Steetley Magnesite Works Click on thumbnail to enlarge image, view caption and use slideshow options. To return to this page click on the image background In 1937 the Steetley company acquired this dune site at Hartlepool. The works were built and operated initially by the British Periclase Company until the WW2 nationalisation that lasted until 1952: much expanded, production ceased in 2007. It was the first ever large scale manufacture of magnesia using seawater and a pure dolomite (magnesium carbonate) mined locally. Magnesia was vital particularly to steel and munitions manufacture and in the making of the lightweight metallic magnesium alloys for aircraft structures.In November 2011 I was concerned with photography rather than the chemical technology but have since been interested enough to undertake basic research. A report with photographs and a very comprehensive works time line, its processes, statistics and products can be seen here: 28dayslater.co.uk. I have taken the identity of the structures in these images from its annotated aerial view of the works in full operation.Images 1 >3 are of the second most northerly structure, the large diameter No 7 Settler, with No 8 the last in the string occupying the last ground on the site. It shows the remnants of the central control pivot through a breach driven through the concrete walls. The operational water level can be gauged from the mineral accretions on the steelwork. Later images show more complete remains of the whole structure.This is the central pivot in the adjacent No 6 Settler with a little more steelwork attached. Judging by the marks on the rim of the pool the operation liquid level would have been close to the rim. Five years after closure and subsequent partial demolition the extent of decay seems remarkable.Alongside each settler pool stand paired reaction tanks. The pool walls were heavily buttressed and surmounted by an array of curving concrete posts to be seen in later images. Here, they seem to have been pulled down, distorting the steel reinforcement and shattering the concrete.Once smooth tarmac, the rough road I followed climbed to a higher level and the workshop building emerged over the rising horizon like a ruin from an earlier civilisation. The foreground building contained offices and laboratories whilst the other housed workshops and stores. Earlier visitors exploring after abandonment reported and photographed fittings and equipment in both.The concrete framed brick buildings stand on robust podium with small apertures that may have once framed glass. After closure, what might have been useful elsewhere or suitable for recycling was removed. Demolition to clear the site was suspended in deference to bird life on the site. I arrived too late.In photographs from operation days the screens that encircled each settle came down to the pool rim. The timber panels between the concrete posts seem the original material, with the curved corrugated iron a later replacement. Part of a rotating rake arm that once stirred the contents of the pool lies exposed rather than submerged when operational. No 6 Settler lies beyond.The collapsed gantry once linked the central pivot to the two reaction tanks outside the pool perimeter. The skeletal screen supports stand out against the North Sea. I recall speculating as to what I would have seen had I been able to stand with camera and tripod on the same spot a decade ago.Looking down from a higher level brings the larger diameter No 6 Settler unto the frame. One can easily imagine crossing the walkway through the gantry linking the rim and the reaction tanks behind the camera to the corrugated iron operator’s cabin.In the five years since this structure was in operation, water, chemicals and salty sea air have caused rapid metal corrosion. Initial demolition may well have brought down the gantry into the once full pool. I liked the contrast of clear geometry against the random colours and textures of decay.Perhaps one third less in diameter than the adjacent No 3 Settler, this circular concrete tank seemed more above ground than below. Rusty water from the steel reinforcement has permeated the ageing concrete to mark its surface. It did provide a good gallery for the graffiti creators who accepted the safety hazards of this open site.The Beamish Museum archive has a collection of black and white photographs of the Steetley works in their prime. One shows an oblong building constructed from wood strip on a timber frame supporting internal piping. The caption describes it as treating seawater during the precipitation of magnesia. This burned and blackened lower frame and the once integral concrete structure are all that survive.This area had a tightly grouped set of remains of storage ponds and other structures. Now uneven earth, the Beamish archive shows a very different environment. I liked this surviving columned remnant and used it as a focus for the other forms in this quartet of images.Some of the storage tanks in this area were used to store seawater for times when piped supplies were interrupted. This and the next photograph were taken from the seaward side of the plant on sand drifts built up from the beach.The area to the south of this last photograph was occupied by large buildings housing the range of machinery, ovens and often large equipment required to produce the magnesia and related products. Apart from the single tall chimney very little, even rubble, remained on the ground. I was left regretting my late appearance at what would have been a fascinating place immediately after abandonment.Like some timber railway trestle from the American west, this long jetty linked the works to the pumping caisson set on to the seabed well below the low-water mark. Four powerful pumps and the two large diameter pipes delivered the vast amounts of water needed in the chemical processes. A landward section has been cut away to prevent deck access.The Beamish Museum archives contain a collection of black and white photographs recording the development and operation of Steetley Works and some of them can be accessed through their website. One image shows the interior of this pumping caisson. Beamish Museum also ascribes several names to the factory including Steetley Magnesium Works, Steetley Magnesia Works and Steetley Magnesite.