From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Steetley Magnesite

County Durham
54°42'35.4"N 1°12'47.1"W

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Steetley Magnesite, also known as Hartlepool Magnesia Works and Palliser Works, is located in Hartlepool in County Durham.

Originally known as The Steetley Lime and Building Stone Company and was named after the small hamlet of Steetley which is located near Worksop, in Nottinghamshire. They owned a small dolomite quarry producing high quality building stone, some of which was used in the building of the Houses of Parliament.

New processes in the steel industry in the mid 18th century caused the company to change direction. A demand for stronger furnace linings made from dolomite helped secure Steetley's future. It was discovered that dolomite could be converted into a hard burnt lime and became known as Doloma. A continuous shaft kiln was built to make the production of Doloma more efficient.

Demand for Doloma increased rapidly and new sources for Doloma were required, in 1904 the company purchased the Coxhoe quarries in Durham and built another shaft kiln. By the start of World War I both quarries were producing over 50,000 tonnes a year and by the end, in 1918 the output of Doloma had doubled.

Because of the war, the steel works realised they needed regular reliable supplies of Doloma. They invested heavily in the company which allowed them to purchase most of the high quality Dolomite quarries around the country. The investment paid off, by 1923 the output had reached 150,000 tonnes a year. The company became public to enable it to grow further. By 1930, they merged with three other companies. In 1935 they acquired the Conisborough Cliff Company.

The steel industry also required refractory bricks made from calcined magnesite and began to demand higher quantities. As there are no natural deposits in Britain, the Steetley company experimented using Doloma as an alternative but these failed.

A new way had to be found to produce Magnesite.The Steetley Company believed that it was possible to separate the magnesite from the lime in Doloma. A research and development department was built at Worksop in 1936. This explored the idea of reacting dolomite lime with seawater which had been done by a small company in California the year before using lime from oyster shells.

Successful experiments led to the purchase of a 24 acre coastal site at Hartlepool in 1937. £10,000 were invested in building a pilot plant which was known as the Palliser Works, after fortifications let over from the war. The British Periclase Company was drafted in to build and operate a full scale magnesite plant.

The following year, with the threat of war, the existing plant was increased in size to enable the output of 10,000 tonnes a year. In 1939, World War II was underway, Hartlepool was the only source of magnesite available to Britain and it was marketed under the brand name of Britmag. The demand for the magnesite was huge, war production of steel expanded tremendously and the expansion of the Hartlepool site was of paramount importance.

The government requested that a second plant should be built, the site at Harrington, near Workington on the Cumberland coast was chosen. This was completed in 1941 and soon fell into government hands along side the Hartlepool plant. The Harrington site was used for the production or Magnesium which was vital for munitions and aircraft frames. After the war, the government kept both sites until 1952 when they gave back control to the Steetley company. In 1954 they closed the Harrington Works.

Reinvestment of profits saw major expansion in the early 1960's, capacity was increased yet again, new settling tanks, a 2,000ft pier was built to provide fresh seawater to the plant. All of which helped the company to produce roughly 250,000 tonnes a year. Some of this was high quality grade Magnesia.

The 1970's brought a new challenge to the company. An energy crisis forced investment into more efficient technology and expansion abroad to overcome a loss of profits. The steel industry started to decline and also new techniques resulted in a demand for higher quality lime products.

In the 1980's, recession hit the steel industry hard. Many companies collapsed which led to a decline the construction, engineering and chemical companies. The Steetley company came under attack in the form of takeover bids and increased competition.

The Steetley company was finally bought out by Redland Plc in 1992. They ran the plant at Hartlepool for about five years until it was sold in 1997. The new company called Britmag could not compete and went into administration in 2002. A solution was found to keep the plant open and the company CJC Chemicals was born. This proved to be short lived as they closed the plant in 2005.

The site at Hartlepool was partly demolished, leaving the reaction tanks and settling tanks almost intact. The site was asset stripped, most of all the steel and valuable items sold. It now sits as an industrial wasteland. Anglers use the pier to fish in the deeper water. The settling tanks were breached to drain the water away when it was discovered that children were using them as swimming pools.