I was shocked into consciousness at 2am on Sunday morning by a “boom and crunch” sound. Assuming an industrial incident and expecting to be kept up by sirens, I turned over to grab as much sleep as I could…
…and woke at 6am as planned (son had a championship to attend).
The boom was the sound of the Dorman Long building collapsing, the subsequent crunch the two main towers, conveyor shaft, and chimney hitting the floor. Given the economic turmoil of the company that owned it over the years, the terms “boom and crunch” seem particularly apt.
There had been some uproar over the decision to demolish what I consider to be an eyesore, seen mostly from the Darlington to Saltburn trainline, and I guess away from any considerable scrutiny. The Iron Man (Redcar’s blast furnace, in the process of being dismantled) was a truly inspiring structure, visible for miles, and part of the identity of the area in a way that the Dorman Long building (so-called as the name of the original steel giant was painted on the elevated wall) was just a pile of brown bricks and even less attractive than I’ve described.
Three Demolished Buildings
Over the past few years, Redcar has lost three historic buildings. Only one of these was given grade II listed status. It was the wrong one.
The Regent Cinema: the former pavillion of the Coatham Pier, the Regent is widely believed to be the location where Larry Grayson uttered the famous words “Shut that door!” for the first time. True or not, it was an historic theatre and cinema that could have fulfulled a dual role with a bit of ambition, foresight, and belief from the local council. Yes, it had structural issues, but there was a convincing plan in place to save it. Sadly, the Regent is no longer standing and is currently being replaced with a glass-and-concrete “modern” successor.
The Iron Man/Blast Furnace: in operation since 1979 and built to replace a trio of smaller furnaces elsewhere on the former steelworks, Redcar Blast Furnace is one of the most striking industrial buildings you’ll come across. Move fast, however, as it is currently being dismantled. After the British government failed intervene to save the steelworks in 2015, the blast furnace was switched off, rather than mothballed. The bare minimum of what a government should do with a strategic asset, the blast furnace can no longer be used in the manufacture of steel. Already crumbling, the eye-catching heart of steel making is now being dismantled for safety. Thanks, Dave.
The Dorman Long Tower: actually a collection of structures, this one was detonated with explosives last night. This followed a campaign to keep it, which at one point appeared to have been successful. However, its inexplicable safety as a Grade II listed building was short-lived. Thanks to cabinet reshuffle last week, new Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries rescinded that status. Next thing we know, it’s 2am on Sunday morning.
Reading that list, you can see how the priorities by our so-called “betters” have been horribly skewed.
So, Why Campaign for That Pile of Crap?
Absolutely no idea. The only thing I can think of is the agitated left looking for “wins” against the Conservative mayor, Ben Houchen. They failed with the cinema (no one cared), they failed with the blast furnace (it was switched off, it couldn’t be reignited, it will fall apart if not dismantled), and somehow thought they could win with the Dorman Long tower.
They forgot that it’s one of the ugliest buildings across all of Teesside’s entire industrial sites. And that really is saying something. Surrounded by increasing industrial decay, a striking reminder of past glories, a train journey past the building was also regularly accompanied for a long time by the recognizable, repulsive smell of sulphur dioxide.
Wow, such memories, Redcar.
Why Dorman Long Had to Come Down
Dorman Long was one of several steelmakers nationalised in 1967 as British Steel. The Redpath Dorman Long part of the business was sold to Cleveland Bridge in 1982 – that business has recently collapsed.
Over the years, under the name Dorman Long, British steelmaking on Teesside was responsible for a stunning array of notable, still-standing, constructions. No cheap steel for offshore windmills here. We’re talking recognisable structures like the Tyne Bridge, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Lambeth Bridge, and the amazingly long Storstrøm Bridge in Denmark.
But these are successess achieved before Germany invaded Poland. They’re not in the lifetime of most living Britons, and are simply an example of living in the past. For most of my 45 years on this planet, the steelworks have slowly shrunk, the local chemical works closed down, and of course you’ve got the coal mines, shipbuilding, car building… the list goes on.
Dorman Long represented a past that is will always be unobtainable. We cannot replicate those successes, we shouldn’t try to, and certainly there is no sane reason to excuse such a repellent edifice of destruction when it serves no continuing purpose. Taking the cause on as some way to “stick it to the goverment” or “show what Teesside is made of” is utterly deluded. The Dorman Long Tower sits (in pieces) in the middle of an industrial waste land that is being redeveloped. Retaining it as some sort of museum was suggested, but really, who would go when there is a superb museum already in Skinningrove, and the Dorman Long Museum in Middlesbrough?
You’re Being Weird
Teessiders need to start thinking first, reacting later. And save what is really important, instead of finding a third rate carbuncle to support. I will leave it to me, on Twitter, to commence the conclusion of this essay:
Recently work has begun on knocking down the "Iron Man" – a blast furnace in Redcar.— Christian Cawley (@ChristianCawley) September 6, 2021
There are now calls for the old Dorman Long buildings to be scrapped.
Typically, being opposed by Labour, who are of course wrong.
Fetishizing our industrial decay is just weird. Stop it.
“Fetishizing our industrial decay” – I really like that.
Because that is exactly what these people, Luddites, essentially, are doing, standing in the way of our first real chance at progress on Teesside since 1967. And almost all of those supporting the protection of the Dorman Long Tower were doing so for political – or politics-led – reasons, without considering the implications of turning their home into a living museum.