Getting steamy - Britain's industrial heritage
The Industrial Revolution was a period from 1750 to 1850 where changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times.
Blimey, Wikipedia. We love you and all, but you make the Industrial Revolution sound as boring as it did at school. Whereas, if we just shift the goalposts a bit and call it Britain’s industrial heritage, there are suddenly loads of things to see and do around the country, which would have made us much more attentive than we’d been in primary school.
There were the inventions, the work of people like Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the development of the railways, the growth of the big cities as people moved from working in agriculture to working in manufacturing and commerce, the workhouses (boo) – Britain’s industrial heritage is so wide-ranging that you could find things to see and do about it on every holiday. Here are five heritage highlights to start you off.
The Ironbridge at Telford in Shropshire was the world’s first iron bridge, built over the River Severn at Coalbrookdale in 1779. It's now a famous symbol of the start of Britain’s industrial revolution, and the bridge and other heritage sites around it have World Heritage Status. They’re all managed nowadays by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, which runs ten award-winning museums along the valley, including the Iron Bridge Gorge Museum, Blists Hill Victorian Town, the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, the Jackfield Tile Museum and the Coalport China Museum.
Stay: We have over 85 sites in Shropshire, with the adults-only Broadmeadow at Church Stretton around twelve miles from the Ironbridge Gorge Museum. A camping pod in a secluded spot starts from £33 a night, with Broadmeadow also offering reiki courses and holistic workshops. Campfires are allowed and student groups are welcome.
For bigger groups, the camping huts at Woodland Park Camping Huts in Ellesmere sleep up to four, seven or nine and start from £35 a night, or pitch up your tent, tourer or motorhome at the pub campsite Baron of Beef at Bucknell, set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and with pitches from £11 a night.
Another World Heritage Site, Morwellham Quay in Devon is a river port that developed to support local mines. It’s now all part of a 200 acre visitor attraction exploring Edwardian and Victorian history, with a Victorian farm and nature reserve, an Edwardian farm and the narrow gauge railway down into the George and Charlotte copper mine, with displays in abandoned workplaces on the working conditions of Victorian miners.
Stay: Just a few miles away from Morwellham Quay is Woodovis Park at Tavistock, set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with tip-top facilities – and an infrared therapy cabin. Camping pods start from £45 a night and a three-bedroom caravan starts from £299 for a week for up to six people; tent and tourer pitches are from £22 a night. Pods and pitches are also available at Langstone Manor Holiday Park, again in Tavistock, from £40 a night for a pod and £14 for a pitch. Or there’s Siblyback Lake Campsite less than ten miles away into Cornwall, where you can fish for trout and try and beat the Siblyback record of 10lb 8oz for a rainbow trout catch.
We can’t do an overview of British industrial history without mentioning Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who at 24 accepted the post of project engineer for the new iron bridge at Bristol as his first commission. The bridge is now the main part of Brunel Mile, a collection of things to see about Brunel and the Industrial Revolution including the ship SS Great Britain, the Brunel Institute and the National Brunel Collection.
Stay: We have around 180 sites within 30 miles of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, with over 65 sites around Bristol. In the Mendip Hills twelve miles from the bridge you’ll find Nettwood Country Breaks, with a three-bedroom static caravan available from £300 for a week for up to six people and tent, tourer and motorhome pitches from £13.
Other Somerset sites include Glastonbury’s Middlewick Farm, with luxury camping cabins from £40 a night, and Newton Mill Holiday Park in Bath, where you can pitch up in a gorgeous valley from £10 a night.
Like Brunel, Stephenson is another major figure from Britain’s industrial heritage, and is known as the 'father of the railways'. He invented and built 16 steam engines including the famous Rocket, and was responsible for building the first stretches of railway line in the UK. His stone cottage birthplace is now managed by the National Trust, where there are costumed guides describing the lives of mining families at the time.
Stay: We have around 65 sites in Northumberland, and over 80 within thirty miles of Stephenson’s cottage across Northumberland, Co Durham and North Yorkshire. The dog-friendly Border Forest Caravan Park at Otterburn has direct access to the Pennine Way and Kielder Forest, with pitches from £15 a night, with camping pods at Hillcrest Park at Richmond from £30 and hardstanding electric pitches from £19.
Amberley Working Museum in the South Downs National Park covers 36 acres and is dedicated to the industrial heritage of the south-east. The open air museum has vintage transport exhibits including the Southdown bus collection, industry-based collections such as the print workshop, and many resident craftspeople who work using traditional methods.
Stay: Bring your tent or tourer to the Chichester Lakeside Holiday Park, where there are ten fishing lakes and a kids’ club, all five miles from the historic city of Chichester. Chichester Lakeside is around ten miles from the museum and has pitches starting from just £6 a night. Or book a comfy camping pod at the adults-only Two Hoots Campsite across the border in Hampshire – they come with king-sized beds, cosy bedding and start from £60 a night.