skip to Main Content
07971 906 105



5.0 (10 reviews)

Retired Master Boilermaker, Alan McEwen’s new book:

RIVET LAD – Lusty Tales of Boiler Making in the Lancashire Mill Towns of the 1960s.

Published by Sledgehammer Engineering Press Ltd in hard back on high quality paper, 183 A4 pages with 145 monochrome photographs.  RIVET LAD consists of 13 chapters:

Obediah Blackroots’s Owl Gob Mill Lancashire Boiler Job,
Samuel McGrew’s Grasshopper Brewery Cornish Boiler Job,
Cranberry Sawmills, Ruston-Proctor Locomotive Re-tube Job,
Plus 10 more chapters

CLICK HERE to buy both books from the RIVET LAD series as a discounted bundle


Alan’s book, written in his own inimitable style takes the reader back to the exciting days of the 1960s when he was the youngest member of Carrot Crampthorn’s Squad of Boiler Makers working on heavy structural repairs on Lancashire and Cornish Boilers, a Cochran Vertical Boiler, a Stationary Locomotive Boiler, a huge steam Accumulator converted from a Lancashire Boiler and much more.

The book’s larger-than-life characters, the hard as nails, ale-supping, chain-smoking Boiler Makers: Carrot Crampthorn, Reuben Ramsbottom, Teddy Tulip, Paddy O’Boyle, and not least Alan himself are, to a man, throw-backs to times gone by when British industry was the envy of the world.

To place an order please telephone 01535 637153 / 07971 906105 or email:

Overseas customers contact Sledgehammer email for postage costs.

10 reviews for RIVET LAD

  1. Chris Swales

    Sledgehammer Engineering Press Ltd produce wonderful books that are steeped in industrial history. I’ve just received my copy of RIVET LAD and I must say that I haven’t been able to put it down, I’ve been learning all about the tales of Carrot Crampthorn’s Squad and the places they have worked. Alan and. Christine are very knowledgeable in industrial history which shines through in all their publications.

  2. Alwyn Rogers | Mill Engineer, Queen St. Mill Museum, Burnley

    In his new book ‘RIVET LAD’, Alan McEwen’s boundless enthusiasm for the topic shines through brighter than a white-hot rivet! In his eloquent, narrative style, Alan takes the reader on a fascinating journey back to the 1960’s where he delves into the smoky, grimy and thoroughly hard graft working life of a young and enthusiastic Boiler Maker to bring the reader, not only a highly entertaining, but very accurate historical accounts, and gritty down-to-earth perspective of life in a busy boiler repair squad.
    Alan is not only a Master Boiler Maker, but is also a well-acclaimed published author and a highly respected industrial historian which enables him to fill each chapter with scenes and colourful quotes that lend themselves to successfully offer first-hand accounts, and a deep working insight, into a little known or understood facet of the north of England’s once glorious industrial past, while at the same time bringing back to life memory-provoking scenes of a young fresh faced ‘RIVET LAD’ quickly coming to terms with life in the harsh environment of hard men and working in Lancashire cotton mill and factory boiler houses.
    I highly commend this top quality, excellently produced publication to anyone whose interests include traditional steam boilers, industrial history or, just want to sit down and enjoy a ‘reet good read’ as Alan would say.

  3. VINTAGE SPIRIT MAGAZINE – NOVEMBER 2017, Brian Gooding, Editor

    Since his retirement from boilermaking, Alan McEwen has been busy researching and writing books in his own inimitable style, and this is his latest one.
    Subtitled: ‘Lusty Tales of Boiler Making in the Lancashire Mill Towns of the 1960s.’ the book takes us back to a time when Alan was the youngest member of Carrot Crampthorn’s Squad of Boiler Makers, undertaking structural repairs to Lancashire and Cornish boilers, and more, all heavy work. However, with the exception of the author, all the characters in the book are fictitious though the story line is clearly drawn on Alan’s experiences over his time as a boilermaker.
    The cover illustration of the ‘Squad’ is by Jonathan Clay, while the majority of the 13 chapters is headed by a drawing by Lydia Holdsworth. The chapters carry interesting titles, for example: Billy Bagshaw’s Cream Life Carbolic Soap Works Job; Obediah Blackroot’s Owl Gob Blanket Mills Job, while the book is written in ‘Lancashire Twang’, though, luckily there is a glossary to help others translate.
    Although the characters are fictional, the illustrations are drawn from Alan’s extensive archive and are fine examples of industrial boilers and the boilermaker’s art. Sadly, these magnificent boilers of a past age have mainly been replaced by modern package boilers; yes, much more efficient but less romantic.

  4. OLD GLORY MAGAZINE- NOVEMBER 2017 – Colin Tyson, Editor

    RIVET LAD – SUBTITLED: Lusty Tales of Boiler Making in the Lancashire Mill Towns of the 1960s. This period may only be fifty to sixty years ago but was a world away from what we have today. Alan takes us back to his days as the youngest member of ‘Carrot Crampthorn’s Squad of boilermakers working on heavy repairs to worn-out Lancashire and Cornish boilers and much more besides. Thirteen chapters setting out different jobs are explained and illustrated through 145 mono photographs which by and large produce well on the art paper. Many of the illustrations are from Alan’s collection of jobs being undertaken and these are nicely laced with photos from back in the day of mills, boilers and workers.
    Working with these hard drinking and chain-smoking men gave Alan lessons for life and experience to be master of his own boilermaking career, now carried on by his son following a well-earned retirement.
    Be prepared to get your head around the ‘Lancashire Twang’ peppered throughout the book and you too will feel that you are really there amongst the heat, dust and enclosed spaces that was part of the everyday life … and not that long ago.

  5. Anthony Pilling BSc, DipArch, RIBA, Industrial Heritage Advisor, Pilling Looms.

    Rivet Lad is an excellent read, full of characters, technical insights and stories of hard graft and engineering skill from the days of industrial steam power from one who was actually there.

    The Author spent his entire working life as a Boilermaker from apprentice and Rivet Lad, becoming expert and highly skilled in all aspects of boiler making and repair including coded welding, flanging, riveting and the design of repairs, boilers and pressure vessels. In 1968 he established his own firm, H.A McEwen (Boiler Repairs) Ltd, now run by his son. The business earned a well-deserved reputation for new and heritage steam work, including railway boilers to the exacting standards required for main line express locomotives.

    Alan McEwen speaks with authority, not only from direct personal experience of a full life in steam engineering, but also as a researcher into the methods, technologies, products and companies that made the steam age work. A great friend of like-minded steeplejack, Fred Dibnah, he shares his enthusiasm for his subject with similar gusto and has published countless articles for the technical Heritage press as a regular contributor to Old Glory magazine. His previous books are essential reading for those seriously interested in Industrial Heritage, ‘Fred Dibnah’s Chimney Drops’ and ‘Historic Steam Boiler Explosions’ are still in print, while ‘Chronicles of a Lancastrian Boilermaker’, his autobiography, is sold out.

    ‘Rivet Lad’ holds the attention on several levels. Most chapters present tales of a different job carried out in the challenging working environment that existed before the modern focus on corporate Health and Safety. In those days individuals had to look out for themselves and their mates in the squad while achieving tight completion deadlines. In his inimitable style the author not only describes the physicality of the work involved, the terrible conditions working inside the boilers, he also gives real insight into the lives of the tough yet diverse team of rough diamonds in which he was a key player. A team that had to closely knit together to make their living against the odds and fuelled it seems by gallons of Horniman’s tea.

    Related to each story are photographs and sketches of similar work actually being carried out – many with a youthful looking Alan doing the work. The text describes in some detail what actually had to be done to effect, the usually very heavy repairs needed to return large mill boilers and paper making or dye-works kiers back to safe working condition. Throughout, many reproductions are included from private collections of relevant illustrations and photographs. These provide a wonderful, pictorial, yet also technical context to the chapters and give a superb historical overview of the numerous Lancashire and Yorkshire boiler engineering works and their products. Rare pictures cover some of the works themselves, heavy haulage by road and rail, while sectional illustrations and photographs inside the boilers provide a boilermaker’s view of this important element of our heritage.

    The book deals with most of the important steam raising boiler types employed in our local industries. From Cornish boilers with Dolly Vardon steam receivers, through the massive ranks of Lancashire boilers powering the cotton, wool and paper industries, then vertical and locomotive boilers for lighter applications through to the development of high efficiency ‘economic’ boilers, ‘Rivet Lad’ illustrates a story of industrial power and human endeavour. Without the numerous engineering firms designing and manufacturing the plant and their countless highly skilled yet tough engineering squads that went out to regularly repair and maintain them, no steam driven mill or works enterprise would ever have succeeded.

    ‘Rivet Lad’ is not just about what these hard-working engineering tough guys had to do to earn their crust and keep our industries in production. It is also a rare source of historical material on a critically important part of our heritage about which little has been published to date. It provides valuable insights from an expert in the field for those of us responsible for historic steam plant – more essential reading!

  6. Mark Smith

    Anyone that has read any of Alan McEwen’s previous books will be familiar with his unique, easy going prose that never talks down to the reader but manages to put across his message in a such a way that whether he or she is an engineer of many years’ experience or simply someone with a passing interest in our industrial past, Alan always manages to hit the right level. There is always enough technical information to keep the interest without putting off the casual reader. This was very evident in his book ‘HISTORIC STEAM BOILER EXPLOSIONS’ and has been repeated again in his latest book ‘RIVET LAD Lusty Tales of Boiler Making in the Lancashire Mill Towns of the 1960s’.

    This latest book chronicles Alan’s early years as a newly qualified industrial boiler engineer working throughout the Mill Towns of Lancashire in the twilight years of Britain’s great Industrial Revolution when heavy industry was on the decline but where Mills and Dye Works still managed to survive, there were huge steam boilers that required maintenance and repair. Effortlessly, Alan manages to bring to life the characters he worked alongside such as the wonderfully named Carrot Crampthorn, Rueben Ramsbottom and Teddy Tulip!

    These were hard men that drank their beer by gallons, not pints, and always seemed to have a ‘tab’ (cigarette) in their mouths, but whose skills seemed to embody the sum knowledge of two hundred or so years of industrial boiler expertise. The work was hard, often carried out in dirty and cramped conditions but when a boiler required repair, there was no better group of men to carry out the work. Add to this the occasional saucy tale and you have a book like no other to convey the way of life of the heavy industrial boiler engineer.

    Alan’s book is a fabulous insight into a now largely forgotten world and I can thoroughly recommend it. Throw another log on the fire, draw your favourite armchair a little nearer the hearth and immerse yourself in an engaging first-hand narrative of a time that seems as though it belonged to the Victorian age and yet was barely 50 years ago.

  7. George Waite I. Eng. Boilermaker

    Upon reading retired Master Boilermaker Alan McEwen’s new book, “RIVET LAD-Lusty Tales of Boiler Making in the Lancashire Mill Towns of the 60s”, I was immediately transported back fifty seven years to a paper mill at Creech St Michael in Somerset where a fifteen year old boy was starting work for the first time as a rivet catcher in his father’s Boilermaking squad. The squad were there to carry out the renewal of severely wasted rivets in the furnace tubes on one of the mill’s Lancashire boilers. I clearly recall the Boiler Makers as being real characters just as Alan has described them. This book for me was a damn good read but, more than that it is an important work covering a significant part of the end of Britain’s industrial history and a “must read” on the bookshelves of any student of both the Industrial and Social History of Great Britain and Ireland.

  8. Martin Dart

    “I have thoroughly enjoyed reading both of Alan McEwen’s “Rivet Lad books”. I am currently reading Alan’s Fred Dibnah’s Chimney Drops book which I cannot put down – and, cannot wait to read future SLEDGEHAMMER Books. I would just like to mention what an inspirational and delight the books are to read. I have recently heard a phrase which I do think will sum up the SLEDGEHAMMER books really well, “Bringing History to life”.

    I am particularly fascinated with the Victorian advertisments that illustrate both Rivet Lad books which come from a variety of historic engineering firms. They are a delight to read, and remind you of a time when Great Britain was the workshop of the world!, When I attended school, the way people lived in the period portrayed in the Rivet Lad books, was not taught. It was therefore a real insight reading the books on how people lived and worked – (my God! – they were hard grafters!). I think there are a lot of lessons for us (certainly my generation) to learn today!

    It’s book’s like these published by SLEDGEHAMMER that got me into engineering in the first place. Hopefully, the Rivet Lad books will inspire you! I can remember seeing Mr McEwen’s “Lancashire Boiler in the kitchen” on TV in one of the late Dr Fred Dibnah MBE programs. I turned around to my mum and said, “Wow, how did he do that ?! ” ever since I have been hooked in all things related to the industrial revolution, (You can imagine my horror when they removed the metal working classes from school and though away the lathes!)

    Anyway, if you’re interested in all things Victorian, interested in social studies of the time, or looking for a very good informative/amusing read then pick up one of Mr McEwens Book’s there “Aw Reet Rivit Lad!”

    Best wishes and I will look forward to your next book..

  9. Anthony Pilling BSc, Dip Arch, RIBA,

    Alan McEwen, master boilermaker, engineer and author, actually was the Rivet Lad at the start of a full career in industrial and heritage boiler making. Expert in riveting, re-tubing, coded welding, flanging, boiler design and construction from his years with Phoenix Boilermakers he was ready to set up his own business. In 1968 he founded H. A. McEwen (Boiler Repairs) Ltd, where he built his reputation and operated successfully for 40 years before handing the reins to his son in whose hands it continues to thrive.

    Alan carried out heavy overhaul and remanufacture for every type of industrial boiler in general use in the mills and works throughout Lancashire and Yorkshire and all over the United Kingdom and Eire. Heavy Lancashire boilers, his own design of economic boiler, traction engines, pressure vessels, Scotch marine, vertical cross tube and preserved railway engine boilers were core business, some to the exacting standards required for express locomotives such as 60009 Union of South Africa, Green Arrow, Duchess of Hamilton and other engines running on the main line.

    Now an author and publisher he has written a number of books and contributed numerous insightful articles for steam heritage magazines. People involved in the preservation and live demonstration of historic steam plant, including his good friend, the late great Fred Dibnah, have benefitted greatly from his advice.

    People familiar with his previous books, ‘Chronicles of a Lancastrian Boilermaker’, ‘Fred Dibnah’s Chimney Drops’, ‘Historic Steam Boiler Explosions’, etc, know Alan writes in an entertaining, enthusiastic style, but with the authority of one who has the in-depth technical knowledge and practical know-how associated with all aspects of his subject. His books are essential reading for those involved with live stationary steam.

    The ‘Rivet Lad’ books are full of amusing tales of incredible yet real characters which are combined with relevant images in a context of hard engineering graft. They graphically illustrate just what was actually required to keep steam plant efficient and safe in all sorts of different contexts across the North of England. Although many of these true stories are told at Alan’s own expense – with nicknames used to protect the innocent – the practical work and engineering skill involved in often harsh conditions becomes abundantly clear.

    Photographs of the different types of boilers and pressure vessels encountered are included from Alan’s personal collection and archive of catalogues, including some exceptional images of the work involved and rare boilers from the dawn of industrial stationary steam. These are informative technical references for the industrial archaeologist while the anecdotal tales evoke a social context that has all but disappeared. The books share a wealth of experiences as well as lessons from a lifetime of practical work that those of us now involved with demonstrating live steam engines to the public would do well to take on board.

    The two ‘Rivet Lad’ volumes shine a light upon the human graft and endeavour behind the numerous engineering firms that designed and manufactured heavy steam plant and the countless highly skilled yet tough engineering squads that went out to regularly repair and maintain them. These books are a rare source of material about a way of life that has almost vanished and about which little has been written or published. However, they cover a critically important part of our engineering heritage without which no steam driven mill or works enterprise could ever have existed.

    Anthony Pilling BSc, Dip Arch, RIBA,
    Industrial Heritage Advisor,
    Pilling Looms

  10. Steve Hodgeson

    “ Rivet Lad Lusty Tales of Boilermaking in the Lancashire Mill Towns of the 1960s” presents a fascinating read about a time when skilled manual labour was the norm, and dirt and grime in pursuit of that work was accepted with grit and good humour. The repair of Lancashire Boilers, that provided the steam for the many Lancashire and Yorkshire Mills, was an area that was rarely recorded and the reader is presented with each repair in a well- structured manner. The practicalities of the repairs, together with the reasons why those failures had occurred, is presented in an easily understood and non- too technical manner. Interspersing accounts of these repairs with the banter and dialogue between the characters of Carrot Crampthorn’s Squad of Boilermakers keeps the reader’s attention held throughout. Difficult to finish this book without a smile on your face.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close search


Back To Top
×Close search