TPA pontoon helps to relight a much-loved fire

11 Jul
Modular pontoon by TPA enables a light show at Aspen Colliery’s coke ovens.

A pontoon supplied by temporary access solutions provider TPA has helped bring back to life a Scheduled Monument known locally in Lancashire as the “fairy caves”.

The 15m x 4m modular plastic pontoon formed a bridge over the Leeds & Liverpool canal near Accrington to allow a pair of generators and lighting equipment to be sited at the Aspen Colliery coke ovens which were specially lit for two nights as part of the East Lancashire Linear Park.

The project is being run by The Super Slow Way, a cultural development programme that covers 20 miles of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal corridor. This spring, the programme invited people living along the canal to a series of events to help them think about how the canal, and the unused spaces alongside it, could become a great space for all to use and share.

The illumination of the coke ovens was organised by event planners “Things That Go On Things” who had originally had difficulty working out how to get the lighting generators from the roadside, across the steep banks of the canal to the site of the 200-year-old coke ovens.

Co-artistic director Gemma Saunders explained they had originally considered using cranes, but the generators were too heavy. Generator companies ended up telling them it couldn’t be done. Then someone suggested a pontoon, and that’s where TPA came in.

Following discussions with James Myatt (TPA Pontoons’ business development manager), the pontoon, complete with edge protection, track mats and ramps, was installed on the morning of the first night of the event which attracted a total of 2,000 people.

Gemma said: “TPA instantly said they could do it and they were completely brilliant. It was quite a challenge to work out how we were going to do it, but the installation was surprisingly quick and super slick. It all worked so well. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

The brick coke ovens, which are encased with masonry, were lit red by lighting artist Jonny Godsmark as a reminder of the heat that had been required to convert the coal into coke as a smokeless fuel for the steelworks.

The canal opened in 1810 to transport the coke to the steelworks but the coke ovens fell into disrepair in the 1930s. In 1977 they were scheduled as an ancient monument. They were then refurbished five years ago.

Gemma Cowan added: “The coke ovens are a really well-loved site. People had played inside them as children, so they really liked the light show.”

James Myatt added: “The event was a huge success and we received some lovely feedback from the client.”

A report by Historic England’s investigation and archaeology team found that alongside just one other site (Vobster Breach in Somerset), the Aspen coke ovens are the only known examples in the country to survive alongside aspects of their parent colliery. It concluded that the survival of a complex of this date is considered rare. In addition, the report found the Aspen colliery coking ovens to be the most complete 19th century example in the North West, and one of only 11 to survive in the country.