“A great tourism opportunity stands before us” – Thoughts on the future of the blast furnace

by | Sep 9, 2020 | Community, Redcar Blast Furnace, Voices

“With imagination and the political will, a great education and tourism opportunity stands before us.”

The announcement of the demolition of Redcar’s iconic Blast Furnace has got people speaking up from across Teesside. Here we share a small collection of those voices.

Alistair Hudson, Director of the Whitworth and Manchester Art Galleries, former Director of MIMA and a concerned Teesside resident

The Dorman Long Tower, the South Bank Coke Ovens and the Redcar Blast Furnace are more than the bi-products of industry but an expression of the history of this region in material form – the stories and culture, the lives lived and worked. They are public sculptures in their own right, monuments to history and to hope for the future. They speak of a culture of production and pride (with some pain mixed in as well).
These iconic structures must be retained and incorporated into a masterplan that works for people and the economy. The economists working ahead of the pack know the name of the game in the future of economics lies in story telling, image, emotion, aesthetics. Like all the best regeneration plans, the one for Teesside must include its heritage, culture and people. A future facing strategy for Teesside would include these structures to demonstrate its belief in the Circular Economy of the new century, not the slash and burn of the last.

Geoff Taylor – Former River Pilot, Founder of local history group and the Tees Steel Bridging the World group

As a former river pilot on the Tees and at Hartlepool, it is all too clear that the river, our geology and the thousands who came to the area from all around the British Isles conspired to produce a unique set of communities here. We are linked by that river and our industrial heritage and Redcar Blast Furnace is the visibly-inspiring culmination of that story. We need to be able to pass on to future generations and to visitors the way this area led the world in blast furnace technology, joined communities across five continents and built structures which will stand the test of time. We can do that by a linked set of cultural heritage displays along the Teesdale Way from Darlington to Redcar taking in bridges, railways, engineering ironstone mining and steelmaking.

Bobbie Bailey – PhD Researcher in Digital Civics exploring digital technologies supporting communities to reimagine alternative uses for underused public spaces

The demolition of the site is a scenario I’ve been worried will happen since STDC was announced. I’ve also found it quite alarming to see a general blanket acceptance from the majority that the destruction of one of our most iconic symbols of our industry legacy can be erased from our landscape because it’s not ‘economically viable’ to save it. People’s heads have been intentionally turned to a debate just around saving the Dorman Long Tower rather than BOTH sites. It all unfortunately reminds me of the words written in ‘A Quiet Catastrophe: The Teesside Job’ by Franklin Medhurst, in particular where huge swathes of our heritage are just disregarded in the name of ‘progress’ and ‘modernisation’, with a haste to destroy as much as possible, as fast as possible. Only for us to be left with yet more wasteland as promised redevelopment never comes to fruition. I think John Grundy in the foreword of this book captures it and that can be applied to what’s happening with the blast furnace site:
“The destruction was partly a failing of taste, a desperate desire for change which blinded people to the beauties they had grown up with, it was arrogance which led those in power to believe they had a vision which surpassed history, but it was also a failing of law and governance. There was greed, corruption and criminality among those who should have been protecting our way of life. Above all the destruction was stupid. What was destroyed was not just buildings but beauty and attractiveness, the very things that draw people to a town and make it economically viable…”
It makes you boil with anger. The dangers explored in this book remain as threatening today as they were then.

Pat McCarthy

Regarding the South Bank Coke Ovens Battery, the original master plan for the redevelopment of the former steelworks site, asserts that this structure could be retained without impinging on prime development land. The Battery is an impressive example of industrial architecture. There are several examples around the world of coke ovens structures being preserved and made safe as large-scale industrial heritage and visitor attractions, that can be explored by the introduction of stairways and walkways. The plan would be that the Coke Ovens Battery would be illuminated to make for a spectacular feature of the development.
And there is similar recognition of the value of retaining the impressive structure that is Redcar Blast Furnace, as the following extract from the master plan asserts.
In many respects the most notable feature, the blast furnace is an impressive example of industrial architecture at its best. Located at the northern end of the development, at the boundary between the North Industrial Zone and Coastal Community Zone Redcar Blast Furnace is ideally situated for preservation as a major landmark and visitor attraction. The Coastal Community Zone of South Gare and Coatham Sands would offer some stunning vistas of the Blast Furnace, which would be augmented by the introduction of night-time illumination – as has been successfully achieved on similar projects around the world. The Blast Furnace would be integrated as a visitor attraction into the Teesdale Way.

Craig Hornby – Campaigner and Film Maker ‘A Century in Stone’

The last furnace on the Tees, a river that in 1870 boasted just over 100 furnaces from Warrenby to Stockton and a 1000 puddling furnaces, at that time was the greatest expanse of iron-works the world had ever seen. It was fed by some forty ironstone pits from Eston to Grosmont and pulled in tens of thousands of people to the area to make the cogs turn. Our story is distinct because of the fact there was virtually nothing here but a few farms and a tiny population and then epic immigration and colossal change at incredible speed… to be the ironmaking capital of the world within twenty years. Now, the epic furnace could form the central focus of a new ‘IRONOPOLIS’ A NATIONAL MUSEUM OF IRON AND STEEL, focusing on the ‘iron rush’ social history and with the furnace a monument of epic proportions.
With imagination and the political will, a great education and tourism opportunity stands before us. Not backward looking in a negative sense but in a cutting edge world-class presentational sense. A timeline of the key events in our steel heritage story is available online:

’A Century in Stone’: http://www.pancrack.tv/subject.html

What this museum could do over a longer term is regain the area’s identity as being synonymous with steel. Best of luck to everyone getting involved.


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