Page last updated at 09:16 GMT, Tuesday, 31 March 2009 10:16 UK
Ebbw Vale built on iron and steel

A 1948 induction film by Richard Thomas and Baldwins Ltd gives an insight into Ebbw Vale's industrial heritage (Courtesy Ebbw Vale Archive Trust)

Former steelworker Noel Evans gives an insight into a wealth of industrial history.

I worked for 38 years at Ebbw Vale Steelworks. I started with Richard Thomas & Baldwins in 1964, when over 10,000 people were employed there.

When the steel industry was nationalised the works became part of the British Steel Corporation (BSC) and in 1999 became Corus.

They finally closed down in July 2002, with a final workforce of 400.

Noel Evans
Noel Evans helps preserve an archive of Ebbw Vale's industrial history

Since then I have been helping out at the Ebbw Vale Works Archival Trust and Museum and learning about the 200 plus years history of the works.

The first iron made in Ebbw Vale was in 1790, at a time when iron was being produced along the entire Heads of the Valleys area.

This is where the South Wales coal field came to the surface producing all the raw materials needed for making iron - limestone, wood (charcoal), coal and iron ore. Iron works sprang up from Aberdare in the west to Blaenavon in the east.

From the middle of the 19th century the Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company ran the works until 1929, when lack of orders and depression finally shut down 99% of the works, throwing many skilled workers on to the dole.

By 1934, unemployment in Ebbw Vale stood at 54% out of a population of 31,000, with many able bodied workers having moved out of the valley to find employment elsewhere.

In 1935, the government of the day decided that massive help must be made to the district and encouraged a tin plate manufacturer called Richard Thomas to buy the entire site and re-develop it.

He imported the latest technology and developed the site in to a new, modern, integrated steelworks.

Ebbw Vale steelworks - the blast furnace in 1937
The blast furnace in 1937

The foremost part of the re-development was to bring in a continuous hot rolling facility, developed in the USA by a firm called United.

This changed the way steel was worked in the UK by producing hot rolled coils instead of bars, billets and plates.

Production was massively boosted by the introduction of this mill, actually reaching and surpassing a target of 600,000 tons annually by 1948.

A new era was born in Ebbw Vale. Many people returned to the area with the promise of well paid labouring work. Also many immigrant workers arrived from less fortunate areas of the UK, thus creating a huge workforce.

The whole project took just two and a half years to complete, something, given the timescale and with all the modern technology available today, I don't think would be possible to replicate.

The photographs you see published on this website are taken from three albums of 'progress and development' pictures shot between 1936 and 1938. They are a small section of the total amount of images we have at the Archive.

Ebbw Vale steelworks - inside the blast furnace in 1937
Inside the blast furnace in 1937

The hard copies are linen backed, bigger than A4 size and dated with a brief description. They are of astounding quality and we're very lucky to have them.

All are welcome to come and see our collection, which contains photos, deeds going back to the mid 17th century, plus early films, books, artefacts and more.

We are currently open twice weekly, Tuesdays and Thursdays 10-1pm and 2-4pm, but we can be quite flexible with prior arrangement. To contact us, call 01495 350941 at the above times.

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