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A history of Teesside steelmaking
The view of Corus, and steel making on Teesside as it is now.

A history of steel making on Teesside

It was the ironstone in the Cleveland Hills that made Teesside what it is today.

Much of the industry and employment it generated is now gone, but the British Steel Archive is still growing.

Teesside's steel industry was born in the 1850s when iron ore was discovered in the Cleveland Hills near Eston.

In the years that followed, Teesside underwent a massive expansion. In its heyday, the steelworks employed more than 40,000 people.

Worldwide reach
Steel memories
Derek Winspear
There was over 3,000 working in Skinningrove at that time and most of the people working at Skinningrove lived in local villages. Everybody was very close. Everybody knew everybody. You never locked your doors.
Derek Winspear

Teesside steel was a driving force behind the industrial revolution and led to the area gaining a worldwide reputation for high grade steel construction.

Most famously, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was made by Teesside company Dorman Long.

Derek Winspear started working at Skinningrove works in 1950 on the 'brick gang', manually hauling barrows full of bricks to the furnace building, before getting an apprenticeship.

"Sometimes we used to stack them outside and in winter, they were all frozen up, so you had a tough job trying to get them out again."

It wasn't until Derek was stationed in Singapore with the RAF that he realised just how big a role Teesside steel had played in the industrial development of the world.

"I'd been out there quite a while and at the end of the jetty was a big crane. I was coming back one day and I thought, 'I wonder where that was built?'

"Anyway I got back and I went and looked and it had, 'Skinningrove Ironworks' written on it and I couldn't believe that.

"I thought, 'Well, I've come all this way and here's a thing built where I came from."

Steelworkers on Teesside
The British Steel Archive holds thousands of pictures of Teesside's steel history

Changing times
Steel memories
Neil Cooke
Certainly there were products at the beam mill while I was there that couldn't be produced elsewhere.
Neil Cooke

The steelworks were nationalised in 1967 and became part of the British Steel Corporation. Resources were concentrated into one blast furnace at Redcar.

In 1972, Neil Cooke began work at Lackenby as a metallurgist. He remembers his first day on the job.

"The inside of the Royal Exchange was something of a rabbit warren, a lot of small offices, long corridors. Of course the Royal Exchange building's not there anymore.

"But that was my first day, in there, before we got told to report somewhere else for induction training."

In 1988, the British Steel Corporation became British Steel. It was the science and engineering developments that kept Teesside steels reputation for quality, as competitor countries began to develop their own steel industries.

"British Steel took the view that quality was their best way of differentiating in the market," Said Neil. "Certainly there were new qualities and new processes, continuous casting for example.

Continuous casting is a process whereby molten steel is passed continuously through a mould, like play-dough, allowing high quality products to be manufactured at greater lengths than traditional casting.

More on this subject
Picture from the British Steel Archive

In 1999, British Steel merged with Dutch company Hoogevens to become Corus. Hundreds of workers took voluntary redundancy or early retirement, while thousands more were made redundant over the years.

In 2003, Corus declared many of its Teesside operations, including the blast furnace, surplus to requirements and staff faced the prospect of the plant finally closing.

The future of the plant seemed to have been saved in 2005, when a ten year deal was signed with four overseas slab buyers, who agreed to take Teesside's steel.

In 2007, Corus was bought by the Indian company, Tata, but as the worldwide recession hit steel prices in 2009, the consortium buying Teesside's steel backed out of their contract and in 2010, the blast furnace was mothballed.

Later the same year, Thai steel producer SSI signed memorandum of understanding to buy the Redcar site from Corus, fuelling hope that steel production on Teesside could recommence.


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