Decay thrusts the Blade
I recently visited the Wilderness Way exhibition at MIMA. In the exhibition are two huge images of Margaret Thatcher walking across the post-industrial wastelands of Teesside. The photographs were taken during her 1987 visit to endorse the work of her pet project, the newly formed Teesside Development Corporation (TDC).
The TDC was the largest Development Corporation in England, covering some 12,000 acres in the North East of England. Established in September 1987 and wound up on 31 March 1998, it received total government grants of £354 million and generated other income of £116 million, including income from the sale of land and property. Over its lifetime the Corporation helped attract private sector investment of £1.1 billion into the area, created over 12,000 new jobs and brought 1,300 acres of derelict land back into use.
From 1987 onwards the TDC were more or less given carte-blanche to regenerate a number of former industrial sites around the River Tees and Hartlepool areas. The Corporation was not popular with the local councils, it was accused of being secretive and autocratic, spending vast amounts of public money with little or no public consultation.
One of the development sites was an area of industrial land on the banks of the River Tees at Thornaby called Teesdale. The history of the Teesdale site reflects the industrial history of the area. In the mid 19th century, the area was known as South Stockton. The land was largely open fields with a couple of small ship building yards.
By the beginning of the 20th century South Stockton had merged with Thornaby to form the municipal borough of Thornaby on Tees. The shipyards had expanded and three large iron works had become established, The Thornaby Ironworks, The Union Foundry and the Teesdale Ironworks. By the mid 20th century the whole site was being operated by Head Wrightson.
The area thrived and by the 1960s the site employed 6000 people, specialising in heavy engineering projects. In the mid 1970s the site was bought by The Davy Corporation. Foreign competition led to dwindling orders and a general decline, the site finally closed in 1987
I decided to have a wander around the site and reflect on the changes that had occurred over the past few decades.
I’m guessing that Thornaby railway station fell outside of the TDC development area boundary. If you are travelling along the Tees valley railway line, this station is the only access to Thornaby and central Stockton, it does not make a good first impression. The world’s first passenger railway ran within a short walk from the station yet the only reference to this is George Stephenson House, home of HM Revenue & Customs, a building located some distance from the railway station.
The Teesdale development is a mixture of commercial buildings and housing, It is a triumph of the bland, an example of off-the-shelf hive architecture, most of the buildings have nondescript, unimaginative names or no name at all. A number of the buildings are empty or partially occupied, To Let signs litter the area. The call centres that once occupied the buildings have moved to places where labour and rents are cheaper.
My impression of the whole Teesdale site is that the planners took a year zero approach. There is no evidence or acknowledgement that this area was once a thriving, prosperous part of industrial Teesside, the land here is historically sterile.
In other parts of the country, you can find clues to a site’s history by looking at the names of the roads and buildings, that is not the case here. The roads have all been named after prominent foreign universities; Yale, Stanford, Princeton, Fudan, Sabatier, and bizarrely, West Point Military Academy.
The two saving graces of this site are the riverside frontage, which is extensive, and the fast growing vegetation which manages to hide much of the architectural blandness behind grassy banks and thick foliage.
The road that used to run across the site was called Trafalgar Street, a new road now runs along its most northerly section, this road is called the Council of Europe Boulevard and leads to the Princess of Wales Bridge. I’m guessing brexiteers may lobby to restore the name Trafalgar in a year or two.
During the election campaign of 1997 Margaret Thatcher returned to the site with John Major. They unveiled a plaque and planted a tree at Dunedin House, the TDC building, before Baroness Thatcher and Mr Major headed for lunch at Marton Country Club. Dunedin house is mostly unoccupied, I could not find the plaque.
The TDC was wound up in 1998. Initially it was thought to have left a surplus of £14 million. In reality, it left unaccounted debts of £40 million and allegations of secret accounts and shredded documents.
A few years ago I bought a copy of Max Lock’s Middlesbrough Survey & Plan. I went to collect the book from the seller who turned out to be Sir Ron Norman, former chairman of the TDC. One of Sir Ron’s hobbies is bookbinding. I managed to get a small discount on the book as Sir Ron had mis-spelt Max Locks name.
I went to see the Wilderness Way exhibition at MIMA today.
This exhibition treats Margaret Thatcher’s visit to Teesside in 1987 as a starting point to reflect on the 1980’s, a decade that shaped the way we live now. Art, film, music and archival materials examine themes of class struggle, agency, racial division, and protest.
Mima Users Guide.
I left my teens behind in 1981, along with many of my family and friends I experienced the raw edge of the decade through redundancy, unemployment and hardship. I was keen to see how MIMA’s curators would explore these troubled times.
The themes in this exhibition leave a huge area to cover, any one of them could have been the subject of a large exhibition, so I was expecting something a little larger with more material. Despite this, the exhibition is worth visiting, it contains some thought-provoking pieces.
I found the piece on the Cumbrian Iron Ore Miners to be extremely powerful and disturbing. Using official documents, claim forms, Doctor’s letters and a death certificate, it documents industrial disease and the struggle for compensation from a system that has little regard for the hardships being endured by disabled ex-miners and their families. Even when a miner prematurely dies of lung disease, his widow is denied compensation. The narrative seemed to belong in the black days of the 1930’s rather than the 1980’s.
Mike Figgis’s film of the The Battle of Orgreave is equally powerful. Footage of the re-enactment of the battle is cut with interviews and commentary which caused me to reflect on the continued struggle of people who are still being treated with little or no regard by an ideologically-driven conservative government.
This tale begins approximately five hundred million years ago when the north of Scotland was attached to a continent called Laurentia. The rest of Britain was joined to a continent called Eastern Avalonia and Scandanavia was part of a continent called Baltica. Tectonic forces caused these three continents to move towards each other, the collision resulted in the loss of a huge ocean, the Lapetus, and the creation of a mountain range, on the scale of the Himalayas. This event, during which the north of Scotland became joined the rest of Britain, was called the Caledonian Orogeny and lasted about one hundred million years.
Orogenesis – The birth of mountains.
The mountain range that was formed during the Caledonian Orogeny has long since been eroded away but the rocks that were formed during this period remain, one of which is Cumbrian Shap Granite.
Shap granite is described by geologists as a coarse grained granite, formed by the cooling of a large body of igneous rock, called a pluton, which was intruded into the pre-existing Cumbrian rocks. The granite is very distinctive and easily identified by the large crystals (phenocrysts) of pink orthoclase feldspar contained within its matrix.
The granite intrusion is limited to an area of eight square kilometres on the Fells, a couple of miles to the south of the village of Shap.
There are two rocks called Shap granite, pink granite and blue granite. Pink granite is a true granite, it is an igneous rock which originates from a large reservoir or Batholith, deep within the earth’s crust. Blue granite is a metamorphic rock known as Hornfels. It was formed when the native rock around the granite intrusion was altered by temperature and pressure. The zone of altered rock around the intrusion is known as a Metamorphic Aureole.
Both the pink and blue granites are exploited for commercial purposes. Pink granite when cut and polished is used as an attractive and extremely durable building stone. With the coming of the railways it became a popular architectural stone with the Victorians and has, and still is, been used as a decorative stone on buildings throughout Britain. Blue granite is usually crushed and used as aggregate for concrete or as hardwearing road chippings.
Five thousand years ago the first farmers arrived in Eastern Cumbria. The main rock type on the low moors and valleys around the Shap area is Carboniferous Limestone. The land around Shap is fertile and well drained, an ideal place for the pastoralists and their animals to settle. Once communities became established they marked the land with their stone and earth ceremonial monuments.
The valleys and moors around Shap are littered with pink granite boulders, this was not lost on our ancestors and the majority of the stone monuments in the local area are built almost entirely of Shap granite boulders. The most obvious reason for this is availability but I believe that our ancestors may have placed a spiritual value on the distinctive granite boulders. The large feldspar crystals in the granite are the colour of flesh, The texture and colour of weathered limestone can resemble bone.
A few stone circles they have a single limestone boulder or in the case of the Oddendale Concentric circle, two stones, one in the outer ring and another between the two rings. Some, but not all, of the of the regions monuments are intervisible, forming a long chain of ritual monuments along the Lowther and Eden valleys.
Large single erratics are known as Thunder Stones; No one knows the origin of the name other than a general belief that these stones were cast down to earth by the gods or a race of giants.
Eastern Cumbria is particularly rich in prehistoric monuments; the village of Shap was once the location of one of the most impressive monuments in Northern mainland Britain, the Shap Avenues. Little remains of this monument but by looking at the archaeological remains and antiquarian accounts we can build up a picture of what it looked like. A few years ago a good friend and I researched the Shap monuments, an account of our research and fieldwork can be found here Shap MA Blog
The reasons why Shap and the North of Britain are littered with granite boulders probably alluded our ancestors, up until the beginning of the nineteenth century the occurrence of these stones was used as evidence of a catastrophic flood event as described in the bible. This theory, diluvianism, remained unchallenged until 1840 when a young Swiss naturalist called Louis Agassiz brought a new theory to Britain based upon his observations on the movements of Glaciers in the Alpine regions. Agassiz toured Northern England with the Reverend William Buckland, Professor of Geology at the University of Oxford. Their theory of glaciation and the glacial transportation of material was not readily accepted by the scientific establishment of the day but further evidence-based studies gradually gained support and glacial theory was accepted.
These ice transported boulders became know as glacial erratics, to further the study of glaciation during the nineteenth century local naturalist groups were enlisted throughout the North of England and Scotland. These groups often formed Boulder committees who engaged in fieldwork, logging locations and rock types of erratics throughout the Northern Britain. This information along with the study of landforms was then be used to track the movements of the ancient ice sheets and glaciers.
Many Shap granite boulders have been found in the Tees Valley, some have even been given names, the Bulmer Stone in Darlington and the Great Stone in Deepdale. Others have been used as curiosities on village greens and parks. There is even an account of a group of boulders beneath the sea, close to the mouth of the River Tees.
Erratics apart, Teesside has another link with the Shap area. Behind the village is a large Limestone quarry; attached to the quarry is an industrial site that processes the limestone. The site was formerly owned by British Steel and is currently operated by Tata Steel. Limestone is an essential ingredient in the production of iron and steel, it acts as a flux, removing impurities from the molten iron and helping slag to form. The basic recipe to create one ton of iron is; two tons of iron ore plus one ton of coke plus half a ton of limestone.
The recent decline in the iron and steel industry in Scotland and the North of England has led to a collapse in the market for flux-grade limestone and the closure of many quarries. The Hardendale quarry is now closed and the limestone plant at Shap is currently up for sale.
The Shap area is a place that continues to draw me back. The terrain is soft, the landscape is dense in history, the vistas are open and the skies can be endless. My genius loci exists amongst the stone circles and limestone pavements on the rolling uplands of Shap.
The current government had an opportunity to save the blast furnace
they chose not to take it.
Unemployment across the Tees Valley is double the national average at 3.9%. The number of jobless youth is higher, at 5.2%, compared with the national average of 2.3%. And Middlesbrough has more deprived areas than any other local authority in the country, with almost half of its 42 neighbourhoods among the poorest 10% nationally. Source
Anyone who is unfamiliar with the history of Skinningrove may be confused by the cliffs that tower over Cattersty beach. The horizontally bedded Jurassic cliffs of the coast have been replaced by what appears to be the remnants of ancient lava flows.
The origin of the cliffs are not Volcanic, I guess they could be called Vulcanic. There was once a large iron works on the clifftop, slag from the blast furnaces would be tipped, by trains, over the cliff edge completely covering the existing strata. The blast furnaces have long gone, the cliffs are home to nesting fulmars and the occasional peregrine falcon.
Vulcan – God of Fire, Volcanoes and Metalworkers
Skinningrove, a little creek formed by the Liverton Beck, has gained a weird picturesqueness by its ironworks on the verge of the cliff and its mountains of spoil from an iron mine. The Cleveland ironstone is used in conjunction with imported ironstone and if access can be obtained to the dressing-sheds – where the Cleveland ore is picked over by boys for the elimination of unprofitable stone – characteristic fossils, particularly the ammonite Amaltheus spinatus, can be obtained.
Geology of Yorkshire. PF Kendall & HE Wroot. 1924
The train from Boulby potash mine skirts the edge of Warsett Hill passing the fan house that used to ventilate the ironstone mine. Mining has existed in North Yorkshire for almost a thousand years, steel tracks for railways are still made at Skinningrove.