About Fred Dibnah

Fred's enthusiasm and loveable personality was discovered by a BBC news team in the 1970s and he went on to become a respected historian and television presenter

Fred Dibnah

Steeplejack turned historical super-sleuth, Fred, was fascinated with how architects, engineers and builders behind some of our country's greatest structures managed to work with no power tools, no concrete, no steel, no engines and no heavy machinery.

STEAM POWERED
Born in 1938, he grew up with two main two main passions - steeplejacks and steam engines. As a little boy, his bedroom window in Bolton overlooked the railway line where he could watch the steam locomotives going about their work.

Over many years, Fred studied the way that steeplejacks erected their ladders and scaffold, assessing the pros and cons and finding his own methods. A joiner by trade, Fred is best known for 'felling' chimneys. However, despite this being what is was best known for - it was actually a job he enjoyed the least. His actual preference was restoring buildings.

EXPLOSIVE BEHAVIOUR
Some people mistakenly thought that Fred 'blew up chimneys', but Fred was never a fan of dynamite. He preferred the old-fashioned method of cutting a mouth out of the bottom of the chimney and propping the opening up with bits of telegraph poles and wooden chocks.

Fred was unusual in the way he incorporated traditional methods into his work in an industrialised world

Fred was unusual in the way he incorporated traditional methods into his work in an industrialised world

Once enough of the chimney is propped up on wood he then set light to a large fire, which burned the chocks away and the chimney would then fall to earth in the designated direction.

It was not a precise science and things didn't always go to plan but it was a lot more precise than dynamite and enabled Fred to be awarded jobs where dynamite would have caused too much damage.

FAME FINDS FRED
Until 20 years ago, Fred was a steeplejack working locally in Lancashire, where he grew up. Whilst working on the Town Hall in Bolton, the local BBC TV filmed a short news item about him.

Fred stands beside a replica of Stephenson's Rocket steam train

Fred stands beside a replica of Stephenson's Rocket steam train

As a result of this, Fred was approached by a television producer who proposed making one half-hour film as part of a series about people with unusual occupations.

After several months of filming, the final article was an hour-long documentary, screened in its own right. 'Fred Dibnah - Steeplejack' aired in 1979 and won two awards for the producer. The rest is history.