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About Fred Dibnah

Steeplejack | Historian | Steam Man | TV Personality & Famous Boltonian

Fred Dibnah at the top of a tower

Fred Dibnah was a working-class hero. His affable manner and talent for telling a story were just two of the reasons for his incredible popularity. Whether toppling giant chimneys or restoring vintage steam vehicles, he made himself legendary. Nobody was prouder of Fred than the people of Bolton, and here we see the citizens of his home town gather to pay tribute to this remarkable man.

 

Frederick Travis Dibnah, MBE (29 April 1938 – 6 November 2004) was an English steeplejack and television personality, with a keen interest in mechanical engineering, who described himself as a "backstreet mechanic".

When Dibnah was born, Britain relied heavily upon coal to fuel its industry. As a child, he was fascinated by the steam engines which powered the many textile mills in Bolton, but he paid particular attention to chimneys and the men who worked on them. He began his working life as a joiner, before becoming a steeplejack. From age 22, he served for two years in the Army Catering Corps of the British Army, undertaking his National Service. Once demobilised, he returned to steeplejacking but met with limited success until he was asked to repair Bolton's parish church. The resulting publicity provided a boost to his business, ensuring he was almost never out of work.

In 1978, while making repairs to Bolton Town Hall, Dibnah was filmed by a regional BBC news crew. The BBC then commissioned a documentary, which followed the rough-hewn steeplejack as he worked on chimneys, interacted with his family and talked about his favourite hobby steam.

Steam Rally Archive Oldham Steam Fair (May 1975) (Black & White from negative)
Fred Dibnah Bolton Steeplejack Chimneyjack

His Lanky manner and gentle, self-taught philosophical outlook proved popular with viewers and he featured in a number of television programmes. Toward the end of his life, the decline of Britain's industry was mirrored by a decline in his steeplejacking business and Dibnah increasingly came to rely on public appearances and after-dinner speaking to support his income. In 1998, he presented a programme on Britain's industrial history and went on to present a number of series, largely concerned with the Industrial Revolution and its mechanical and architectural legacy.

He died from bladder cancer in November 2004, aged 66.

Fred Dibnah Facts

Full Name: Frederick Travis Dibnah

Date of Birth: 29th April 1938

Place of Birth: Bolton, Lancashire, England.

 

Died: 6th November 2004 (aged 66) Bolton, Greater Manchester, England.

Resting place: Tonge Cemetery, Greater Manchester, England.

Occupations: Steeplejack, Historian, Mechanical Engineer, Television presenter

Fred Dibnah Memorial Bolton.jpg

Statue of Fred Dibnah in his hometown of Bolton, Lancashire

Fred Dibnah Quotes

Fred Dibnah Photo Gallery

Click on a photo for more information. If you have any photographs of Fred you would like to share on the Fred Dibnah Foundation website, please email them to info@freddibnah.org

The Fred Dibnah Heritage Centre

Radcliffe Road, Bolton

The Fred Dibnah Heritage Centre, which operated for several years from Fred's old home on Radcliffe Road, Bolton, is now sadly closed to the public, and has returned to a private dwelling for the current owners.

The house, which stands at 121 Radcliffe Road, Bolton, was built in 1851, and has a 50ft-tall chimney stack in the back garden, that was built by Fred, It had a working coal mine and steam driven workshops. The house is known to locals as 'Two Cats', and is set in woodland on the banks of the River Tonge, not far from Bolton town centre. Fred Dibnah's grave in Tonge cemetery can be seen from the house.

Fred Dibnah Heritage Centre Bolton.jpg

After Fred Dibnah passed away, the site lay dormant for 4 years until 2008, when it was bought by a local businessman. With a team of dedicated Dibnah fans, they worked tirelessly to transform the house into a Heritage Centre. When the work started, the house, garden and workshops were terribly unkempt and overgrown after years in suspended animation, while legal matters were dealt with. Once opened to the public it became a place where visitors would come to celebrate the great man's life, whilst meandering through the workplace which was once filled with steam, and retained the smell of burning coal and engine oil.

Sadly, the Fred Dibnah Heritage Centre closed it's doors for good in 2018, with hundreds of valuable items formerly belonging to steeplejack Fred Dibnah, including tools, ladders and a steam engine, being sold at auction. Sale lots included an engine named Kathleen that went for £4,000 and the original boiler from his steamroller Betsy, which sold for £660. The wooden coal mine headgear built by Fred Dibnah, for the mine he was constructing in his backyard, was purchased and relocated to the Lancashire Mining Museum at Astley Green, Manchester.

The story behind the removal of Fred's 2 steam traction engines, as well as his trusty Land Rover, can be watched exclusively on this website.

Fred Dibnah's favourite traction engine outside his Bolton home. Norman Box road locomotive "ATLAS"