On this day in history….7th July 2004

On this day in history : 7th July 2004 – Bolton born Fred Dibnah, steeple jack, steam enthusiast and TV presenter, goes to Buckingham Palace to receive an MBE from the Queen….

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Fred Dibnah at Alder Mill around 1981 – John Harwood via Flickr

Fred had planned to drive Betsy, his beloved traction engine, to the Palace – but was refused permission as the Royal Parks Agency were concerned its weight would cause damage to the surface of The Mall…. Instead he was allowed to drive the engine to Wellington Barracks, which is just a short distance from the Palace….

Fred collected his medal wearing morning dress and a top hat…. When he had initially learned of the honour he had said…. “I’m looking forward to meeting the Queen but I shall probably have to get a new cap”…. He went on to say…. “And I’d like to meet Prince Charles because we share the same views about modern architecture”….

He had received the accolade in the 2004 New Year Honours List for his services to heritage and broadcasting…. Fred had been famous in his home town of Bolton long before his TV days, for toppling many of the area’s landmark chimneys which had served the old mills – and which had dominated the skyline…. He became known nationally in 1979 when the BBC made a documentary entitled ‘Fred Dibnah, Steeple Jack’, earning producer Don Howarth a BAFTA for best documentary….

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Fred Dibnah visits the Great Central Railway Works at Loughborough, as part of his final televised tour of Britain’s industrial heritage….

After receiving his MBE Fred said…. “I was slightly nervous shaking hands with the Queen, she asked if I was still climbing chimneys. It beats me how she keeps tabs on everybody. I never thought I would be receiving an MBE”….

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Fred Dibnah, June 1985 – trainsandstuff via Flickr

On this day in history….7th December 1983

On this day in history : 7th December 1983 – A tomcat, called George, climbs 160ft up an industrial chimney in Lancashire and refuses to come down – halting the work of steeplejack Fred Dibnah….

Fred Dibnah in 1985 – Image credit : trainsandstuff via Flickr CC BY 2.0

The ginger cat resisted all attempts to coax him down; when Fred climbed up to reach him George moved even further up the chimney…. An emergency meeting was held with the RSPCA and the fire brigade and it was decided that the best plan of action was to leave the tom up there overnight – hoping hunger would force him down….

Fred was not impressed with the feline’s antics – he said : “I have got a few hundred pounds at stake and I cannot be held up by a cat”…. But held up he was – as the following morning George was still up there….

By now George was very distressed…. Fred made a further attempt to reach the terrified cat, who paced at the top of the chimney crying pitifully…. Fred had to admit defeat and an expert cat handler was brought in, who managed to grab hold of George and put him in a cat basket…. Fred then carried him down….

Britain’s favourite steeplejack, who rose to fame through a series of television documentaries, had been delayed by George for 30 hours…. George in turn had used up one of his nine lives….