Remembering the legacy

The Blast Furnace demolition will bookend a story spanning six decades. Here Eminent Teesside Historian Dr Tosh Warwick has delved into the steel records at Teesside Archives to reveal more on the landmark’s history.

A new Teesside

The Steel News reported how work commenced on the new blast furnace development at Redcar in 1974. The new blast furnace development was described as the centrepiece of new developments in the area, and was hailed as ‘the start of a new era’ along with the headline ‘British Steel Builds the New Teesside’.

The development was part of a broader £500m development on Teesside – £400m on the Redcar ironmaking development, and £100m at the nearby Lackenby steelmaking complex – that had ‘given the steelmen of Teesside and the British Steel Corporation the most up-to-date plant and technology’.

Capable of producing 10,000 tonnes of iron a day, the new blast furnace was reported as the biggest single project to be undertaken by British Steel, one of the largest blast furnaces in Europe, and ranked amongst the most modern in the world – complete with on-line computer controls. The sense of the changing Teesside skyline, and wider significance of the new developments, was captured in a special edition of the company newspaper reporting on the new structure:

“The new Redcar ironmaking development has a produced a new skyline for the people of Redcar – a skyline which symbolises the re-birth of the Teesside steel industry…The market for Teesside steel is the world and the modern plant – and highly skilled workforce of BSC’s Teesside Division – ensure that this area will long remain one of the most important steel producing centres in the world.” – Steel News, 1979

The Steel News celebrates the opening of the Blast Furnace in late 1979

The Steel News celebrates the opening of the RBF in late 1979

Light Up Your Hearts!

On 12th October 1979 with 400 people gathered on the cast house floor, Teesside managing director Derek Saul initiated the lighting up ceremony. Fire from Teesside’s No.1 furnace at Clay Lane was taken to the new Redcar furnaces and two lances were lit and used to light up the giant furnace by BSC’s Bull Hunter and Davy’s Alan Dixon.

The front page of the Steel News read ‘Light Up Your Hearts’ and declared ‘BSC’s giant news Redcar blast furnace is operating even better than anticipated’. In the first full week of operation, the furnace made 26,461 tonnes of iron, and a Teesside employee director declared: “We haven’t just lit a furnace at Redcar, we’ve set alight the Teesside Division, and hopefully, lit up the hearts of BSC steelmen everywhere.”

When first blown in, the blast furnace employed 437 people (in 1979, British Steel’s Teesside Works employed around 19,500 people) and over the decades, has brought work for thousands of Teessiders across the generations, including a number of people who worked at the blast furnace from its first day until the end and made lifelong friends there.

News piece on blast furnace

Output of the new furnace featured front and centre

Ups and downs

Life at the blast furnace has not been without its ups and downs, including record-breaking output to the global economic crisis in 2009 bringing reductions in output and 2010 bringing turmoil when the blast furnace was mothballed which prompted a huge campaign to save Teesside’s steel industry.

A short-lived reprieve came when SSI UK’s takeover saw the blast furnace relit on 15 April, 2012. However, the liquidation of SSI UK and the closure of the Teesside Steelworks in 2015 delivered a catastrophic blow for thousands on Teesside and brought to an end to a proud history of iron manufacturing that had shaped the district back to the Victorian era.

Staff at the Redcar Blast Furnace in 1979

Staff at the Redcar Blast Furnace, 1979

Heritage push

Dr Warwick has been a key part of the independent Teesworks Heritage Taskforce. This group was established by Tees Valley Mayor Houchen and is chaired by Redcar MP Jacob Young and Kate Willard OBE. It has led comprehensive efforts to preserve memories of the site for future generations alongside Historic England, former SSI UK PR director John Baker, and former steelworkers.

A 3D rendered model of the Redcar Blast Furnace is being created by Middlesbrough-based firm Animmersion. This will see the public able to virtually access the blast furnace in 2023. Work has also been done alongside local photographers to capture the Blast Furnace site as it’s changed.

Dr Tosh Warwick

Dr Tosh Warwick

Jacob Young, Conservative MP for Redcar and co-chair of the Teesworks Heritage Task Force, said: “Our steel industry spanned 170 years and has been a major part of what it means to be from Teesside.

“For many, the blast furnace holds a special place in their hearts as a monument to our proud history and so to see such a distinctive and evocative part of our skyline go is obviously a day to be met with mixed emotions.

“That’s why the Heritage Taskforce held an open consultation on the legacy of the steel works site. It’s worth noting that of those respondents that mentioned the Blast Furnace, more than half wanted to see it dismantled.

“I think that’s because the blast furnace in many ways represents the prosperity of an age now passed.

“People understand that we’re currently at the birth of a new green industrial revolution, one which will take us into the next century and beyond.

“This is a future which is already putting Teesside back on the map as a global centre for industry, bringing well-paid, high-quality jobs for thousands of local people.

“And so it is right that we look towards that future and make progress, even if that means having to let go of some of the symbols of our proud past.”

The Teesside Archive is keen to interview former steelworkers and those who worked in its supply chain as part of efforts to commemorate the wider site.

Taking place during November and December, the Teesside Archives team and partners – including former steelworkers – will be gathering memories through interviews with Teesside’s industrial communities to add to and enhance their collections as they capture experiences of this unique part of the area’s story.

Those interested in taking part can email: or leave their contact details at 01642 248321, and arrangements will be made to carry out interviews either in person or online.

More information can be found here:


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