Neville Birch, a former Chairman of SLHA, died in Lincoln on 28 November 2018. He was an engineer by profession and his chief interest within the Society was industrial archaeology. He made a considerable contribution, not only to our Society but to several other organisations in the Lincoln area and beyond.
Neville came from the Tamworth area of the West Midlands. As a young man he obtained qualifications in both electrical and mechanical engineering and soon found a bent for teaching others. In 1964 he took up the post of lecturer at Lincoln Technical College and that was where he worked until retirement.
His interest in industrial archaeology was kindled soon after moving to Lincoln and he became a key member of the new IA Group formed within the Lincolnshire Local History Society (a forerunner of SLHA). Chris Page, fellow member of the Group, has memories of Neville in those early days:
"Neville, his wife Maureen along with their two children, John and Sharon, recorded many industrial buildings that have long since disappeared. I recall travelling with them to various sites in the back of his small three-wheeled Reliant car with the children sitting on a large bag of sand which helped to improve the stability of the car! The IA Group Newsletters, which were started by Neville, contain reports of many of these site surveys.
"I also recall a small room being made available at the Old Barracks (now the Museum of Lincolnshire Life) for the Group to hold its records. This room, which had been abandoned for many years, was covered in pigeon muck and dust. Neville, Maureen and I cleaned it out and painted it. A heavy wooden filing cabinet, shelves and a large Gestetner duplicating machine, which took stencils for the first newsletters, were installed. This was later joined by an early photocopier. Both machines were very messy and time consuming to operate, yet they helped the Group to develop.
"Neville organised many tours, such as one on the Witham in July 1968. Two of the IA Group members Mr and Mrs Broadbent (parents of the actor Jim Broadbent) provided their boat ‘Dalrye’, which was a half-size Humber Keel. The trip began at Bardney Lock and they sailed to Chapel Hill then back to Bardney."
Over the years Neville continued to write articles for the Society’s publications and at the time of his death was completing a detailed account of Stamford’s industrial history, a surprisingly rich and varied subject. The Society has firm plans to publish this book in the near future and hope it will be a fitting tribute to Neville and his contribution to the Society.
Neville’s interests in history and heritage were wide-ranging. In 1997 he completed a degree in Regional and Local History at the University of Hull. He also relished the broad scope of SLHA and became the Society’s chairman for a two-year spell in 1997. He took on the role with typical energy and enthusiasm, proving to be a strong leader open to new ideas and developments. He was a frequent speaker at WEA courses and other organisations throughout his retirement years.
Neville made his mark as a member and officer in several local and regional organisations. In the Lincoln Engineering Society he was Secretary for many years; he was a keen member of the Railway and Canal Historical Society, where he served as Sales Officer; for a while he was Secretary of Lincoln Record Society; he was a member of Spalding Gentlemen’s Society; and at Lincoln Cathedral both he and Maureen were accredited Guides. He was a devoted family man and a keen follower of local soccer and cricket. For his varied interests and contributions to so many activities, Neville will be remembered with great respect and affection.