Fred Dibnah

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Fred with his MBE
Fred Dibnah MBE (29 April 19386 November 2004), born in Bolton, Lancashire, was an English steeplejack who became a television personality, a cult figure and, latterly, a national institution.

Fred was firstly famous for his profession as a steeplejack, though rather than being a traditional repairer of tall buildings he earned a reputation for chimney felling. Bolton, once famous for the soot and grime produced by the town's multitudinous mill chimneys, required many of the town's landmarks to be removed as the cost of maintaining an obsolete chimney became prohibitive. So Fred became an entrepreneur offering to remove these without the need for explosives. The technique was to cut a throat at the bottom of the chimney, prop the brickwork with wooden props and eventually burn the props so that the chimney fell, hopefully in the intended direction. He fixed things too, as his work on Bolton Town Hall and a number of church spires testify.

At the age of forty he came to the public eye when the BBC broadcast a short news item about him. His warm, earthy manner combined with his endless enthusiasm endeared him to viewers, and the BBC made a 1-hour documentary, Fred Dibnah - Steeplejack, the following year. This featured Dibnah at work, both repairing and demolishing chimneys. Much of it was taken up by his monologue while climbing (entirely fearlessly) chimneys and spires, with the highlight being his demolition (by the burning method) of a tall brick chimney, his running from the collapse, and his boyish glee at the spectacle.

Fred Dibnah's rough-hewn Lancastrian manner (and his ever-present flat cap) belied his gentle, self-taught philosophical outlook. He went on to write and present a number of series, largely concerned with the Industrial Revolution and its mechanical and architectural legacy.

Fred was also an enthusiastic steam fan and had his own Aveling & Porter traction engine built in 1912 and an Aveling & Porter Steam Road Roller "Betsy", Reg No: DM3079, built in 1910. Fred hosted a number of further BBC series looking at steam and the Victorian era when it was the backbone of industry.

Fred was awarded an MBE in the 2004 New Year's honours list. He died in 2004, following a three-year battle with cancer. Thousands of people lined the streets of Bolton on the day of his funeral as his coffin was taken through the town at the back of his favourite traction engine with his Steam Roller, Betsy, following.


  • Fred Dibnah's Building of Britain (2005)
  • Dig with Dibnah (2004)
  • Fred Dibnah's Age of Steam (2003)
  • Fred Dibnah's Building of Britain (2002)
  • Fred Dibnah's Magnificent Monuments (2000)
  • Fred Dibnah's Industrial Age (1999)
  • The Fred Dibnah Story (1986)
  • Fred Dibnah: Steeplejack (1979)


  • "One mistake up here, and it's half a day out with the undertaker."
  • "Did you like that?" (said after he's just felled a chimney)
  • "A man who says he feels no fear is either a fool or a liar."
  • "I realise that steam engines aren't everyone's cup of tea. But they're what made England great."
  • "The modern world stinks."
  • "We've become a nation of con men, living by selling double glazing to each other."
  • "Steam engines don't answer back. You can belt them with a hammer and they say nowt."
  • "I set out as a steeplejack in my youth to preserve chimneys. I've finished by knocking most of them down."
  • "Height gives you a wonderful feeling of grandeur. You're the king of the castle up here."
  • "I'm just a bum who climbs chimneys."
  • "Anybody who destroys anything made of stone should be prosecuted. It is not all beautiful, but it took a man all day to make one stone."

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