The death of a Cumbrian community.


linux_wallpapers_211

It was largely elemental work -with fire, water and earth and [this author’s perception is that] it tended to shape the characters of those who undertook it -and lots of blast furnace workers were more than a little alarming to encounter at first meeting, but few were anything but totally transparent, moral, straightforward and, above-all, kind, caring and sociable individuals.
Quoted from Norman Nicholson:A Literary Life, by David Boyd.

The Ironworks at Millom in Cumbria was much more than the economic furnace of the town, it was the heart and soul of the community. And when the fire of the last blast furnace was extinguished in 1969…… the community died too!

img_1306My grandparents migrated to Haverigg towards the end of the 19th Century from Cornwall, a tin mining family who sought work, a new life, survival, as the tin mining industry declined and died. They brought their mining skills, their work ethic, their Methodism, and their moral values to Hodbarrow Iron Ore Mine and lived at 10 Concrete Square where I was born. After WWII when my father was demobbed from the Coldstream Guards, he started work at The Ironworks, firstly on the blast furnaces, then in the foundry. After leaving school at 16 I began working there too in the laboratories performing chemical analysis on everything associated with iron making: the iron ore, coke, limestone, water, gases, then the pig iron itself. Three generations bound together by an industry that in those days could look like the fires of hell had been let loose.


1486531914596
At night time the whole sky for miles around would glow an orange-red as the slag was tipped along the new sea wall. If you actually worked at the Ironworks the sight of a blast furnace being tapped or of a tropenas converter removing unwanted carbon, phosphorus, manganese and silicon either scared you rigid or excited the socks off you! The bubbling molten iron or metres long tongues of flame never scared me, I was utterly fascinated by what was happening chemically as well as the physical display and wanted to know and understand more.
Despite leaving school at 16 with only 3 O Levels or GCSEs, thankfully one of them was Chemistry in which I scored a Grade 1, probably getting 90%+ in the exam. All I ever wanted was to work in a laboratory, to learn more, to become a scientist! I had grown out of wanting to be a train driver or a fireman years ago and 10 years later would grow out of wanting to be a scientist, but working at Millom Ironworks, going to Whitehaven college for one day plus two evenings per week set me on the path to a PhD some 10 years hence. It also propelled me into being the analytical chemist assisting the scientist/manager of the research project into Spray Steelmaking that should have saved the Ironworks from total closure in 1968/69.

“This process had been conceived and experimentally proven by the British Iron and Steel Research Association, and a pilot plant had subsequently been installed alongside the Millom blast furnaces. Longer term plans even included a revolutionary continuous casting machine, to which the molten steel, instead of being cast into ingots, could be directly transferred for immediate and continuous further processing into semi-finished solidified sections. Far ahead of its time, this concept was much later to be successfully deployed in niche-market ‘mini-mills’ involving electric-arc steelmaking furnaces feeding directly adjacent continuous casting machines.” (Quoted from Norman Nicholson: A Literary Life, by David Boyd)

Sadly our success with this scheme had no effect on the government of the day and the Ironworks was closed down, but not without some stinging words from Lord Royle in the House of Lords:

A works, a town can be saved; and at the same time a revolutionary process can be expanded for the wellbeing of the industry and the nation as a whole. It is important to notice in our arguments for nationalisation that this has happened under the old regime. It is a strange commentary that the new regime, nationalisation, could save Millom and others like it from the old so-called independent regime. Ye Gods! They talk about competition! It looks as if they are terrified of it.

Remember, this was a Labour Government under Harold Wilson, the champion of the working man!

Ironworks1

And now, 50 years later, there is nothing left above ground of the Ironworks or of Hodbarrow Mine, and nothing left of the old community. Wellington Street is like a windswept street in an old western movie, Concrete Square was bulldozed away and is now a barren area of grass. At least the Millom Discovery Centre tells the whole story in a sympathetic way, but the opportunity for some marvellous tourist attractions of industrial archaeology have long gone. The short sightedness of government, both national and local, was a disgrace as the people and whole area were discarded. Norman Nicholson had a great social awareness and was a champion of the working class especially in his home town, though the local council and “officianados” of the town seemed to have little care for him when he was amongst them or for the importance of his old house to this day. He wrote mostly about industry, the mines, the Ironworks, Windscale, and the tough life of the people who lived and worked in this area. If he were alive today and living in Millom he would sadly have very little to write about at all!


 

21 thoughts on “The death of a Cumbrian community.

  1. I lived for some time in Ilkeston in Derbyshire. When I first went there in 1987 the Stanton steel works was a thriving industry – when I left in 2000 it was a shadow of its former self, a subsidiary of a French pipe manufacturing company and a whole community had gone with it. C’est la vie!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll be writing about that sort of thing in #4 with a description of Japanese business strategy and how they systematically overwhelmed motorbikes, cars, steel, computers.

      Like

        1. An interesting comparison would be France who seem to continue to support their industry in most areas where we have failed. Interesting accusations about the blue passports this morning.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Yes, it is surprising but a historical fact that when Wilson ousted Heath he immediately cut off the investment into Norton-Villiers. The support given to Japanese industries in those days though was on a scale unseen in the West. They put up an absolute wall of barriers to prevent entry into Japanese markets, their investment in R&D was astronomic, their understanding of quality came from American theory and textbooks that they remorselessly followed, they subsidised everything and played a very long game. To reveal a bit of #4, the final stage of their strategy was called ….. colonisation! Just reading about passports.

          Like

        3. Early days it was inferior but cheap. They were “gaining entry” to our markets generally but their motor bikes were far from inferior, especially Kawasaki I believe.

          Like

        4. I saw this earlier this morning, classic French action just like their truck drivers and port/ship workers. Is secondary picketing allowed in France?

          Like

  2. Reblogged this on Tales From Mindful Travels and commented:

    1. A Personal Tale of Steel …. and it’s death!
    How did the steel industry die an undignified death in Britain? What was the effect on communities? This is a repost of a personal story that was to repeat itself 15 years later and kicks off 3-4 articles about the disappearance of steel manufacturing and its history. It will be followed by a Reblog from a follower who recently visited a closed but preserved steelworks in Alabama, USA.

    Like

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.