“On Metal Beach” is the title of an essay by Richard Hamblyn which is taken from one of the recommended books for the original landscape course. It talks about a tripo with Jem Southam along the beach from Harrington to Workington on the Cumbrian coast. For around 150 years the beach was used as a dumping ground for slag and other wastes from the iron and steel works which marked the Cumbrian coast. The result is a weird and wonderful collection of slag cliffs, waste iron blobs – can’t think of a better word – and casts resulting from the slag cooling in the ladles prior to tipping on the beach. The nearest natural equivalent I have seen is some of the landscape in Iceland – although being totally natural it lacks some of the geometric regularity of the forms visible on “metal beach”.
Though the casts are quite regular some of the materials are surprisingly organic, frozen bubbles reminiscent of egg cases, stromatolites and the fossilised bones of an indusry now departed.
So what does this have to do with documentary? I can’t help the feeling that this is a site worthy of recognition and preservation. A huge chunk of the areas industrial heritage is slowly and inexorably eroding into the sea. The functioning signs of an industry capable of producing a slag bank a mile long and more than 100 feet high are long gone.Within a couple of decades nearly everyone who has first hand experience of this will be gone. There are undoubtedly projects about which I know nothing which seek to preserve the memories of those involved, but these mute objects – with their strange and violent conceptions and puzzling purposes attract me far more. Here is something I can use a camera to explore.