Behemoth: on the beguiling monstrosity of the wandering factory

Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth. There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet….He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire.”

Psalms 18: 7-12


Many of the practices that I’m interested in involve walking factories – in the sense of walking around and within them for a variety of reasons. But what about factories that walk? That’s worth a ponder.

There’s something monstrously captivating about the idea of a moving factory – a truly mobile plant unmoored and roaming abroad, rapaciously consuming all in its path. It’s the point at which a vehicle become more complex, more totalising in its operations, than it feels a vehicle should. A point where the factory function starts to foreground and the vehicular elements retreat into the background. Think roadsweeper, combine harvester, dragline, tarmac layer. Factories on wheels, churning, belching – slow, but relentless. And  beyond human, for any driver seems dwarfed, superfluous, stuck somewhere spare that hasn’t already been consumed by an asymmetric (and unstreamlined) productive purpose. And then there’s the nomadic dimension: this machine is untethered. It is free to move next wherever it may, there are no rails or foundations to constrain it. This thing has chaotic potency.

A Walkley Factory walks

This week started with an expedition, a search for an invisible hole. The task was to trace to source the origin point of a house brick that I found when my garage was demolished a few summers ago. The brick helpfully had an inscription in its frog, ‘Chas. Wirkworth – Wadsley Bridge’. A bit of map work found the site of the former brickworks and we trekked to it. But this piece is not about that trip. Instead it is about a trip that we did not take. My research found many ‘vanished’ brick work sites across the historic maps that I’d spread out on the kitchen table. Flicking through as a time sequence, holding location stable but skimming through successive editions of the ‘same’ map, my attention was drawn to a former brickworks and clay pit on Carnaby Road in the Walkley district of Sheffield. Here’s the time slice:

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Two things grab me here. First that the brickworks doesn’t – does – doesn’t exist. It is a blip in time. In its day it dominates its site, then its gone, the clay cavity in-filled with refuse. The second is the thoughts triggered by thinking about the scale and extractive / generative ferocity of the plant whilst it existed. Through time the brickworks appears mobile. Maybe I’ve been watching too many end-of-the-world-alien-invasion films with the kids recently, but the strange two kiln beast appears to travel (an effect of the doesn’t – does – doesn’t flicking through maps and the eras that they represent). Thus an alien brick-ship descends upon an empty field, chomps into the land consuming earth in its fiery furnaces and spewing out millions of identikit bricks. But then something weird happens. The bricks start to form houses. The brick-ship becomes surrounded and flies off, leaving its empty field. The house army laying siege to the field pause (perhaps awaiting reinforcements from elsewhere) before finally crashing in, tide like, filling the field with their next generation host.

And then it’s all over, at least until a wave of urban clearance or a road scheme pulverises the houses in turn, rendering them back to fractured brick and block-dust and the ground level swells with a new layer of ground. Made ground.



Maps: Digimap


About lukebennett13
Reader & Course Leader, BSc Hons Real Estate, Sheffield Hallam University, UK. I TEACH: built environment law to construction, surveying, real estate and environmental management students. I RESEARCH: metal theft; urban exploration & recreational trespass; occupiers' perceptions of liability for their premises. I THINK: about the links between ideas, materialities and practices in the built environment. I WAS: an environmental lawyer working in commercial practice for 17 years before I joined academia in 2007. I EXPLAIN: the aims of my blogsite site here: LINKS: Twitter: @lukebennett13; Archive: EPITAPH: “He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances.” James Joyce, Dubliners

3 Responses to Behemoth: on the beguiling monstrosity of the wandering factory

  1. liminal city says:

    Interesting stuff, it made me think that those cross rail tunnellers are perhaps a larval stage of this monster?

  2. Made me think of two former factories not too far from here. 1. The old British Aluminium Plant at Burntisland which produced smelter grade alumina for processing into aluminium. What was noticeable if you went anywhere near it was a fine coating of pink dust that seemed to cling to everything. All of the surrounding land was pink! I think part of the actual plant was dismantled and shipped to Russia. The land was remediated and sold off for housebuilding around 2004. You would now struggle to find any trace of the plant.

    2. More recently, the Caldwell’s Paper Mill in Inverkeithing was completely demolished including two fairly iconic industrial chimneys. Again the site has been completely cleared. Some great pics of what it looked like in derelict form here:

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