A group of artists and entertainers, collectively known as the Letinov Steam Circus, have been occupying two large sheds at the old Stothert & Pitt Newark crane works in Bath for nearly two months.
The group is hoping to save the old crane works, which were designed by Thomas Fuller and built in 1857, from demolition.
Officials from Bath and North East Somerset Council have now started proceedings to evict them, a hearing held yesterday morning at Bath County Court order the squatters to vacate the property.
Charles Dancey a spokesman for the squatters accepts that they had acted illegally in occupying the site, but hopes they will be allowed to remain on a number of technicalities.
There are only three or four campaigners actually living in the crane plant but a recent meeting to discuss its situation attracted over 50 supporters.
Bath Spa University was looking to develop the old engineering works but it pulled out after failing to come to terms with the council over an argument about who should pay for a flood risk assessment.
Sir James Dyson, also stepped in with a plan to build a design and innovation school. The plans only retain the façade of the listed building but extend its height using glass panels.
Dancey says that the group supports both plans for the site in terms of what they propose to use it for, but very strongly object to the demolition of the old crane works in order to build it.
He adds: "The hideous irony is that Dyson plans to train future engineers, but seems blind to the enormous value of the engineering history embodied in the very fabric of the buildings he aims to demolish. Parts of the Titanic were built here along with dockside cranes which still stand all over the world."
"The buildings, if left unmanaged, will fall into disrepair and dereliction. We have cleared up a great deal of dangerous rubbish, and secured buildings that had been broken into previously by scrap metal thieves.”
George Stothert set up in Bath as an ironmonger in 1785. and by 1815 the business was prospering under the control of his eldest son George. Robert Pitt joined the company around the turn of the century.
Steam-powered mobile jib cranes were introduced in the late 1850’s Stothert & Pitt supplied the lifting equipment that helped with the construction of bridges, harbours, railways and other engineering works. It eventually came to specialise in dock and harbour cranes. Crane production came to an end in Bath in 1987, since when the Newark Works have been used for commercial purposes.
The architect Thomas Fuller was born in Bath but in 1857, after completing the factory, moved to Canada where he became the Chief Architect of the Dominion federal government from 1881 to 1896.
He also designed a number of buildings in the USA including the New York State Capitol in Albany and the San Francisco City Hall.
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