Arch'ive Discovered

Heavy metal

Weaving Narratives participant, Helen, explains why Bedford’s industrial past and the project is important to her.

W H Allen’s Queen’s Engineering Works brought my family to Bedford in 1978. We moved here when my Dad got a job in the pump department. If he hadn’t have got the job I wouldn’t have grown up in Bedford and wouldn’t be living here now. I’ve been inside the factory myself. I was a fifteen-year-old work experience student there in 1987 and I remember seeing a huge diesel generator being crated-up to be sent to India.

The Queen’s Engineering Works ran alongside the railway line from Ford End Road to Bromham Road and had a big impact on the town. But now all that’s left is a couple of glass cases in the Higgins Museum. It’s a bit strange seeing somewhere you’ve seen alive and working as a museum piece when you’re still only in your forties!

Bedford has an impressive engineering history. W H Allen was at the forefront of steam engine design and manufacture in the late 19th century and when the World Wars broke out, they made steam turbines for ships and components for tanks. The Britannia Iron Works was established by James and Frederick Howard (sons of John Howard) who needed a site to manufacture their steam ploughs, which were sold around the world. There were other heavy engineering companies, too. All you can see now of this engineering history, outside The Higgins, is the Britannia Iron Works clock tower on Kempston Road:

Weaving Narratives has come along at a good time for me. I spent a lot of my teenage years sewing but have done very little since then because career and kids kept me busy. It was seeing my seven-year-old daughter being creative that made me remember ‘I used to do that’ and I began making things again. After a twenty year gap my confidence is coming back and I knew Weaving Narratives would be a good way to explore new ideas and techniques. Plus, I couldn’t resist an invitation to take a look around the archives!

One of the challenges of this project is that there’s just so much we could do, and so many sources we could use, that it’s hard to choose exactly what to do. I decided I wanted to show a little of our town’s engineering history, because so many people aren’t aware of it. I also liked the idea of using soft fabric to represent a world made of hard metal.

I’m still not completely sure what my final piece of work will be. I had lots of ideas, from a huge fabric collage including nuts and bolts from the Works (if I could find some) to a crochet project – but some ideas were just a tad too ambitious for my skill level! I’m really looking forward to seeing how my project evolves and of course seeing the work of everyone who is taking part in Weaving Narratives.

Helen Lindop

Helen Lindop is a freelance video tutorial and voiceover creator who enjoys sewing and crochet in her spare time. Find out more @



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