IGMT completes catalogue of papers of LTC Rolt and announces May 2024 conference in partnership with Keele University to mark the 50th anniversary of his death

To mark the 50th anniversary of the death of the writer and biographer LTC Rolt, the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust has partnered with academics from Keele University to organise a conference on 10 May 2024 to celebrate his life and the continuing legacy of his work. This follows the completion, in August 2023, of the cataloguing and digitisation of the Rolt Collection of manuscripts and working papers.

LTC Rolt, also known as Tom, was a renowned practical engineer and a prolific author. He wrote books and articles on subjects including industrial history, canals, railways and cars as well as fiction. Regarded as one of the founders of the 20th-century waterways and railway preservation movements, he actively participated in the foundation of numerous organisations including the Talyllyn Railway, the Inland Waterways Association and the Vintage Sports-Car Club, to name just a few. He wrote some 60 major works as well as many reviews, articles and other publications.

Rolt was an early supporter of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums, which made the Trust a natural choice of home for Rolt’s papers after his death. They arrived in 2006, thanks to a generous grant from a benefactor, and were followed in 2019 by the papers of Rolt’s wife, Sonia, which were donated by her family.

In August 2023, professional archivist Chris Pickford completed a year of work cataloguing and digitising the collection, with the support of members of the Shrewsbury and Wrekin branches of The Arts Society, co-ordinated by Tim Roberts. Around 30 Arts Society members contributed between over 1,000 hours in voluntary time between them.

Following the completion of this substantial work, IGMT, in partnership with Keele University, will host a conference entitled L.T.C. Rolt: Life, Work, Legacy, on Friday 10 May 2024. The conference coincides with the 50th anniversary of Rolt’s death and will be a major retrospective of his life, work and legacy. It will seek to understand Rolt’s drive and ambition, examine the full diversity of his written output, and chart the story of at least some of the organisations and initiatives he founded and supported.

Dr Ben Anderson, Senior Lecturer in Environmental History at Keele University, said: “At a time when heritage was considered narrowly as what remained from the lives of pre-industrial elites, Rolt championed the built environment of industrial change, technology and new social forms. His prodigious writing and practical intervention resulted in the first heritage railway and the restoration of thousands of miles of waterways. Somehow, he also found the time to write strikingly modern texts on environmental change, a successful series of ghost stories and a go-to text on railway accidents. His passion for his subjects and accessible writing style have meant that he continues to attract new readers today.”

Nick Booth, Collections and Learning Director at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, said: “Given the role Rolt’s publications played in the emerging field of industrial archaeology and industrial heritage preservation, it was only natural that IGMT should acquire the papers of Tom and Sonia Rolt to be able to catalogue them and make them available to researchers and the wider public for the very first time. We are grateful to Chris Pickford and the volunteers for their hard work, and excited to host this conference to celebrate Rolt’s life and examine his legacy 50 years on.”

This conference is part of an ongoing partnership between Keele University and the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust to develop student opportunities and open doors for new research into 300 years of industrialisation. The aim is to take advantage of the knowledge in the University and the Trust to tell the story of why the Ironbridge Gorge is so important to industrialisation.

Submissions for the conference are welcomed. They may be on any aspect of Rolt’s life, work, writing or historical context. More information can be found on the IGMT website at https://www.ironbridge.org.uk/learn/ltc-rolt-conference/ and 200-word abstracts can be sent to Dr Ben Anderson at b.anderson@keele.ac.uk before 15 December 2023. Tickets to attend the conference will go on sale at the end of 2023. To register interest please complete the form on the website.

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