Just another day…

I recently wrote an article on an old textile link between Blackburn and India. The article got me thinking about other Blackburn made products around the world so this time I went 6000 miles in the other direction, and ended up in Sao Paulo, Brazil. With roughly 100 times the population, and very different industries they are not places you automatically partner together. It is however, one of these other industries that bring the link to Blackburn.

Those of you with a keen interest in geography (or global commodity trading) will be aware of the industry which surrounds Sao Paulo, Coffee. Some estimates state that 4 of every 5 cups of coffee drunk worldwide will have been cultivated in this area. As the phrase goes ‘necessity is the mother of all invention’ and the need to get the coffee from the fields to the port was a huge one. Getting the coffee from the plateaus down to the coast had always been difficult and despite many ideas being considered for almost a century, eventually a cable railway was agreed upon and built in the 1930’s. This railway is a fascinating story in itself and at one point rises 2,625 feet over a distance of just seven miles.


If these are the screws, imagine the screwdriver!

The link from Blackburn to the coffee fields of Brazil is based in the construction of this railway and the firm of Foster, Yates and Thom. Started by William Yates in 1824 in Blackburn the company was well known for its boilers and engines, eventually joining with the Foster Company of Preston.

The reason I am aware of this link is due to a visit by a young gentleman from Sao Paulo. A keen railway enthusiast, he was visiting the UK with his wife and one of the places they stopped was York. He contacted the museum with a speculative phone call and on finding we had some photographs of the production of this railway he dragged his poor wife over to Blackburn for a day of scanning and photography. The day got worse for her when she trapped her finger in the car door and she did nothing but look miserably out of the window at the wet weather all day.


FYT created some huge objects, these are tiddlers compared to some of the things they made!

Her husband, however, was very grateful for the opportunity to make a record of what we had and was sure his fellow enthusiasts would be just as pleased. Before he left he told me that many of the things made by FYT were still there, and he had photographs of some of the items.

Blackburn is now a footnote in the history of these objects. Since they were built in the 1930’s they have carried hundreds of thousands of people, and supplied the world with coffee. For the FYT workers at the time it may just have been another job…but take a moment to think about it, and you realise what a job they did!


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Blackburn Museum can be found in Blackburn, Lancashire. It houses objects documenting Blackburn's industrial past as well as a world class collection of Fine Art, Japanese prints, Icons, Numismatics and Manuscripts. Come and visit us to find out more.

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