A Childhood Playground Lost: The Fight for Mill Hill Slag Bank

These photographs sit tucked away in a dusty box, each one a portal to a simpler time. Images of a sprawling, uneven landscape bathed in afternoon light transport me back to my childhood. This wasn't your typical park playground, with brightly coloured equipment and smooth surfaces. This was the Mill Hill Slag Bank – a rough and tumble expanse that held a unique charm for a local boy like myself. 

The Slag Bank, as it was affectionately known, was a product of Cleator Moor's industrial past. Created by waste materials from the Cleator Moor Iron Foundry, which closed its doors in 1920, the slag formed an undulating terrain dotted with wildflowers and patches of scrubland. Far from being an eyesore, it became a haven for local wildlife and, more importantly, a playground for generations of children. 

My own memories are filled with scrapes and bruises earned from tackling the slag's slopes on my bicycle, building makeshift forts, and losing myself in imaginative adventures. It was a world teeming with possibilities – a far cry from the more structured play areas of today. It wasn't just me. The Slag Bank was a shared experience, a local legend whispered amongst kids, a place where friendships were forged and memories made.

However, by 2004, this treasured space was thrust into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The owners of the site, arrived with their plans for a housing project. The threat to the Slag Bank was palpable. It wasn't just a piece of land; it was a slice of our shared history, a refuge for nature, and the very heart of many childhoods.

Residents weren't going to let it disappear without a fight. A sense of determination coursed through the community. People rallied together, forming a united front to protect the Slag Bank from the bulldozers. Images of determined locals standing in the path of heavy machinery became a potent symbol of resistance. 

The fight wasn't merely sentimental. The Slag Bank, despite its industrial origins, had blossomed into a haven for biodiversity. Hidden amidst the slag heaps were at least four different species of orchids, delicate wildflowers fighting for space amongst the industrial debris. The site was also home to small mammals like rabbits and foxes, and even newts thrived in the damp undergrowth.

Local council involvement added another layer to the conflict. While Copeland Council had initially granted permission for exploratory work on the site, it was limited to a 28-day timeframe. Expansion beyond that required approval from the county council, the mineral authority. 

This twist presented an opportunity for the residents' campaign. They highlighted the Slag Bank's ecological significance, the delicate balance of the local ecosystem, and the crucial role it played in preserving native flora and fauna.

However, the council's response was disheartening. They deemed the land "brownfield," a designation often associated with contaminated or previously developed sites. Under this classification, the council argued for the principle of prioritising the use of such areas for new housing developments.

Despite the residents' valiant efforts, the fight for the Slag Bank was ultimately a losing one. The forces of development proved too strong. Soon, the rumble of machinery replaced the laughter of children playing. The Slag Bank, once a vibrant green lung in the heart of the community, started vanishing beneath a growing sprawl of houses.

The story of the Mill Hill Slag Bank is a microcosm of a larger struggle – the clash between progress and preservation. Development undoubtedly brings economic benefits, but often at a cost. In this case, the cost was a unique piece of land with a rich history and a thriving ecosystem.

The photographs continue to serve as a reminder, a bittersweet window into a lost world. While progress is necessary, it shouldn't come at the expense of irreplaceable green spaces and the stories they hold. 

Perhaps the story of the Slag Bank can serve as a cautionary tale. As communities face future development projects, the fight should not be about outright opposition, but about finding a balance between progress and preservation. Can we not build the future while acknowledging and protecting the value of the past? Can we not find innovative ways to integrate nature into the cityscape, creating spaces that are both beautiful and functional?

The loss of the Slag Bank is a reminder of what we stand to lose if we fail to value these unique pockets of wilderness within our communities. They are testaments to our industrial heritage, sanctuaries for wildlife, and cherished childhood haunts. Let's strive to learn from the past and ensure that future generations have access to green spaces that spark their own sense of wonder and adventure.

  • Sorry about the image quality - digital cameras were still in their infancy when I captured these photographs. 

Mill Hill Slag Bank, Cleator Moor
Mill Hill Slag Bank

Mill Hill Slag Bank, Cleator Moor
Mill Hill Slag Bank

Mill Hill Slag Bank, Cleator Moor
Mill Hill Slag Bank

Mill Hill Slag Bank, Cleator Moor
Mill Hill Slag Bank

Mill Hill Slag Bank, Cleator Moor
Mill Hill Slag Bank

Comments

  1. A blast from the past. Thanks for this Sean. I have some great memories of the slag bank. The black puddings and much more!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lol. I best explain. People will think we were eating black puddings up there! The black puddings that JJ refers to were huge circular pieces of slag glass, which is a byproduct of iron ore smelting. The glass was actually dark blue in colour. It can be quite valuable now, with small pieces selling for around £20. I wish we knew better back then, as we'd have very healthy bank accounts by now.

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