Hallside Steelworks 1873~1979

 

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Most of this text about Hallside Steel Works is from a booklet, written by Alastair Borthwick and published by British Steel Corporation in 1973 to celebrate 100 years of operation at Hallside. However, I have also included at the end an extract from "Engineering", published on 12 December 1879, which provides a contemporary account of this works when it was a pre-eminent pioneer in the great change from iron to steel for shipbuilding, and the construction of the Forth Bridge.

The first steel ever made in Scotland in commercial quantities was tapped from the furnaces at Hallside one hundred years ago. It was not produced, as might be supposed, by an enterprising ironmaster who saw the possibilities of the new material and built a works to exploit it. The birth of Hallside was a long and curious process, but the primary reason why it came into being was that a chemical manufacturer made a mistake.


Important dates in the history of Hallside

1872
9th February Formation of a public company to be known as The Steel Company of Scotland.
1873
Autumn. Production started with four 6-ton producer gas-fired regenerative melting furnaces.
1874
A further four 6-ton furnaces added.
1874
2-Siemens revolving furnaces erected for the direct reduction of iron pyrites, but proved too costly and abandoned in 1875.
1875
Three 10-ton furnaces added.
1875-76
Cogging Mill added to original rail mill; plate, merchant bar mills and forging plant added - steel foundry and wheel moulding installed.
1876
First Admiralty order for steel for shipbuilding.
1878
James Riley came from Siemens, Landore, to be General Manager at Hallside.
1880
Purchase of Blochairn Works.
1917
Visit of King George V.
1920
Purchased by a group of Clyde Shipbuilders.
1934
Transferred to Lithgows Limited.
1936
Purchased by Colville Group - forging discontinued.
1960
Became part of The Clyde Alloy Steel Company Limited and commenced production with new 24" Billet Mill, Soaking Pits and Casting Pit facilities.
1963
Started electric arc furnace steel production and dismantled open hearth furnaces.
1967
On Nationalisation, became part of British Steel Corporation.
1968
Attached to Special Steels Division and became part of Forges, Foundries and Engineering Works Group.
1979
Closed Site cleared 1982-3

 

The chemical manufacturer was Charles Tennant, a man of great energy and initiative whose St. Rollox chemical works in Glasgow were the biggest in the world. The raw material for the sulphuric acid he manufactured was, of course, sulphur, and to ensure supplies at a reasonable price he owned a sulphur mine in Italy; but in 1866 the King of Naples taxed the mine at an exorbitant rate.

Tennant looked elsewhere. Knowing that sulphur could be extracted from pyrites, he and his associates took over the working of a pyrites mine in Spain and shipped the ore home to St. Rollox to keep the sulphuric acid side of the business going. It was through this chain of events that he found himself involved in steel.
When the pyrites arrived it was first of all roasted to extract the sulphur and then put through a further process to extract the copper contained in the ore.

What was then left was iron oxide, purple in colour, which everyone called Blue Billy; and since Blue Billy accounted for nearly three quarters of the original ore and no use could be found for it, thousands of tons piled up at St. Rollox. Hallside was founded because Charles Tennant thought the easiest way to get rid of it would be to make it into steel.

As it happened he was mistaken and Blue Billy remained useless to the end, but though he had come into the steel industry for the wrong reason, he had arrived there at the right time. After centuries of small-scale production, much of it hit-or-miss, steel was on the verge of becoming a mass-produced material.
The early ironmasters had occasionally made it by accident; but in the West it was unknown as a reliable manufactured product until the Crusaders returned with Damascus swords as trophies. This steel, later used for the famous Toledo blades, was made in little 1 lb discs in Trichinopoli; but the secret of the Indian smiths was lost during the Middle Ages and had to be rediscovered by Benjamin Huntsman in the early 1700s. He heated iron in covered crucibles and made, this time in 40 lb lots, the fine grained steel which established the Sheffield cutlery industry; but though it was excellent steel, it was much too expensive for structural work or for machinery.
The Industrial Revolution had to make do first of all with cast iron and then with wrought iron, and it was on these materials that nearly all engineering depended when Blue Billy began to irritate Charles Tennant.
There had, however, been talk of two new processes for making steel cheaply. One was Sir Henry Bessemer's method of blowing air through molten pig iron. The other used the open hearth furnace invented by Sir William Siemens, and it was this process which Tennant chose. He approached Siemens and asked him if he thought there might be a future for Blue Billy. Siemens agreed to investigate.

He had become interested in steelmaking during his attempts to build a furnace which used its heat efficiently instead of blowing most of it up the chimney.

The method he eventually perfected was simple and effective He constructed a furnace with two clambers leading into it, drawing the air in through one and exhausting the gases through the other until the exhaust chamber was hot. Then he switched the flow drawing the incoming air through the hot chamber and exhausting through the cold one. By switching back and forth in this way the air arrived in the furnace in a pre-heated state and besides saving fuel gave such high temperatures that the economical smelting of steel was possible.Furthermore, when he arranged for the fuel to be gasified before it reached the furnace, he excluded most of the impurities which Huntsman had been able to exclude only by working within small enclosed crucibles.
This was the open hearth furnace, a major invention. Since the process took several hours it was possible to sample the metal, make whatever adjustments were necessary, and tap it at precisely the right time ; and with a capacity reckoned in tons instead of pounds the door to mass production was open.

So it came about that Siemens arrived in Scotland and after some preliminary experiments announced that although he had not been able to do much with Blue Billy so far, he was confident that success was near. On the strength of this, Tennant and his friends decided to embark on a full-scale steelworks and commissioned Siemens to design it, the idea being to use conventional materials until the Blue Billy experiments were complete.
In the event, the experiments came to nothing ; but although no more was heard of Blue Billy, the Siemens plant was so successful with conventional materials that it was an admirable investment. It was the first open hearth plant in the country, and launched Scotland as a steel-producing nation.

Its owners were the Steel Company of Scotland, a public company formed by Charles Tennant and his friends on 9 February 1872 with a capital of £ 105,000. There were 28 shareholders, all of them connected with heavy engineering or chemicals. The leaders were Charles Tennant and his brother John ; Archibald S. Schaw, a Glasgow merchant; David and John Wilson ; John Moffat, a civil engineer of repute ; and Archibald Arrol, whose name is familiar in structural engineering to this day. The directors had no direct connection with iron or steel production, a state of affairs which was to persist for 70 years. For the greater part of its history, the company was to be directed by steel users rather than by steel manufacturers.

At the time of the Steel Company's incorporation the site had already been chosen after a search extending over the West of Scotland. Siemens himself was taken to see all the sites, including, a century before its time, one near Hunterston. The requirements were that the site should cover 70 to 100 acres ; be nearly level, have access by rail to coal and iron producing districts and to ports ; and have ample supplies of water. It had to be free from objection by local proprietors on grounds of amenity and have ground available for workmen's houses.
Michael Scott, the Acting Manager of the Steel Company of Scotland investigated various sites, including one on the Ayrshire coast. However, James Dunlop, a nephew of Colin Dunlop of the Clyde Iron Works, suggested Hallside, and eventually, Hallside was acquired from the Duke of Hamilton. It had the Clyde nearby and ample local supplies of coal and pig iron. The site was bought for £14,000

No time was wasted A month after the Company was formed, the railway had to put a workmen's carriage on trains from Glasgow, and within another month a special workers train was running. Despite difficulties with the weather throughout the spring and summer of 1873, the works were built and an experienced staff was found. By the end of the year steel production had begun. At first there were only four 6-ton Siemens furnaces in operation, fired by producer gas with a foundry, loam mill, smithy, machine shop and other ancillary departments. The 26-inch mill began rolling rails so successfully that it was decided to expand rail production The company finished its first full year's working with a loss of £ 27,000 which in the circumstances was thought highly satisfactory ; and by then there were eight steel melting furnaces and eight heating furnaces. Production was running at about 18,000 tons a year, much of it steel rails ; and in addition to all this the company announced that it was diversified into plates, bars, forgings and castings and raising the output to 40,000 tons a year

In 1874 Michael Scott, the acting manager, resigned and William Lorimer then acted as General Manager from 1874 to 1878.

The trials with the Blue Billy iron oxide, using two Siemens revolving furnaces, revealed that the cost of production was higher than using external supplies of pig iron and scrap. In January 1875 the revolving furnaces were dismantled and the company then relied on external supplies.
Diversification was a bolder decision than on the surface, because a great deal of hard thinking had been done during the first year and the directors knew by this time that their rail programme could not continue indefinitely. Competition was springing up in England and on the Continent, notably from firms using the Bessemer system, which had overcome most of its teething troubles and could turn out rails quickly and cheaply.
Hallside would not be able to compete much longer.

Yet the speed of the Bessemer reaction, which could be completed in a few minutes and was an important factor in its low running costs, had the disadvantage that it made quality control difficult. It could not compete in this respect with the slower Siemens operation, which allowed finer adjustments to be made. Hallside's strength lay in quality, and it was this that the diversification programme was devised to exploit. It was based on an early and accurate assessment of the demand for ships' plates.

The directors believed - as it happened, rightly - that steel manufacture in Scotland was about to be transformed. In the early 1870s nine ships out of ten built on the Clyde were made of iron , but there was a feeling that steel, though costing half as much again and not always reliable, was the material of the future. When it is realised that ten years later fewer than three Clyde ships in every hundred were not built of steel, it is clear that Hallside's diversification into angles and plate-making could hardly have been better timed. In no other British shipbuilding area was as the switch from iron to steel so rapid or so wholesale, and Hallside was equipped to meet the demand almost before it was apparent.

Events moved quickly thereafter. Bessemer's early misfortunes had given steel a poor reputation for reliability which it had still not overcome and in 1875, the second year of the company's working existence, the Chief Naval Architect of the Royal Navy challenged the steelmakers to produce a thoroughly reliable material that could be worked up "without fear and trembling''. The company which first rose to the challenge was the Landore Siemens Steel Works in Wales, a fact which was not lost on the Steel Company of Scotland directors.
By arrangement with Siemens, they appointed the manager at Landore, James Riley, as their own general manager, in 1878. As the Welsh company had been rescued by Riley from precisely the difficulties they themselves faced (by manufacturing special quality ferro manganese steel, more suited to the open hearth furnace than the Bessemer converter) the appointment was possibly the most important single factor in putting Hallside on its feet and establishing its lasting reputation.

In 1876 the directors decided to lay down a plate mill. Hallside had its first Admiralty order, and in the following year Jong Elder & Company built two Channel steamers from Hallside steel plates and angles. After another year, James and George Thompson built the steam paddler Columba and in 1879 William Denny built the Rotomahana and Buenos Ayrean: the former being the first ocean-going steamer to be built of mild steel. The Rotomahana's adventures finally convinced the Clyde that the days of iron were over, and incidentally provided Hallside with an excellent testimonial. She struck a rock forcibly, but the damage was so slight that it was repaired in three days and the shipping company manager reported that the experience "has clearly shown the immense superiority of steel over iron. There is little doubt that had the Rotomahana been of iron, such a rent would have been made in her that she would have filled in a few minutes''.
There was also the official report which mentioned "this splendid ductile material", a phrase the firm was not slow to publicise.

All the new mills, hammers, cranes and moulding equipment needed for the diversification programme were installed by 1876, three years before the Rotomahana was so much as launched, and James Riley arrived from Landore in 1878, so the Steel Company was well placed to take advantage of the new frame of mind among the shipbuilders.

The company paid its first dividend in 1879.
Yet there were difficulties to be overcome before the prosperity of the company was assured, the chief of which was the fact that shipbuilding was at the mercy of world trade and much given to booms and slumps. This had already been demonstrated to the company's disadvantage. In 1877 and 1878, when the plate mill had been installed and demand for its output should have been increasing, the ships yards were in the depths of a depression and plagued by strikes as well.

The plate mill could not be fully employed, even with single shaft working. The directors therefore diversified yet again, this time into the manufacture of heavy angles, large tee-bulbs, tin plate bars, and steel castings, and so insured themselves against an out-and-out dependence on shipbuilding A pattern had been established which was to guide the company for more than half a century. There was one final move in laying down the foundations of the company, the acquisition of Blochairn Iron Works.
James Riley was both a leader and a technician, and under his guidance the early difficulties were soon overcome.

By 1880 the company had so high a reputation for its boiler and ship plates, and so great was the demand for its steel not only for shipbuilding but for bridges and construction work, that Hallside could not take all the orders it was offered. Blochairn Iron Works in Glasgow , well equipped but bankrupt, had been lying unused for six years, and the Steel Company was able to buy it as it stood for £60,000. The idea was to dismantle the equipment and move it out to Hallside, but when Riley examined it he reported that for the modest outlay of £85,000 the works could be converted to make steel instead of iron and come close to matching the output of Hallside. This was done. In 1880 the Steel Company's total output reached 80,000 Ingot tons.
The next ten years were relatively uneventful, with shipbuilding enjoying one of its prosperous periods and trade in general brisk. There was no doubt now that iron had had its day. The company paid a dividend in every year between 1880 and 1890: usually around 4 per cent or 5 per cent but on three occasions rising to 10 per cent or higher; and it rounded off the decade with the completion of a notable contract, the supply of steelwork for the Forth Railway Bridge.

Of the 58,000 tons of plates and girders used, 38,000 came from the Steel Company of Scotland and provided a lasting advertisement for the excellence of its wares. A special edition of "Engineering" reported: "The choice of material for constructing a bridge of novel design, of extraordinary magnitude, and exposed during erection to the effects of powerful atmospheric disturbances, must have been the subject of much anxious thought and reflection to the engineers. But, in whatever way the decision was arrived at, there can be no two opinions that the choice was a happy one. From the beginning to the end this steel was subjected to every conceivable test, but in all cases the steel stood the test and a more uniform, a more homogeneous, and more satisfactory material could not be wished. for . . . This behaviour of the steel under severe tests had a great deal to do with the confidence with which the workmen regarded every portion of the structure, and with their belief that no possible load they could pile on the temporary platforms could by any chance bring about a collapse.'"

The steel in fact proved so reliable that when the new road bridge was planned seventy years later, it was at one time considered possible that it might be hung from the old structure.

After the good years of the 1880s came depression, with no dividends paid from 1891 to 1896, only 3 per cent in 1897, and a fairly thin period thereafter. By 1890, with increasing local competition from Beardmores, David Colville at Dalzell, the Clydebridge Steel Company and the Glengarnock Iron and Steel Company, the plate mill had been abandoned at Hallside, which then concentrated on forgings, sections, rails and bars. James Riley resigned from the general managership in 1895 to move to the Glasgow Iron and Steel Company.
Business was not really picking up again until 1906, gathering momentum as the First World War approached. Hallside on the eve of the war was a close-knit little community, works and houses together forming what was in effect an industrial village.

The houses had been built in 1873, the first year of the company's working existence, close beside the works on ground bought specially for the purpose. There were over a hundred of them - the "English houses'" stonebuilt, for the foremen and management ; and two-storey tenement blocks for the workmen. The rents could hardly be called excessive. The highest were six shillings a week and some went as low as half-a-crown.
With this nucleus established by the company, a shop appeared, then a church and a school. Later came allotments, bowling, tennis. It was a complete, self-contained community with its own amusements and festivals (the annual opening of the bowling green was one of the big events), a settled place where sons tended to follow fathers in the works and where the turnover in tenancies was small. Families came and stayed, with a strong admixture of Griffiths and Joneses and Thomases who had followed James Riley from Landore. The women knew almost as much about the works as the men.
Strangers found it took a long time to become accepted, but when they were admitted it was a warm place to live in.

Those were the days before any of Scotland's heavy industries had grouped into large units, or had any thoughts of doing so : coal, steel and shipbuilding were all carried on by small firms each with its own policy, order-book and problems. There was a tendency for the scale of operations within each company to grow as technology advanced, but that was all.

The pattern so far as Hallside was concerned was much as it had been before, except that from 1908 onwards there was a general increase in the capacity of the eight furnaces and other equipment and the company generated its own electricity to light the works and run the rolling mill auxiliaries. The mills themselves remained steam-driven, and the cogging mill did not go over finally to electricity until 1918. The plate mills had stopped production in 1890. About this time the foundry made a substantial contribution to the company's output, and the stems, sternposts, brackets and other castings it turned out helped to build many famous ships. Some of its castings weighed 50 tons. The forge, too, was busy, mainly with locomotive, carriage and wagon axles.

The company was, of course, no longer a pioneer and had many competitors; but it was moving as fast as the times and was a representative example of its type. In the years before the first war the capacity of the furnaces had increased from the original 6 tons to 35 tons, and in a good year Hallside turned out 80,000 to 90,000 ingot tons of steel.

Also during this period, in 1906, the company secured its supplies by buying nearby collieries at Garthamlock and Queenslie, a practice which reflected the fragmented nature of industry at that time. Firms were obsessed by the fear that, having ridden out a slump, they would be unable through lack of supplies to take advantage of the boom when it followed; and much of the energy which might have been spent on amalgamation with their competitors went on buying up their suppliers.

The trend ended in the 1930s for the Steel Company as well as for most other firms. They closed the mines in 1934 and did not acquire others in their place.
But long before this they themselves had fallen victim to the trend. The first war came and went, stretching Hallside's resources to the utmost, and was followed by the post-war boom of 1919-1922. The shipbuilders, with all the wartime sinkings to make good, were in the market for steel and beginning as usual to worry about their supplies. A group of them approached the Steel Company of Scotland in 1920 and suggested purchasing a controlling interest, a proposition the directors found attractive. They had just declared a dividend of 15 per cent, the best the company had ever paid and so they were in a strong bargaining position. The deal went through. The shipbuilders, among them the leaders of the major Clyde yards, took over.

It seemed a good move at the time; but the shipbuilding industry, as always at the mercy of world trade, was no more stable in the days after the Armistice than it had been before the war began. The boom which looked so promising when the deal was negotiated in 1920 held up for two years or so, but after four years was no more than a memory and the Steel Company of Scotland's new owners found themselves with almost no new ships to build. The 12½ per cent dividend of 1922 was down to 5 per cent a year later and thereafter vanished altogether; and the depression ahead was to prove the worst the world had known. Thus it was that during the bleakest period of its history, Hallside was in the hands of men whose own businesses were hard pressed.
In retrospect it appears on the face of it odd that Hallside should have weathered such a storm; it was old, and the scale of operations which had been daring in the 1870s had long been surpassed by Colvilles and other companies. As steelworks went, it was by this time a small concern. Yet this smallness, combined with the fact that the company could turn its hand to a variety of products proved to be an advantage during the lean years of the Twenties and the early Thirties. Hallside could take on short runs the bigger works could not tackle economically; and with its ability to roll billets, rails and all shipbuilding sections it could range wide in its search for orders. As other works closed, Hallside operated its mills and melting shops from day to day taking on orders of as little as 20 or 30 tons and then sending the men home until another order came along.
Throughout this period there was, of course, no question of development and even maintenance was minimal. The Steel Company hung on as best it could and hoped, without much confidence, for better days.
In 1934 business picked up, and in that year Sir James Lithgow gained control from his fellow shipbuilders. Two years later he sold the company to Colvilles.

Hallside's hundred years fall into three clearly defined parts, a beginning in which the company was a pioneer leading the industry, an end in which it came to terms with modern steel, and between them an untidy period in which it survived by the skin of its teeth and was picked up and laid down by a variety of interests, none of them directly concerned with steel. This middle period did not end when the company came under the control of Colvilles, even though Colvilles were steelmakers.

The acquisition was very much a case of willing seller and willing buyer, for Sir James Lithgow was far-sighted and knew there was no longer a future for small independent steelworks : his yards would be better served by the major group Colvilles were rapidly becoming. Colvilles for their part, though not greatly attracted by Hallside in its run-down state and with works of their own which could duplicate most of its products, were glad to absorb a competitor. They bought the company for £ 648,000.

Colvllles occupied a key position in the Scottish steel industry between the wars. Shipyards could be counted by the dozen and coal-owners by the score; but the steel industry was being taken in hand by an industrialist of genius: Sir John Craig, who saw that it was a large-scale operation and could not be carried on efficiently by small units. He began to draw the independent companies into the Colville empire with increasing success. The Thirties were a period full of rumours of change, and the realisation among the independent companies that the system which had started so vigorously in the 1870s and stagnated for so long since the war was about to alter drastically. In this atmosphere it was difficult to see a future for a works such as Hallside which had changed little in 60 years.

However, the run-up to the Second War had begun. There was no time for re-organisation and no desire to shut down any plant, however old, that could produce the steel the country needed. A shell press was installed at Hallside in 1938 and production rose rapidly.

A second shell plant was begun the following year, but did not come into production until 1940 after war had been declared. The foundry continued to serve the shipyards, whose demands were, of course, insatiable, but some capacity was switched to making tank turrets and 2,000 lb bombs. The mills turned out billets for other manufacturers as well as making rails and shipyard sections as they had always done, the only difference being that the drive for production was intense. More than 2,000 people worked at Hallside then, 300 of them women. They worked in round-the-clock shifts.

The women were employed in the shell plant and in various specialist jobs, and are remembered in particular for their light touch as crane drivers. The tale is still told of the girl who was seen by the manager swinging down 50 feet from the cab of her crane on the end of the rope-and-belt escape apparatus installed in case of air raid damage. She seemed surprised that he thought anything of it. She said : "Sir that's the way I always come down."
The main difficulty in the early days lay in screening the glare of the furnaces from enemy bombers, and the open or slatted wails of the melting shop had to be enclosed in corrugated sheeting. Lack of ventilation made working conditions trying throughout the war; but the screening was effective and the few bombs which fell near the works were probably aimed elsewhere. Production was never interrupted

All through the war the furnaces produced a total of 3,000 ingot tons a week, working to capacity almost continuously. Maintenance was fitted in with difficulty. Under such conditions, and with equipment which had been old when the war began, the works were soon the worse for wear and a long way behind the times. By the war's end they were clearly in need of overhaul if they were to hold their own, and radical development if they were to compete post-war market.

How unlikely they were to be developed may be gathered from a report made in 1944 when the war was in its final stages. It listed Hallside as having nine furnaces, the newest built in 1942 and the oldest in 1918, a 28-inch cogging mill built in 1885 ; a 27-inch mill for rails and sections built in 1873 ; a light tandem bar mill built in 1923 ; and a steel foundry built in 1876.
"It is the opinion of the Board" said the report, "that Hallside with its present plant will never again produce on an economic basis and it is visualised that it will eventually be converted into a solid wheel and axle plant."

This should have been a death warrant, but after the war the demand for steel from any source remained so great that the works rubbed along for 13 more years, the poor relation of the Colvllle group. It seemed obvious that Hallside would run down and eventually stop altogether.

Sir Andrew McCance, however, had other views. Sir Andrew had one of the best technical minds in the Scottish steel industry and with Sir John Craig was at that time shaping the industry into its modern form. Sir John, the commercial member of the team, had assembled the companies, one of them the Steel Company of Scotland, and from 1930 onwards Sir Andrew had been organising them into a coherent working partnership. Hallside, run-down, small by modern standards and comparatively speaking out in the wilds, was low on his list of priorities ; but now he wondered if the long-term sentence of death the directors had passed in 1944 was justified. He had a problem which Hallside might help to solve. One of the Colville companies was The Clyde Alloy Steel Company Limited, a substantial supplier to the alloy steel market. It produced a small tonnage of alloy steel ingots which were cogged to billets at Dalzell Works. To augment output it was drawing supplies of billets from other companies in the group which with open hearth furnaces were not equipped to make steels of the highest quality. It could be that Hallside, properly equipped with an electric arc furnace, could take this awkward workload from the rest of the Group and become a specialist in high quality alloy steels.

The more he looked at it, the more he realised that the group needed a specialist works. He decided to concentrate at Hallside all the billet capacity Clyde Alloy required, both for re-rolling in its own bar mills, and for direct sales to the alloy billet market.

It was a clean sweep, both of equipment and products; rails and sections were hived off to other companies in the group and Hallside was re-equiped for a single specialised product, alloy steel billets. The only exception to this was the foundry, which was unaffected.

The intention was to keep production going after the re-organisation started in 1958 ; but slack market conditions and some unfortunate digging by the Coal Board combined to close the works and they had to wait 18 months for the ground to settle before some of the new equipment could be installed. The works remained closed, again with the exception of the foundry, in all for two years. When they re-opened in June 1960, they had amalgamated with Clyde Alloy and taken its name. The works had been virtually demolished and rebuilt. A new billet mill and continuous reheating furnace were in operation, followed in the autumn by a reconditioned cogging mill, new melting shop casting bay, soaking pits and billet grinding machines. The blooms were rolled in a 24-inch two-high reversing billet mill. There were new fast saws and shears to finish the job. In all, £5 million had been spent.

After protracted negotiations, Colvilles bought the remaining coal under the works and the Coal Board indemnified them for surface damage done from 1957 onwards.
The old open hearth furnaces continued to be used for a few years, but then they too were scrapped and replaced by a single 100-ton nominal capacity electric arc furnace at a cost of £ 1 million.
The 3,000 tons a week the furnace turns out today is as much as all the open hearths together managed in their prime, and the product is, of course, vastly more sophisticated. The furnace taps its 100 tons in four or five hours, whereas the open hearths took up to 10 hours to tap 60 tons.

The new system, continuously updated, has brought many changes, for it has not only reduced the amount of labour required but in many ways has altered the type of labour. In the old days before the electric arc, when the company was progressing from solid fuel through producer gas to oil firing, there was a fair proportion of tradesmen and labourers in the workforce. During the second war, when there were more than 2,000 people on the payroll, there were 100 men in the brick-laying squad, 50 on the boilers, and 50 on the gas producers. Today there are only five bricklayers, no gas producers, and only two small boilers for space-heating, employing a few men. Contraction of the national castings market closed the foundry early this year. The nine locomotives which once carried the heavier loads about the works have dwindled to two, and the eight miles of rails they ran on to three miles. A total workforce of 546 produces as much as before in tonnage, and a great deal more in value. And as people become more mobile, the labour net has been cast wider. The workforce is drawn from all Lanarkshire but mostly from Cambuslang, Uddingston and Hamilton.

In 1973, Hallside forms part of a larger organisation than ever Colvilles dreamed of - one of the many works in the Forges, Foundries & Engineering Works Group of the British Steel Corporation's Special Steels Division. The Group covers all units of this type throughout the industry's public sector and is administered from Sheffield.
But though it has taken its place in a new organisation its function is unaltered and it is still, modernisation apart, as it was when the electric furnace completed its transformation ten years ago.
For Hallside it has been an eventful century since Tennant thought he could put Blue Billy to work.


Extract from "Engineering", 12 December 1879

Extension of Hallside Steelworks


One of the most striking features in the industrial history of Glasgow during the past few years is the establishment and growth of the manufacture of Siemens steel, on a very extensive scale, at the works of the Steel Company of Scotland, a few miles to the south-east of that great commercial city, and there is now a prospect of an immediate extension of the works to about twice their present producing power, when they will be entitled to rank amongst the most important establishment of the kind in the kingdom.

Such extraordinary demands have been made upon the Steel Company of Scotland during the last year or two in consequence of the extending use of steel for shipbuilding purposes, that it was found impossible on the part of the shipbuilders and other large consumers to get delivery of their goods fast enough and in consequence they were compelled to send some of their orders to be implemented at steel works on the south side of the Border. From time to time their large customers urgently impressed upon the directors the importance of still further extending the producing capacity of their already large works, in order that the ship-building, engineering, &c., might be met by manufacturers on the spot. The advice so tendered was seriously considered by the directors, and when they found themselves literally inundated with orders arising out of the revival of trade which has come upon the country within the past few months, they eventually determined to extend their works in such a way as to meet all the immediate and prospective demands likely to be made upon them. Their works were intended in the first instance largely for the production of steel rails, but as the use of steel for shipbuilding and allied purposes increased, the company saw the propriety of so adapting the works as to be able to turn out large quantities of plates and angle bars, &c., of large sections, and to leave the rail making trade in a great measure to other firms. As it is, however, there is good reason to believe that the company have, within a very recent period, been compelled to decline tendering for orders for rails amounting to something like 150,000 tons.

There were rumours some months ago that the Steel Company were about to purchase the Blochairn Iron Works as one way of getting out of their difficulty, and there was a certain amount of truth in the rumours that prevailed, for negotiations between the trustee upon the estate and the directors of the Steel Company did actually take place. Being provided with Siemens' reheating furnaces and some excellent machinery, the works in question were thought, by many practical people, to be well suited for steel making, and worth a good price. But the negotiation for a time came to no result. They were opened again and again broken off, the company being of the opinion that the works were not suitable for their purpose. Forthwith the trustee advertised the works and all the machinery and fixed plant for sale by public auction, the sale being fixed for Wednesday of the present week, and again the negotiations were re-opened with the result that within the past few days the private purchase of the whole estate trust was made, at a cost, according to current report, of £60,000, the intention of the purchasers being, we understand, to remove forthwith to Hallside Works all the available machinery, and to dispose of and break up the remainder, and, finally, to dismantle the works.

But prior to this most important step being taken certain extensions in the way of furnaces and machinery had been resolved upon which may be spoken of as being of still greater importance, although the intentions of the directors may be somewhat modified by the purchase just mentioned. First of all, there are in rapid progress great alterations and extensions in the present forge and mill departments at the Hallside Works. Some of these we shall briefly indicate. An 8-ton steam hammer by Messrs. Thwaites and Carbutt, Bradford, has just been erected over an anvil block of about 140 tons, the casting of which was superintended by Mr John Ireland, of Manchester, a gentleman whose experience and reputation in such work are well known throughout the kingdom. The hammer in question is to be used for manipulating slabs prior to entering one of the adjacent rolling mills. In the forge department there are now three 8-ton hammers available for working slabs and ingots, and one 3-ton hammer for forgings. There are at present in the mill department the following rolling mills: (1) A powerful reversing rail mill (whose engines were formerly described and illustrated in these pages), which is also available for rolling lengths of large setion angle bars, deck beams, &c. That mill is engaged this week in rolling 10-in beams. (2) Two plate mills, and (3) one 14-in bar mill. The machinery just referred to is being increased by the addition of a new plate mill with rolls 26in in diameter and 6 ft long; an 18in bar mill with three-high roughing rolls, and lifting feeding table; a 14in bar mill and a 10in guide mill. There are also in progress a new engine with 34in cylinder for the 18in bar mill, and one of 24in cylinder and 21in stroke, which is to be a quick-running engine (probably up to 200 revolutions per minute), and it is intended for working the 10in guide mill and the 14in bar mill. The 34in engine, which is to drive the 18in bar mill, has a flywheel weighing some tons. Practically all the machinery just spoken of is being supplied by Messrs Miller and Co., Vulcan Foundry, Coatbridge.

Amongst the other works in progress of construction we should mention a steel multitube boiler of the locomotive type, which is to be laid alongside the three of similar type which we described some months ago when we noticed the starting of the compound reversing engines for the rail mill. Besides being a reserve for these engines, it is required to furnish additions to the general supply of steam to the mill department. There is also being made a great addition to the re-heating furnaces, as also to the seam-producing power in another direction. In consequence of the erection of the new 8-ton steam hammer and the new rolling mills, it was found to be necessary to erect a number of re-heating furnaces, and the readiest solution to the difficulty was concluded to lie in the erection of six pairs of Messrs Perkins and Smellie's patent furnaces heated by coal, and each pair working into a large steel boiler. Two of the new boilers are being supplied by Messrs Wilson and Nicholson, Coatbridge, and the remaining four by Messrs Alexander Nicholson and Co, Glasgow. Four of the new furnaces will work to two of the 8ton hammers, four to the new plate mill, two to the 18in bar mill, and the other two to the smaller bar and guide mills. An additional pair of plate shears will also be erected shortly. These various extensions, and the alterations to which they give rise, have necessitated two very large additions to the roof of the already spacious shed enclosing the forge and mill departments of the old works. One of these, on the east side, 220ft by 100ft, is in the hands of Messrs Oliver and Arrol, Edinburgh; the other, on the west side, measuring 420ft by 41ft, is now being tendered for. It is probable also that a rolling mill will soon be laid down for manufacturing sheets suitable for corrugating and galvanising, stamping and similar purposes, as also for nail making, &c. The works just noticed, with the probable exception of the last-mentioned item, are so far forward that it is confidently expected that they will all be drafted into actual service within the next four or five weeks.

We have now briefly to speak of what must be styled the new works. These comprise, in the first instance, fourteen new melting furnaces in a continuous row, and parallel to those now at work in the existing melting shop. They are designed each to be capable of turning out 10 tons of steel at a casting, and are to be built at such a high level that the casting pits will be practically on a level with the floor of this addition to the melting shop. Foundations for seven of these furnaces have been commenced, and the remainder will follow forthwith. It is expected that four of the new furnaces will be delivering ingots within three months from the present date. With the view of governing in these new furnaces an additional bay or roofing, 56ft wide, is to be added to the whole length of the melting shop, namely, 520 ft. For the further extension of the forge and mill departments a new site has been selected, which lies on the west side of the melting shop, but still within the area of the works as at present laid off. After allowing room for three lines of railway, the site referred to will be covered in by an iron roof measuring 320ft, by 250ft. On the north side of the enclosed area there will be a stack of fourteen large steel boilers to supply steam to the whole of the machinery in the new works. Then, on the east side, and nearest to the melting shop, there will be a row of three 8-ton steam hammers, two of which have just been ordered of Messrs Glen and Ross, the leading steam hammer firm in Scotland. Next in order, there will be a row of eighteen reheating furnaces on the Siemens system - six for the hammers, and twelve for the mills. The plans include a row of four plate mills, which, with their engines, will be disposed parallel to the hammers. Two of these mills are to be of a very large size. The first, starting from the north will have rolls 8 ft long and 28-in in diameter. Messrs Davy Brothers, Sheffield, have No 1 mill in hand. No 2 is to be still larger, the rolls being 9 ft 6 in long and 32 in in diameter. It will be driven by a pair of Ramsbottom reversing engines, the cylinders 40 in in diameter, with a stroke of 4 ft 6 in, with steam starting cylinder, cataract, &c. It is under order from Messrs Miller and Co, Coatbridge, who are also supplying a pair of engines of similar character, but less powerful, for No 1 mill. The two other mills, Nos 3 and 4, will be of medium size. We next come to a row of plate-shearing machines. One of these is ordered of Messrs J Buckston and Co, Leeds and is well on towards completion. It is to be a very large and powerful machine, the lades being 14 ft long, capable of shearing a cols plate 1 ½ in thick, and the gap between the standards being wide enough to allow a plate 11 ft in width passing through. Immediately outside the mill shed on the west side there will be a line of railway for loading trucks with finished goods.
We had almost omitted to mention that excavations are now being made for laying down in immediate proximity to the new works twenty-one blocks of gas producers, or eight-four furnaces in all, to supply gaseous fuel for the new melting and reheating furnaces just spoken of.

By carrying out the arrangements which we have indicated, and which generally accord with the plans adopted by the directors of the Steel Company, at the suggestion of Messrs Riley and Williamson, respectively their general and works managers, it is calculated that the producing power of the works will be raised to 2500 or 3000 tons of ingots weekly. Or, to put the matter another way, it is stated that about £250,000 has already been expended upon the works, and it is confidently believed that by the expenditure of about half that amount additional, the productive capacity of Hallside Works will be at leas doubled. Such acts are indicative of great commercial enterprise being brought to bear in supporting a reputation that is unexcelled, an enterprise which certainly deserves success.

 



 

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