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Tristram Hunt chooses top ten Industry, Trade & Commerce places that help tell A History of England

  • Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A, judges the Industry, Trade & Commerce category from hundreds of public nominations in Historic England’s campaign Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places, sponsored by Ecclesiastical Insurance
  • The furnace that was the catalyst for the Industrial Revolution, an ancient brewhouse in Cornwall and a remnant of the British motor industry are among ten places selected for their importance to our industrial past
  • New podcast episodes explore the ten places

The Blue Anchor, Helston, Cornwall
The Blue Anchor, Helston, Cornwall © Historic England DP220398

The Old Furnace in Coalbrookdale known as the “birthplace of industry”, the home of Morris Motors in Oxford, Cromford Mills which is home to the first water-powered cotton spinning wheel, and an ancient brewhouse are among ten places chosen today by Tristram Hunt, for Historic England’s campaign Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places, sponsored by specialist insurer, Ecclesiastical.

The campaign aims to find the 100 places that bring to life England’s rich and extraordinary history.

Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A has judged the Industry, Trade & Commerce category and is one of a panel of expert judges, including Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Mary Beard, David Olusoga and Dr David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral. Each judge has been tasked with choosing their top ten places in a range of different categories, from a long list of public nominations.

We received 799 public nominations for the Industry, Trade & Commerce category- the highest received in any category.

 

Listen to the new podcast episodes about Tristram Hunt's chosen places

Cromford Mills, Matlock, Derbyshire
Cromford Mills, Matlock, Derbyshire © Historic England DP169107

The 10 chosen Industry, Trade & Commerce places

The Old Furnace in Coalbrookdale, Ironbridge Gorge, Shropshire

A discovery here in 1709 is widely thought to have been the catalyst for the Industrial Revolution which transformed England and the world.

Iron production was not new to this area but it was in this furnace that Abraham Darby I pioneered the method of smelting iron fuelled by coke (heated coal), rather than charcoal (heated wood). This allowed the furnace to become incredibly hot and meant that high quality iron could be made in massive quantities.

The reliance on wood supplies for charcoal up to this point had meant that producing iron on an industrial scale simply wasn’t possible, but by switching to coke Darby kickstarted the modern iron industry and gave this place the nickname “The Birthplace of Industry”.

Bridges, buildings, railways - the backbone of the Industrial Revolution, all began to be constructed using iron which paved the way for the modern world. Iron framing technology in buildings, first used at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings not far from Coalbrookdale, even led to the tall buildings which dominate our cities today.

Category judge Tristram Hunt, said: “the work of Abraham Darby was so revolutionary in providing the power, energy and might that would transform the steel industry and generate the wealth from which modern Britain emerged”.

Cromford Mills, Matlock, Derbyshire

Cromford Mills was built in 1771 by Sir Richard Arkwright and as home to the first water-powered cotton spinning mill, it is known as the birthplace of the modern factory system.

As category judge Tristram Hunt explained: “This not only shows the power that water and rivers could produce, but it also represents the beginning of factory production and mechanisation - the raw, sociological underpinnings of industrialisation”. Now a World Heritage Site, its ground breaking ingenuity was quickly replicated in mills across the world, revolutionising the textile industry.

Arkwright started out as a barber and began a life of commercial pursuit by collecting human hair and dyeing it to make wigs. But soon he moved into textiles and became interested in machinery that could make production faster and easier. By borrowing and improving on existing machinery, namely the “spinning jenny” system, he created a water-powered spinning frame which meant that yarns could be spun quickly and continuously, increasing production.

It is said that Arkwright did more than anyone else to establish the dominance of the cotton manufacturing industry in England.

The Rochdale Pioneers Shop, Toad Lane, Rochdale, Greater Manchester

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, or Rochdale Pioneers, were a group of 28 men, mostly weavers, who wanted to improve their quality of life. In 1844, at the height of difficult times in the working community, as the mechanisation of industry was forcing more and more workers into poverty, they opened a co-operative shop to sell a simple selection of high quality goods at honest prices.

The co-operative movement had begun earlier in the 19th century and like others that came before it, this co-operative was owned and run by its members. But importantly, the Pioneers ran it based on the "Rochdale Principles". These Principles stipulated that provisions should be of high quality and sold at full weight, that there should be equality of the sexes in membership and that the shop’s patrons should receive a dividend of the profits.

These principles helped shape the way co-operatives around the world operate today and Toad Lane is widely regarded as the home of the modern worldwide co-operative movement. This movement quickly grew. By the early 1900s there were over 1,600 co-operative societies and by the 1960s most UK towns had at least one. It was social enterprise in action and a chance for local people to have a say on their own quality of life, becoming equal members in a revolution that spread all over the world.

Tristram Hunt said: “Out of the Industrial Revolution came new ideas about the organisation of society and what the Rochdale Pioneers did was to bring a new model of sharing wealth to the world. On the one hand industrialisation was a celebration of capitalism but on the other hand ideas around socialism, communism and cooperation emerged which changed the country.”

Dunston Staiths, Gateshead, Tyne & Wear
Dunston Staiths, Gateshead, Tyne & Wear © Historic England DP059977

The Piece Hall, Halifax, West Yorkshire

This is an architectural and cultural masterpiece. Built in 1779 as a place for local merchants and buyers to come together and trade pieces of cloth, it is now the largest remaining cloth trading hall in England. This magnificent building, described by category judge Tristram Hunt as the “Piazza San Marco of Yorkshire” embodied the vital importance of the cloth trade to the pre-industrial economy of Yorkshire, from the Middle Ages through to the early 19th  century.

When it was built, The Piece Hall was a great statement of the cloth manufacturers’ wealth, pride and ambition. They deliberately chose a grand neo-classical design, inspired by ancient architecture of Rome and Greece. From its inception, The Piece Hall was a stunning combination of commerce and culture, an icon of hard business but also a testament to the history, lives and values of its surrounding community.

Castlefield Canal Basin, Manchester

This was the end point, the hub in Manchester, of the Bridgewater Canal. Built between 1759 and 1761, it was the country’s first industrial arterial canal and was revolutionary because it used cuttings and tunnels to cross land without having to follow the course of a river.

This short but important stretch was built so that the Duke of Bridgewater could have coal transported from his mines in Worsley to Manchester. It was masterminded by the pioneering canal engineer, James Brindley whose innovative thinking overcame various challenges and laid the template for the canal network that developed across the country over the following 50 years. The coal transported to Manchester on canals like this powered the textile mills that transformed the city in the last quarter of the 18th century into a buzzing centre of industry.

Later, when the Bridgewater Canal was extended through to Liverpool it became the key course for moving cotton, food and other raw materials through to the ports at Liverpool, giving it a central role in the international trade that underpinned the Industrial Revolution. It is an astounding, if somewhat unassuming structure, which fundamentally changed the country.

Tristram Hunt said: “The transport revolution of the 18th century is part of the story of industrialisation. Canals were the motorways and the great trunk roads of the 18th century which helped quicken the pace of industrialisation in England.”

Dunston Staiths, Gateshead, Tyne & Wear

At 1,709 feet long and 50 feet wide, this huge wooden jetty which curves out across the River Tyne is thought to be one of the largest timber structures in Europe. Staiths once lined the Tyne and were landing stages for shuttling coal from the North East’s rich coalfields onto cargo ships, allowing the region to export its wares and trade globally.

Coal was once the lifeblood of industry in England, fuelling industries like steel and heavy engineering. Whole communities were founded around collieries. In 1913, the Great North Coalfield employed almost 250,000 men and by the 1920s was producing over 56m tons of coal every year.

Dunston Staiths were the last working staiths on the River Tyne, still standing as a reminder that the Tyne was one of the most important working rivers in the world. They eventually closed in 1980 and are now an unlikely ecological sanctuary for birds, saltwater plants and otters.

For Tristram Hunt: “this is a reminder of Britain as the workshop of the world. It reminds us that the coal and manufactured goods which came out of Britain needed railways, ports and docks to connect to the world. Surviving infrastructure like this is a very good example of what today we would call global Britain”.

The Lloyd’s Building, Lime Street, London

Also known as the “Inside Out building”, the Lloyd’s Building is one of the most distinctive in the City of London and symbolic of the Square Mile’s status as a late 20th and early 21st century financial trading centre. Lloyd’s takes its name from Edward Lloyd, a Welshman who opened a coffee house nearby in 1688. This became a meeting place for seafarers, ship-owners, merchants, and for the first underwriters who insured the ships and their cargoes.

Completed in 1986, Lloyd’s is a seminal building which is still awe-inspiring in its futuristic design, even 30 years after opening. All its services, from the pipes to the staircases, are wrapped around the outside of the building, making it a startling example of “radical Bowellism”, which quite literally means the insides of the building are on the outside. The building needed a single trading space and the potential to respond to the changing needs of the market, which architect Richard Rogers innovatively provided, creating a building with inherent flexibility which left the interior less cluttered. When it was listed in 2011 it was the youngest Grade I listed building in England, until the British Library was listed in 2015.

Tristram Hunt said: “The financial industry is an important part of England’s story. Finance, initially from global colonial trade and the slave trade, was funnelled through London and allowed for the growth of industry. The Lloyd’s building is a symbol of this wealth creation but in its 1980s grandeur it also symbolises the resurgence of London as a global financial hub.”

The Lloyd's Building, Lime Street, City of London
The Lloyd's Building, Lime Street, City of London © Historic England DP159496

The Blue Anchor, Helston, Cornwall

The Blue Anchor started life in the 15th century as a rest house run by monks, who also brewed mead on the site. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries it became a tavern and a brewery, today selling its own ales which it has been brewing on site for hundreds of years. Brewing is an ancient occupation which became an organised industry in the Middle Ages. Until the appearance of large industrial brewers in the 18th century, the majority of brewing was done in brewhouses attached to inns and pubs, like the Blue Anchor.

It has played a central role in the social lives of Helston locals for centuries and around 100 years ago, local tin miners even began receiving their wages at the bar. Beer, brewing and pubs have long been central to our culture and the traditional “English Pub”, which the Blue Anchor encapsulates, is an international symbol.

This made Tristram Hunt’s top 10 “because it’s a celebration of beer, both as part of British culture but also as part of our long tradition of food and drink production. Cornwall is also a county which has such an earthy, economic, industrial heritage.”

Middleport Pottery, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent

The town of Stoke-on-Trent itself is affectionately known as The Potteries and officially recognised as the World Capital of Ceramics. Burslem is called the “Mother Town” of The Potteries and Middleport Pottery, in the heart of Burslem, has made its famous Burleigh pottery since 1889. It was described as a "Model Pottery" of the Staffordshire industry because it was so cleverly designed to streamline the production process.

Middleport was much more efficient than traditional potteries and improved conditions for the workforce with simple details like the passageways being designed for the easy movement of workers and pottery- they are the perfect width for a cart to get through. Finished pottery was placed straight onto barges on the Trent and Mersey Canal waiting to take the ceramics out to the coast for international export. It is now the last working Victorian “model pottery” of its kind.

For category judge Tristram Hunt: “this is one of the great reminders of the culture of The Potteries, those six towns in Staffordshire that now make up Stoke-on-Trent, which produced a world historic footprint in terms of ceramic design and production.”

Former Morris Garage, Oxford

This was once the home to one of Britain’s best-known motor manufacturers of the 20th century, MG Motors, which was originally called Morris Motors. The man behind this was the engineer and entrepeneur William Morris. Brought up in Oxford, he left school at 15 and soon set up his first business- a cycle repair shop run from his parents' house. In 1909 he began the Morris Garage, at first to sell and repair cars, but in 1912 he produced the prototype for his first car, the Oxford Bullnose, and roaring success followed.

Morris Motors was known for reasonably priced, reliable cars and the company went on to make the very popular Morris Minor car. By the 1920s Morris was making a third of all cars in the UK and the motor industry was beginning to transform our country’s landscape through an ever-growing network of roads.

Category judge Tristram Hunt said: “For me this rather humble and modest site symbolises the essential force in 20th century industrial life- the motor car.”

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said: “We had an overwhelming response from the public in this category, with nearly 800 nominations of places which help tell the story of our industrial and commercial past. Each of these 10 places chosen by Tristram Hunt demonstrate that many different industries and enterprises, from brewing and coal mining to financial services, have defined who we are as a nation and although some have changed uses, they remain a central part of our lives today.”

Mark Hews, Group Chief Executive of Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: “From the workshop of the world to the centre of the global financial market, England has been at the forefront of enterprise and industry for centuries. Our industrial heritage has shaped our landscape, from the towns and cities that grew on the back of commerce, to the canals and railways that still connect us today. These 10 places reflect our rich commercial history and as an insurer of many of the nation’s irreplaceable buildings, Ecclesiastical is proud to celebrate them through our sponsorship of the 100 Places campaign.”

Next Steps

Listen to our podcast Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places

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