It’s a long way down if they forget their trowel

Steeple jacks at the TATA steel works in Rotherham
Steeple jacks at the TATA steel works in Rotherham
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Steeplejacks in South Yorkshire are having a high old time as they repoint brickwork on giant 60-metre chimneys in the Don Valley.

The daring duo are working a dizzying 197ft up, at the top of one of four huge brick chimneys at the Tata Steel plant at Aldwarke near Rotherham.

For anyone without a head for heights it would be a knee-trembling task.

Luckily these chaps are at the top of their game.

The men - employed by specialist steeplejack firm Churchill - are spending three weeks repairing brickwork while the steel plant goes through a maintenance period.

The chimneys serve the soaking furnaces below, where metal is ‘annealed’ or heated and then cooled.

The towers date back 52 years, to when the Aldwarke mill was first built in 1961.

“Brick chimneys are pretty stable structures,” said Churchill director Steve Peet.

“But as part of regular maintenance we identified what work was needed, and now the guys are on site grinding out some of the old joints and repointing, so any problems that might arise can be nipped in the bud.”

The men climb to the top of the hollow chimneys using a high-tech system of rope access techniques.

They drill steeplejack ladders to the outside face of the brickwork, starting at ground level, then climb the ladders to the top - attached securely all the way using countless contact points.

“It’s like a version of abseiling,” said Steve, “but of course abseiling is just for coming down. With rope access techniques we can traverse all over the brickwork safely and securely.

“The men work in pairs with a buddy system.They are in radio contact with the ground at all times, and the base is cordoned off with an exclusion zone.

“And we’re at the mercy of mother nature - if it’s too windy, or a storm is forecast, we cannot go up.”

It’s all extremely specialist, highly trained work...

“But once they’re up there it’s just normal buckets, regular mortar and pointing trowels!” said Steve.