Industrial History and Industrial Archaeology


So just what do we mean by Industrial Archaeology?

In general terms Industrial Archaeology and History covers the last 250 years, anything since the industrial revolution. In practice the boundaries are rather fluid and can include much of the post medieval period, and where technology and manufacture is concerned back even further.


History and Archaeology.

In studying the past our period has not only primary documentary sources, but also other written and pictorial information resources.  So a lot of time might be spent by some in libraries and record offices as well as more specialised resources such as museums or private collections.

Archaeology still has a role in recording the commonplace which so often doesn't get recorded, and to fill in the gaps in written records.  Often archaeology will involve  recording buildings and their contents, and searching out examples of products made.  In addition the industrial archaeologist will look for indications as to how buildings were changed and used over time, such as supports for long gone line shafting. Excavation is a small part of our work.



Many people are interested in finding their family past, and as part of that become interested in where they lived and how they earned their living.  Most census returns list an occupation, and some people will be listed in directories. This in turn can lead to research into a family firm or to know more about the sort of job their ancestors did.


Industrial Norfolk?

Norfolk was not bypassed by the industrial revolution as some think. Instead, perhaps because of its geographical disadvantages, Norfolk's industrial history is one of innovation and enterprise. Norfolk has a rich industrial past, with a surprising amount remaining, as you will appreciate as you get to know NIAS better.


So What is Covered

To some it's anything to do with industry, the manufacture and making of goods. Included of course are the machines used to make those goods, and the buildings which housed those machines. Machines require a motive power, and industrial archaeology certainly includes wind and watermills, as well as steam and oil engines and the electric motor. From the early 19th century sawmill we open for the public, to Laurance Scott and Electromotors. From Traction engines to fairground rides. From the medieval woollen industry to the canning of baked beans. From smokehouse bloater to Norfolk turkeys. The range is huge.


Goods have to be transported, and so roads, rivers, canals and railways must be included. From turnpike roads to railways including industrial railways. From the North Walsham and Dilham canal to the Pulham Airship base.


There are of course the extractive industries, no coal mines in Norfolk, but everything from neolithic flint mines, the medieval peat diggings that became the Norfolk Broads, major sand quarries, the first major forest plantations for timber around Thetford and of course the North sea gas fields. Extensive chalk workings to make lime, many brick fields and now concrete beam manufacture.


Underpinning much of Norfolk's economy is agriculture. Home of innovators such as Turnip Townsend and Coke of Holkham, Large 19th century farms and even larger 20th century ones. The Society recorded the remains of one of the earliest fertiliser factories. Norfolk was home until the 1960's of a major fishing industry, and there is still an important inshore industry.


We must also include the people who worked in these industries. Their housing, some with "weavers windows" whilst Cromer fishermen may have the crab boiler. The shops and pubs to churches and chapels, all form part of the fabric of society that our members are interested in.



Whilst originally the Society concentrated on recording the then rapidly disappearing remains of many small industrial premises, now we have much to do to research these businesses and others which were not recorded.  Bringing to life the personalities involved in establishing and running these concerns and the many workers who were then  able to earn a living and bring up their families.  Some businesses have  deposited their records, but others require much more research in order for the company history to be published.



As British industry contracts and centralises so businesses continue to close. Often with closure records are also lost. Norwich was once the major production centre in Britain for Ladies and children's shoes, now more are sold in its shoe shops than made in Norwich. When Thermos closed its vacuum flask factory in Thetford our record was of the last production of that product in Britain. For 44 years we have been recording fish smokehouses, fertilizer factories, tanneries, lime kilns,maltings, iron foundries, brickworks, mills, pumping stations, shoe factories, and so on.


Industries don't have to be all that old to justify recording. As an example two breweries established in Norwich in the 1980's have closed. and another moved on to larger premises.