Street furniture is a rich but much overlooked resource, and this conference was arranged to fill that void.
Celebrating Street Furniture
HMS AGM 2015
Stratford upon Avon
Organised by Rachel Cubitt, Margaret Birch and Eddie Birch
Street furniture is a rich but much overlooked resource. The conference themes included manufacturers, methods and technology, but also went beyond metallurgy to discuss design choices, trade patterns and the social and economic considerations. Also discussed were the needs for recording and preservation of these slowly diminishing objects. A evening and day of presentations was followed by a tour of Stratford-upon-Avon which boasts a unique display of lamp posts from the UK and beyond.
The Glass-Bottomed Walking Bus Tour.
Following the formal sessions, the Sunday morning of the conference consisted of a walking tour of central Stratford-upon-Avon. This provided an opportunity to admire Stratford’s unique display of lamp posts from around the UK and beyond, and to spend time looking in detail at other examples of street furniture, but also provided an opportunity to network with other delegates.
Nestled in the heart of Warwickshire is the home of William Shakespeare, Stratford Upon Avon, a beautiful, quaint and idyllic… and … esteemed location of the annual conference of the Historical Metallurgy Society 2015.
Meeting up with people is always a great event and any opportunity to do so is always very welcome, and this was no exception.
Paul Dobraszczyk, of University of Manchester, as the keynote speaker, kicked off the conference on the Friday evening. Paul’s lecture “Social Ornament: iron on the street” was a wonderful start that imparted a context on the conference subject, “Celebrating Street Furniture”.
The keynote lecture was followed up by a trip out to one of the local eateries and a few drinks to catch up with those attending.
On the Saturday morning, following the previous nights impressive thunderstorm, the lectures of the conference got started with Dr. Peter King’s dissertation on 18th century iron-founding: air furnaces and coke-smelting. Peter’s ability to paint a historical picture that is approachable to all in the audience was again in evidence as he gave light to the mysteries of the furnaces and their workings in the most intricate and wonderfully enticing detail.
Richard Williams followed up and continued with the theme of foundries with his lecture “The Production of Foundry Irons from 18th Century Charcoal and Coke fired Blast Furnaces”. His descriptions of the workings of the foundry and its output described so much of the street furniture that we are currently aware of, yet in a contemporary context of the 17 and 18 hundreds.
In a totally different vein, Jonathan Prus described a project that will allow the easy access for all concerned to the production and administrative details of the foundries of the UK historically, in his lecture “Who made that? Access to data on foundry history”.
Chris McKay asked us to look up at the tower clocks that are present in so many of our town squares. He gave us a great idea of how these clocks were made, and of course why! His lecture “Cast Iron Time” was littered with pictures of these “behemoths of time” and proved to be a very interesting and enlightening, not to mention educational presentation.
“Knock knock, what’s there?” was the story of the Arundel Castle bell-pull, which had recently had a another layer of history added to its story, with the conservation work carried out by William Hawkes, at West Dean College. This lecture demonstrated the other side of the story of our cultural heritage and what it takes to keep the objects we cherish safe and in good condition.
Ruth Rhynas Brown showed us that recycling is nothing new with her lecture “Re-using old cannon”. This presentation gave an insight into the re-use of canons of all things, to make street bollards! This was an interesting insight in to a historical aspect of a perennial problem we have today, yet we seem to have had a much greater degree of ingenuity in the past.
The lunch break gave time for us to pause and reflect on the morning’s proceedings before we were thrust in to another session of intrigue interest and wonderment. The hotel put on a superb lunch and we wanted for nothing as the hotels staff did all they could to provide us with a superb service and a great time.
Immediately after lunch Paul Belford was intended to have carried on the refreshment theme with his lecture “Beer, coal and light: a preliminary study of cellar access systems”. However Paul was sadly unable to attend the conference, but we were fortunate enough to have Eddie Birch who is more than capable of stepping into the breach. And so Eddie, with his usual high level of ability and competence, presented Paul’s paper. This work gave insight into the humble drey-drop and all it entails. Painting an interesting and realistic picture of the drey-mans job and how the street furniture beneath our feet plays an integral part in the day to day running of businesses, modern and historical.
Rachel Cubitt followed up with an interesting and enticing take on the foundries of York and surrounding area, showing us the beauty of her home towns street furniture and where it plays a part in the fabric of the city.
Eleanor Cooper, of the Oxford Preservation Trust inspired us to look a little deeper at the project being run by Oxford City Council in her lecture entitled “Oxford Preservation Trust and Oxford City Council Victorian Railings Reinstatement”. This gave an interesting insight into the work that is being done to preserve the street furniture we hold so dear, and how it might work for other councils to do the same.
“Survey of Cast Iron Lamp Posts in Clifton and Hotwells, Bristol” was next up from Maggie Shapland, of Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society / Bristol Industrial Archaeological Society. This whistle-stop tour of the area of Bristol gave us an insight into what happens when we look up. The often-ignored lamppost was the subjects here and was bought into sharp focus by an enticing lecture full of the wonders of ironclad Bristol.
Finally finishing the day’s proceedings was Andrew Naylor of Hall Conservation. His lecture “Street Level Conservation” was a catalogue of the fantastic projects he and his company have undertaken in the preservation of the street furniture around the UK. The work he and his team carry out is an exemplary showcase of the type of work we need to pursue to preserve the very fabric of the streets we enjoy today, and hope to enjoy for the future to come.
Following on from the superb dinner on the Saturday night… On the Sunday, following the lectures of the previous day, the delegates were able to take a tour of Stratford to experience exactly what we had been so enlightened about the day before. Taking in the historic lamppost collection as well as other items of interesting street furniture along the historic spine, this tour was a flexible look at the city that had so graciously hosted us and all it has to offer.
So… Wide and varied, interesting and intriguing, all of the lectures gave an insight and education alike into the workings of the streets we tread on a daily basis. Many of us will never look at the humble street furniture in the same way again, and perhaps that’s the best thing that has come out of this conference: The ability to look up, to look down, to see… and really observe. But not just to see, to really understand. We have been given an insight into the form, function, and history, and in fact, the desirability of our most often encountered object based heritage. This rare opportunity to look into what we encounter every day was an inspired choice by the organisers. It was an opportunity that I personally was very grateful to be able to experience and take part in, and most sincerely hope to be able to repeat again in the future.