Local BBC Sites

Neighbouring Sites

Page last updated at 14:50 GMT, Monday, 28 September 2009 15:50 UK
Work life at Anglesey Aluminium

The site of Anglesey Aluminium, Holyhead in 2009
The site of Anglesey Aluminium, Holyhead in 2009

As production at Anglesey Aluminium comes to an end, former employee Jim Lee from Holyhead remembers life on the boiling potlines.

I was there from 1974 until 1998 when I was pensioned off because of heart trouble. I was a general worker and also a trade union rep.

When I began, the money was better than anything else you could get. I was just married and wanted to buy a house, but could never afford that as a mechanic. After working at Anglesey Aluminium for 18 months, I could afford a deposit for a house - with a lot of overtime.

But the work was hard. When I got there, the turnover was about 40 people a week.

New people would go to work in the potlines where they create the aluminium and the conditions there were horrific.

It was very hot and dusty. Most of the people on the island worked on the ships or in agriculture, so they went from working in the open air to a very hot, hostile, industrial environment.

In the early days, going there was really like landing on the moon.

The pots are basically huge kilns about 40 feet long and 20 feet wide; imagine them full of molten metal.

The temperature of the metal when it was being sucked out through a vacuum system, known as tapping the pots, would reach 1,000º C.

People did have some horrific accidents in the early days before real health and safety laws.

I used to drink five or six cartons of milk in a shift or I'd get totally dehydrated.
Jim Lee

The work of cleaning the pots in those days was back-breaking. You used a crowbar to throw at the crust over the carbon, then used a scraper to get all of it out of the pot before putting in new carbon. I can still feel the heat of it today, and the smell was horrible.

Then there was repairing the pots. If a pot failed, it might take five men working round the clock for a week to remove it and put in another one.

Because of the heat, the carbon would be baked solid, harder than concrete; you could dig a street more easily with those jack hammers.

I used to drink five or six cartons of milk in a shift or I'd get totally dehydrated.

Wearing a mask in those days wasn't mandatory, although you did or you couldn't breathe. Today, they wear full face masks with filtration and visors, protective aluminium aprons and suits.

Now, all this work is done by machines so men are never subjected to such conditions.

I also worked on the tunnel which comes up just inside the plant and goes all the way to Salt Island where the conveyor belt reaches the jetty.

The belt would often need fixing, so we'd have to go down and put in a new one and walk out the bubbles in the rubber.

The plant had a language all of its own. If I said I used to work on an elephant, what does it conjure up?
Jim Lee

The tunnel was about 15 feet wide and very undulating. There was a slope down, then a flat part under the sea, before a very steep quarter mile up to Salt Island; horrendous to walk up.

The first ship I helped off-load in 1978 was there for 21 days. It took 14 men all that time to off-load 25,000 tons of alumina. With technology, it just took five men three days to off-load the latest ship.

The plant had a language all of its own. If I said I used to work on an elephant, what does it conjure up? It was just a vessel to move things from one area to another!

There was also the grasshopper; a three-legged grab on a chain used to remove the old block of carbon from the pots.

Then the aluminium was moulded into billets or pigs; long tubes or sort of a square soup bowl; depending on what the customer wanted.

B shift from the potlines, celebrating Christmas at the social club in 1976
B shift from the potlines, celebrating Christmas at the social club in 1976

Social life

The social side was great. There was a social club, football, plenty of pool, darts and the employees created a charity called We Care.

I can remember people getting electric wheelchairs, or paying to get someone's house decorated if they had mental problems.

They gave away £10,000 to £15,000 per annum, so over 30 years that's a lot of money.

I think it's so sad that it's closed. Whether we liked it or not, it had become part of the new heritage of Holyhead and the island and it gave employment to thousands.

It's alright for me, I'm at the other end of my working life and I've had a great package off them, but now there'll be young people who lack skills.

They took on eight apprentices each year and it wasn't unusual to hear that the apprentices of the year at college was a welder or electrician from Anglesey Aluminium.

My wife has worked there for 39 years, too. She's a contractor in catering; so it's not just the 500 direct employees who are going to lose their jobs.

It was a community within a community. I knew more people in than I did out.




SEE ALSO
Final shift at Anglesey Aluminium
30 Sep 09 |  North west
March over metal plant deal loss
19 Sep 09 |  North west


BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2016 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific