I’ve been intrigued by the blast furnace at Redcar for many years, and have made 5 trips to photograph it since 2009. Most of the British steel industry had gone by the time I started photographing industry in the mid-2000’s, and I didn’t grow up in an area that had any steelmaking (well, there was a small steelworks in Bolton but that was demolished in 1924) so it’s not an industry I have any connection with.
Compared to the steelworks in Rotherham (which are a load of big sheds that are hard to photograph) and Scunthorpe (where you need to go on a rail tour to see) Redcar was was very easy to photograph, the blast furnace being positioned adjacent to a road, and so easily seen by looking through the palisade fence or climbing up the abandoned WW2 air defences.
It was mothballed in 2010 and reopened a few years later, only to close permanently in 2015. The entire site was sold for redevelopment and despite much public interest in preserving landmarks such as the Dorman Long coal bunker and the furnace itself, the local authority wanted instead to clear the entire site for redevelopment.
I last photographed the site in 2019 when I took my drone up for a look. At that point there was little tangible sign of demolition going on, but the furnace had been fenced off after some urbexers had got on site, and I was followed by security as I walked down the South Gare Access Road. Since then demolition had taken out most of the site, and it was only a matter of time before the furnace came down.
Not living locally, I kept in touch with proceedings on the Teesside Industrial Steelworks Heritage Facebook group, and it was on there that I discovered that a date of the 23rd November had been set for it to be blown down. That was less than a week away so I decided I’d go up for a last look, and to end my photographic story of the place.
It takes nearly 3 hours to drive there from Lancashire and I hit fog as I drove through Yorkshire. I hoped that it would life by the time I got to Teesside, and wondered whether I’d be able to see it and if I could, whether it would make for atmospheric photos or no photos at all. But as I approached the Wilton chemical plant, it cleared, and the quandary disappeared like the fog itself.
As I drove along the Trunk Road past the remaining British Steel works – the Lackenby Beam Mill – I caught a glimpse of the now skeletal blast furnace above the sign and realised how powerful a landmark this was despite it sitting on the edge of the beach.
The furnace sat there stripped bare of its panels and surrounding infrastructure, naked and vulnerable waiting for the end. For me it was strange to see in this denuded state, having seen it several times when it was working, and several times after it closed, but I’d not been to see it since July 2019 when demolition had yet to start,