© Copyright Helen Wilkinson and licensed for
Anyone familiar with the upper reaches of the Wear Valley during the late 20th century will remember the blot on the landscape that was the Weardale Cement Works. As well as, of course, being the area’s chief employer for the best part of four decades, the factory’s lofty tower served as a useful landmark for disoriented ramblers.
The main ingredient of cement is ground limestone, and limestone quarrying has been a popular pastime in these parts since at least the 1840s. So when cement was ‘invented’ and its production encouraged in the early 20th century, the existing activity in the Wear Valley made it a likely spot for the manufacture of the new-fangled construction material. It wasn’t until the 1960s, though, that the industry set up shop at the location in question, a little to the west of Eastgate.
The whole complex was spread over a large area. On the valley side to the south was the quarry itself; a little above this was sited the plant which crushed the stone; and a long conveyor belt took the spewed out material down and across the valley to the north bank where the rest of the cement production was, via a series of complex chemical processes, completed. The conveniently located Weardale Railway then took the finished product eastwards towards civilisation, though a good deal of it left the works in the familiar bright yellow livery of the Blue Circle lorries.
The large chimney formed part of the latter works, being the smokestack of the kiln. Beginning life in 1965, the works themselves, though, enjoyed a relatively short-lived existence. The famous Blue Circle brand was taken over by French firm Lafarge in 2001, and operations ceased the following year when the company decided to concentrate its efforts on plants elsewhere in the country. By 2006 the whole plant had been demolished – and ramblers now wander lost among the fells with no guiding light to steer them home.
The photo above shows the demolition process taking place, with, it seems, the famous tower being the last element to fall.