Sunday, 13 January 2013

From the Tate Modern to Lanarkshire

NSB happened to briefly pop into the Tate Modern recently, after having visited HMS Belfast with No1 and No3 sons (cannot recommend Belfast highly enough, by the way, No3 son described it as his “best day out in London EVER”) and was a little disappointed that there was no huge slides or multitudes of boxes to walk around in the huge Turbine Hall..

A slide? At an art gallery? Cool!

The huge Turbine Hall

…but did notice that some of the 20” steel girders that formed its structure has the words “Lanarkshire Steel Co. Ltd Scotland” embossed on them and wondered what the story of these girders was.

It proved to be a fascinating tale.

The Girder stamped with "Lanarkshire Steel Company"

The Tate Modern Building
The Tate Modern is built in the building that formerly housed the Bankside Power Station (see also here, and here), which itself has on the site of a previous power station.

The first power station, built in 1891, had been extended and its equipment renewed on several occasions, the last major upgrade being in 1921-28 when the station was brought up to a maximum output of 85 MW(megawatts).

Post war planning had to meet demands of increased capacity and reduced pollution, but there were still technical and other difficulties in locating power stations away from urban areas.

Added to this the power cuts that hit the country in 1947 (due to unavailability of coal and people switching instead to electricity for heating) and a compromise solution to providing power was perhaps inevitable.

It was decided, after much debate, that the existing Bankside power station should be demolished and a new, oil fired, one built at the same site, set back from the river to allow development of the waterfront.

The new Bankside power station was steel framed, brick skinned and roofed in reinforced concrete. The chimney was deliberately slightly lower than St Pauls, which caused pollution problems through the life of the station. The station was built in two parts, the western section and the chimney in 1947-53 and the old powerstation was demolished to allow the building of the eastern section of the new power station in 1959-63. The total capacity of the new Bankside powerstation was 300 MW.

The former Bankside Power Station

The Lanarkshire Iron and Steel Works
Located in Motherwell, the works began on a small scale with three blast furnaces, two rolling mills, s steam hammer and a ball mill - producing some 450 tons of steel per week. Refinancing in 1897 allowed new plant to be installed which increased production to some 4,500tons of steel products per week, which ended up locations as varied as Hong Kong, Buenos Aires and Guatemala. By 1961 the company had some 1,500 employees producing their well regarded joists, sections and other constructional steelwork. You can find out more about the company here, here and here; and there is a great set of images here and here)

Lanarkshire Steel Company Ltd. Steel Works, Motherwell. Oblique aerial photograph taken facing east. - Britain from Above

Other Iron and Steel companies in Lanarkshire
The Lanarkshire Steel Works was not the only steel making factory in Motherwell. On the contrary, the city was home to a great concentration of Iron and Steel companies. Some feeling for the intensity of the industrialisation in the area can be gained from this listing of the number of blast furnaces in the area:

Lanarkshire Blast furnaces
1830 : 16
1839 : 45
1843 : 71
1848 : 84
1869 : 90
1880 : 83
1901 : 59
1951 : 8 (but just three of these, at Clyde, produced 600,000 tonnes per year, equal to total output of all 83 furnaces in 1880

In the early 20th century there were iron works in around nine Lanarkshire locations:
Clyde : 1786 to 1978
Calder : 1800 to 1921
Shotts : 1801 to 1947
Gartsherrie : 1828 to 1967
Summerlee : 1836 to 1930
Coltness : 1837 to 1927
Carnbroe : 1838 to 1921
Langloan : 1841 to 1919
Wishaw : 1858 to 1930

Schematic showing locations of major Lanarkshire Iron and Steel Works in the early 20th Century (click to enlarge)

More info on the regions steelmaking history here and here.

Many of the ironworks in and around Motherwell were demolished as the huge Ravenscraig steelworks was built in the mid 1950s and decades of under investment finally caught up with the steel industry with Ravenscraigs closure in 1992.

Ravenscraig was entirely levelled, producing a eerie landscape where one can almost hear the ghosts of the workers as they cast the white hot steel into slabs amid a shower of sparks. Heartbreaking.

The derelict site of the former Ravenscraig steelworks

The Size of Steelworks
The fact that only three 1950 era blast furnaces could produce as much steel as 83 furnaces back in 1880 left NSB wondering just how big steelworks can get..

Well, back in the late 19th century the Barrow Hematite Steel Company had the largest steelworks in the world, with a capacity around 2.6million tonnes.

By way of comparison, the current Teeside Steelworks can produce some 3.5million tomes per year.

And the Scunthorpe Steelworks can produce around 4.5million tonnes per year

While the Port Talbot Steelworks in South Wales is capable of producing some 5 million tonnes of steel slab per year.

A brief bit of research suggests that these capacities are comparable with other high capacity plants around the world.

Steel production in the East Midlands is largely at a lower capacity using “mini-mills” that melt scrap to produce, often very high quality, steel products. For example, in Sheffield, Finnish steelmaker Outokumpu runs a former British Steel facility that is has designated the “Stainless Melting And Continuous Casting” (SMACC) plant. Here an electric arc furnace can melt 130tonnes of stainless steel in around 80 minutes to a temperature of 1620°C, at which point the steel can be discharged for further modification or processing.

An article in the FT reports that, in 1970, the UK produced around 27.8million tonnes of steel, against 18million tonnes in China and a world total of 595 million tonnes.

In contrast, the figures for 2011 were 9.4million tonnes, 683million tonnes and 1,490million tonnes respectively

A Final Comment
And NSB wonders whether society has ever really given steelworkers the respect they deserve for producing such an important construction and industrial material.

So NSB would like to raise a salute to the steelworkers who worked at the Lanarkshire Iron and Steel Company some 60 years ago, and to the steelworkers at the Port Talbot, Scunthorpe, Teeside and other UK steelworks today, and to steelworkers around the world….

…and say "Thank you, for you have truly made the modern world”

Port Talbot Steelworks

Slide, Bankside, Ravenscraig, Port Talbot

Other links
Steelmaking (BOS process)simulation
Bessemer Process

Other NSB Content
Fee - An autobiography of an Iron Atom
Carbon Capture Technology

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