Ordinary people can tell remarkable stories

I maintain the fact that he Victorian Waterworks at Sandfields is possibly on of the most overlooked yet important pieces of social and industrial history that Lichfield has. Unfortunately as an object of heritage it has not crossed the boundary that defines its value as a historical monument, and therefore has yet become an object of heritage.

Building like the Victorian Waterworks at Sandfields are also often designed to convey historical or political information. They can be used to reinforce the primacy of contemporary political power, such as the column of Trajan or the numerous statues of Lenin in the Soviet Union. They can be used to educate the populace about important events or figures from the past.

However the social meanings of building such as this are rarely fixed and certain and are frequently ‘contested’ by different social groups and by the effects of time. I have frequently argued that the building at Sandfields Waterworks is in fact a monument to the lives of people from the past.

Unfortunately in the case of Sandfields Waterworks these fine building have become invisible through familiarity, as Peter Carrier writes ‘familiarity with everyday indeed erodes the curiosity of the passersby’.

In his famous essay on ‘Monuments’ of 1927, the writer Robert Musil claims that there is nothing more invisible to the human eye than a monument. The remarkable thing about monuments is that one does not notice them; there is nothing in the world so invisible then as a monument.

It clear in this instance, that there is a perception that this waterworks building now may possibly be unable to influence the senses of the observer, which may be due to its sheer longevity or familiarity eroding the curiosity of the passerby since it fell into disuse. In addition, because the impact of a monument relies on the cohesion of social groups, Sandfields Pumping station is situated out on the edge of Lichfield and within a new housing development, the appeal of this building has been eroded away.

Fortunately, we can reinvigorate this curiosity and look beyond the pure functionality of this building and see this place as somewhere that people lived and worked, and knowing that a career gave a sense of identity, we can attempt to understand the lives of these people and attempt to refresh our attention back into the past, or even to bring the past into the present.

I have always maintained that the lives of ordinary people can tell remarkable stories, here is one such story concerning Harry Felton, as told by his grandson. Harry is sitting on the front row, third from the left

“I know he had quite a bad time in the trenches during the war! He was a very forthright man, could be a bit hot tempered at times, I had nothing but respect for him, he was probably the biggest influence on me as a teenager. Salt of the earth type of bloke, a brilliant man”

Sandfields Pumping Station Staff

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