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Page last updated at 16:51 GMT, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 17:51 UK
Corby people recall steel works closure 30 years ago
Ariel view of the Corby Steelworks
The Corby steel works in May 1980. The iron and steel industry dominated Corby from the 1930s

Three decades after the closure of the Corby steel works, the town is said to be prospering.

"It's a town that's on the up," said Nick Bolton, from the North Northamptonshire Development Company.

Around 10,000 people lost their jobs when British Steel closed the Corby plant in 1980. A further 10,000 jobs were lost in allied businesses.

Former steelworker Peter McGowan said: "The major legacy for Corby is that it is working; it's found its feet again."


From the 1930s until 1980, the steel works dominated Corby. "It was almost a one horse town," said Steve Purcell, who was an instrument mechanic at the steel works.

Inside the Bessemer building at Stwwarts and Lloyds, Corby
The interior of the Bessemer building

"For the men, there was not a lot other than the iron and steel works and the quarries," he added.

Thirty years after the closure of the works, Peter McGowan can vividly recall the way it loomed over the town: "The skyline in Corby was dominated by the black soot, smoke, the lights, the smell."

The works closed in stages between April and December 1980. It followed a 14-week National Steel Strike, although the decision to close had been taken before the dispute began.

"The day that I walked back in [after the strike], was the same day that I got my redundancy papers. It was April 1st. It had to be a joke but it wasn't," said Steve Purcell.

The effect on the town was immediate.

"Everybody was down, quite despondent and depressed," said Steve Purcell.

"They couldn't see what on earth they were ever going to do again. What use is it that you used to be a pusher driver on a coke oven?"

"There was a feeling of devastation throughout the town," said Peter McGowan. "People couldn't talk about anything else; people couldn't think about anything else."


The Conservative government made Corby an Enterprise Zone to attract jobs to the town and the local Labour-controlled council worked with other bodies to bring European Community grants to the area. The first new business to locate to Corby was Oxford University Press.

Corby steellworks in 1977
Discussion about closure started in the 1970s. This picture was taken in 1977

The director of investment and marketing at the North Northants Development Company, Nick Bolton, said that it was not until 2001 that Corby really started to regenerate.

That was when the Labour government established Catalyst Corby, an urban regeneration company. They planned to double the population from 52,000 to over 100,000 and create more than 30,000 jobs over the next 30 years. Catalyst Corby has since become the NNDC.

Significant facilities to open in Corby include Eurohub, a rail freight link to the Channel Tunnel, new shops in the town centre, an international-sized swimming pool and the reopening of the railway station.

"What's particularly noticeable when you walk the streets [of Corby] is the shift in self-confidence in the town," said Nick Bolton. "It's a town that's on the up. People see that and they want to bring their businesses here."


An unfortunate side effect of the regeneration of Corby is a legal case that ran for 10 years.

Corby was branded a 'toxic town' after children were born with limb deformities.

In 2009, a High Court judge decided that Corby Borough Council had been negligent in the way it cleaned up former steel works land in the 1980s and '90s. The botched reclamation work was capable of causing the limb deformities.

Corby Borough Council disagreed but, following an out-of-court settlement, have paid compensation to 19 children.


Another legacy of Corby's steel making days is the lifestyle of some people living in the town. The fatty diet and heavy-drinking culture creates particular problems now that calorie-eating heavy industry is almost extinct in the town.

Stewarts and Lloyds works, Corby
Stewarts and Lloyds later became British Steel

The Borough Council's health promotion department has compiled some worrying statistics.

Corby has the second highest level of smoking in England and the third highest level of obesity.

Fewer than one in five adults eat healthily and Corby is one of the worst places in the country for regular exercise.

There is more drug misuse, more alcohol abuse and more early deaths from smoking than most places in England.

Life expectancy is also shorter. A man living in South Northamptonshire is expected to live five and a half years longer than a man from Corby.


The diverse ethnic mix in Corby is another legacy of the iron and steel industry.

Until the 1930s, Corby was a small Northamptonshire village. Then workers were recruited to the iron and steel works.

Many came from Scotland, others from Ireland and the Welsh valleys. 'Displaced people' from eastern Europe added to the mix.

"We've always been like a mini-United Nations," said Paula Boulton who has written plays about Corby's steel industry and its immigrants. "To have Celtic and Baltic together is a really interesting mixture."

She added: "The steel works had a 'no blacks' policy [early on] so the town might not look culturally diverse," but that is now changing.

Paula Boulton believes that Corby is a town built on immigration and although the diversity can cause tensions, is makes the town more vibrant.


Around 800 people are still employed at the Corus Tube Works in Corby but steel making is no longer the town's biggest employer.

Corby's iron and steel heritage is "fondly remembered," according to Billy Dalziel, the town's heritage development worker.

He recalls going into a local school to speak to seven to 10-year-olds: "Some of the children had never heard of the steel works. They didn't realise we had a steel making industry.

"Quite a lot of them went to ASDA, so they were with their parents on the very site that the blast furnaces were."

There is a steel museum at East Carlton Country Park and in the autumn of 2010 a Heritage Centre will open in Corby Old Village.


One former steel worker, Mike Incles, said that Corby's old industry should not be forgotten: "We must do our utmost to make sure that people understand what actually made Corby the way it is."

The Corby Cube
The Corby Cube: one of the new buildings as the town regenerates

Peter McGowan believes the main legacy is the attitude of the people of Corby: "It is a community that exists because of its determination to see things through; the legacy is its people."

The leader of the local council at the time of the closure of the steel works, Kelvin Glendenning, believes the town has moved on in the last 30 years: "Corby has now diversified. We're proud to say: 'I was a steel worker,' but we also have to say that we want our children and grandchildren to have something better than we had."

Corby Borough Council's coat of arms has a raven clutching a block of steel: a clear sign of the importance of the town's former industry.

Although the blast furnaces may have long since gone, the legacies for the town are still there for all to see.

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