When my then-future wife and I moved to Glossop, thirteen years ago, the chimney at the Ferro Alloys site at the industrial estate on Surrey Street had been quiet for several years.
The skyline from many points near our house was still dominated by the sleeping giant and without its smoke it was easy to come to think of the chimney as a benign landmark and divorce it from the problems endured by the last couple of generations of Glossopians. From the hills around the town it formed a focal point and, albeit unlit, a beacon, pointing, and calling, towards home.
The site is next to the Surrey Street home ground of Glossop North End football club. Glossop is the smallest town to have fielded a club in the top division of English football, during which time they beat the likes of Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest. If you’re trying to remember whether you saw those memorable occasions on telly on a rainy Saturday in your childhood, don’t put yourself to any further effort: they took place during the season of 1899-1900.
As it turned out, and to widespread delight, the giant was not sleeping but dead. And now it’s been given the dignity of perhaps the closest thing huge metal industrial chimneys can get to a decent burial: teams of workers have been beetling away around, above and even, from what I could see, at one point inside it and the site where it had stood since it was finished in 1978 has finally been cleared.
Between 1978 and its closure the chimney was quiet during wakes weeks and at Christmas, but otherwise produced a constant plume of gases and smoke with which it bathed the surrounding houses and fields and the lungs of the captive audiences of sheep and babies.
I would, I think, come down wholly in favour of closing the factory and removing the chimney, but more generally its decline is a symptom of a broadly bad state of affairs with the manufacturing industries. We’ve only lost the wakes weeks because there are no workers left who would benefit.
As someone with an – albeit precarious – career in a different sphere, I don’t directly feel the loss of jobs in the factory and others like it in Glossop, and crouching in other nearby valleys, but we’ve lost them, and it is a loss, to the point where it’s hard to imagine what the town must have been like when they were in full bloom, and it’s perhaps harder still to imagine the beasts reawakened.
We’ve also lost the products of the industrial processes so many of us are glad to see the back of. No doubt some of them are still needed but are produced elsewhere, so overall we haven’t suffered or benefited, but the distribution of benefits has been given a shake. Some distant unpronounceable region gets jobs and pollution, and round here we get industrial decline and a loss of whole employment sectors, but the filth and poison is no longer, as it used to be almost literally for many living in the centre of Glossop, in our back yards.
The chemistry of it is, I suppose, quite interesting, but this isn’t the time for fine details. The headline message is that the chimney, in its pomp, allowed the air of Glossop to suck up enormous quantities of sulphur dioxide, present as a by-product of smelting molybdenum sulphide to molybdenum oxide, which the company did to produce an important ingredient in the production of high-temperature steel.
This is, naturally, all fine and well in its proper place, but the people of Glossop protested from the beginning that the siting of the factory in the town would lead inevitably to trouble.
A chimney of this sort would disperse its emissions if not harmlessly then at least in a not immediately noticeable way were it to be built on high ground, or in the middle of a large plain. Glossop is not a large town, and the hills and high moors stand close on three sides. At the top of the chimney there were spiral attachments which, I’m reliably told, served to funnel air up along the stack and high into the air to carry away the fumes. It worked only to some extent.
Though to the west Glossopdale opens out onto the motorway to Stockport and Manchester, its eastern end, giving on to Snake Pass and bounded by the Pennine Way, rises steeply above the level of the town, and the highest point on Bleaklow, Glossop’s technical mountain – that is to say, it’s technically a mountain; I should think it provides no excitement to adventurous climbers – does its best to loom with its summit of 2,077 feet. The summit, it has to be said, is one of those summits whose neighbours might resent it for winning the competition for summithood by only a matter of inches, but in this instance that only makes the problem worse, hemming the whole valley in by high moors and channelling the emissions back towards the houses and towards the schools.
Rather than rising a few hundred feet in the air and scattering over a relatively safe area, all that lovely sulphur dioxide rose a few hundred feet in the air, caught the wind, smacked straight into the sides of the valley and flowed right back into town. I’ve heard, from a lifelong resident, that the grass on the surrounding access land would routinely be dusted with a blue powder.
Well now it’s gone. I suspect a mixture of increasing popular pressure and decreasing viability contributed to its downfall, or at least its measured dismantling, over the course of this last week.
Until the final stages I have been able to see the work being carried out from my back garden, along the same road where the chimney was a feature. On reflection, peering over the fence with binoculars is not designed to put one’s neighbours at their ease.