Steeplejack Fred

zozo

Member
Joined
16 Apr 2015
Messages
7,473
Location
Netherlands
I came across a 1982 British series on youtube introducing and following steeplejack Fred Dibnah from Bolton. He made himself famous with demolishing old factory chimneys in the Manchester area and restoring old steam engines as a hobby. Watching through the series I recon this fellow made himself into a British icon of a lost trade such as laddering chimneys...

I actually really enjoyed it with a laugh and loads of respect watching this fellow performing an old craftmanship that is absolutely unthinkable of nowadays. Demolishing old 60-yard tall chimneys brick by brick or taking them down in one piece with a hammer, chisel and a fire.




With this one bellow, a really had a laugh, older Fred laddering an old brick chimney in the old fashion way, with wood ladders, steel hooks, wood dowels and ropes. Probably after drinking a few pints. :p


It can't be more nostalgic, those were the days!... Respect to the almost forgotten oldtimers... :clap:I mean, the way and with what they did build our future and took it down again for us to forget.

A nice piece of history that every young fellow should watch...

 
Last edited:

mort

Member
Joined
15 Nov 2015
Messages
1,255
My brother and I were brought up watching his programmes. He was really gifted at drawing as well, creating beautiful technical type diagrams which my dad appreciated as he was a draftsman.

You'd never get away with anything he did nowadays with "elf and safety".
 

zozo

Member
Joined
16 Apr 2015
Messages
7,473
Location
Netherlands
Fred looks young there. :)
Coincidentally, last night I was watching a programme he made in 1999, the first in a series looking at Britain's Industrial Heritage.
It's on the BBC iPlayer, I don't know if you can access that in the Netherlands @zozo but it's worth a look if you can.
Wind, Water and Steam.

I got this message... BBC iPlayer only works in the UK. Sorry, it’s due to rights issues.

But there are quite a few on youtube i've seen... :)
 

PARAGUAY

Member
Joined
13 Nov 2013
Messages
1,833
Location
Lancashire
We used watch Fred series as a family. Despite his appearance he was adept at any trade and a ability in engineering to match his enthusiasm. Highlights many but the one when hes climbing a huge square chimney with small corbled brickwork every twenty metres or so and he steps off the ladder on to the few inches of corbling to have a cigarette or his story of climbing the ladder when coming out of the pub some jobsworths pull about it to which he replies in jest"your try climbing up there without a pint! I suppose working on steam engine with a few cans while 3 and 4am didnt go down well with the mrs
 

Tim Harrison

Super Moderator
Staff member
Joined
5 Nov 2011
Messages
7,946
Location
UK
Haha, me too, used to watch Fred on TV with my family as a small child. Tall Victorian chimney's were still commonplace landmarks back then.

I watched my local tall chimney being demolished from my bedroom window. It stood in a council depot a few streets away. I watched a steeplejack rig wooden ladders and bring it down brick by brick over several weeks. Old plans showing the chimney were found in a skip not so long ago. It stood next to a Victorian pumping station which was recently demolished to make way for a housing development; a great shame.

1603274603403.png
 

zozo

Member
Joined
16 Apr 2015
Messages
7,473
Location
Netherlands
I'm actually from a former mining area too, nationally named the South-Eastern mining district. Unfortunately, it was from the more modern concrete era, maybe the early shaft elevator buildings were brick but all chimneys were concrete. In my town we had the 3rd biggest Orange Nasua 1 mine with the tallest chimneys build in 1938, they were named freely translated Long Lissy 155 metres and Long John 138 metres.


Both were demolished with dynamite in 1976, at that time I was 10 years old. The school I was at was a stone throw away from the mine and the day they blew up Long John we all were allowed to go and watch the spectacle.

And a spectacle it was, it's the day that went into history as Long Johns revenge, it went wrong and it looked rather hilarious, the moment they blew the dynamite it came a few yards down perfectly vertically and it kept still standing as if nothing happened for about a minute. A complete anticlimax, everybody laughing and looking at each other wtf? Then it started slowly tilting over but the opposite direction as planned. It fell over a street outside the fenced zone and taking 3 buildings down with it. Across the street, it swapped a fortunately evacuated public office building like a fly.


Then unable to stop it, the crowd went berzerk and all ran towards the crash site to scavenge a souvenir... I also took a piece of Long Johns concrete home, but no longer have it, lost it along the way... But the memory is still as vivid as the day it happened 45 years ago.
 
Last edited:

PARAGUAY

Member
Joined
13 Nov 2013
Messages
1,833
Location
Lancashire
Fred's preferred method was cut into the base of the chimney acro and wedge it with timber and work out when enough brickwork was out of the chimney it should then drop vertically was out ater set alight and burning the wood. Think he mentions when the fire is lit excitement and nervous took over. On one occasion he recalled the fire did its job but the chimney stayed put!
 

zozo

Member
Joined
16 Apr 2015
Messages
7,473
Location
Netherlands
Fred's preferred method was cut into the base of the chimney acro and wedge it with timber and work out when enough brickwork was out of the chimney it should then drop vertically was out ater set alight and burning the wood.

In one of the older videos, it's filmed and he said to prefer the old fashion fire method out of respect for the builders and the effort it took to build it. Then taking it down with dynamite is peanuts, too easy, simply disrespectful towards history. :)
 

Tim Harrison

Super Moderator
Staff member
Joined
5 Nov 2011
Messages
7,946
Location
UK
In one of the older videos, it's filmed and he said to prefer the old fashion fire method out of respect for the builders and the effort it took to build it. Then taking it down with dynamite is peanuts, too easy, simply disrespectful towards history. :)
There was also a demolitions contractor that used to hire Fred to take the tall chimneys down the old fashioned way because he said it was much more reliable than dynamite, which sometimes went wrong.
he used to drive around in one of his many traction engines, he made a lot of different shows, a guess would be you’d need a vpn to watch some of it though
I found a whole load of his stuff on YouTube, if not all of it. I could only find the 3 episode series of Fred Dibnah's Industrial Age on BBC iPlayer.

I watched the whole of The Fred Dibnah Story yesterday and finished with Fred Dibnah Tribute (2004). That opening scene in episode one, when he's up a tall chimney without any safety gear, just walking around as though he's 2 feet off the ground makes me feel physically sick, the bit where he's trying to negotiate his scaffold at the top is worse.
I'm actually from a former mining area too,
And I am too, Nottinghamshire. Some of the coal fields in Nottingham were the last to close down. It was a heavily ingrained way of life for the communities in some towns and villages.

The nearest to me was Cotgrave Colliery. I remember being out for a run and going past the main entrance during the miners strike, not a pretty scene. It was like something I'd only ever seen in films of the 1930s Great Depression. I think I could hear the shouts of SCAB SCAB... some distance afterwards as those few that didn't strike tried to drive through the picket line to start their shift.

I'm pretty lucky where I live, I have the Great Central Railway on my doorstep. They open the sheds on occasion and you get to see all the heavy engineering needed to repair and service their steam engines. They have a fair few locomotives on active service and sometimes guest ones from other heritage railways, and quite a selection of rolling stock.

If you've seen any period dramas with steam locomotives chances are it's the GCW. They have a few victorian stations, a couple are permanently and authentically set dressed for the 1st and 2nd World Wars.

IMG_3193.jpeg
 

dw1305

Expert
Joined
7 Apr 2008
Messages
10,922
Location
nr Bath
Hi all,
They open the sheds on occasion and you get to see all the heavy engineering needed to repair and service their steam engines.
If the family go shopping in Swindon, I go with them, but go to the <"GWR museum">. The built the outlet centre on most of the old railworks. It is a good museum, but the whole set-up makes me pretty angry, partially because we've gone from building locomotives to shopping for tat on the same site. It is the classic British story of manufacturing decline, a total lack of investment in what could still have been a viable business.

Apparently it is better for us, as a country, for the City of London to be a glorified casino and the rest of London to be a tax haven for Russian gangsters, rather than actually make anything outside of London.

cheers Darrel
 
Last edited:

zozo

Member
Joined
16 Apr 2015
Messages
7,473
Location
Netherlands
Don't you have any underground mine museums?... The region I live also has a huge Marl mining history with 100ds of miles tunnels, some dating way back to the Roman period. In a few safe Marl groove tunnels, they did rebuild an underground coalmine museum with all the gear displayed, some equipment still functional. Then they shut down the light and run the machinery to give you an idea of how it was down there for the miners.

https://www.steenkolenmijn.nl/en/

My dad was a miner, he worked underground for 28 years, he was shooting master and the later days he mainly worked night shift maintenance. That's why I as youngest of 6 siblings actually never saw him that much. When I was up he was sleeping, because of this, I didn't have that much interaction with him.

I once visited this museum to get an idea and feeling of what he actually went through for 3 decades of his life. They did startup the drilling machine that's rigged up for the dynamite holes for a few minutes and then shut off the lights. Man!! That's hell on earth in a 250cm diameter tunnel, it was missing the 40°C temperature, but it was pitch black and so loud you couldn't even hear your own voice. Went back to the entrance with ringing ears respecting my dad even more than i did before.

For me doing that day in day out for decades must be punishment... And the mine owners still disrespectful and croocked as hell. As my dad and many others with him accepted the job with the garantee, after serving a 30 year contract you get a reasonable spacious mining pension. Then he got fired on economical issues at 28 years service a few years before the mine closed down. Much too shortly after that, dying of a nasty lung disease.

It probably wasn't that much different in the UK... Modern slavery... Simply crazy what those miners went through down there.
 
Last edited:

mort

Member
Joined
15 Nov 2015
Messages
1,255
I've been down the one in North Wales and it's amazing to see just how big some of the caverns they extracted slate from are and exact how they did it. I was quite amazed at how little they got paid, to the point that they couldn't afford candles so only used them when lining up the hole they were about to create (they had a heavy metal pole that they just constantly hit the same spot with) before blowing them out. They also had to pay for fuses, so cut them as short as they could get away with.
You go down 400-500 ft on a little funicular train but there are a dozen levels below that all now flooded. They have one of the caverns as a bounce net now and keep cheese down there.

There is also a mine which I think is still working in the lake district, called Honister slate mine. It has a high wire walk that I'd like to try and leads up to Buttermere and Haystacks were Wainwrights ashes were scattered in innominate tarn, which is a really beautiful area.
 
Joined
17 Mar 2012
Messages
1,341
Location
Dorset
He was on TV quite a bit years ago doing a variety of different stuff and always very entertaining. As far as the steeple jack work went, the man had balls of steel. I can’t see many folks these days doing what he did climbing hundreds of feet up ladders like he did.
 
Top