Lanarkshire Steel Works 1889 - 1979


Lanarkshire Steel Company's Jubilee 1889 - 1939

By R. H. Ralston, Colvilles Magazine, May 1939.

Lanarkshire Steel Company was founded as a private company in 1889, with a capital of £50,000, for the manufacture of iron and steel. The founders were Mr John Strain (brother to the later director Mr James S Strain), Mr James Mitchell, Mr Alexander Rose, Mr John Ross, Mr James Stewart, Mr William Dickson and Mr Alexander Watt.

The original intention had been to purchase a site in Carmyle, but after protracted negotiation with the landlord concerning the purchase of minerals, it was decided to look elsewhere for the acquisition of land.
Fortunately for the populace of Motherwell, Lord Hamilton offered a site at Flemington at what was considered a reasonable figure, and the founders closed the deal.

Having progressed thus far, they persuaded Mr James McFarlane to leave Colville's, and to take the responsibility of planning and laying down the necessary plant.
The firm had, indeed, a modest beginning, with three 18 ton furnaces, one 27inch mill, one 12 inch mill and one steam hammer with a ball furnace. Two hundred men were employed, and the initial output was 450 tons of finished steel per week.

In 1897 the firm went into voluntary liquidation; and with a view to developing the works, a new public limited company was formed, with a capital of £250,000. New plant was laid down, including one 18inch merchant mill, one 9inch guide mill, and 27inch and 36inch mills, and there was a resulting increase in the capacity of the works' output to 4,500tons of finished sections, etc., per week.

Two significant notes, which are not without humour, appear in the first Letter Book.
The first concerns one of the several contractors who had called for a substantial payment on account. The Board agreed to pay the amount asked for, but, so that no risk might be entailed for them, the Contractor was requested to state clearly on the receipt than the machinery specified was the property of the Lanarkshire Steel Company; and he was also asked to stencil this information in a distinct fashion on the plant remaining at his works.

The second relates to the railway company, who, before laying down the sidings, asked that an assurance be given that all outgoing traffic would be sent by Caledonian Railway. They received the following reply: "We cannot agree to your suggestion, and we see no reason for 'thirling' ourselves to a Railway Company." It is apparent that in those times the Railway Company's request for a SQUARE DEAL were more forceful than they are to-day (1939).

The consistency with which men trained at Dalzell found their way to the Lanarkshire's executive positions is almost prophetic of the amalgamation of the two companies. One noteworthy member of that vanguard was the brother of the present (1939) Ballie John McSkimming of Glasgow, Mr James McSkimming (then a colleague of our chairman) who accepted the post of commercial manager.
In the course of industrial history, the Lanarkshire Steel Company has exported steel to almost every country in the world, and for many large and important contracts. A few of these may be mentioned: - 8,000 tons of channels and joists were supplied for an undertaking in Hong Kong; 5,000 tons of channels and joists were consigned to Buenos Aires; 1,500 tons of pile bars were contributed for a pier in Guatemala.
Many large government buildings, public buildings, cinemas, banks, post offices and barracks have been constructed with Lanarkshire steel, whose supreme quality has gained a universal reputation for the firm.
Illustrious personages have, from time to time, inspected the works, and our late and well-loved King George V made a personal visit in 1917, when the works were engaged almost exclusively in the making of shell bars for the French and British |Governments.

A Japanese Prince was once a polite and interested visitor, and so charmed was he with the civility shown to him that he wrote a letter of profound thanks to the firm. This letter was framed and hung on the dining room wall, where it displayed itself for 10 years until a casual visitor with a knowledge of Japanese hieroglyphics informed the secretary it was upside down.

In the year 1919, the whole of the ordinary shares were acquired by Messers Sperling & Co., and the firm became associated with Workman, Clark, Ltd, and the Northumberland Shipbuilding Company; two companies which have since passed out of industry.

The years which followed 1919 saw the Lanarkshire Steel Company in a continued struggle for existence, until - after weathering many storms - a haven was reached in July 1936, when Colvilles Ltd acquired control.

Recently many improvements have been effected in the mills and melting shop, resulting in an increase in capacity to 5,000 tons of ingots and approximately 4,500 tons of finished material. Among the large variety of sections rolled at the Lanarkshire Works are 24 inch x 7 1/2 inch joists, 12 inch x 12 inch angles, centre sill sections for Canadian Rolling works, and many other sections not generally rolled in this country.
The prospects of the Lanarkshire Steel Company, established in 1889, are now bright with promise; and one feels that the recent installation of up-to-date plant and the increase of output, are justification for this optimism.

[Note: the Scottish Film Archive has a film of Lanarkshire in 1975 by Tom Urie Assistant Melting Shop Manager, Lanarkshire Steel Works, without specific knowledge of the directors of the company.]

REQUEST FOR INFORMATION - If anyone has one of the red/orange Colvilles / British Steel leaflets, with a detailed description of the works, that were handed out to visitors in the 1960s and 1970s please let me know as I would like to obtain a scan or photograph of the leaflet to complete the description above. You can contact me via the guest book or e-mail address on the Main Site home page.


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