Monthly Archives: September 2019

The House with Two Front Doors

Quirky, ancient and a modern day trip hazard pretty much sums up the uneven cobbled Mermaid Street in Rye in East Sussex that is populated with timber framed Tudor and earlier houses. On a wet and rainy Sunday, it was pretty quiet making the photography easier even if the light was far from ideal.

The House with Two Front Doors

Beam Engines

Two of the four massive Gimson beam engines at Abbey Pumping Station in Leicester. Originally built in 1891 for the purpose of pumping sewage, the engines were used until 1964 when electric pumps started to take over their duties and it finally closed soon after as a pumping station. As with another recent industrial heritage project on gas works, I was drawn by the interplay of light, in this case both natural and artificial, with the metalwork and grease of the four Woolf compound beam engines. The magnificence of these engines and the beauty of their design and detail are a remarkable record of the importance given to the role of technology in improving lives in Victorian times – there is nothing mundane or utilitarian about them.Two of the four massive Gimson beam engines at Abbey Pumping Station in Leicester. Originally built in 1891 for the purpose of pumping sewage, the engines were used until 1964 when electric pumps started to take over their duties and it finally closed soon after as a pumping station.

The collection of four working beam engines ‘in-situ’ make this a rather unique museum. All too often items of industrial heritage are removed from their original settings to be put on display in museums, or worse become part of an ‘experience’ centre. Walking around the engine room at Abbey Pumping Station gives a real sense of both the scale of the engines and the generations of workers who looked after them, to say nothing of the volunteers who have brought them back to life.

A lot of my photography of late has involved low light level, in part because I’ve been photographing the interiors of Victoria industrial buildings. Yet, all the images I’ve made have been hand-held, a testament to the low-light, high-ISO capabilities of modern digital cameras. 

The Last Township

Auchindrain (Gaelic: Achadh an Droighinn) was founded in the late 15th century and plans were drawn up for its ‘improvement’ in 1789. However, the plan was never carried out and the township survived. The nearby township of Achnagoul was abandoned in the 1940s, leaving Auchindrain as the Last Township, though by the 1950 only two houses were still occupied. Fortunately, its historical significance was understood by the time the last tenant retired in 1963 though most of the township’s land was sold for forestry in 1967. 

Photographing Auchindrain on a typically dull and wet day during a visit to the West Highlands of Scotland in June 2019 no doubt helped engender a sense of place more than a visit on a bright and sunny day. Since 1968 Auchindrain has been a working museum, it is the only township to have survived substantially intact from the many hundreds that once existed across Scotland.

My aim in photographing Auchindrain’s buildings and their interiors is to convey a sense of the history of the place and to enable people to make up their own stories, not so much about Auchindrain itself, but about the countless other townships that were once so common across the Scottish Highlands and the impact of the Scottish Clearances that changed the social order, culture, and economy and that created the Scottish landscape as we know it today.

Gas Works

A photographic project inspired by visits to two of the three preserved traditional gas works in the UK: at Biggar in Lanarkshire, Scotland and Fakenham in Norfolk, England. Once a common feature of most towns, gasworks such as these produced coal gas for more than 130 years. There is often an unlikely beauty in industrial heritage, in particular with subjects such as heritage railways. Gasworks might seem a less glamorous subject, however, traditional coal gas works with their retorts, condensers, scrubbers, meters and storage tanks capture the design and detail of what was once an essential industrial process.

The work of German photographers Hilla and Bernd Becher had a huge influence on industrial heritage and its preservation, confirming that what had once been deemed to be aesthetically indifferent, if not downright ugly, could be seen with new eyes. Their work invited us to look a little more closely to pay particular attention to design and detail – or, perhaps for the first time ever, to acknowledge that old and often semi-decrepit industrial structures had design and detail. In photographing these works, my aim has been to focus on those details, looking at the design of the works, and the interplay of light with the ironwork and decades of grime on the various buildings.

Industrial factories are not normally known for their aesthetic qualities, and gasworks are no exception. The buildings, gasholders and open spaces were created with function firmly in mind. However, gasworks do have a certain charm, particularly when one is able to wander around them and into the building interiors, which vary in light quality. At Biggar gasworks, the retort house, the largest and gloomiest building, has a particularly engaging atmosphere in no small part due to the faint whiff of coal-gas which still pervades the works.

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