Redcar Coke Works
Metal production on Teesside goes back to the 1840s following the discovery of iron ore in the Cleveland Hills. The first ironworks was opened by Bolckow, Vaughn and Co in 1941 and by 1855 about 60 blast furnaces were operating in the surroundings of Middlesborough. Around that time, Arthur John Dorman, the son of a Kentish tanning yard owner, relocated to Teeside to serve as an apprentice in one of the local ironworks. Over time he rose to the position of assistant manager and in 1876 he partnered with the financier Albert de Lande Long, to acquired the West Marsh Ironworks at Middlesbrough, consisting of about 20 puddling furnaces and three rolling mills, This deal marked the beginning of the “Dorman Long and Co. Ltd.”. Burgeoning trade let to the acquisition in 1879 of the Britannia Works from Bernhard Samuelson which increased the number of puddling furnaces operated by Dorman at long to about 120. Shortly afterwards, the firm switched to new steelmaking technologies, such as the open-hearth furnaces and the Bessemer converter which allowed the large scale production of steel. Over the years several other acquisitions followed and in 1902 they build the first fully integrated steelworks, involving conversion of iron ore to finished rolled steel shapes, at Cargo Fleet.
When World War One started in 1914 Dorman Long had 20,000 workers and was on of the dominant firms on Teeside and a major British steel producer. After becoming a major manufacturer of shells for the war effort they started to construct a £4.5m plant at Redcar, which opened in 1917. As such Dorman Long was the first non-armaments company in Britain to produce shells for the war effort. In 1915, they also bought the Walker Maynard & Co steelworks at Redcar. By 1923 the Redcar steelworks covered 150 acres and employed 2500 people. At this stage Dorman and Long was easily the largest iron, steel and coal company in Britain. After WWI, Dorman Long further diversified and entered the bridge-building industry and won a raft of contracts to build what are now iconic bridges such as the Sidney Harbour Bridge (1923), the Tyne Bridge (1928) and the Auckland Harbour Bridge (1946). In 1929, Dorman Long merged with the oldest steelmaker on Tesside, namely Bolckow Vaughan and Co to form the largest steel, iron and engineering business in the British Empire.
Over the next few decades the fortunes of Dorman Long slowly declined although by 1963 they were still the 38th largest steel producer in the world, employed around 25000 people and were responsible for about a quarter of the British structural steel output. In 1967, Dorman Long merged with South Durham and Stewarts and Loyds to form British Steel & Tube, which was the largest steel producer in Britain, and one of the largest steel manufacturers in the world, with an annual output of over five-million tons. British Steel & Tube was nationalised later that year under the name British Steel. It was under the auspices of British Steel that the site development of the existing steelworks at Redcar began in 1973. In 1979 the new blast furnace opens at Redcar. It is the second largest of its kind in Europe and Teesside’s sole remaining blast furnace.
In 1988 British Steel was privatised to become the British Steel Plc. which merged in 1999 with the Dutch steel producer Koninklijke Hoogovens to form Corus Group, which was bought by Tata Steel in 2007. Two years later Corus announced partial mothballing of the Teesside blast furnace, which resulted in approximately 2000 job losses. Another two years passed before the Redcar steelworks were purchased by Thai-based Sahaviriya Steek Industries (SSI). The $470 million acquisition was expected to create more than 800 jobs on top of the existing workforce of 700 and the plant was officially reopened 15 April 2012. However, due to poor steel trading conditions and a significant decline in steel prices production ceased and in September 2015 production ceased and the plant was mothballed. A month later SSI went into liquidation and as no new buyer could be found Redcar steelworks were closed for good.
Around 2019/2020 it was decided to demolish all the abandoned steelworks on Teeside. The Dorman-Long Tower at the Southbank Coke Works was blown up in September 2021, the batteries of the Coke works having almost entirely disappeared already. Demolition at all the other sites such as Redcar and Lackenby is progressing rapidly.
How does it work?
In simple terms, bituminous coal is transported to a top of a tall structure, known as a charging tower. From there coal is dropped into the charging car, which travels along the top of the battery, discharging coal into one of the ovens. Inside the ovens the coal is baked in the absence of air, usually at a temperature in the region of 1,000 °C. Volatile products are driven off and are processed at the by-products plant. At an integrated steelworks such as Teesside, gas from the coke ovens is used as a fuel in the power station. When the baking process is complete a coke pusher car removes the oven door and uses a ram to push the burning coke out of the oven. A coke guide car is stationed on the opposite side of the oven to remove the retrospective door and guide the coke into a railway wagon. The burning coke needs to be cooled down quickly to prevent it from complete combustion. This is carried out by a quenching tower, of a similar appearance to a cooling tower, where jets of water cool the coke down, but a low moisture content is required for greatest efficiency.
The resulting coke is an important ingredient of the production of iron in a blast furnace, as a source of carbon monoxide it will reduce the iron oxide in the ore to iron, as well as providing the intense heat necessary to melt the iron ore.