Coalite Plant, Bolsover, Derbyshire, September 2019

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People's Republic of South Yorkshire.
1. The History
Close to Junction 29A of the M1, near Bolsover, the former Coalite site covers a huge 120 acres. Coalite is a brand of low-temperature coke used as a smokeless fuel. The title refers to the residue left behind when coal is carbonised at 640 degrees C and the fact it lighter than coal. It was invented by Thomas Parker in 1904. It was popular as domestic use due to its attractive flame. The downsides are that is burns quickly, it produces a lot of ash and gives of sulphurous fumes. Two years after Thomas Parker died in 1915, the forerunner of the Coalite company was formed with the building of a production unit at Barugh near Barnsley. Then in the 1920s, two more plants at Askern (near Doncaster) and at East Greenwich (in London) were opened.

In 1936 the Smoke Abatement Society awarded its inventor a posthumous gold medal. In April 1937, the main manufacturing plant at Buttermilk Lane, Bolsover in Derbyshire was opened by Prince George, Duke of Kent. Back in the day it was the largest one of its type in the world. By that time Coalite had a group of companies with Derbyshire Coalite Co.Ltd running the solid fuel production at Bolsover. Coal was delivered by rail to the site from the nearby Bolsover colliery.

Picture of the plant from the 1930s:

48797694436_ef744e9363_z.jpgCoalite by HughieDW, on Flickr

By 1939, the company was also producing a low-octane petrol called "Coalene" in addition to diesel and other fuel oils. It was a key supplier to both the army and navy during World War II. Post-war, in 1952 the Head Office address was moved from London to Bolsover. In 1956, after the introduction of the Clean Air Act 1956 Coalite was licensed as an "authorised fuel" and demand increased, and the company expanded accordingly. Additionally, in the 1950s, Coalite’s older plants were closed and production concentrated at the expanded Bolsover and Askern plants. The coal oil and liquor from all these plants was processed at the central refinery at the Bolsover plant. At its peak, in 1972, the Bolsover site employed 1,200 people.

Old Coalite advert:

48797337293_c27c5b24ed_b.jpg2019-09-26_10-02-09 by HughieDW, on Flickr

In 1986 the group acquired Hargreaves Fuel distribution services creating a very diverse and with many subsidiaries that were unrelated to its core business (including sheep farming!). Their profile was further raised by sponsoring Chesterfield FC. The solid-fuel side of the business began to shrink (as it lost out to cheaper natural gas) in the 1980s and the company was taken over by Anglo United in 1989. During the 1990s there were financial difficulties. This was down to the relatively small Anglo United had borrowed heavily (from HSBC) to buy the much larger Coalite group. The intention had been to service this debt by asset stripping Coalite's many subsidiaries. However, the sell-off did not realise as much cash as expected and even a raid on the company pension fund did little to reduce the debt. Deprived of critical investment funds, by the late 90s it was making losses of £2 million per annum. The adverse publicity over land and river pollution further adversely affected the sales of its products.

In 2002, Anglo was bought by a consortium. They duly transferred all the group’s debt over to Coalite and the company then went into receivership. The ovens continued producing Coalite until the Bolsover works finally closed down in 2004. It first went into administration and then receivership, leaving a considerable number of redundant employees with much reduced pensions. From 2005 the Bolsover works were gradually cleared, and the buildings demolished. Bolsover Land Ltd bought the land in 2012 with an aim to both regenerate a large contaminated brownfield site and to help reduce the pressure on the protected north Derbyshire green belt. From November 2016, decontamination of the area began. In the same year it was reported that more than 650 new homes could be built, and 1,500 jobs created under an exciting masterplan for the derelict Coalite site. Bolsover District Council also granted outline planning permission to develop 31 hectares of the site for general industrial purposes and warehousing. Subsequently nothing materialised and the site still remained a sprawling empty industrial wasteland.

Bolsover Land Limited, a joint venture between and DSM Group and Marcol Industrial, backed by Derbyshire County Council, had plans to bring the former chemical plant back into use. Initial costs for the development had been £23 million. However in July 2019 new broke that HS2 will cut straight through the site resulting in no homes being built. Instead, the site would now only offer warehouse space for new businesses, with work not starting until next year and will not be completed until 2024.

2. The Explore
If you search 28DL you’ll see quite a few reports on the site circa 2006 onwards when the works had been closed down but not yet demo’ed. Understandably the reports dried up once the majority of the site had been demoed and the place pretty much forgotten about. Recently having passed the site will on my way to another place I latterly searched GoogleMaps and spotted parts of the works that appear to sit be in situ. Hence early one Autumn morning I took the short drive over there. It was a very easy in and it didn’t take long for me to find the two bits of the site still remaining – the water supply works by the river Doe Lea and some oil storage tanks. Only representing a fraction of this massive site, it certainly merited an hours mooch. This has more so been made the case by the vast amounts of lovely graff work by two of my fave artists Brayk and Colorquix.

Word of caution though. Don’t walk between the two storage tanks. Got my walking boots covered in some for of crude oil stuff and despite washing them had to bin them!

3. The Pictures

First up is what appears to be some sort of weigh-bridge area:

48784798596_291ea6c81a_b.jpgCoalite 20 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48784433673_fe0e15a8f6_b.jpgCoalite 22 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48784432923_c7070e39f7_b.jpgCoalite 24 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48784958482_d2cbb88045_b.jpgCoalite 25 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Then it’s on to the waterworks bit. And greeted by some lovely Brayk:

48784422038_3de5f4ae94_b.jpgCoalite 01 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48784430348_e0d547780b_b.jpgCoalite 28 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48784794911_a9b02683d8_b.jpgCoalite 27 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48784958032_04e25236d8_b.jpgCoalite 26 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48784418933_56599fe558_b.jpgCoalite 06 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Loads of Colorquix:

48784947207_48d2be96d0_b.jpgCoalite 03 by HughieDW, on Flickr

This looks like some sort of cooling-frame?

48784419748_49bfa38f07_b.jpgCoalite 05 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48783786111_d0c32a7516_b.jpgimg3164 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48783946152_0858b3e093_b.jpgimg3165 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Brayk flaunting it:

48783426733_e29362c4d9_b.jpgimg3161 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Then it’s onto the oil storage area:

48784394953_3b6c6d578e_b.jpgimg3175 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48784418088_6ccd0dfca5_b.jpgCoalite 08 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Not too sure what this piece of machinery did:

48784939402_e3244870ea_b.jpgCoalite 16 by HughieDW, on Flickr

One of my fave bits of graff:

48784776471_0b9f75c9b9_b.jpgCoalite 17 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Almost too much lovely graff to take in:

48784373333_37e63490ea_b.jpgimg3197 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Gotta love Colorquix:

48784916782_5903159f4c_b.jpgimg3178 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Some serious interconnecting pipeage:

48784942122_70eac21a9e_b.jpgCoalite 12 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48784377583_ba1efa07e9_b.jpgimg3190 by HughieDW, on Flickr

This is the oil marsh to avoid!

48784385268_32725ecfb4_b.jpgimg3183 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48784942457_c27a8a365e_b.jpgCoalite 11 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48784938267_af755e846e_b.jpgCoalite 18 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48784943067_5654c7134c_b.jpgCoalite 10 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48784736121_0aecd34fbd_b.jpgimg3200 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And, finally, the tower of doom! Did I climb it? Nope. Chickened out. I know…

48784889142_048f38ce6c_b.jpgimg3211 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48784361648_b907306166_b.jpgimg3212 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48784884747_9ffd4e4e3a_b.jpgimg3215 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48784412013_154815475f_b.jpgCoalite 19 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Finally, finally, spare a thought for those that never made it out…

48784881682_ccc4dbe015_b.jpgimg3219 by HughieDW, on Flickr


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Jan 23, 2013
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I see the girl graffiti in quite a lot of places; does anyone know the story behind it?

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