Some of the region’s most important landmarks that helped shape the industrial revolution could be lost forever if new uses are not found for them, English Heritage has warned.
The organisation said cutbacks in funding had left the future of a number of historic sites hanging in the balance as vacant buildings fall into disrepair.
Former industrial centres in Birmingham including the Newman Brothers Coffin Furniture Works in Fleet Street and Curzon Street Station are already on the “heritage at risk” register.
Now a survey has been launched to specifically assess the state of the UK’s old factories, mills and warehouses to try to preserve the industrial heritage of the country.
Tim Johnston, planning director for English Heritage in the West Midlands, said the region was the “cradle of the industrial revolution” and was rich with relics from its days as a capital of industry.
“We have quite a lot of buildings here and we want to keep as many as we possibly can,” Mr Johnston said.
“But I’m not naive enough to not believe some buildings will have to go.
“If they are not listed, there is no legislation to prevent them from being taken down and I think we are probably more likely to see buildings go that are currently redundant.
“There are a lot of sites out there that didn’t manage to get the benefit of the income streams in the good times that are now probably more at risk to vandalism and fire if they are empty.
“If it is possible to incorporate some of these buildings into new buildings, so much the better.”
Initial results of the survey by English Heritage found people in the West Midlands were particularly concerned about the threat to the area’s industrial heritage.
And while the jewel in the crown – Ironbridge Gorge – may be almost guaranteed to survive, the latest survey aims to shine a light on any opportunities to rescue other lesser-known monuments from the brink of disappearance.
Mr Johnston said a number of schemes to convert disused sites had been successful including buildings in the Jewellery Quarter and the redevelopment of Fort Dunlop, which was originally home to Dunlop Tyres.
“We’re not naive to believe change isn’t going to happen but at least we can raise the profile,” he continued.
“People can be made aware of the industrial heritage on their doorstep and if there is willingness to keep these sites, maybe there’s an opportunity.
“We’re trying to find a beneficial use for these buildings and if it means they are converted and enjoyed, that’s far better for them than being kept as monuments.”
Mr Johnston said there may be a scheme in the offing that will preserve Ditherington Flax Mill in Shrewsbury, which was built in 1797 and was the first iron frame building in the world.
Despite having grade I and II listed status, the mill is also one of the assets already on English Heritage’s at risk register.
Other landmarks that are causes for concern include Snailbeach New Smeltmill in Shropshire and Soho Foundry in Smethwick.
“There are sites that are at high risk, at medium risk and at low risk and we tend to concentrate our efforts on the ones at high risk, where they are in immediate danger of collapse or with water pouring in through the roof,” he added.
“It’s very easy for me to say I want to preserve everything. There are some that are monuments, and if you go out to Shropshire, the lead mining works have no beneficial use but they have a legacy.
“We’re not the manufacturing capital of the world any more but these buildings are a legacy of our past.”
The Industrial Heritage at Risk survey is already under way and English Heritage has called on members of the public to get involved in deciding which sites should be preserved.
Anyone who would like to take part can visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/industrial-heritage-at-risk and post photographs and comments on their favourite industrial buildings.
The results of the survey will be released in October.