Destructor Delights

Visitors to York are spoilt for choice with interesting historic buildings. Those who return for a repeat visit, or even for a second or third sojourn to this ancient walled city will still discover historic sites yet to be ticked off the bucket-list – The Minster (northern Europe’s largest medieval Gothic cathedral), the Shambles, the City Walls, Stonegate, the House of Trembling Madness, York Dungeon (really?) or the Georgian Fairfax House. One historic monument, however, which will certainly never appear on anyone’s must-see list is the Destructor Chimney in Foss Islands Road. Many a York resident will have travelled past this lofty structure on a daily basis but paid little attention to its significance. Yet, here is a monument which makes an enormous impact on the skyline, a symbol of a chapter in York’s rich history equally as important as the Medieval or the Georgian.

The chimney was erected in 1890 for the incinerator burning York’s waste. Its other function was to send fumes from the neighbouring power station high into the atmosphere. Standing 55 metres high and built by York company Parker & Sharp, it was the tallest in a cluster of chimneys on the site and dominates the skyline of the eastern suburb of York to this day. Foss Islands Road was converted to out-of-town shopping in the 1980s. When the power station was demolished in the 1970s the chimney became the sole legacy of this industrial heartland, retained as a landmark, to be incorporated into the new superstore, presently occupied by Morrisons. Copies of the Victorian architectural drawings of the chimney now decorate the walls of this entrance, allowing the casual shopper to study the plans while selecting their trolley.

There is sufficient further information about the chimney’s story elsewhere on the web – http://yorkstories.co.uk/the-destructor-notes-from-the-archives/ is the starting point.

For just over a decade I was fortunate to live in York, more precisely, just outside the city (the medieval circuit of walls delimits one’s identity as an ‘outside the walls’ resident). I was based in a top-floor flat, the second-floor being the top but sufficiently sky-scraping to have a direct view of two of York’s highest historic structures over the surrounding rooftops – the mighty cathedral form the living-room window, from the bedroom the Destructor chimney. York being famous for its dramatic sunrises and sunsets, I was regularly presented with a dilemma – in which way should I point the camera. More often than not, I was rewarded with a photographic delight and there being many pictures of York’s massive cathedral, my attention was normally towards the lesser-photographed chimney. Here is a selection of the results…

12th December 2013, daybreak
Struck by the sunrise, I left the flat, descending to the ground floor to capture the silhouette of the former York Hospital nurses home on the right
25th November 2015 – the Altocumulus blanket across the sky absorbing the sunrise. The chimney is clad with scaffolding.
Early morning mist regularly saw the Destructor gradually rise from the landscape with the sun, 11th November 2016
25th January 2016 – a warm orange sunrise
The University of York Science Park boiler chimney from the 1960s in action in the background,
31st December 2014
Blood red moon on 22nd July 2013