I am a Fireman to my trade

Untitled 8

When steam ruled the rails…

Some weeks ago, I posted a great video made by Public Historian Dave Moore with local author and activist Brian Stringer, about Brian’s experiences as The Clayhanger Kid, as part of the social historian’s ‘Postcards from the Past’ series. Dave Moore is clearly not just a talented and dedicated historian, but an accomplished filmmaker, too.

In the past few days, Dave has posted another video in his series, and I shan’t spoil it; please watch it below. It’s a remarkable thing – my compliments to both a Dave and Mike Birch for a wonderful piece of social history.

Dave has this to say about the film:

Everyday people can tell remarkable stores about their past lives. Mick Birch is one of those everyday people who is proud of his past, and is happy to share it. He started work as a 15 year old boy, straight from school, to work on the railway.

What is so fascinating about Mick’s story is it is a record of how he saw the world he lived in; his testament give a powerful insight into the working of what was one, the finest transport system in the world.

I have often listened to people who operated large steam engines how they would ‘feel’ at one with the engine, as if they had formed a very personal and intimate relationship with it. Does this explain why there was this tendency to give a steam engine a name?

It is history and the past that gives us a culture, a social background, and sense of identity. It helps form our community structure. Memory can be recorded and passed down the generations not only in the form of written documentation, but in the form of acquired and learned skills, oral testimony and the memory associations connected with objects and artefacts.

Mick’s account of his working day clearly shows that being a firemen goes well beyond shovelling six shovels of coal into the firebox every two minutes. Mick and the driver would develop a feel for the engine, a skill set that cannot be written down on paper; tacit skills.

People like Mick are our gatekeeper to the past and are the keepers of memories, they are alternative source of the past, and through them we can answer the following questions;

• How by applying the practices of public history, can we create a device that can understand the voices that are not heard, the voices who want to speak: the very same voices that allow ordinary people to make history?

• Can we use the stories of Mick Birch as a device to open up a portal into the past, the pasts of ordinary people to understand how they lived?

• Can we begin to understand the importance of time, memory and morality, and answer the questions; what things meant to them?

• Can we begin to understand why their history is important to them?

Dave Moore is of course a leading figure in Kate Cardigan’s Lichfield Discovered and also a tireless campaigner for Sandfields Pumping Station. It’s so refreshing to see people like Dave and Kate working hard to produce unique and interesting material about local history and other matters arising.

 

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14 Responses to I am a Fireman to my trade

  1. Pedro says:

    A lovely film about an ordinary person with an interesting tale to tell.

    On the run up to the commemoration of the start of the WWI readers may be interested in the site set up… ‘to create a permanent digital memorial to the Lives of the First World War.”

    Anyone who has a tale to tell can add to the record.

    https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/about

  2. Pedro says:

    Oxley is mentioned twice in the film.

    The skew arch viaduct was built 1847-9, an amazing specimen of brickwork and Grade II Listed…

    http://www.panoramio.com/photo/61789567

  3. Clive says:

    What a great video, enjoyed every bit of it. Big thank you to Dave Moore, and Mick Birch for sharing is memorys with us all.

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