Oooooh, Heaven is a place on Earth

by Mark Pinder

These photos are of the former Steetley Magnesite magnesium works at Hartlepool. I had seen this plant many times in passing from the train when it was still working, but was not aware that it had closed down in 2005.

The landscape of the north-east coastal strip from Teesside through the former mining areas of East Durham up to Tyneside has always fascinated me.

It is an area I have explored quite extensively over the past twenty-five years or so, but still has the ability to surprise. Last week was one of those days.

I thought I’d spend an afternoon having a wander round the Headland area of Hartlepool, but on the way, I stopped off to have an explore through a tunnel running under the railway line nearby.

Fuck me! I got to the end of the tunnel and thought I’d somehow dropped through a hole in the space time continuum and landed in a Tarkosvsky movie, or maybe some planet from Blake 7 or Skaro. I half expected a Dalek to trundle past at any moment, this place was weird whichever way you looked at it. It was just how I like it, post apocalyptic and dystopian. Lovely!

The architecture of the process ponds felt like some kind of gladiatorial arena, and during a brief period of sunshine I was reminded of a middle-eastern downtown or a version of Baghdad perhaps  briefly glimpsed in atrocity photographs of the aftermath of that more modern form of religious massacre, the car or suicide bomb.

We photographers, (on the whole), love exploring and there is quite a thriving sub-culture of urban explorers who are fascinated by the poignancy and eeriness of abandoned landscapes or buildings that still hold some tangible links to the activities and life of their former occupiers, (just have a look at the 28DL or Urbex forums for examples), and in this instance I really thought I’d hit the mother lode.

This site is unusual though, in that it is open and not fenced off or security patrolled. I used to do quite a bit of exploring on abandoned sites, (often spooking the willies out of myself in the process), but as official attitude to security, risk and trespass has changed over recent times, so has my attitude to being caught. Whereas once, if you were caught, you’d be told off and asked to leave, or sometimes have a really interesting chat with the person who found you when they saw no harm was intended, these days, the jobs-worth mentality has really come to the fore, and being busted will now result in prosecution or arrest threats, and I really can’t be bothered with those kinds of consequences. Permission can be sought of course, but for the reasons mentioned above is generally declined.

In this instance though, to quote Arnie, (in his guise as another product of a dystopian future), ‘I’ll be back’.