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Westwood Works 1903-2003

Demolition

As would be expected, much discussion, and not a little apprehension, followed the announcement of plans to build a prison on the derelict site in Westfield Road, with a number of counter proposals being put forward. We do not have space to cover this period in any depth, suffice it to say that the demolition and re-building went ahead with surprisingly little impact on the local environment. The fifth anniversary of the opening of HMP Peterborough has passed and grass. trees and flowers are growing where once machine tools turned out components for process machinery that still produces basic needs for people all around the world.

 

Demolition of the buildings on the Westwood Works to make way for HMP Peterborough began at the beginning of March 2003. Work began at the north end of the site and, almost immediately the preparation for the erection of the prison began.

The Works buildings had all gone by the end of August and the multi-storey office blocks by the end of October.

All that remains of Westwood Works at the end of 2003 are the two-storey Personnel Department building (used as a site office by Interserve), and the Apprentice School and Holdings Company building (acquired by NTL/VirginMedia). The exterior of the Apprentice School is preserved in its original state as it is now a designated Listed Building.

The second photograph from the left in the last row shows one of the huge machines used to crush all of the brick and concrete rubble from the Works and Office buildings so that it could be incorporated into the landscaping. Only metal scrap was removed from the site.

Demolishing the Factory

06/03: Demolition starts at the north end of the site Experimental Bay Mid March: The Black Shed stands amid the remains of the Pattern Shop Mid March: All buildings at the North end of the site have gone Mid March: Remains of the Steel Stores 20/03: Start of demolition of the Experimental Dept 24/03: Experimental Dept demolition almost complete
24/03: Material Centre gone 26/03: Experimental, Fitting Shop North, Materials Store - all gone End March: Work starts on the original Canteen A pair of Black Redstarts - a protected species - continued to nest on site despite the noise and dust of demolition 01/04: Work starts on Pre-prep Paint Shop 02/04: Fire started by vandals in the original canteen 08/05: The Paint Shop - Les Sharp's office door
27/05: All the Plate Shop and L70 bay gone 03/06: Boiler shop chimney ready for demolition June: The Boiler House chimney comes down End June: The Machine Shop disappears Late June: Clearing up Early July: Remains of the Machine Shop
Mid-July: The Machine Shop Late July: Nearly all gone End August: Last bay of the Fitting Shop comes down Early September: The factory has gone - RIP

Demolishing the Offices

W/e 03/10 W/e 03/10 Cutting from Peterborough Evening Telegraph Cutting from Peterborough Evening Telegraph 06/10 06/10 06/10
11/10 11/10 11/10 11/10 12/10 12/10 12/10
14/10 14/10 15/10 15/10 15/10 15/10 16/10
16/10 17/10 17/10 17/10 17/10 17/10 19/10
19/10 19/10 24/10 24/10 24/10

Black Redstart

As a little light relief, this story is included at some length as it indicates the attention paid to the welfare of protected birds in this country.

A tiny, robin-sized bird made the local headlines when it held up the demolition of the Baker Perkins factory buildings. The Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), a protected species - a rare migrant breeder and scarce passage migrant, with a maximum of 50 pairs breeding in the UK in 1999 - had nested on the site for a number of years and was one of the area’s most important breeding birds. (See photograph in “Demolishing the Factory” above).

Common in urban areas on the Continent it was once confined to mountainous areas. It now shows partiality for docks, gas-works, railway sheds and power stations, this spread being helped by the devastation left by WW2 – bombed sites having many features in common with its ancestral habitat. Although relatively rare in this country, its choice of the derelict Westwood Works for a nest-site is, perhaps, not so surprising.

When the factory closed at the end of 1992, Les Sharp, ex-Paint Shop Foreman at Baker Perkins was appointed Site Manager by Interserve, the site developers. Les was very familiar with the Black Redstart, a pair having nested for two years just behind his site office.

With the site due for redevelopment, a study of how the birds used the site was commissioned by English Nature in 2001. The first record was a male on 12 April 2001 with a pair present from the 17th. The first clutch was probably laid before the end of April and hatched around 11 May. Three young successfully fledged from this first brood. The second clutch probably hatched around 28 June but by 5 July all five nestlings were found dead in the nest, probably victims of very hot weather. A third clutch was laid at a new location around 10 July, which hatched around the 28-30th. Three young fledged from this last brood on 12-13 August. There were no further sightings from 17 August. (With acknowledgements to Peterborough Bird Club)

Demolition of the factory buildings commenced in the beginning of March 2003. An ornithological survey at the end of March found no black redstarts on the site and no evidence that they had returned. Site visits were made once a week until a male black redstart was spotted on 24th April. Thereafter, site visits were made daily. The pattern of the male’s singing suggested that he was alone and hoping to attract a mate. His efforts met with success as three days later, a female joined him and nest building began, between the base of the office block and the factory roof space at approximately second floor level. As the female was last seen at this nest sight on 16th May, with no sign a feeding activity prior to that date, it was assumed that the eggs had failed.

A week later, the birds were seen making a nest in the roof of the chrome shop. During May, most of the buildings to the west of the chrome shop and to within 50m north of it were demolished. The close proximity of heavy earth moving and breaking machinery together with stone crushers did not appear to trouble the birds and by early June, the new parents were bringing food to the nest. By the end of June the nestlings had flown, leaving the male alone on the site.

On July 2nd, the female returned and was joined by the male where they once again began nesting in the chrome shop building, this time in the pipe in which the pair that bred there in 2001 had used. A full clutch of eggs was noted by 4th July. Food was being taken to the nest by the 20th and it was thought that all eggs had hatched by 24th/25th with three young resulting.

No further inspection took place until 12th August, by which time the chrome shop building had been demolished, the young birds having left the nest the previous week.

Site visits re-commenced in April 2004 but although a single female was seen, there was no sign of a male or nesting activity. With the total demolition of the Baker Perkins factory and office buildings, inspection visits were concentrated on the Prison buildings and ecological area being created in the triangle of land to the north of the Prison. The birds were found again in about August 2004 nesting in the Prison’s partially erected Mother & Baby unit and held up building work for about 4 to 6 weeks before the young fledged and left the nest.

The Last Remnants Disappear

The 24th November 2004 saw the last buildings left on the site - the two-storey Personnel Block, till now used as a Site Office by Interserve, and the adjacent canteen block - demolished. We are indebted to Les Sharp for the following photographs of the event. The space is now clear for the landscaped area fronting Westfield Road to be completed. We will bring you photographs as this develops. This area is planned to be handed over to Peterborough City Council in March 2005. At the same time the first inmates should be taking up residence in HMP Peterborough.


As with the rest of the factory buildings, all of the rubble was crushed to use as hardcore under the landscaped area.

All that was left - the Main Works Security Post.

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