“A god-forsaken hole”: war work, labour migration, and the industrial gothic of L. T. C. Rolt

Hughes, W (2015) “A god-forsaken hole”: war work, labour migration, and the industrial gothic of L. T. C. Rolt. In: Gothic Migrations: The 12th Biennial Conference of the International Gothic Association, 28 July - 1 August 2015, Vancouver, Canada.

Official URL: http://code.sfu.ca/iga2015.html


The ghost stories of the British transport historian L. T. C. Rolt (1910-74) have been unjustly neglected by modern Gothic criticism. A twentieth-century pioneer in a recension of the genre that is now known as Tourist Gothic, Rolt characteristically locates his narratives in those less-populated yet still familiar landscapes of the British regions – in isolated Welsh valleys, Irish lake-islands, the rocky Cornish coast or the Shropshire borderlands. His middle-class, educated and competent protagonists – engineers, entrepreneurs, boatmen, racing drivers – are scripted for the most part as travellers to such places. The uncanny nature of what they discover during their sojourn in the British regions imbricates ghostliness not merely with landscape but also with the twentieth-century technology of railways, motor vehicles and telephones which accompany these travellers to a denouement which may be, variously, profoundly life-changing or fatal. Rolt’s ‘Hawley Bank Foundry’ (1948) is a wartime narrative which describes the wholesale migration of a Birmingham steel works – in the form of personnel, management and technology – to a derelict foundry in the Shropshire countryside. The foundry, a Victorian institution rendered redundant through its retention of outmoded technology and almost feudal employment practices, is recommissioned in 1941 in order to complete vital war work – only to be abandoned some five months later. The fatal accident that motivates the hasty abandonment of the foundry is accompanied by supernatural manifestations, the witnessing of which prompts the mental collapse of the two practical Birmingham men, the foreman and the industrialist, who have overseen this short incursion of the contemporary and the urban into rural Shropshire. The proposed paper will consider the unique interface of Tourist Gothic and Industrial Gothic that is ‘Hawley Bank Foundry’. It will examine how the migration of labour and technology from Birmingham to Shropshire recalls an earlier attempt to introduce intensive industrial practices and uncongenial labour relations to the fictional foundry – changes which led not merely to workforce unrest but also to embezzlement, murder and suicide. Rolt’s work may well be interpreted as a critique of modern industrial relations, and an insight into the nature of employment and patronage in a heavy industrial environment struggling to redefine itself as the golden age of Victorian entrepreneurship retreats into an almost mythical past. It also, however, implicates advanced technology with subversive and primeval force: a force stronger than wartime fire or steel, and equally fatal to both body and mind.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

William Hughes also chaired the panel entitled 'Transportation gothic', where this paper was presented.

Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
Divisions: School of Writing, Publishing and the Humanities
Date Deposited: 08 Feb 2016 15:22
Last Modified: 15 Aug 2021 09:41
URI / Page ID: https://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/id/eprint/7153
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