SOME people have what might be seen by others as rather eccentric pastimes, but for a long time there has been a link between Anglicanism and steam heritage. Steam fans such as the one-time Bishop of Wakefield Dr Eric Treacy, the Revd Wilbert Awdry, and the Revd Teddy Boston immediately spring to mind.
My own involvement has been with stationary steam engines, and it began in 1993, when faced with the then derelict Claymills Victorian pumping station in Burton-on-Trent (above). Burton grew rapidly during the 19th century, until it became the largest brewing centre in the world.
It then became necessary to build a large sewage farm, to deal with liquid waste from the brewery, and to pump the waste from the town to the farm. The pumping station required was very large, but it worked from 1885 until 1971. After this, it gradually deteriorated for 20 years, and then faced demolition.
Much of Burton’s proud industrial heritage was lost during the ’70s and ’80s; so there was a feeling locally that it was time to draw a line in the sand. Clearly, no commercial enterprise, nor the local authority, had the will — or the money — to do the job; so a community group set up a charitable trust, and then turned up with their tools and got on with the job.
The task was daunting, but the long-term goal was clear. Every Thursday and Saturday, for 16 years, bits of rusty machinery have been slowly made to work once again. Replacement parts were begged, borrowed, but never stolen.
Then finally, in 2000, one of the restored boilers was lit, and one of the great pumping beam-engines moved again for the first time in more than 20 years. This was only the beginning, as the station had had more than 30 working steam engines in its working life. Most of these were gradually returned from sites around the country, and restored. The site also has a large steam-driven workshop, and this, together with the blacksmith’s forge, has been completely restored.
At first, it was mostly retired people who wanted to continue using their professional skills and to do something positive, but then they were joined by other people. In the past ten years, many young people have joined in, and now there is a terrific comradeship between all ages. It is really great to see the older volunteers passing on their skills to younger members, and younger members knuckling down to very challenging tasks.
What about the normal facets of human behaviour — the arguments, and the fallings-out? There have, inevitably, been a few of these, but co-operation and compromise have always featured prominently. The realisation that we all need each other to achieve our common goal has won through.