The man who builds a factory builds a temple.
Witnessing the extraordinary scenery and weather of the Polar regions, C. J. Sullivan, a young blacksmith on the British Antarctic Expedition of 1839-43, struggled to describe his impressions in a letter home. Faced with sheer mountains of glittering blue-white ice, towering waves and ferocious winds, experiencing absolute terror alongside the wild beauty, he searched for a forceful enough metaphor from his own experience with which to convey the overwhelmingly strange and wonderful scene. It was, he decided, like 'a Steem engine in a large factory'.1
By then, steam power had become synonymous with thrusting modernity, technological mastery and social upheaval. It also gave new impetus to the aesthetic concept of the sublime, which had formerly been applied to stormy views of the natural landscape, the elements at their most violent or scenes of turbulent industry. Since the 1750s the Severn Gorge in Shropshire had became the Vesuvius of northern Europe, Coalbrookdale a Vulcan's forge of smelting ovens, huge kilns and blast furnaces spewing smoke and jets of flame, flaring against the night sky, as depicted by the theatrical scene painter Philippe de Loutherbourg and witnessed by thousands of astonished travellers. The arrival of the steam engine added force to Romantic visual imagery and, for those with the imagination, opened up an incredible future. As
The iron works in Coalbrookdale, a souvenir in the form of a print for the numerous visitors to the most famous of all early industrial sites. William Pickett (after Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg), Iron Works, Coalbrookdale (1805).
Matthew Boulton reported to James Watt, everyone was becoming 'STEAM MILL MAD'.
If the engines were fearsome beasts, it was equally essential to deal with the anxiety that surrounded the unknown, to placate these new demons, and the more thoughtful of the early industrialists were careful to adapt the architectural style that best reflected continuity - in their case the Classical style - for the public face of their factories. The early years of the Industrial Revolution were full of both hopes and worries; the short, dramatic history of one mill tells the story.
The opening of the Albion Mill in London in March 1786 was a grand and widely publicized event. Behind its heavy walls, Boulton and Watt, the leaders in heavy engineering and machine design and financial partners with the architect Samuel Wyatt and three others in this enterprise, had installed their latest steam-
Pehr Hillestrom's painting of a well-dressed party visiting a steel works in Sweden in the 1780s. The thrill of such scenes attracted many visitors, including foreign industrial spies.
driven rotary engine. It was only the third that the Birmingham company had so far supplied for commercial use.2 Despite the partners' nervousness about the untested nature of their new engine, they could sense the enormous commercial potential for such a highly visible operation in the centre of the capital. The huge new building and its activities were being carefully scrutinized by its admirers and opponents alike.
At a stroke, the Albion Mill brought the industrial scene of the early 1780s to the heart of London, a titan amidst the hundreds of backyard workshops, belching chimneys and loading wharves along the south bank of the Thames. The handsome mill was designed to grind flour in unprecedented quantities, powered by steam. The new 'Fire Engines', as they were known, threatened a revolution for the 500 or so existing corn mills in the London area that had long depended upon wind or water for their energy. In theory at least, steam-powered milling had the capacity to produce flour on a prodigious scale, each engine working many pairs of stones simultaneously. In addition, the engines could power the sifting and preparation of the flour as well as the ventilation of the building. Working men looked on in horror, fearing the failure of traditional milling and with it their jobs. As a monopoly it threatened higher prices for bread. What none of them knew was that the promoters of the Albion Mill were gambling heavily with a largely untried technology. The confident Classical façade, mimicking the current vogue in public buildings and country mansions, masked a very risky enterprise indeed.
Viewed across the new Blackfriars Bridge, on the Surrey side of the river, the Albion Mill was majestic, well suited to its prominent riverside position at the heart of the city. It floated upon a rusticated base, with a heavy watergate punched through beneath, and then rose five storeys above, with stately Venetian windows to mark the principal bays. Extra light came from a rooftop lantern that illuminated a central stairwell. Behind this display of well-mannered and informed urban architecture was the traditional arrangement of a corn mill, in which the upper storeys served as granaries from which the grain was gravity-fed down to the milling area. The coal was brought by river into a dock. Little of this functional business was given away by the muted neoclassical elegance of the river frontage.
In such a dominant position, the Albion Mill offered a proud architectural, commercial and mercantile riposte to William Chambers's recently completed Somerset House, a little further up and across the river, replete with government offices and learned and artistic bodies. As both architect and chief promoter, Samuel Wyatt envisaged his handsome mill as a flagship, in an ambitious attempt to draw London south across the Thames, a plan underlined by the residential square that he had already developed alongside.
Behind its polite face, the heavy construction of the Albion Mill relied more upon load-bearing columns and a piled foundation structure of inverted arches, as well as a heavy interior wall that could deal with the weight of the engine beams, than upon its outer shell. Wyatt designed the building with flexibility in mind, should expansion be necessary or even if it should be converted back into warehouses at a future date.
The mill quickly became the industrial wonder of the capital -despite endless difficulties with the untried technology, rising debt due to commercial ineptitude and the continuing pulse of anger from rival millers and working men. Boulton's flair for publicity ensured that it became a fashionable location in which to hold events, masques and balls, and the mill was frequently visited by the more enquiring representatives of the aristocracy and City
grandees, such as the Directors of the East India Company and the Bank of England, as well as eminent figures from abroad such as Thomas Jefferson. The technical hitches and financial worries remained well hidden from visitors. Sited directly opposite the western boundaries of the City of London, the Albion Mill (as its name alone inferred) appeared to be a definitive emblem of British industrial eminence.3
When the Albion Mill exploded in flames before the eyes of horrified Londoners in March 1791, it was far more than merely just another industrial accident of a kind to which Northern textile mills were proving so prone. The same people who had earlier visited the site and wondered at the novel features of the mill were drawn back to watch the terrible theatre of its dramatic incineration, amplified to horrifying effect in the waters of the Thames. Charred embers, ashes and even husks of corn blew across the city, drifting down over the rooftops of Whitehall itself and giving onlookers all too tangible proof of the event.
Samuel Wyatt's design for the palatial Albion Mill in London on the Surrey bank of the Thames. Barges came and went beneath, passing through the rusticated river arch.
The Albion Mill, its palatial masonry walls and windows silhouetted against the harsh illumination of the wall of fire inside, could have been mistaken for one of the public buildings of the City of London in festive mood, customarily lit with thousands of lamps and transparencies for royal or national celebrations. Brilliant and disintegrating, the mill was a kind of terrible counter-image to such festivities.
Inevitably, rumours began that the fire had been started by machine-breakers, fearing for the loss of their livelihoods, but the answer turned out to lie not with incendiaries or even with inflammable sources of lighting, but with untested technology, pushed beyond its capacity. The young Scot John Rennie, who had been Boulton & Watt's supervising engineer on the Southwark site since 1788, reported back to his employers after the disaster and identified the cause of the fire as an overheated bearing, due to Samuel Wyatt's insistence on over-running the machines. The venture was still not financially sound, and by pushing production to the limit Wyatt had hoped finally to get the enterprise on to a firm footing.
The fire at the Albion Mill spelled enormous financial loss for the promoters, exultation to the millers and their supporters and a pause for reflection for those who had invested their hopes and energies in an industrial future. The fire was also a topic of urgent interest and concern in the coffee houses and drawing rooms of London, as no fire in a distant Pennine textile mill would have been. For a few days, the incident had brought thrilling, horrifying beauty to the city, a glimpse of the sublime to stand comparison with the much admired flaring foundries and furnaces of Coalbrookdale. Even the aesthete Horace Walpole, who until then had been unaware of the existence of the Albion Mill, was moved to ask where the terrible fire had taken place, 'supposing they were powder mills in the country that had blown up'.4
Samuel Wyatt had unquestioningly turned to an architectural vocabulary that suited the importance of the site and the function of his building. He well understood the French eighteenth-century idea of convenance and matched it with an 'appropriate character'.5 Many of the first industrialists had similarly reassured themselves, applying the familiar elements of the Palladian style, well known to them from the town halls and country houses of the shires, to the new structures of manufacture. Before that, early eighteenth-century industrial buildings had been generally ad hoc: a wing of a farmhouse might be converted in a rudimentary fashion, a kiln, forge or foundry tucked under a lean-to extension, while outworkers simply used their own cottages, or outhouses and farm buildings, as their workplaces.
Classical architecture reflected the power of the new industrialists. It was also well-mannered, fitting dress for buildings that intruded on some of the most beautiful valleys of northern England. A pediment pierced by a bull's-eye window, a masonry string course, strongly marked quoins or even a handsome Palladian window on the main elevation pointed out the massive new mills as appropriately 'polite' architecture - regardless of the cruder sheds tacked on behind them. At the Etruria pottery at Stoke-on-Trent (see illustration on page 107), even the bottle kilns were ornamented with fascias and blind windows, light touches specifically requested by Josiah Wedgwood and his business partner.
Thus dressed in a seemly fashion, the factory immediately became a feature that could vie with the mansion, church or ruined castle nearby as a suitable subject for artists. One of the earliest 'portraits' of an industrial building was by Joseph Wright of Derby, who in the 1780s painted Richard Arkwright's Cromford cotton mills by night. Wright depicted three close-packed mills,
Masson Mills, Cromford in Derbyshire. Built in 1783 and dignified with the details of a neo-Palladian country house.
their seven storeys spectacularly illuminated by tiers of windows and their forms lightly sketched into a steep Derbyshire valley with the help of a bright but veiled moon and back-lit clouds. The image was like a contemporary peep-show transparency, the building back-lit for effect. One admirer of the painting likened the mills to a great man-of-war at sea, dependent on a vast number of men toiling within. Perhaps, more literally, Arkwright's enterprise was comparable to an East Indiaman travelling confidently into unpredictable oceans, many paper fortunes resting on the success of the venture - just as at the Albion Mill.
The epitome of the mill as a Picturesque adjunct to the country house - before long the Cromford mills appeared alongside Chatsworth House on Derby china - was in the landscape architect Humphry Repton's Red Book for Armley House, near Leeds.6 These books, prepared individually for clients, were an ingenious device of his own invention, in which a watercolour overlaid by
Cotton mills at Cromford, Derbyshire, transformed into a dramatic landscape subject.
Joseph Wright, Arkwright's Cotton Mills by Night (c. 1783). 23
Benjamin Gott's Armley Mill, West Yorkshire, shown as a proud addition to the landscape. Humphry Repton, 'Red Book' (without overlay) for Armley House near Leeds (1810).
A typical Late Victorian mill, marked by its soaring chimney, set in otherwise unchanged 24 pastoral Pennine scenery. Haworth, West Yorkshire.
another on a flap illustrated the scene before and after improvements. Unusually, Repton decided to humour his client, Benjamin Gott, a leading textile manufacturer and merchant, by featuring his newest and most advanced factory, Armley Mill, in the 'after' view in the Red Book of 1810. The prominent mill appears centre stage, a bulky stone building viewed from the Kirkstall Road as a pleasing culmination to the vista across the water meadows. Above and behind it, set into parkland, stands Gott's mansion, Armley House, proprietorial but somewhat dwarfed, perched on a slight eminence. Leafing through the Red Book, showing it to a succession of distinguished visitors from home and abroad, Gott, the son of a surveyor and engineer, may well have taken more pride in his innovatory mill than in his country house. He was a pioneer in the mass production of woollen goods, and his considerable empire included spinning mills, fulling and finishing plants. As a major supplier of woollen cloth, chiefly blankets, to the British and allied armies, the Napoleonic Wars were good for Gott.
A woollen mill viewed as an eye-catcher in the landscape was certainly a novel ornament compared to the more usual false ruin or castle-fronted farmhouse. Repton also humoured Gott by including on the horizon the distant smoking chimneys of his mills in central Leeds. Armley Mill itself, in Repton's words 'an interesting object by daylight and at night... a most splendid illumination of gas light', was the last word in modernity, following its rebuilding after a serious fire. Five years earlier, Gott had spent the very considerable sum of £23,508 on it.7 The new Armley Mill was the first woollen mill known to be of fireproof construction, heated by steam and lit by gas. Yet this innovatory building was, Repton continued in his commentary, an honest structure that 'looks like what it is - a Mill and Manufactory . . . not disguised by Gothic windows or other architectural pretensions'. Repton was happy to celebrate his client's pride in the building but, on his own account, did not include Armley in any of his publications, preferring to emphasize his work on the parks and estates of the aristocracy and landed gentry.
With its novel features, Armley Mill became immediately famous. When the Prince of Wales and his brother the Duke of Clarence visited Yorkshire in 1806, the duke took a tour of Gott's works but the future king demurred, since 'the smell of the different things used in dyeing etc is apt to make him unwell'.8 Many, like the prince or Humphry Repton, preferred to distance themselves from this kind of reality. Nevertheless, from the earliest moment, the Industrial Revolution had drawn a tide of admiring visitors and industrial spies from abroad; conversely, since the 1780s British manufacturers, inventors and entrepreneurs had seized the chance to take their ideas abroad and to follow raw materials, labour and markets into northern Europe. With the end of the Napoleonic Wars many more joined the exodus. English industrialists were to be found at the helm of heavy engineering works and textile mills across France, Belgium and northern Germany, while foreign governments were eager to import expertise, in person or on paper.
In the confident years of the early nineteenth century, industrialists had abandoned the Classical dress in which they had shrouded the previous generation of mills and factories and reverted to a more functional and robust building type - more telling of the machinery and processes that they were housing, and of the effort to engineer a fireproof envelope, than of stylistic and typological allusion. Image and reality had fallen into step.
Karl Friedrich Schinkel arrived in 1826 for a tour of British industry. As the leading architect for public works in Prussia, he was eager to see examples of the new technology and materials for himself. His travelling companion, Peter Beuth, was head of the
department of trade and industry and the man charged with discovering what lessons could be learned from British pre-eminence in manufacturing. The pair hurried northwards via the Midlands, hardly glancing at the historic towns and ancient monuments along the way. Schinkel's observant journal emerges as the most vivid and graphic account of industrialized Britain of its period.
Beuth had already been in England in 1823, on a similar mission, when he wrote excitedly to Schinkel from Manchester:
It is only here, my friend, that the machinery and buildings can be found commensurate with the miracles of modern times - they are
Cyfartha ironworks, Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, in 1825. The painter Penry Williams shows the process by night, adding an almost infernal dimension to the scene and illuminating the splendid iron-roof structure to best effect.
called factories. Such a barn of a place is eight or nine storeys high, up to forty windows long and usually four windows deep ... A mass of such buildings stand in very high positions dominating the surrounding area: in addition a forest of even higher steam-engine chimneys, so like needles that one cannot comprehend how they stay up, present a wonderful sight from a distance, especially at night when the thousands of windows are brightly illuminated with gas light.9
Schinkel knew that examination of the pioneering mills and factories would be informative, possibly offering new architectural forms as well as providing answers to many technological questions. En route to England he and Beuth had visited Charenton, outside Paris, and found the enterprise in the hands of a Birmingham iron-founder, Aaron Manby. The massive factory for steam engines, iron casting and rolling had been built by 500 Englishmen. On their way home, Schinkel and Beuth visited a factory in the Low Countries, at Verviers, which had been set up by another Englishman, William Cockerill, in 1799, since when the family had expanded their textile enterprises into Prussia, at Beuth's invitation.10 At one stage the Cockerills were running more than 60 mills and factories across northern Europe.
In England, Schinkel's and Beuth's journey was not without its problems. At the Strutts' mills at Belper in Derbyshire they were refused entry, no doubt because they were suspected of being industrial spies, which to some extent they were. Yet Schinkel was generous enough to think the mills, even seen solely from the exterior, 'the most beautiful in England'. At Dudley, in the west Midlands, the pair were more fortunate. They were guided around the Gospel Oaks Ironworks where Schinkel recorded that no less than fifteen steam engines, several furnaces, rolling mills, tin-plating machines and drills were housed under an iron and tiled roof, its hollow iron columns ingeniously serving as rainwater down-pipes as well as structural support. Schinkel sketched details of the machinery and roof vaulting. Typically, the buildings were more ingenious than architecturally distinguished, more utilitarian than functional in any modern sense. At the neighbouring Wednesbury Oaks Iron Works, a more impressive and organized site, he carefully drew the 'fine new well laid-out plant' in his journal.
In Sheffield and Birmingham, as elsewhere, Schinkel was greatly struck by the forests of towering chimneys, 'tall obelisks' as he termed them, and in the Potteries of Staffordshire he found an archaic, Romantic strangeness in the cone-shaped bottle kilns and factories, giving 'wonderfully Egyptian-oriental forms' to the landscape.11 Travelling north to Leeds, he admired Fenton Murray's circular engineering works, as well as John Marshall's famous flax mill (a predecessor of the Egyptian Temple Mills). In Glasgow, the observant Prussians noticed that the noxious steam from Tennants' chemical bleach works was carefully drawn off via underground pipes, before being discharged high into the atmosphere through massive chimneys.
Schinkel missed nothing, observing every detail - especially the unusual - and the succinct lines of his written journal are interspersed with swift sketches showing the construction of roofs, vaults, iron columns or steam-driven machinery. He was captivated by such a novel, opportunistic approach to construction, developing almost before his eyes. Although Schinkel was daily engaged in recording the technology of engineering and structural details, his broader architectural imagination also responded to the new forms of building that appeared at every turn.
Beuth proved an expert and knowledgeable guide. The pair visited the London machine shops of prolific engineer-inventors such as Joseph Bramah and Henry Maudslay, responsible for a gamut of patents, and perhaps, respectively, best known for the water closet and the screw-cutting lathe. In such workshops, a glance at the very roof overhead might reveal an iron part that had been adapted from its original purpose to serve some quite other structural use. Technology transfer was more often an accidental business than the result of forethought.
In Manchester, already acknowledged to be the world capital of the Industrial Revolution, Schinkel found extremes, of splendour and of horror. He recorded with admiration the skilled engineering of the canals, driven over and under the city, and the massive dimensions of the largest mills that now, confident of being virtually indestructible by fire, could afford to rise to seven or eight storeys and to exceed, he noted, even the length of the royal palace in Berlin. Schinkel learned that 400 factories had been built in Lancashire over the last ten years, yet many were already so smoke-blackened that they might have stood for 100 years. However well prepared he might have been by Beuth's reports, or by his own observations in the smoke-laden atmosphere of the Midlands and south Yorkshire, Schinkel was still utterly horrified by the scale and quality of the wider industrial landscape in Manchester: 'monstrous shapeless buildings put up only by foremen without architecture, only the least that was necessary and out of red brick'.
Schinkel took back to Prussia a repertory of forms, materials and sense of scale that would radically affect his own architectural design: few architects have been more profoundly influenced by industrial architecture. Ironically enough, he never designed a factory himself but the forms and materials of northern Britain crept into his work. Later, his pupil Heinrich Strack worked with August Borsig to develop heavy engineering works at Berlin-Moabit, a vast plant producing railway locomotives and iron structural components for other industrial buildings. The factory, designed as a showpiece in the Romanesque Revival style around a courtyard and entered through an impressive Classical screen, provides an insight as to how Schinkel might have approached such a commission.12
In Britain, as the mills proliferated and the harshness of labouring life became obvious, the image and reality of the factory became an increasingly dark one. Admiration for the new technology and the commercial success that it brought was tempered by periodic trade crises and a growing realization of the physical and moral costs of unrestrained and ill-considered industrial and urban growth. By the early 1830s cotton textiles amounted to half the nation's total exports and a booming engineering industry had been spawned. Yet, within a few months, a trade war over the high price of American cotton put paid to the expansion. Mills closed with terrible consequences. By the time that Friedrich Engels was reporting to Germany from Manchester, by now known by its sobriquet of Cottonopolis, it was the 'Hungry Forties'. If the late 1790s and the 1820s had been bad times, these were far worse. Even the most enlightened factory owners (almost all Dissenters and many of them Unitarian) had become deeply disillusioned. The fearsome sublimity of the 300-horsepower steam engines was one thing, the noxious fumes and heavy pall of smoke quite another. It fell to novelists such as Elizabeth Gaskell, Benjamin Disraeli and Charles Dickens to put the blackened image of the Northern factory on the page and take it into the drawing rooms of the South.
Elizabeth Gaskell, the wife of a Unitarian minister in Manchester, set her first novel, Mary Barton, against this background. A central episode is the devastating fire at Carson's mill, which is greeted almost as a blessing by the owners, happy to claim the insurance and rebuild their old factory and install the latest in modern machinery. That their factory hands are left with no work and no means of support is of little concern to the Carsons, comfortably housed nearby. No wonder that most leaders of Manchester's manufacturing society were aggrieved to discover the real identity of the author of Mary Barton on its publication in 1848.
North and South followed in 1854-5, initially serialized by Dickens in Household Words. Here Mrs Gaskell provides a more sympathetic mill owner, the foil to her heroine Margaret Hale, who has been uprooted from a vicarage shaded by ancient oaks in the New Forest to the grimly purposeful Milton-Northern. She leaves southern manners and certainties for a brusque world of brick, smoke and chance, as the companion of her father who has left the church to become a tutor. Even Mrs Gaskell's proud mill owner, Mr Thornton, with his 'dazzling . . . energy which conquered immense difficulties with ease' and his good conscience, which had caused him to adapt his factory chimneys so that they produced less poisonous smoke, falls foul of the times, losing the loyalty of his workforce and, nearly, his mill. At the opposite social and economic extreme is Margaret's friend, a 19-year-old factory girl dying of byssinosis, an asthmatic condition caused by breathing in cotton fluff, endemic in those mills without extraction fans in the carding sheds. Elizabeth Gaskell's pages are peppered with such facts; she was determined that her readers should not escape the truth.
The smoke that smudged in the horizon of many a topographic watercolour no longer appeared as a charmingly picturesque veil but as an insidious menace. Coketown, Charles Dickens's own Milton-Northern in Hard Times (possibly based upon Preston in Lancashire, which he had visited to report on striking workers in 1854), was a world of grey muslin curtains and smut-coated garden plants. Coal smoke encrusted the hard red brick and gold-grey stone of the mills and houses, blurring their features and colours, and it clogged the lungs, often to fatal effect. Later in his life, John Ruskin saw black clouds, with hallucinatory horror, billowing
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across Lake Coniston (which they could never in reality reach), but even to a mind more clear and rational than his, smoke pollution had become unacceptable.13 For his part, Ruskin had long since ceased to believe in benevolent manufacturers.
'Catholic town in 1440' and 'The same town in 1840', from A.W.N. Pugin, Contrasts, or a Parallel between the Noble Edifices of the Middle Ages, and Similar Buildings of the Present Day; Shewing the Present Decay of Taste (London, 2nd edn 1841). Pugin idealizes the pre-industrial era by a vivid 'before and after'. 33
Yet, despite the menacing image of the factory - epitomized in Augustus Welby Pugin's Contrasts (1836), in which the industrial landscape was compared to that of an idyllic, pre-industrial medieval past - and the forceful arguments about the dignity of labour that Ruskin and William Morris would use as the guiding principles of the Arts and Crafts movement, well-founded pride in technological progress and achievement could also provide a positive counterbalance.
Mrs Gaskell was a friend of both William Fairbairn and James Nasmyth, the leading engineers in Manchester, and, characteristically, did not feel that her sex precluded her from an intelligent interest in heavy engineering. In 1864 her friends provided an itinerary for one of her visitors. Among their suggestions for the 'things best worth seeing', in her words, was a spinning mill with the 'latest improvements'; Whitworth's machinery works, 'if you do not get a stupid fine young man to show you over - try rather
Carl Eduard Biermann's heroic and optimistic painting of 1848 showing the new-built Borsig heavy engineering plant. The architectural aspirations of its architect, Heinrich Strack, a pupil of Schinkel, were soon forgotten as this part of Berlin became the city's industrial heart.
The Daily Express machine room, Fleet Street, London, designed by Owen Williams and published by the Architectural Review in 1932 - a stirring image of mechanization and functional form.
for one of the working men'; and another engineering works, Locketts, which had ' Very clever small machinery'.14
Fifty years later, the resonances of the machine had changed beyond recognition. Abstracted mechanical imagery became a powerful strand in the arts in the early twentieth century, and the excitement of what came to be called the Machine Age was forcefully conveyed, sometimes doubling as an apt metaphor for political and social comment. A generation of photographers, film makers and artists, including Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler, Eisenstein and Fernand Léger, borrowed their subject matter from the landscape and technology of the manufacturing process and invested it with a new and intense visual presence. The sirens, whistles and klaxons that governed the coming and goings of the workforce and the routines they circumscribed continued to be the stuff of the best post-war social realist films - Saturday Night and Sunday Morning or the Bicycle Thieves. Otherwise, factory life and industrial activity went on somewhere well out of sight of most people's lives.
When the British war correspondent Alexander Werth arrived at his destination, Stalingrad, on a night of excruciating cold in February 1943, the Battle of Stalingrad had just ended, with the surrender of the German Sixth Army, a toll of deaths and injuries that ran to several millions and the obliteration of Stalin's model city. The only thing that he would see on the horizon at first light was, a Russian soldier told him, the Tractor Plant. 'It looks as if it were standing, but it's all gone.'
The next morning, Werth and his colleagues crawled out of the dugout, to find themselves in the remnants of a garden suburb. Far away, in the direction of the frozen Volga, 'one had the impression that there was ... a live industrial town, but under
the chimneys were only the ruins of the Tractor Plant. Chimneys are among the hardest things to hit, and these were standing, seemingly untouched.'
When the party of journalists reached the spot, the fresh snow had been scraped off by a vicious wind. They found an unrecognizable terrain, pitted by bomb craters and riven by trenches. The only, ghastly, note of colour came from the frozen corpses, both Germans and Russians.
There was barbed wire here, and half-uncovered mines, and shell cases, and more rubble, and fragments of walls, and tortuous tangles of rusty steel girders but strange to say, though riddled with
A still from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, in which repetitive working life in a Nottingham factory formed the background to Karel Reisz's powerful film of 1960.
holes, a large red-brick factory chimney was still standing, rising from all this ... But now everything was silent and dead in this cold fossilised hell, as though a raving lunatic had suddenly died of heart failure.15
Little more than ten years earlier, this had been Henry Ford's model plant, designed by Albert Kahn Inc. of Detroit to produce the Fordson tractor, the engine of the promised Soviet agricultural
Anti-romanticism, conveyed by the towering chimneys of the Loewe engineering works in Berlin. Gustav Wunderwald's dark painting of 1929 was a strong contrast to the contemporary avant-garde celebration of every aspect of industrial imagery.
miracle. The very epitome of the Machine Age, a marriage of convenience had been contracted between the two opposing power blocks of the modern world. The wedding gift was an immense run of buildings more than a kilometre long, with glazed walls and a conveyor belt running its length, and even the latter - epitomizing moving assembly-line production and scientific management - was, fortunately, 'no longer an issue of disagreement between capitalists and socialists'. Latterly the tractors had given way to T-34 tanks. As late as September 1942, the factory carried on: 150 armoured cars and 200 tanks rolled off the assembly line as the Germans fought their way east.
The total destruction of the greatest of all the capitalist-communist showpiece factories in a last-ditch effort by the Axis powers as they fought their losing battle against Stalin's troops is one of the strangest ironies of modern times. The image of the factory was conclusively trampled into the filthy mud of the battlefield: there could be no more romanticism about industry.
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