The Crofton Beam Engine Experience

Situated in the blissfully idyllic Vale of Pewsey is a hidden gem of Wiltshire heritage; Crofton Beam Engines are the oldest working steam engines in the world. Magnificent examples of industrial archaeology, two beam engines, one an original 200-year-old Boulton & Watt, are fed by a hand-stoked, coal-fired Lancashire boiler.

Crofton trish steel
The Crofton Beam Engine ©Trish Steel under Creative Commons Licence

In July 11 GCSE Art students from Pewsey Vale School had the opportunity to discover this piece of their local heritage through a photography assignment commissioned by the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre through the Heritage Lottery Funded Creative Wiltshire Project.

Penney helping the students get to grips with their cameras

Students spent a day with photographer Penney Ellis of Photo-sensitive, developing their skills and exploring creative opportunities to photograph the engines and pumping station. This intensive photography course encouraged learning through practice. It consisted of an overarching documentary-style assignment with exercises throughout the day requiring participants to respond to the wealth of visual opportunities at the museum. Penny wanted to pay particular attention to depth of field, explaining to the students how this feature worked and how it could be used, giving examples to inspire the students. Also included was time for reflection and feedback on the photographs, including peer review, and the students were given the freedom to look around the site themselves and select their own compositions.

Photography workshop 2
Students looking for a good angle

We were amazed by both the quality of the photographs and the creativity of the students who produced some truly stunning images, even more impressive as none of them had used an SLR camera before. By the end of the day the students had amassed enough images for a portfolio to reflect their interest, and to demonstrate a personal perspective of the site.

The students were at first a little dubious as they could see no real advantages of the SLR camera compared to their mobile phone cameras but the session proved a great success, with comments after the session including:

“I now know how to use a camera and different parts of a camera. The day was enjoyable and fun.”

“Made me think more about photography”

“I enjoyed being given the freedom to photograph anything we wanted in the museum. It was very interesting and a fun experience.”

“It made me want to buy a camera and do it in a different place… an experience which can be repeated throughout my life…”

Ella White 1 lo res copyrighted
An example of the students’ work, photographer Ella White

Many thanks must go to staff at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre who loaned their cameras for the day.

It was then off to Pewsey Heritage Centre in September when some of the students helped put up a display of the images. Examples of each student’s work were included, and they learnt some tips from Penney about how best to mount and handle their photographs, and to create the best possible visual impact; important skills for their future careers.

Putting up the exhibition at Pewsey Heritage Centre

The Head of Pewsey Vale School came to take a look, and a private viewing was held for parents and guardians. The exhibition then became pride of place at the museum for Pewsey Carnival Week!

There’s still time to take a look at the students’ work; it will on display at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre’s Open Day, 28 October, 10am-4pm. Further opportunities will present themselves at Pewsey Library during December or January 2018 (date to be confirmed) and also at an online exhibition at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre’s website. Contact for further details.

Julie Davis

County Local Studies Librarian and Project Lead

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