EMIAC 97: Melting & Smelting

Scunthorpe, 5th October 2019

Conference Details


Local iron ore was first smelted in Scunthorpe in the 1860s. The industry grew rapidly and by the 1920s three major companies, on sites to the east of the town, produced more than 10% of the steel made in Britain. In later years, now under single ownership, steel was produced in ever larger and more sophisticated furnaces and mills. Rail links to and within the site have been crucial to the development of the industry, especially since it has become wholly reliant on imported ore.

Scunthorpe owes its existence to the iron and steel industry. What was once a sparsely populated rural area has been transformed into a large town housing hundreds of workers and providing a wide range of supporting trades and services.

Key aspects of the industry and the development of the town are highlighted in the morning’s presentations. A guided tour by train in the afternoon gives a unique view of Scunthorpe’s huge iron and steelmaking site.

This relatively small area thus has a rich industrial and historic past.


Organised by the Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology and held on Saturday, 5th October 2019 in Scunthorpe.

The conference programme:

09:00 Registration and coffee

09:30 Welcome

10:00 The Changes the Iron and Steel Industry has made

10:45 Coffee Break

11:15 The Lincolnshire Ironmasters Association and Railway

11:45 Changes in Steel-making Furnaces over the 20c

12:30 EMIAC Business Meeting

13:00 Lunch

14:00 Site visit to Scunthorpe Steel Works

A 15 mile rail tour arranged by the Appleby Frodingham Preservation Society with expert leadership, gave a comprehensive view of today's steelmaking site. The tour lasted about two and a half hours and included a refreshment break.

16:30 Close of conference.

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Scunthorpe Steel Works
Scunthorpe Steel Works.

Image courtesy of the Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology.

Conference Report

Stephen Stubbins

The conference opened with a potted history and an 1824 map of the local Frodingham area of the Lincolnshire Edge. Open cast iron ore extraction started in the 1830s.

Initially the ore was exported. With the coming of the railways in 1860 it was realised that it was cost effective to import coal and by 1864 there was a foundry.

The current site is approximately eight square miles with a 15-mile perimeter. Four blast furnaces. Two operational, another on potential standby. The fourth has had its day. Around 120 miles of railway track. Three rolling mills for plate, rails and wire. Currently about 4,000 people are employed.

The blast furnaces were still being loaded or charged by hand into the 1950s. Many by-products were discovered. Slag was high in phosphorous which lead to fertilizer; oils and tars were distilled. Very interesting talk on manufacturing development and of the social impact on the area.

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Bryan Longbone

This presentation covered the structure, development and ownership of the early companies and the origins of different raw materials and their transport to Scunthorpe. Basically, discounted freight rates to remain competitive with product price variations. The Iron Masters Association (collective) was formed in 1891.

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John Hill

An industrial chemist, he started work here in 1959. For steel, the carbon content can vary from 0.8% to a maximum of 85%. Loads of options by the introduction of other elements for specialist applications. Lime and oxygen used in vast quantities. BOC tanks on site were pressurised to over 40 bar. A Oberhausen rotary furnace introduced in 1961 allowed steel to be produced in 80 to 120-ton charges; the variation due to the wear of the furnace lining during its working life. Only three ever existed (UK, Germany and South Africa). Spectrograph analysis in the mid-1960s enabled the chemical composition to be resolved in minutes saving valuable time. Workers had to wear flannel fire resistant clothing in an already very hot environment. A gallon of fluid, normally tea with the bonus of salt tablets, would be drunk by each worker per shift. Most washed away the obnoxious taste in the pub.

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The Appleby-Frodingham Railway Preservation Society conducted a rail tour around the site that lasted 2½ hours. Two un-powered DMUs, built in Derby in 1958, were pulled by an 0-6-0 ST steam loco Cranford. Wind socks were all around the site; in case of gas escapes the wind direction is known. A line of scrap locos included 0-6-0 Janus type and the much larger double-bogie German built D-18s. Large fork-lift trucks moved hot-rolled square-bar sections to the cooling areas. Lots of scrap metal is recycled and their sorting yard was vast. A coke plant produced gas.

After taking a break at the society’s loco yard, with a four-road engine shed/workshop, a slightly different return route passing the torpedo repair shop was taken. These immense cylindrical transporters are mounted on 12-wheeled bogies and carry around 100 tons of molten metal; a locomotive is attached at each end. An interesting day.

Mike Ringwood

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Images taken during the visit

Appleby Station, the home of the Appleby-Frodingham Railway Trust, inside the BSC complex.
Appleby Station, the home of the Appleby-Frodingham Railway Trust, inside the BSC complex.
0-6-0ST Cranford built by Avonside of Bristol in 1954 pulled the train around the site.
0-6-0ST Cranford built by Avonside of Bristol in 1954 pulled the train around the site.

Images courtesy of Ron Whittaker taken during the visit.

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