Historic construction industry archive under threat

Posted by Chris Graham on 28th February 2020

An historic construction industry archive collection is being broken up, with some irreplaceable literature facing the risk of being lost because the volunteers clearing the important contents are simply running out of time.

The Construction Industry Resource Centre Archive (CIRCA) has been housed at Kimmins Mill in Dudbridge, Stroud, since 1999. The old flour mill – a listed building in need of repair – stands in what is today the car park of a Sainsbury’s supermarket.

historic construction industry archive

Kimmins Mill in its heyday. It now stands, dilapidated and unsafe, in a Sainsbury’s car park.

At the end of 2017, CIRCA was given notice to quit after Sainsbury’s conducted an evaluation of assets. Up until then, the supermarket giant had charged just a peppercorn rent.

The problem, now, though, says CIRCA archivist, John Keenan, is that the mill holds so much construction industry archive material that the small band of volunteers has had insufficient access and insufficient time to move all the material out.

There are still three miles of documents and plan chests inside the mill, as well as the old Brick Development Association brick ‘library’ collection, plus George Wimpey’s huge, old boardroom table, among other artefacts, added curator John Keenan. “They gave us 90 days’ notice, but we only had 35 days’ access,” he explained.

For its part, Sainsbury’s says that it has given CIRCA plenty of time, issuing a notice in December 2017 for it to be out by June 23rd, 2018. When this deadline was missed, a further three-month extension was granted, to January 2019. All the while, the volunteers were moving out what they could. As the dilapidated building is now considered a safety hazard, with overloaded, rotting floors, further ad hoc access has had to be supervised by the Sainsbury’s property team and structural engineers, to ensure safety.

Last month, Sainsbury’s gave the Circa Trust an extra fortnight to remove material, Mr Keenan says, during which time the half-dozen volunteers managed to shift a further 20 tonnes of material; now being stored in the basements of various, sympathetic local businesses.

“We just need more time from Sainsbury’s,” said John Keenan, who is feeling the pressure. “We need another month or two.”

Various homes have been lined-up for some parts of the collection and, beneath the archive material, is about £10,000-worth of shelving, for which a local school has expressed an interest.

The archive came together only in the 1990s, when the corporate world began moving towards a paperless existence. Most companies no longer wanted to keep their old trade literature, catalogues and brochures, and professional libraries were moving online.

John Keenan was commissioned by the British Standards Institution (he was the Chartered Institute of Building’s representative on the codes committee), to investigate the documents used by construction professionals. This was a prelude to the production of the BSI Construction Standards Manual. During his research – alongside BSI historian, Bob McWilliam – John found 8,800 relevant documents. These documents represented the start of the National Archive for Construction.

Early deposits in 1996 included the library of the newly privatised Property Services Agency, plus the Wimpey Grove Projects Library at Hammersmith, following George Wimpey’s decision to quit construction after swapping assets with Tarmac.

While access is now restrictred, the Stroud News & Journal sent a photographer inside in November 2018. Those photos are available online, and show some of the curiousities and treasures, including the contents of the Wimpey trophy cabinet.

Thanks to support from Taylor Wimpey, the Wimpey archive is now destined for the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), run by the Corporation of the City of London.Other organisations, including the National Archives in Kew, and the University of Warwick’s Modern Records Centre, have expressed interest in some of the other material.

But, without more time to make further arrangements, and to physically carry the thousands of boxes and files out of Kimmins Mill, the future of much of the historic material remains uncertain.

John Keenan says he would like to see the construction industry bring whatever power and influence it has to bear down on Sainsbury’s, by writing to the chairman, Martin Scicluna at: J Sainsbury plc, 33 Holborn, London EC1N 2HT.

More volunteers in the Stroud area would also be appreciated. If you can help, John Keenan can be contacted by email to: keenan123@btinternet.com.

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