A River Runs Through It

Today I was offered a great opportunity to go on board the High Tide Adventure and take a trip on the River Tees and offering a unique chance of seeing some of the industrial locations both past and present, along the banks of the river that meanders through the industrial heartland of Teesside.

The boat is named after the High Tide Foundation, a charity formed by PD Ports and aims to raise aspirations and awareness of job opportunities in this sector for young people on Teesside. It is used to provide trips along the river to young people and potential businesses offering a unique perspective on the area.

PD Ports is a shipping and logistics company based on the River Tees and helps to support the international and coastal movement of goods in and out of the north of the UK. It has recently been shortlisted for ‘Port Operator of the Year’.

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With thanks to the crew of the High Tide Adventure for passing on their river knowledge, to PD Ports and to Nathan Hobday for giving me the opportunity to go aboard.

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The Fleet

The inshore fishing fleet at Redcar originated in the early 14th Century with crab, lobster and fishing bringing in much needed income to local fishermen. However as the fishing industry has steadily declined over recent years so to the fleet has reduced in size so that today only a small number of boats put to sea from the town.

What remains of the fishing fleet at Redcar can be found parked either on the seafront promenade or at an area known as ‘Fisherman’s Square’ located a little distance into the town. From both sites the boats that put out to fish or check the pots are towed to the waters edge on trailers pulled by tractors.

Many of the boats that no longer go out are left and are in a state of disrepair but those that remain seaworthy continue to eke out a living despite the issues that are affecting the whole fishing industry such as fishing quotas, running costs and over-fishing and as long as they can do this they help to keep alive the fishing heritage on this part of the north east coast. At least for now.

 

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

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Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

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Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

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Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

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Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

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Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

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Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

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Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

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Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

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Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

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Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

Redcar Fishing Boats Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2016 All rights reserved. No usage without arrangement.

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Ironopolis – The day the steel stopped

As the steelworkers from ‘C’ shift prepared themselves to carry out the final coke push on oven 64 at the SSI UK steel works at Redcar this week they were not only starting the process by which the ovens would gradually cool down rendering them useless for any future use but it was also marking an end to a legacy of steel making in the Teesside area that had built up over the preceding 170 years and one which had seen the steel that was manufactured here reach across the world.

At around 6am when the coke was pushed and the final column of steam and smoke rose up from the ovens and was carried away on the morning breeze, gradually fading before disappearing completely into the dark morning sky over Teesside’s industrial heartland it carried with it any hope that this rich heritage could be saved and steel making on Teesside came to an end.

IFXT0024-2The final plume of smoke and steam rises out of the coke ovens at Redcar

Middlesbrough or Mydilsburgh as it was known began its journey in Saxon times as an ancient settlement. The term ‘Burgh‘ refers to an ancient settlement and ‘Mydil’ was possibly the name of an anglo saxon who may have had involvement with the early settlement or indeed it could be a reference to the position of the settlement’s location at that time, half way between Whitby and Durham. During this time it would have seen much activity as people passed through Middlesbrough between the two towns but even by 1800 it still remained a small farm of between 20 to 30 people.

In 1829 Joseph Pease from Darlington headed up a small group of Quaker businessmen and bought this small farmstead and its surrounding land and began the development of what they called `Port Darlington‘ on the banks of the River Tees. They then planned to build a town on the site of the farm in order to supply labour to this new coal port and Middlesbrough was born.

By 1830 the Stockton to Darlington railway line had been extended to Middlesbrough and made possible the rapid expansion of the town and port.

The small farmstead gradually grew and became the site for North, South, East and West Streets, Commercial Street, Stockton Street, Cleveland Street, Feversham Street, Dacre Street, Durham Street, Richmond Street, Gosford Street and Suffield Street, all of which were laid out in a grid style centered on Market Square.

Plots of land and businesses premises were quickly bought up in the town and before long shippers, merchants, butchers, innkeepers, joiners, blacksmiths, tailors, builders and painters were moving in and by 1851 the population had grown from around 40 or 50 people in 1829 to around 7,600 and it was quickly becoming the main port on the Tees ahead of Stockton.

IFXP0006Looking out over Teesside from the Eston hills

The seeds for the future steel heritage were sewn in 1850 when iron ore was discovered near Eston in the Cleveland Hills by John Vaughan, the principal iron master of Middlesbrough. Iron now slowly replaced coal as the lifeblood that carried the town. Whilst John Vaughan and his German business partner Henry Bolckow had already established a small iron foundry and rolling mill at Middlesbrough using iron stone brought from Durham and the Yorkshire coast this new discovery of a local supply of iron ore resulted in them building Teesside’s first blast furnace in 1851.

SSI_114Blast furnace, Redcar, Teesside

Iron was now in big demand in Britain, particularly for the rapid expansion of the railways being built in every part of the country. More and more blast furnaces were opened in the vicinity of Middlesbrough to meet this demand and by the end of the century Teesside was producing almost a third of the nation’s iron output. This growth saw the population of the town increase to 20,000 people.

By the 1870’s a much stronger and more resilient metal was in big demand. That metal was steel. In 1875 Vaughan and Bolckow opened the first Bessemer Steel plant in Middlesbrough using phosphorous ores that had to be imported from Spain and which were needed for the steel making process but within 10 years new methods were developed which allowed the use of the local iron ores from around the Eston hills and the steel produced in the area began its journey around the world. At its peak there were with over a hundred furnaces along the banks of the River Tees.

Dorman Long, a name synonymous with steel making began production in 1917 and the steel produced at the site was used to build structures including the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Tyne Bridge and the Harbour bridge in Auckland in New Zealand. As part of Labour’s plans after the second world war Dorman Long was brought under a newly created nationalised company called the British Steel Corporation and in 1988 after privatisation under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1988 it became British Steel. In 1999 the company then merged with Netherlands-based steel maker Koninklijke Hoogovens and formed Corus who used the site at the company’s Redcar blast furnace for basic oxygen steel making.

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In 2007 Corus was bought by Tata Steel but following the termination of a large contract in 2009, Tata stopped production at the Redcar site and 1,700 jobs were at risk. Steel workers and their families within the community rose to demonstrate their frustrations and thousands of people filled the streets of Redcar on 18 July of 2009 on a march to try and fight to safeguard Teesside’s steel industry…

Thousands of people filled the streets of Redcar, Cleveland today 18 July to join a march to fight to safeguard Teeside's steel industry. Following recent announcements of redundancies at Corus Steel, the people in the area came to show massive support for the Save our Steel March. Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2008 None Exclusive unless through prior arrangement. Do not Syndicate If purchased you have a one use licence - No resale

Thousands of people filled the streets of Redcar, Cleveland today 18 July to join a march to fight to safeguard Teeside's steel industry. Following recent announcements of redundancies at Corus Steel, the people in the area came to show massive support for the Save our Steel March. Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2008 None Exclusive unless through prior arrangement. Do not Syndicate If purchased you have a one use licence - No resale

Thousands of people filled the streets of Redcar, Cleveland today 18 July to join a march to fight to safeguard Teeside's steel industry. Following recent announcements of redundancies at Corus Steel, the people in the area came to show massive support for the Save our Steel March. Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2008 None Exclusive unless through prior arrangement. Do not Syndicate If purchased you have a one use licence - No resale

Thousands of people filled the streets of Redcar, Cleveland today 18 July to join a march to fight to safeguard Teeside's steel industry. Following recent announcements of redundancies at Corus Steel, the people in the area came to show massive support for the Save our Steel March. Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2008 None Exclusive unless through prior arrangement. Do not Syndicate If purchased you have a one use licence - No resale

Thousands of people filled the streets of Redcar, Cleveland today 18 July to join a march to fight to safeguard Teeside's steel industry. Following recent announcements of redundancies at Corus Steel, the people in the area came to show massive support for the Save our Steel March. Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2008 None Exclusive unless through prior arrangement. Do not Syndicate If purchased you have a one use licence - No resale

https://player.vimeo.com/video/11838325 <p><a href="https://vimeo.com/11838325">Save Our Steel</a> from <a href="https://vimeo.com/user3846199">Ian Forsyth – Documentary Photog</a> on <a href="https://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>” target=”_blank”>

Save Our Steel

Alas it was unsuccessful and the jobs were lost. The site underwent a mothballing process with hope that sometime in the future a new buyer could be found and once again steel production could carry on. In the meantime and inevitably, Redcar and the surrounding areas started a sad slide into decline as the ripple effect of the job losses was felt across the entire region.

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Then on 24th February 2011 a flame that had been slowly dying started to flicker a little brighter. A new buyer had been found. Thai-based Sahaviriya Steel Industries (SSI) came in and took on the site and finally in April 2012, and with much publicity the plant was officially reopened and as the first slabs of steel rolled a new found optimism, albeit tentative had began to come back into an industry that had been brought to its knees by economic pressures, global changes in the steel markets and a general run of bad fortune.

15/04/2012 SSI Steel Works, Teesside, Cleveland Two years after the closure of the Corus steel production plant the huge blast furnace on the site in Teesside is once again fired up as the process of bringing the furnace back to operating temperature begins. The furnace, now owned by the Thai company Sahaririya Steel Industries is expected to see the first steel come out of the furnace early next week. Photo credit : Ian Forsyth

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© Licensed to London News Pictures. 18/04/2012 SSI Steel, Teesside, England Two years after the closure of the Corus steel production plant, the huge blast furnace on the site in Teesside was re-lit at the weekend as the process of bringing the furnace back to operating temperature begins. Today, the furnace, now owned by the Thai company Sahaviriya Steel Industries saw the first steel slabs come out of the furnace. The steel will now be shipped direct to SSI in Thailand for use in the car or white good industries. Photo credit : Ian Forsyth/LNP

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15/04/2012 SSI Steel Works, Teesside, Cleveland Two years after the closure of the Corus steel production plant the huge blast furnace on the site in Teesside is once again fired up as the process of bringing the furnace back to operating temperature begins. The furnace, now owned by the Thai company Sahaririya Steel Industries is expected to see the first steel come out of the furnace early next week. Photo credit : Ian Forsyth

Over the following years production continued. The slabs of steel continued to come out of the site. There were some underlying wobbles and concerns through those years but despite these the steel still came. But then a change of events began that seemed to gather pace. A storm was coming. There’s something that is often referred to called the ‘Butterfly Effect’ in chaos theory and you’ll have heard of it I’m sure. It states that when a butterfly flaps its wings on one side of the world then there is an inevitable connection to a hurricane that occurs thousands of miles away on the other side.

© Licensed to London News Pictures. 18/04/2012 SSI Steel, Teesside, England Two years after the closure of the Corus steel production plant, the huge blast furnace on the site in Teesside was re-lit at the weekend as the process of bringing the furnace back to operating temperature begins. Today, the furnace, now owned by the Thai company Sahaviriya Steel Industries saw the first steel slabs come out of the furnace. The steel will now be shipped direct to SSI in Thailand for use in the car or white good industries. Photo credit : Ian Forsyth/LNP

© Licensed to London News Pictures. 18/04/2012 SSI Steel, Teesside, England Two years after the closure of the Corus steel production plant, the huge blast furnace on the site in Teesside was re-lit at the weekend as the process of bringing the furnace back to operating temperature begins. Today, the furnace, now owned by the Thai company Sahaviriya Steel Industries saw the first steel slabs come out of the furnace. The steel will now be shipped direct to SSI in Thailand for use in the car or white good industries. Photo credit : Ian Forsyth/LNP

Well there was a butterfly flapping its wings in China. Their economy was starting to slow after a few years of strong growth. Businesses, Industry and the economy in general had done well off the back of the boom but as that economy slowed so to did the demands for products right across the board. With the construction industry slowing the need for steel started to drop but China’s steel furnaces were still producing a huge amount of cheaper steel and selling it to world markets, including Britain and it wasn’t long before there was a significant overcapacity of steel.

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As oil prices also began to fall the oil companies began to reduce investment in the exploration of new oil fields or stopped trying to get more oil and gas out of their existing fields because the prices just didn’t justify the investment. As a result companies all along the supply chain, including steel plants who produce steel for pipes needed for extraction and movement of oil, started to see their order books going unfilled.

With prices for steel dropping, poor trade opportunities and the knock-on effect on the supply chain it seemed that there were butterfly’s flapping their wings everywhere and for those at Redcar it seemed that it was only a matter of time before the hurricane hit!

SSI_113Ponding

In August Cornelius Louwrens, the SSI chief admits that the business is facing problems. Then on 18 September, production was paused due to the declining steel prices with some reports suggesting that SSI was also facing a September deadline after missing a series of payments to its banks. Then on 28 September the plant, the second largest steelworks in Europe was once again mothballed and at the start of October it was announced that SSI UK had entered liquidation.

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Against this backdrop local Teesside MPs like Labour’s Anna Turley and Tom Blenkinsop lead calls in the Commons for the government to intervene and help the steel industry…

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Meetings were set up with the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle to give steel workers an opportunity to speak to at least some government ministers, from Labour at least, but one look at the faces of those at the meeting told more about the questions they had and the uncertainties that they and their families faced than any number of meetings might have done.

032Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Labour MP for Redcar Anna Turley

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037 036Shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle speak with Brian Dennis 035 034

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Like any community threatened Redcar steelworkers rallied around to try and protect their way of life. People like Linda Robinson, a writer from Billingham and who has four generations of steelworkers in her family and who has taken it upon herself to stand outside the entrance to the SSI UK steel making site each morning for 22 consecutive days (as of 2 days ago) holding placards to help raise awareness to the plight of the steelworkers…

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Local shops all across Redcar and surrounding towns started displaying posters supporting the steelworkers and a petition was started that quickly gained thousands of signatures…

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Steelworkers like Brian Dennis, a steelworker of 26-years became a public face of the workers as he stood up at the Labour Party Conference recently and gave a passionate speech about the real effects of what this all meant to the workers once you looked beyond the business speak, the corporate jargon and the political bullshit. You can see his speech HERE

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Within 24 hours of a social media post initiated by members of the local community and supported by Anna Turley, thousands of steelworkers and their families, members of the pubic and supporters attended a ‘keep the light burning‘ rally one evening near the beach in Redcar…

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But despite all this, despite a few slim opportunities that seemed to offer a potential last minute reprieve to secure the site if local businesses or suppliers stepped in and despite all the other efforts that were made it became increasingly clear that the end was coming and on 12 October 2015 the receiver formerly announced there was no realistic prospect of finding a buyer and the coke ovens, for the first time in thirty years, were to be extinguished.

On the 15 October the final ‘coke push’ was carried out at Redcar and after 170 years, the steel stopped on Teesside. The sounds that emanated from the site over years ceased and towns like Dormanstown who sit in the shadow of the giant steel and iron monolith of the blast furnace fell silent. Familiar noises now gone. The backdrop of an industrial pulse that had driven the communities around the blast furnace slowly ebbed away.

So what of the future for Redcar and Teesside in general? What of the future of those leaving this way of life? What will happen to the thousands of people in the supply chain for the steel works and the security of their jobs and businesses? All will be affected and we have already seen job losses at PD Ports and Hargreaves coal suppliers and more will follow it is certain.

To step away from the emotion of it all, to ignore the effects this closure will have on the family of a steelworker or another contractor…to forget how this might affect his partner and his children as they approach an uncertain Christmas and an even more uncertain future…to not allow any emotional connect to this story then that answer is a simple one – A private business got into financial difficulties and a government, hands tied and restricted by law under EU rules and regulations couldn’t act to do anything. Even if it had wanted to it couldn’t do anything. Although the lack of government involvement or intervention or empathy has been shameful.

There are talks of police investigations into SSI regarding their insurance cover for employees at the site. There is a risk of the closure being used as a political football for point scoring. There is a minefield of redundancy packages to be negotiated, so this is a long way from over. But to turn away from all this, to ignore the emotion and to disregard the confusion and uncertainty and doubt etched on the faces of workers, of hard workers, of proud men – and women, with a background of determination and dignity and with a pride in a world-building industry with a heritage that contributes to what makes us collectively as a country what we are then ignoring the feelings permeating through Teesside right now is indeed a very tragic thing to do.

Yet despite it all, despite the difficulties it is those very same qualities that they and others like them possess that will be the very same reasons that will ensure that whatever the future may hold for the steelworkers and contractors on Teesside who may have taken a hard hit this time, they’ll get through it. One way or another. They’re made of strong stuff. Maybe as strong as steel?

 

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15/04/2012 SSI Steel Works, Teesside, Cleveland Two years after the closure of the Corus steel production plant the huge blast furnace on the site in Teesside is once again fired up as the process of bringing the furnace back to operating temperature begins. The furnace, now owned by the Thai company Sahaririya Steel Industries is expected to see the first steel come out of the furnace early next week. Photo credit : Ian Forsyth

15/04/2012 SSI Steel Works, Teesside, Cleveland Two years after the closure of the Corus steel production plant the huge blast furnace on the site in Teesside is once again fired up as the process of bringing the furnace back to operating temperature begins. The furnace, now owned by the Thai company Sahaririya Steel Industries is expected to see the first steel come out of the furnace early next week. Photo credit : Ian Forsyth

15/04/2012 SSI Steel Works, Teesside, Cleveland Two years after the closure of the Corus steel production plant the huge blast furnace on the site in Teesside is once again fired up as the process of bringing the furnace back to operating temperature begins. The furnace, now owned by the Thai company Sahaririya Steel Industries is expected to see the first steel come out of the furnace early next week. Photo credit : Ian Forsyth

15/04/2012 SSI Steel Works, Teesside, Cleveland Two years after the closure of the Corus steel production plant the huge blast furnace on the site in Teesside is once again fired up as the process of bringing the furnace back to operating temperature begins. The furnace, now owned by the Thai company Sahaririya Steel Industries is expected to see the first steel come out of the furnace early next week. Photo credit : Ian Forsyth

15/04/2012 SSI Steel Works, Teesside, Cleveland Two years after the closure of the Corus steel production plant the huge blast furnace on the site in Teesside is once again fired up as the process of bringing the furnace back to operating temperature begins. The furnace, now owned by the Thai company Sahaririya Steel Industries is expected to see the first steel come out of the furnace early next week. Photo credit : Ian Forsyth

Photographer: Ian Forsyth Contact Number : 07786 076618 Copyright Ian Forsyth 2013 None Exclusive unless through prior arrangement. Do not Syndicate If purchased you have a one use licence - No resale

 

#saveoursteel

 

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Northern Steel

Hundreds of steelworkers, their families and supporters attended a torch-light vigil and rally this evening in Redcar to show support for the steel workers and contractors from SSI Steel after an announcement was made last week that production at the Teesside site was to be paused.

The company, which employs around 2,000 people said they have taken the decision due to ongoing issues with the supply of raw materials and services.

The event was organised by Labour MP Anna Turley and members of the local community in order to raise awareness of the plight of the workers and to remind the government of their continuing struggle to save the steel works.

 

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The 50th Masham Steam Engine Rally

This weekend sees the 50th annual Masham Steam Engine Rally in North Yorkshire.

The fair which began in 1965 saw over forty steam traction engines, thirty miniature steam engines and displayed commercial vehicles, vintage and classic cars and tractors to the hundreds of visitors who attended the weekend long event.

 

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Going Underground

Cleveland Potash mine sits near Boulby on the picturesque North Yorkshire coast nestled amongst the green fields and with commanding views of the North Sea. It began production of potash in 1973. Operating down to depths of 1400 metres it is the only mine of this type in the UK and is the second deepest mine in Europe and extends out like the branches on a tree up to 7km out under the North Sea. Each year the mine produces over one million tons of potash and three quarters of a million tons of salt. It operates 365 days a year and employs just over a thousand workers directly as well as providing business to many other firms and contractors in the area who support the mine in various ways.

Potash products are used for fertilizer production, as well as for glass making and applications in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. The salt products also meet a variety of needs, from winter road maintenance that we will all be familiar with to sugar beet cultivation and also as an ingredient in animal feeds.

Also located on the site is the Deep Underground Science Facility.  The facility which is funded by the Science and Technologies Facilities Council is one of only a few in the world allowing research in this type of environment into astrophysics, climate change, dark matter research and other multidisciplinary science experiments. It is currently undergoing a rebuild to provide a new laboratory underground and this is expected to be completed next year. The nature of the facility and being so far underground offers ideal conditions for the various experiments to take place.

Once the seam that contains the potash and salt has being mined underground it is then transported by a system of conveyors to the surface and then enters a process that breaks down the rock into the small pellets that will then be sent for onward distribution to the end user. The product is then moved either by lorry to other parts of the country or it is taken by train to Tees Dock where it is then stored and eventually loaded onto container ships before heading off to other destinations around the country or to different parts of the world.

 

I recently spent 2 days at the site and covered much of the mining operations. Below are a selection of some of the pictures …I’ve broken it down into 5 main areas showing the processes involved with mining the potash or salt underground, through the production process and then the onward movement to the docks for shipping and touched briefly on the Underground Science facility. The captions below the pictures contain further information and offer more explanation about the specifics and at the end I’ve highlighted some of the photographic aspects of the shoot.

 

1 – UNDERGROUND OPERATIONS

 

2

First light arrives over the Potash mine at Boulby. The second deepest mine of this type in Europe.

3

Potash miners hand in their tokens before riding down into the mine…

3a

…each person gets 2 tokens when they head down. Hand in one when you go down and hand in the other when you come up. This keeps track of how many people are underground.

3b

Everyone going underground must were suitable PPE – Personal Protection Equipment – use a head lamp, wear protective glasses and carry (the silver containers seen on the shelves) a self rescuer breathing apparatus which can generate oxygen in an isolated close cycle by chemical reaction allowing the wearer to leave an area of low or contaminated oxygen supply.

4

Miners stand in the cage as it is about to make the 5 minute descent to the bottom of the mine…

5

…on arrival at the bottom they head off to their various work locations. As this shaft is used to pump the oxygen down into the mine there is the huge noise of rushing air as you step out the cage.

6

It takes around 30 minutes or so to reach a working face. Land Rover defenders and flat bed trucks are used to transport the miners. All the roads underground are

mined into the Salt layer as this is more stable than the potash layer above it.

7

Steve Shaw who kindly acted as my guide for the day is a seasoned miner of 20-plus years at Boulby. He pretty much knows everything there is to know about potash mining

and here he checks a device used to alarm the user if it picks up traces of gas in the air.

8

These two ‘green’ pictures show the ‘Safe Havens’ that are spaced at various areas throughout the mine. Reinforced areas that in the event of

an incident underground miners can try and reach. Inside there are emergency water supplies, breathing equipment and communications to the surface…

9

…the entrance door to the ‘Safe Haven’…

10

…the room is filled with emergency equipment ready for use inside the ‘Safe Haven’.

10a

At the face of the potash seam an operator uses a remote control system to control the continuous mining machines…

10b

10e

…these rock cutting machines are fitted with tungsten carbide tipped cutting teeth that rip the rock out as it is driven slowly into the potash seam…

10c

10d

…the rock is then passed through the machine and into a waiting ‘shuttle car’ that takes the potash to a conveyor where it then moves along another tunnel or ‘bunker’ to be

stored until it is taken to the surface.

Underground_1492

10gDave Elliot is a ‘bunker operator’ and runs the conveyors shown below that transport the potash or salt through the mine to be lifted to the surface.

Underground_1624

10f

Steve Shaw chats with one of the shift managers as they stand in one of the passages mined into the rock…in many places the only light comes from their lamps.

10h

Communications can be maintained within certain areas of the mine using tannoy and intercom systems.

10i

Due to the high temperatures the miners working at the face of the seam pause for regular short breaks during their shift to take on water and drinks to remain hydrated.

Many of the blue flask containers that can be seen are also filled with ice to help keep the drinks cold…

10j

…as can be found in many different jobs there is also a good bit of craic and banter amongst the blokes working together.

10k

Craig Shillito (left) a fitter and Leon Grobler, an electrician take a short break from working. Due to the high temperatures involved many of the miners wear shorts.

10l

At the end of the shift one group of miners wait to be called forward to get the cage up back to the surface…

10m 10n

…obviously everyone wants to get back up to the surface quickly so they can knock off so there is no hanging about when they’re given the nod to enter the cage.

10o

..on arrival at the surface each person hands over the second of his tokens before entering a room to re-charge the batteries for the head-lamps and to replace other safety

equipment before grabbing a shower and heading home.

10p

2 – UNDERGROUND SCIENCE FACILITY

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As I mentioned in the introduction above also situated at Boulby Potash mine is the ‘Deep Underground Science Facility’…

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At around 1200 metres below the surface Scientist Chris Toth, 23 stands on the site of a new laboratory

that is currently under construction and which will eventually replace the current lab and offer some improved facilities…

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Funded by the Science Technologies and Facilities Council the scientists like Director and Senior Scientist Dr Sean Paling (left) can perform research and experiments into astrophysics, climate change and dark matter research along with other experiments…

3

It is one of the few laboratories in the world that, due to the unique area in which it is located, allows for the optimum conditions for many of the experiments undertaken.

 

3 – SURFACE PRODUCTION

The potash and salt that is mined in the labyrinth of tunnels underground is brought to the surface via conveyors and lifts and

undergoes a process to break down the rock and eventually turn it into the various different finished potash products…

1b 2A

All surface operations are overseen by the main control room and each stage of the process is monitored constantly for safety and efficiency…

3A

The main production area is vast and allows for a 2-part ‘wet-end’ and ‘dry-end’ production process involving the breaking down of the rock, removing impurities and

a filtering and drying process that brings the product to a state when it is ready to be distributed…

4A

2c

5 6 8 9 9a 9b

Steve Sergeant, 20, was working as part of a clean up-crew removing the huge amounts of dust that accumulates during the ‘dry-end’ of the process.

9c 9dUsing conveyors the product is moved to huge storage silos prior to onward distribution by train or lorry.

2d

2b

9e

2aAAndrew Dewsbury, 26, was working in one of the main storage silo’s repairing machinery.

9fLunch break

2f

2e

Jamie Cairns works as a ‘Ropeman’ and is part of the team responsible for the maintenance of and the movement of equipment down the main shaft and into the mine.

2gOne of a number of different potash product types that is produced at Boulby.

 

4 – TRANSPORTATION TO TEES DOCKS

1C

The final product can then be transported by lorry to other locations and clients around the country…

2H

Much of it is transported by freight train to the docks at Teesside. Here a driver checks his brakes and load before leaving the sidings at Boulby with a train loaded

with salt product. In this case each of the train cars was holding around 62 tons.

3B

The train leaves the sidings at Boulby heading for Tees Dock.

4BA potash train passes under a bridge as it travels through Saltburn on route to Tees Dock.

5 – TEES DOCK

5A

Whether it is potash or salt product the facility at Tees dock allows for thousands of tons to be held there as it waits for container ships to arrive for loading.

1D

In the picture above there is approximately 6, 300 tons of Potash in this single pile alone. This pile is one of many within this silo which can hold 60, 000 tons when full.

2I 3C 4C

Many thousands of tons of salt product are also stockpiled outside next to the River Tees.

6A 7 8A

As the container ships come alongside ‘large ship loaders’ are used to fill the waiting vessels. The one in these pictures was the ‘Willeke’ and bound for Amsterdam.

The following week another ship is due in for loading which is bound for Brazil and which will take the potash to a final destination to be used on crops as fertiliser.

9G

 With thanks to Cleveland Potash Limited for the access to the mine and facilities and to the staff and guides who helped with the organisation of the visit.

 

PHOTOGRAPHY and EQUIPMENT

This job was always going to present some technical challenges photographically with the main one being light or rather the lack of. At many of the places underground the only light source is the lamp attached to the hard hat. Occasionally fluorescent lighting is used in certain areas but these were rare. Knowing or rather anticipating that it was going to be dusty I was reluctant to use flash as the light might have reflected back off the dust floating around and would have made the pictures look like they were taken in a snow or sand storm!

So I decided against using flash and to make use of the available lighting and try and create a bit of atmosphere with the pictures. The only separate light source I used on both days was a Metz LED light containing 72 LED’s and is about the size of an iPhone only a little bit thicker. It was light and very portable and runs off 4 x AA batteries and gives out a decent amount of light. It comes with a CTO (Colour Temperature Orange) filter that attaches easily to the front of the light and it helps to warm up some of the portraits nicely and gave a reasonable amount of light for wider shots. All the ‘people’ portraits in this post where lighting has been used were shot with this light either hand held to one side of the camera or placed on a small table-top tripod. It proved to be a very useful light and one that I’ll now use more often. The control switch on the back allowed for the strength of the light to be dialed up and down depending on the distance to the subject so it offered great flexibility. Occasionally the lamp worn on the hard hat could also be used to aim some light onto the subject.

The environment underground gets hotter (around 38c or so) the closer you travel to the working face and is obviously very dusty. In the surface production areas it ranges from incredibly dusty at the ‘Dry-end‘ of the potash production to humid and very wet conditions with water dripping down from pipework and other structures in the ‘Wet-end‘ of that process. When I went underground all I used was a Fuji X Pro 1 with the 18mm f2 lens. This lens equates to about a 28mm lens in 35mm terms. It was light and can be operated with one hand (useful when I was holding the LED light) and it turns out good quality images at higher ISO’s which were obviously needed in the low light. A quick check through my underground pictures shows the lowest ISO used was 1250 and the highest ISO used was 6400. Average shutter speeds were low and ranged between 15th – 30th of a second in many cases up to around 125th – 250th give or take when there was a bit more light. So it was challenging to keep them sharp and avoid movement in some cases….although creatively that can work in your favour at times.

The camera kit I used during both days is pictured below with a list of what’s what and most of it is self explanatory. Although I opted out of taking the Leica underground partly because it doesn’t perform well at high ISO’s and also I didn’t want to end up damaging it! Deciding it was too expensive to risk but ironically my cameras were in a dirtier state and took more of a battering after shooting the surface pictures the day before and apart from a good coating of dust it wasn’t too bad when I went underground.

All in all I was pleased with the performance of the Fuji. I know they’re good cameras (I’ve just sold all my Nikon D3S kit and replaced it with another fuji – the XT1) but I was keen to see how it performed in a more challenging photographic environment and it did well. The Leica is a good bit of kit which I use on most jobs so I knew that would work well on the surface but I was also particularly impressed with the LED light.

1

Standard clothing and PPE required when you go underground

DSCF0143(Clockwise from top) Belt with two Domke pouches, Chamois leather, paint brush, blower brush, LED on small tripod,

SD cards in the orange ‘Think Tank’ wallet, notebook and pencils, spare batteries in another ‘Think Tank’ wallet,

Leica M9 with 50mm f2 Summicron lens and a Fuji XPro 1 with 18mm (28MM) f2 lens.

See more of my work on my website and blogs… HERE

Images copyright Ian Forsyth / Getty Images

Pickering Traction Engine Rally

Today saw the start of the 62nd Pickering Traction Engine Rally in North Yorkshire where homage is paid to the early industrial heritage of Great Britain and to a country who’s strength was built on steam power. The rally features one of the largest lines of showman’s engines and fairground organs seen in the north of England. Hundreds of vintage and classic cars, commercial vehicles, motor cycles, steam ploughing and other attractions will entertain the thousands of people who are expected to visit Pickering over the 4-day long event.

 

Pickering Traction Engine Rally

 

Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally Pickering Traction Engine Rally

Pickering Traction Engine Rally

 

 

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No usage without permission