Derwenthaugh Coke Works
From 1986-1989 Graeme Rigby (writer) and myself worked together over a ten month period to document both the closure of the Derwenthaugh Coke Works and the opening of the Gateshead Metro Centre Shopping Mall.
In the aftermath of the Miners’ Strike of 1984, the closure of the Derwenthaugh Coke works was announced as one of the early casualties. As part of its approach to the encouragement of an entrepreneurial culture, the then Conservative government was establishing of Enterprise Zones, where, for an initial period, new businesses would be allowed to operate rate-free and with fewer local authority/planning controls. One of these zones ran along the South Bank of the River Tyne in Gateshead, not far from the Cokeworks site in the Derwent Valley. The building of the Metro Centre, the UK’s first, American style, out o town shopping experience, was the key development in the Gateshead Enterprise Zone. A major investment by the Church Commissioners, it made the name of local property developer John Hall, who promoted a vision of Thatcherism with northern roots.
“I used to sit in the fields looking down on that place. I used to say there’s no way they will ever get me working there. It’s my vision of Hell, that and yet I loved working in the Coke works.”
“I remember years ago, when I started, thirteen years ago, my father’s dead now, but he said:”
“Why, that place is closing. I mean its been closing for and its been closing but when it actually happens its ‘s a hell of a shock. Some people are jumping for joy but I was nearly bubbling. I’m a plate by trade. I’ve been in the factories all my life and all the factories are closing down, this was my last haven, my last resort. When I got there I thought I’d last out here till I was sixty-five. But I’m on the scrap heap now”.
“I smoked 30 a day and worked on top of the ovens for 30 years. I was never sure which was going to kill me first.”