‘Real Fire’ Commission, 1984
This work was one of five photographic projects commissioned by the Solid Fuel Advisory Service, in conjunction with Yorkshire Arts Association and Humberside College of Art. The SFAS represented all aspects of the solid fuel industry ranging from the production and distribution of smokeless fuel to the manufacture of smokeless fuel burning appliances. This work was commissioned in late 1983, the photographs were taken during January, February and March, 1984.
My chosen brief was to photograph people employed in the solid fuel industry and associated companies in South Yorkshire. My particular interest was to record and interpret the environmental conditions of work, that is, the surroundings and work spaces people inhabit throughout their working lives.
I photographed 3 principal work places; they were the harsh open landscapes of the solid fuel storage and distribution depots of South Yorkshire, the nightshift workers at the Bolsover and Grimethorpe Coalite plants and in contrast the personalised interior spaces of blue collar and white collar workers who present a sense of ownership and territoriality to their workspace.
Coalite was a smokeless fuel that was developed during the late 1930’s to reduce smoke pollution caused from burning coal in domestic home fires. As natural gas became a cheaper and cleaner alternative to burning solid fuel during the 1980’s the demand for smokeless fuel fell.
The Coalite plant at Bolsover opened in 1937 closing in 2004, at its height it employed over 1200 men and was the largest plant of its type in the world. The Grimethorpe Coalite plant opened in 1938 and closed in 1994, both closures resulting in considerable redundancies.
The NUM Miners Strike started in March 1984 ended in defeat in March 1985. The strike was an attempt to prevent colliery closures and preserve the mining communities for which the countries prosperity had depended on for so many years. The NUM’s defeat was a victory for the Thatcher Conservative government, which left the broken pit town communities in South Yorkshire in poverty. In 1994 a European Union study on deprivation listed Grimethorpe as the poorest village the country.
This work was exhibited at the Impressions Gallery, York and Humberside College of Art, Hull. A selection of those images from that exhibition can be seen here.
These photographs were taken using a Nikon F3 camera and Metz 45 CT-1 flashgun.
All images are Strictly Copyright © 2017 Bill Stephenson All Rights Reserved.
[RF 001] Lorenzo Marchetta, Nightshift Scannerman, Bolsover Coalite plant. Lorenzo together with other Coalite workers were recruited on mass from impoverished villages in southern Italy soon after the war.
[RF 002] Michel Stoddard, Nightshift Boiler Ash Man & Steve Arthur, Nightshift Fitter. Bolsover Coalite plant.
[RF 003] Nightshift workers, Bolsover Coalite plant.
[RF 004] Coalite worker inspecting a ‘battery oven’. Grimethorpe Coalite plant.
[RF 005] Roger Williams. Age17. Apprentice Wielder. Grimethorpe Coalite plant.
[RF 006] Loading Coal. Manvers Coal Distribution Depot, Mexborough.
[RF 007] ‘Mr Shifter’ and Mate, Coal merchants, Manvers Coal Distribution Depot, Mexborough.
[RF 008] ‘Mr Shifter’ and Mate, Coal merchants, Manvers Coal Distribution Depot, Mexborough.
[RF 009] General Labourers. Manvers Coal Distribution Depot, Mexborough.
[RF 010] Loading solid fuel. Manvers Coal Distribution Depot, Mexborough.
[RF 011] Worker at Bolsover Coalite plant.
[RF 012] Spraying solid fuel boilers,Trianco Redfyre Ltd. Sheffield. Trianco Redfyre Ltd, is a leading heating product manufacturer, specialising in stoves and boilers.
[RF 013] Tony Bailey & Alastair Hamill await their 12 o’clock appointment. They are visiting Sales Representatives from Gulf Oil. Grimethorpe Coalite plant.
[RF 014] Steve Scott. YTS Trainee Warehouseman. Fire Craft House Warming and Tile Centre, Doncaster. He later left to join the army.
[RF 015] Ruth Barnes. Age 20. Showroom Assistant, Fire Craft House Warming and Tile Centre Doncaster.
[RF 016] Joe Stacey, General Works Manager, Trianco Redfyre Ltd, Sheffield.
[RF 017] Assembly Line Production Assistant. Trianco Redfyre Ltd. Sheffield.
[RF 018] Enid Green, Director’s Secretary. Trianco Redfyre Ltd Sheffield.
[RF 019] Peter Bowler, Senior Foreman. Trianco Redfyre Ltd. Sheffield.
[RF 020] Office manager. Trianco Redfyre Ltd. Sheffield.
[RF 021] Karen Wagstaff, Clerk and Typist. Bolsover Coalite plant.
[RF 022] General Labourer at Bolsover Coalite plant.
[RF 023] Janet Bradley, Canteen General Assistant. Trianco Redfyre Ltd. Sheffield
[RF 024] Paul Moore, Technical Assistant, Bolsover Coalite plant.
[RF 025] Rita Wagstaff. Assembly Shop Inspector, Trianco Redfyre Ltd, Sheffield. The newspaper cutting is of Richard Chamberlain, from the popular TV series ‘The Thorn Birds’.