A trip to Inkerman

Inkerman isn’t the kind of name you would normally associate with the small town of Tow Law high up above Weardale in County Durham, but the connections are there. In 1854 the Durham Light Infantry, known then as 68th Regiment of Foot nicknamed The Faithful Durhams, fought in one of the most important battles of the Crimean War. It took place on a freezing cold foggy day in November, and it was said that the Durhams where the only regiment to have fought in their red jackets, since they alone took off their greatcoats during this winter battle. Since that day the anniversary of 5th of November was celebrated by the regiment as Inkerman Day, so it makes sense to find the name of this distant battle here on the edge of the Durham coal fields.  

It wasn’t until Charles Atwood built his Iron works in 1840’s that Tow Law started to grow from  a tiny farmstead to town with a population of 5000 people. Six blast furnaces were built and they were fuelled by coal from the nearby collieries, such as Black Prince, Royal George and West Edward. The coal was not burned in its raw farm. Instead it was first turned into coke, by baking it in an oven to drive off the impurities. At the beginning of the industrial revolution this was done in beehive shaped brick ovens. Thousands of these were built across County Durham but very few of them survive today, and some of the last few stand beside the Inkerman Road.  

The morning I chose to visit the remains of the Inkerman Coke Ovens was cold and foggy which felt like the right kind of weather to visit this place. Now standing beside a coal yard, these strange conical structures look more like something that belongs to a Scottish Broch or ancient burial tomb than heavy industry. But as you peer inside one of collapsed ovens it’s clear to see the charred bricks, fused together by the extreme heat used during the oven’s firing. Maybe the coke made in these ovens produced the iron and steel rifles and bayonets used by the 68th on that day? The 1840’s also saw the birth of photography with Fox Tolbot announcing his discovery of the Calotype process, and it was during the Crimean War the new art form was used to document the conflict. So it seemed fitting to use some of Tolbot’s techniques to create my prints.

Inkerman Oven

Inkerman Oven.

90mm Schneider Angulon lens, F8. Fomapan 100 developed in Prescysol. Salt Print.

Inside Coke Oven

Charred Bricks.

90mm Schneider Angulon lens, F8. Fomapan 100 developed in Prescysol. Salt Print.

I used Randall Webb’s formula to create my salt prints taken from his book Spirit of Salt, if you see a copy get it, it’s a superb book!! As I was leaving the site I noticed an inscription carved into a wooden post

“For many hearts with cool ore chorred and few remember”

W. Owen

The words of the war poet Wilfred Owen seemed appropriate for this place.

Thanks

Graham

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6 comments on “A trip to Inkerman

  1. George says:

    very nice Graham, Having served with a Royal Artillery Battery during my career which had a battle honour from Inkerman this was very interesting 🙂

  2. McEff says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed that, Graham. I’ve driven through Tow Law many times, even went up there to buy some hens off a chap recently, but had no idea those ovens existed. I have even heard of the name Inkerman being associated with Tow Law but had not given it a seccond thought. It just illustrates the wealth of history and tradition there is out there waitting to be found.
    Cheers, Alen McF

    • grahamvasey says:

      Cheers Alen the place is a real gem, I saw some pictures of it years ago in a book called “Secret Landscapes” by Wynford Vaughan-Thomas and Michael Hales and I always planned to make a visit. I was so pleased that it hadn’t been over tidied up and there still was a rawness about the place, definitely worth going back! 🙂

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