26 August 2013

Brymbo Iron & Steel Works

The Brymbo Estate was bought in 1792 by John 'Iron Mad' Wilkinson, the ironmaster of Bersham, as it boasted supplies of both iron ore and coal. Wilkinson built his ironworks at Brymbo in 1796, and likely, as part of that, a blast furnace known as Old No.1.

Wilkinson added a second furnace in 1804, but when he died four years later the ironworks was mired in legal disputes. The order book dried up following the end of the wars with Napoleon, and the estate was sold in 1829, the works lying idle for over a decade.

It passed in 1841 to the Brymbo Iron Company, and  the famous Scots engineer Henry Robertson was engaged to help make it viable.  Robertson, backed by investors, built a new foundry and machine shops, improved the blast furnaces, and sank a new colliery.

Robertson had determined that key was improved transport. In 1845 the Brymbo Mineral and Railway Company opened a branch line that connected the works to the mainline network. However 1854 saw further disputes, with the directors of the company each seeking to gain outright control.

Robertson won out and in 1884 formed the Brymbo Steel Company. The first steel was made at the site a year later. Production doubled between 1898 and the start of WWI, but post-war the works was closed by first the miners' strike of 1921 and then the General Strike of 1926.

The Great Depression ultimately killed off this incarnation of Brymbo - the works closed once again in 1931. A new company was formed in 1933 and Brymbo once more recommenced production. It produced special steels for aero engines, using electric arc furnaces.

The works saw further modernisation under the aegis of Guest, Keen & Nettlefold (better known as GKN) - a new electric melting shop in 1959 and a new cogging (drawing) mill in 1961. Brymbo became part of the nationalised and monolithic British Steel Corporation in 1967, and remained a specialist steel maker.

A new bar and billet mill was built in 1976. This was perfectly timed to coincide with a further recession. The new owners, United Engineering Steels, invested in continuous casting at its Rotherham plant, which finally killed Brymbo for good.

The last furnace was tapped on 27 September 1990. The bar and billet mill was shipped to China. The whole of the twentieth-century plant has gone, but what remains is the older works, as substantially developed by Robertson, alongside Wilkinson's blast furnace (photo four).

There are also a number of items from the age of steel, including giant ladles, some of which are mounted on railway wagons. The site is dominated by the stacks of two cupola furnaces - the business end of one is shown in photo nine.

In April 2013 weight of snow collapsed the roof of the pattern shop (photo two) and a large part of that of the foundry. The way into the site remains guarded by a real Tonka toy, a truck by Euclid of Ohio (now part of Hitachi).


Frank Yensan said...

incredible history and photos. Thank you for this blog!!!

YMGW said...

Thank-you for your kind feedback Frank. Would be good were it possible to get the Silver Streak Clipper worked over by yourself.