The Destructor: notes from the archives

Sunset over an industrial scene, with chimney in silhouette
Often when I’m looking for information on a particular subject in the reference library I find snippets on another subject entirely, and scribble down notes which I squirrel away for later. One such caught my eye because of the capitalised word in a rather mundane entry in the council minutes for 1905, discussing the footpath from Scarborough Bridge to Salisbury Terrace (the riverside path, I assume). The North Eastern Railway was unable to supply ashes for the footpath, and it was proposed to ‘boat the ashes from the Destructor on to the footpath.’

The Destructor – sounds like a character Schwarzenegger might play. Nothing so exciting. Merely our waste management facility, on Foss Islands Road, in the early 20th century. An incinerator, used for the destruction of household rubbish. It also provided power.

Victorian chimney, through trees, red construction machinery alongside
All that’s left of the facility is its chimney, its Destructor days forgotten. It’s now known to many as ‘Morrisons Chimney’, perhaps giving the erroneous impression that the supermarket recently built alongside incorporates a very large fireplace.

There are many references to the Destructor in the council minutes of the late 1890s and into the early years of the 20th century. In spring and summer 1900 the minutes record the concern over delays in its construction. In November 1900 a report from the Electric Lighting Committee discusses utilising the facility: ‘The Electrical Department to pay for the steam from the Destructor’.

It got to work consuming the city’s rubbish, and in June 1901 ‘The City Engineer reported as to the quantity of refuse which had been destroyed at the Destructor on the Foss Islands’. The minutes also note that the Streets and Buildings Committee ‘inspected the working of the Destructor at the close of the Meeting.’

It didn’t take long for potential problems to come to light. Concerns were expressed over the build-up of refuse on the platform. It was noted that this was inevitable and happened at all Destructors.

The facility was calculated to destroy ‘40 to 60 tons per 24 hours.’

In January 1902 the City Engineer reported that an extension of use of the Destructor was to be expected. House refuse during 1896 was 118 loads per week, but had grown to 180 loads. The weight of these loads had increased from 14cwt to 1 ton. Also needing consideration was the refuse from ashpits.

Red brick and rusted metal - industrial scene
I’m not sure when we stopped burning rubbish in the Destructor. I vaguely remember remnants of other buildings when the site was still the council tip, pre-Morrisons.

Peter Burgess sent me this photo, some years ago, of the rusty loveliness of part of the old facility – the chimney’s base is on the left of the picture.

And of course I’m mentioning this rather mundane matter of rubbish disposal because today councillors in North Yorkshire have voted to go ahead with the Allerton Park incinerator, located alongside the A1(M), not far from York. We’ve gone back to burning rubbish, though apparently it’s done in a more environmentally friendly fashion, and we stick the Destructors outside our cities, where fewer people can see them.

Perhaps we should stop buying so much stuff, throwing it away so often and buying even more. Then perhaps we wouldn’t be piling great mounds of rubbish into landfill and perhaps we wouldn’t need to revisit the Destructor idea.

Pathway surfacing techniques have moved on in the last hundred years, at least, so we won’t need its ashes to surface Cinder Lane.


£1.4bn Allerton incinerator gets go-ahead – The Press. ‘Project manager Andrew Cousins said the Allerton development was “the final piece in the waste management infrastructure jigsaw” for North Yorkshire and York.’
(Yeah, right. It’s not an ongoing problem at all … ?)

Allerton Waste Recovery Park – ‘York and North Yorkshire’s households produce around 470,000 tonnes of rubbish each year and just over half of it ends up in landfill.’

Information on the history of the York ‘Destructor’, from readers’ letters to The Press:
Telling story of Foss Islands chimney

History of Foss Islands Road chimney

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  1. “Perhaps we should stop buying so much stuff”

    Could not agree more.

  2. A certain amount of “Stuff”is necessary to get by,it’s the packaging that grates on the nerves a little.Wartime shopping involved no factory wrappings,one took along treasured stiff paper carriers ,with string handles,and hoarded paper bags/newspaper, for the shop to put purchases in,altogether a very satisfactory economic solution to WW2 shopping problem and shortages.I doubt the present climate would encourage such economic measures,not forgetting silly sell by dates,encouraging over consumption and waste.Most wartime pantries had tinned stuff hoarded for 4/5 years without killing people whe eventually consumed them!

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