‘The Boiler Man’ (2015)
The first subject studied for my Leeds Urban Project was the Ideal Standard Factory in Otley (LS21). Two paintings were done including this ‘The Boiler Man’ and ‘A Last Supper‘ You can find out more about the factory, and my study visits, here.
The factory is closing, between 2015-2016, with the loss of 74 jobs. Its efficiency was assessed and one of the reasons cited behind its closure was the potential costs for the replacement of this old boiler. Replacing greedy coal fired heating boilers, with more efficient gas or oil fired ones, can cost in excess of £100,000. There are many in varied states of disrepair but this one is considered very rare because it is still fully functioning.
The boiler man comes in every day to remove the build up of ashes in the base of the boiler. This is called ‘ashing out.’ Coal is automatically fed to the fire, from below, via two pipes with Archimedes screws within. It is more efficient to keep the boiler running at a maintenance heat than switch it off. Therefore the ashes are raked out of the boiler still alight. It is quite a dramatic process. The dimly lit, coal covered, room fills with thick black smoke as it is raked. Flames flared to several feet and the walls glowed with a bright orange light that threw all else into deep contrast. The 30ft brick chimney above the boiler had such draw that the smoke and flames were dragged back into it.
Preheated water was piped into the boiler, further heated, and then sent around the factories red pipe heating systems (Please note the red pipe at the very top of my ‘A Last Supper‘ painting). It was stiflingly hot and its sounds ranged from low growls to high pitched screams not unlike T-Rex screeches in films. It is at least twice the height of a man and appeared, and sounded, like some obsolete raging dinosaur. It was impossible to stay in the room without a respirator which made sketching fun. I am not ashamed to confess that on one occasion, when locked in with the monster sketching, that when it roared into life I nearly jumped out of my skin! Sadly this boiler has been recorded, quite possibly, in its very last month of life.
Available as an 24 & 30″ limited edition print (Print ref: Boiler Man)