You had better watch out below


The demolition of a building always looks like spectacular. But one man in particular captured the hearts of many people with this wit and passion for engineering and demolition.

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Fred Dibnah was born in 1938 and from an early age he was fascinated with steam engines and had a keen interest in the chimneys of buildings. He soon found his calling as a steeplejack (a specialist craftsman who climbs chimneys, steeples and tall building structures in order to carry out any repairs and maintenance that may be necessary) but it was a filming of the repair work he was undertaking on the Bolton Town Hall that was captured by a regional BBC crew that thrust Fred into the limelight.

They commissioned him to make a documentary of his daily life where they followed him around watching his work on chimneys and interacted with his family and often spoke about his love of steam. He became well-known for his repair work but also for his demolitions. There were times when companies such as skip hire Swansea firm would have been brought in to help with the removal of skip loads of rubble and other materials from the sites.  When demolishing a chimney, he would do so without the need for explosives by cutting into the base of the chimney, adding wooden props to support the brick work and then slowly burning these wooden props so that the chimney fell away. One thing that Fred was always famous for was the large air horn that he would sound before a demolition. On one memorable job the chimney came away earlier than Fred had expected following a close inspection by the great man himself. He had to get a shift on to avoid the falling bricks and masonry as this was being recorded live on camera. Fred emerged, slightly covered in brick dust smiling broadly even though he’d almost been killed on film. He ironically sounded his air horn, laughing.

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Following on from the success documentary Fred Dibnah began working on other television projects and over the years we saw him present ‘Fred Dibnahs Industrial Age’, ‘Fred Dibnahs Magnificent Monuments, ‘Victorian Heroes’, ‘Building of Britain’ and his final series ‘Fred Dibnah’s Age of Steam’. The term eccentric is used a bit too often but in Fred it was justified. He was the last of a breed of Englishman that typified the working-class spirit. He made the unusual seem usually and explained our industrial past in a way that was easy to understand and a joy to watch. He is sadly missed.

Written by Alex

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