated Heat Services and they ran all Wigan MBC’s boilers and steam plant for them. Part of his responsibility was the Trencherfield Mill Engine which was run daily for visitors.

When we got there I watched the barring engine running, identified the fault and told them what to do about it. Privately, I told John what I suspected the real fault was, they had piped the drains and exhaust into a system that was building back pressure on the engine. This turned out to be correct but that was that, problem solved.

While I was looking at the engine I pointed out to Steve that the keys were bleeding in the RH flywheel, a sure indication that they were quietly coming loose. I told him it wasn’t desperate but he should take note as it wouldn’t get any better. I said that while I was there I would have a look at the other side on the LH flywheel. (On a big engine like that there are usually two flywheels mounted next to each other) I walked round, took a look and told him he had to stop the engine immediately, or rather not run it any more. The RH flywheel was off it’s stakes and had been for a long time. What I mean by this is that it had moved on the wedges that held it on the shaft and was only jammed on the edge of the keys. It was very dangerous and they had parties of schoolchildren walking within ten feet of it!

I’ll gloss over a lot of what followed, basically Steve didn’t want to know, he wanted a quiet life. On the other hand, as I pointed out to John, he and I were under a duty of care and I had to send him a report which he must forward to Dalkea. I did this and the shit hit the fan. I was banned from all AHS sites for ever, John was threatened with commercial implications as much of his work was with Dalkea, in short, it all got very nasty. Eventually, common sense prevailed and the Council stopped the engine and invited me to go down and meet them. I raised another problem when I told them I didn’t want any payment. The concept of doing things for nothing, as a gift, completely threw them. This is still rumbling on, I have told them what they should do to rectify matters and they are ‘looking into it’. I did leave them with one uncomfortable thought. If they started running the engine again my duty of care would be revived and I would only have one recourse, to blow the whistle to the Health and Safety Executive. This would really put the cat amongst the pigeons because the whole field of running engines for the public is a minefield and if the HSE really looked into it they would shut them all down. Or rather, let’s put it this way, if I was in charge I’d shut them all down immediately pending certain safety measures. Take it from me, they wouldn’t like it.

Right kids, that’s it for the conservation update. I’ve no doubt there will be other matters that will need attending to but for the time being, that’s me. Be good!

SCG/Monday, 22 January 2001
4465 words.

It’s five years since I wrote the above. During this time Wigan MBC have spent a fortune on refurbishing the Trencherfield Engine under the direction of Dr Jonathan Mimms of what used to be called the British Engineerium at Brighton. I saw the original specification and warned Wigan MBC that if they did what was in the schedule they would finish up with a very dangerous artefact. They thanked me for my input and told me to go away. Fair enough but I am astounded by the fact that people can do things like this without adequate advice on the safety issues involved. Sooner or later there is going to be a serious event and the whole question of running these large engines for public exhibition will be raised. By then, it will be too late.

SCG/12 August 2006

I’ve just spent an hour or two getting the Eroad papers 06 together for one of the volunteers who has shown an interest. Incidentally, the first time since 1990 that anyone has asked. It might be useful if I put down my thoughts after going through all this old information.

Even though I say it myself, I did a pretty good job at Ellenroad. Reading back I am amazed by it all. One thing is certain, nobody will ever have the same overall control of a project that size again, let alone an imprest account! We were lucky, we had Manpower Services and the Council right behind us and the modern ethos of reams of paper and regulations hadn’t come into being. I was talking to Robert Aram recently and we were comparing notes, him at Masson Mill and me at Ellenroad, broadly comparable projects. We both agreed that we wouldn’t even start to do something like that today. Apart from anything else, all the fun has gone out of it!

The main things to glean from these papers is to grasp the original concept of Ellenroad. We started with a phased plan, all elements running parallel and Tony Welton was the first to grasp the concept when he said that the external facilities shouldn’t be on the back burner. From what I have seen of the Trust in later years these things have been totally erased. To succeed in the long term, Ellenroad has to generate income and the best way to do this is the external studies facility which would be a goldmine. The external visitors facility is also crucial. I often wonder if anyone realises that buried in the files are all the plans for the external facility, the lift for disabled access and proper toilet facilities and exits on the east side of the building.

One last point. I went to all the time and trouble to install safety arrangements on the engine that would ensure safe shut-down automatically if anything went wrong. These were all designed in consultation with English Heritage and the factory inspectors and HSE agreed that it was state of the art and should be fitted on every steaming engine. As far as I know the system was never commissioned even though all the elements are in place except for a compressed air supply for the vacuum breaker. There is an electrically operated 6” steam valve in place under the floor, I wonder if anyone has ever recognised what it is and why it is there? All these things would have cost money if I hadn’t bent enough arms to get them for nothing. Sooner or later there is going to be a serious accident on one of these engines. When that day comes there will be a storm. Ellenroad could still lead the way and keep running. See my piece on Trencherfield Mill engine……

Hope all this helps. If you need to know anything else, get in contact. I still know more about Ellenroad than anyone alive.

SCG/12 August 2006