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Iron Duke

Industrial archaeology of national importance

The Iron Duke is a piece of industrial archaeology of national importance. Built in 1849 for Stephen Moulton to start his rubber manufacturing business in Bradford on Avon, it was the first machine of its type in Europe. The Iron Duke is a rubber-rolling or calendaring machine, vulcanising rubber and cotton fabric to make waterproof sheeting. The rubber industry grew to dominate life in Bradford. 

When the Spencer Moulton factory closed in 1973, the Iron Duke was dismantled and stored at Bristol Museum, in the hope that one day it could be restored and put on public view.

Return of the Iron Duke

Formal unveiling of the restored Iron Duke in its new location in Kingston Road was at noon on Saturday 24 September 2016 and was well attended. After short speeches from Bradford on Avon's Mayor, Cllr Alison Craddock, Mervyn Harris, Chairman of Bradford on Avon Museum, and David Moss, Chairman of the Bradford on Avon Preservation Trust, the unveiling was performed by three former Avon Rubber staff who had worked at the Kingston Mills factory, Nita Wadman, Michael Clifford and Chris Green.
The unveiling was followed by an afternoon of rubber industry related entertainment in the eastern side of the nearby Vaults building (by kind permission of the owners, Mark Carter and Kevin Green).  There was an exhibition of collaborative, specially-commissioned artwork by local artist Serena Pugh and Bath-based poet Hannah Teasdale, on the theme of the Avon Rubber Factory. A further exhibition, The Occasion, was of work by artists Mervyn Grist and Julie Smith based around the marriage bouquet of Jack Moulton and Beryl Greene who were married in Singapore in 1914. (The bouquet is part of the Moulton Archive at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre.) The Avon Works Cabaret offered an amusing and thought-provoking exploration of the life and times of the factory and town in music, stories and poetry, with performances by musicians Rosie Upton & Pete McGregor and Sid Bloomfield, guitarist Woody Woodland, and poets Steve Williams, Mervyn Grist and Dawn Gorman. And music in Lamb Yard featured young singer/songwriters Zoe Newton and Joel Francis, and  a three-piece Indie rock band Socket, from Chippenham. Congratulations to Jim Lynch, Co-ordinator of BoaCan (the Bradford on Avon Community Network), for his substantial role in making the unveiling such a successful event.

Iron Duke open 1

Two films were shown relating to the Avon Rubber factory, produced as a result of collaboration between film-makers and volunteers, The Iron Duke's Progress, by Will Sansom of Close Range Films, shows the journey of the Iron Duke from its heyday on site to its return to the town. Remembering The Avon, meanwhile, filmed by Positive Images, a local charitable trust with a national reputation for its social documentaries, includes interviews and reminiscences by more than 30 former Avon factory workers, and some of their younger relatives, comparing the lives and times of then and now. These films can be seen online; for The Iron Duke's Progress, go to vimeo.com/184776055 and for Remembering The Avon go to vimeo.com/184870172.

Return of the restored Iron Duke to Bradford on Avon for public display means that most of the physical restoration side of the project is complete, though there remains replanting of the site (planned for the early months of 2017) and creation of permanent signs explaining the machine, its history and its context. On Wednesday 5 October, Roger Clark, Hon Curator of the Bradford on Avon Museum, spoke at a joint Preservation Trust/Museum meeting about the Iron Duke and possibilities for related permanent exhibitions and for a ‘Rubber Trail' in the town are being considered.
The Iron Duke project has depended on grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the PRISM Fund and from many other donors and an important part of attracting these grants was that the project comprised four community engagement projects as well as the physical restoration of the machine.  These projects have been led by a steering group chaired by Colin Kay and a website has been set up (theavonworks.co.uk) which contains information about these projects and onto which much archive material about the Avon Works is being uploaded.

Making of the film, Remembering the Avon, was one of the four community engagement projects associated with the return of the Iron Duke. A second project aimed to recreate the essence of the Avon Rubber in-house newspaper, Avon News, with the help of students from Bradford on Avon's St Laurence School. The Wiltshire Times agreed to run the ‘newspaper' as a supplement within its September 23rd 2016 edition, with the concept that the students would write the news and features for it, about the factory, its workers and the Iron Duke. A group of 14 students were given basic training in journalism by Ruth Butler, Heritage Education Officer at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre. They interviewed many of the people involved in the wider project. Eight of the students, who were in Years 8-10 at the outset of the project, went on to write, and then edit, their stories during their summer holidays, under the guidance of journalist Dawn Gorman. Photographs for the supplement included some of those sourced from the archives at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre by Andrew and Margaret Shipley. The supplement was given out at the unveiling, as well as being more widely distributed amongst Wiltshire Times readers that week. A second edition of Avon News is planned, possibly in a different format and probably to appear in Spring 2017 and linked with the 30th anniversary of the factory's closure.

Iron Duke open 3

A third of the community engagement projects involved the Bath-based performance poet Hannah Teasdale, who worked with young people, in particular those at Bradford on Avon Youth Group, to explore the health issues involved with working at the former Avon Rubber factory (especially those associated with the notorious ‘Black Hole' mixing department), and any contemporary issues faced by young people living in a post-Avon town. The starting point for this project was the poem The Grim Reaper's Snuff by Bradford on Avon's Mervyn Grist. Hannah has commented that three of the girls who produced their own pieces of writing about their experience of life in Bradford on Avon had never written voluntarily before, and the workshops became very person-centred and therapeutic for them. The resulting work was showcased at a Bradford on Avon Arts Festival event on Saturday 10 September - some written and performed by the young people, and some written by Hannah and performed by the young people. Some of the performances from that evening, plus other work by the young people, were filmed and edited by James McQuade, the resulting film, Our Black Hole, will be available shortly - for information on this see the website, www.theavonworks.co.uk.
The fourth project, a sound and words composition based on the life of the factory, is planned to have its premiere in St. Margaret's Hall on Saturday 22nd April 2017 (the 30th anniversary of the closing of the factory on the Kingston Mills site). Composed by young local artists, Taran Stormes Martino and Paddy Henchman, it will also serve as an acoustic backdrop to the Virtual Reality recreation of the Avon Rubber Factory, which is being fashioned by students of the I.T. Department of Wiltshire College's Trowbridge Campus. This is a rapidly evolving and growing project, led by Bob Willcox, Senior I.T. Lecturer in Wiltshire College's campus in Trowbridge. Andrew and Margaret Shipley, ex-workers in the factory, have provided invaluable archive material via the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. When up and running, the online platform will also provide a multi-faceted space for virtual art and heritage exhibitions. It is envisaged that this will continue to operate as a community engagement project beyond the life of the Iron Duke project, which is scheduled to end during the coming summer.

Bringing the Iron Duke back to Bradford on Avon

The Bradford on Avon Preservation Trust, the Bradford on Avon Museum Society and BoaCan (the Bradford on Avon Community area Network) have joined forces to bring the Iron Duke back to Bradford on Avon, where it was a working machine for over 100 years.

The late Dr Alex Moulton keenly supported the project and gave £10,000, which got our project started and the project is being generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the PRISM Fund and many other donors.  

But more funding - approximately £18,000 - is still needed. We have brought the funds for the project together and the combined fund is held by the Museum Society. Your contribution, large or small, will be very welcome.

How you can donate

Details of how to give are on this leaflet.

BACS payments can be made directly to the Museum’s bank if preferred; details are s/c 30-98-75 a/c 48112868, adding “ID your initials & name” as an identity reference.

The leaflet includes a box for you to tick if you wish your contribution to be enhanced by gift aid - please tick this if you are a UK tax payer as it adds 25% to your donation at no expense to you.

Please send your the form to Chris Dale, the Museum Society’s Treasurer, at 13 Whitehall, Bradford on Avon, BA15 1SG.


 

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