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Oud-Kerensheide (Chemalot)  /

 This project is a commission for Museum Het Domein in Sittard Geleen. Once again I was working alongside curator Andy Brydon from Curated Place,  see more of our Secret Cities projects here.

‘Let us have a look at the drawbacks Geleen would suffer from the mines. We will not even mention the moral drawbacks, and of the material drawbacks we will mention only one: Where will the farmers find workmen to work their land? How much will they have to pay them? No, we hold Geleen, with its healthy, virtuous and prosperous population too dear to let its people be reduced to mine slaves.’
― Correspondence from Geleen municipal council to Parliament - 14 March 1908.

As the fourth and largest pit on the Limburg coalfield the Maurits Mine came to sit at the centre of the region’s turn to industrialism and when the first mineshaft was sunk in 1916 a rapid transformation began. The new realities of production shifted the focus from working on the land to beneath it and created modern Geleen in the process. But between the establishment of DSM and the opening of the Maurits Mine in 1926 a political firestorm erupted that ignited the modern rivalry between Sittard and Geleen.

Citizens of Sittard felt empowered by the rise of the industrial Netherlands, encouraged by the possibility of joining the prosperity that followed the development of the Emma and Hendrik mines further south. However, the villages around what would become modern Geleen (and crucially where the mines would actually be built) were horrified by the thought of being ripped away from their agricultural roots and set to toil beneath the earth’s surface.

None were closer to this upheaval than the Hennekens family of the Kerenshof – a farm commissioned in the 1820s by the then owner of Castle Wolfrath, Guillaume Domenique Aloys Kerens. It was built to such a scale that it was something of an agricultural landmark in the area, however construction of the mine saw DSM acquire so much of the land around Lutterade that the Hennekens’ agrarian way of life was transformed forever.

In a pragmatic attempt to keep pace with changing times, the Kerenshof became the home to the mine’s pit ponies. It also became the kernel around which grew the first fabrieksdorp for the mines when in 1918 Kerensheide was born. Almost acting as a prototype for the eventual development of Geleen around the new town hall, the Kerenshof sat at the centre of the mining territories yet maintained an air of its agricultural past - at once surrounded by meadows and fields but neighbouring “the noisy and smelly SBB, the Steenberg, the Maurits mine and the Emma coking plant”.

Today the old site of Kerensheide lies out of reach of most, within the security fence of Chemelot having been officially closed in 1978. The chemical works absorbed the village it created, the proximity to the high temperature naphtha cracker making the old farm’s location too high a risk for the strict safety regulations in place within the plant. All that remains are the plane trees, now a little unkept, that still dutifully clean the air on the deserted street plan of a forgotten village.

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Secret Cities Sittard Geleen Oud-Kerensheide Chemalot