Blackburn Meadows Wastewater Treatment Works, operated by Yorkshire Water, is hidden discreetly behind the great steel curtain of the M1 Tinsley Viaduct, which opened in 1968.
Alongside the sewage works dating back to 1886, Sheffield Corporation operated an electric power-station, opened in 1921, to supply the considerable needs of the local steelworks, taking advantage of the adjacent River Don for cooling water, and excellent rail connections to supply coal.
When the station’s capacity was expanded to 72 megawatts, two hyperbolic cooling towers, each 250 feet high, were built in 1937 and 1938.
The power station became surplus to requirements, like many of the steelworks it supplied, and closed in 1980. All the structures were quickly demolished except for the cooling towers, which stood less than twenty metres from the M1 viaduct – too close to be taken down safely.
Accordingly, the elegant, empty concrete structures became a landmark for motorway travellers and a reassuring symbol of homecoming to returning Sheffielders, who referred to them as the Tinsley Towers.
Despite the support of local MP David Blunkett and the sculptors Anthony Gormley and Anish Kapoor, proposals to use the towers for concerts or a skate park were floated but sank.
English Heritage refused to list them, arguing that the internal cooling apparatus had been removed, leaving only the concrete shells. This emptiness was part of their aesthetic appeal – abstract spaces that could only have been constructed for a functional purpose that they’d outlasted.
After thirty years of slow-burning controversy, the towers were blown up during a motorway closure on the night of August 24th 2008, before an appreciative audience of sightseers using the car-park of the adjacent Meadowhall Centre as a viewing platform.
Their site has been utilised for a biomass power station, burning waste wood, operated by E.ON UK and opened in 2014.
This image of the Tinsley Towers is available as a greetings card, either singly or in a pack of five, or as a notelet to order. For the entire range of Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times greetings cards, please click here.