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Report - - Cockerill-Sambre, Seraing, Belgium – July 2018 | European and International Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - Cockerill-Sambre, Seraing, Belgium – July 2018


crashed.out

28DL Full Member
28DL Full Member
This visit was one of those beautiful accidents that happened whilst having an evening cycle ride around the former industrial areas near Liège, Belgium, last summer. Suffice to say that the ride was canned pretty quickly and some exploration followed! Asbestos concerns stopped play after a little while, so please bear this in mind if you take a look around this site. It’s also quite useful taking a bike as it provides a rapid means of being able to foxtrot-oscar as the collapse of the industry here has left an unemployment rate up to 40% and some of the back streets feel like ones where situational awareness comes in handy…

Firstly, some context and history. Following the river Maas (or Meuse) is part of the “le sillon industriel”, the former industrial heartland of Western Europe, second only in size to the Black Country in the UK at the height of its production. Within this area are the towns of Sclessin and Seraing, the home of the Cockerill-Sambre steelworks. Cockerill-Sambre, formerly John Cockerill et Cie, was founded by the British-born blacksmith and mechanical engineer John Cockerill in 1817 [1]. Originally producing steam engines for spinning mills and collieries using bought-in iron and steel, it wasn’t long before iron and steel production was incorporated into the manufacturing process. Europe’s first coke-fired blast furnace was commissioned on the site in 1826 and by 1847 there were six blast furnaces operating on the site.

By the mid 19th century, the Seraing complex had not only become a fully-integrated iron and steel works, but it had become the largest in Europe, dominating the local landscape. John Cockerill et Cie owned coal mines locally and also used locally-extracted limestone and iron ore. The company’s interests started growing both domestically and internationally, acquiring more coal mines at Esperance as well as iron ore mines in Spain.

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John Cockerill et Cie., Seraing, mid 19th century​

The portfolio of products from the Cockerill-Sambre works by this time was dazzlingly broad: long products in the form of rail, heavy machinery, tunnelling machines, gunboats as well as steelmaking machinery. A modernisation programme took place in 1883, as well as the construction of a new steelworks.

The steel industry in Seraing survived both world wars and was operational until relatively recently – outlasting the decommissioning and demolition of a number of large steelworks in the UK, such as Ravenscraig and the larger part of Stewart and Lloyd at Corby. By the early 1990s, though, the largely state-owned industry was in crisis due to the globalised nature of the commodities markets. Cockerill-Sambre posted losses of 1.39 billion Belgian Francs in 1992, and 6.5 billion Belgian Francs in 1993. Rescue plans were formulated a number of times and finally, in 1998, after posting a loss of almost 9 billion Belgian Francs, a 75% stake of the company was bought by the French manufacturer Usinor.

Despite the rescue package, the demise of the once-mighty Seraing complex was irreversible. Usinor merged with two other companies in 2001 to form Arcelor, which itself merged in with Mittal Steel in 2006 to form ArcelorMittal [1,2]. ArcelorMittal, a huge multinational with operations now in 60 countries, started to remove the older, loss-making, complexes from its group. With a reliance on blast furnaces only and dwindling local resources, the Seraing works had reached the end of the line. Blast furnace 6 (haut-fourneau 6 or HF6) was closed in 2009 and the final blast furnace, le haut-fourneau B d'Ougrée, HFB, was closed in 2010. HF6 was demolished in December 2016 [3, 4] and the mothballing order on HFB was lifted at the end of 2018 paving its way for demolition [5].

A sad end to a once-mighty industry.

References:
1. http://www.company-histories.com/Cockerill-Sambre-Group-Company-History.html
2. https://www.nbb.be/doc/ts/publications/wp/wp160en.pdf
3.
4.
5. https://www.rtc.be/article/info/economie/arcelormittal-vers-le-demantelement-de-plusieurs-usines-sous-cocon-_1500346_325.html

There’s some great accounts of exploring HF6 before demolition here (https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/threads/blast-furnace-hf6-seraing-belgium-july-2014.114906/), of HFB (https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/threads/hf4-steel-works-belgiue-2018.115560/, https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/threads/blast-furnace-hf6-seraing-belgium-july-2014.114906/)

Now on to the photos! Apologies if the quality is poor - I only had a mobile phone on me as a camera and, since this is my first post, I wasn't orginally planning on them being seen by many!

First, what I *think* was part of a forging mill:

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Now onto the next building - overgrown roads and wonderful bits of hot-riveted ironwork:

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Plenty of what I'm hoping was only mineral wool thermal insulation in the last pic... ...but hint taken since where there's been hot stuff and insulated pipework, there'll be asbestos too. So, some parting shots from the area. Firstly, here's the big patch of sky left over from the demolition of HF6:

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And, finally here's the formerly-mothballed HFB still standing nearby at Sclessin - that'll be next time around (and with a better camera):

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Thank you for looking and hope you enjoyed it!​
 
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Escopeta

28DL Full Member
28DL Full Member
great report! i'm planning a road trip here so it was nice to have history on the place and an update too
 

jST

LLS.
Regular User
Cool man, there's some seriously ancient gear in these buildings. They seem to have been re-used and repurposed many times throughout their existence.

The first part / forging mill was filled with rolling stock carriage axles rusting away and evidence of forging, it also had several control rooms, one of which dated back to the early 1900s, in fact you can see the wiring connections on the outside of the building in your 10th photograph.

There's also a big ACEC turbine at the back of the larger building and an array of compressors.

Should really dig out my shots
 

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