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Modern Times: 1950s to The Present Day

Industry and Technology

Iron and Steel

By Peter L Payne

By now virtually synonymous with the Scottish iron and steel industry, Colvilles' post-war plans were intended to bring about modernisation by taking over and closing antiquated plant such as Dixon's Blazes in Govanhill which shut in 1958. But their approach was a conservative one and Colvilles were strongly criticised by the British Iron & Steel Federation who pressed Colvilles to construct a fully integrated steelworks on a tidewater site. This new "Clyde Plant" would be the nucleus round which the Scottish iron and steel industry would develop. For very cogent reasons, the Federation's ideas were rejected, but it is arguable that this decision made the subsequent extinction of the industry inescapable.

Instead, Colvilles created a new works at Ravenscraig in Lanarkshire to which, under government pressure, was added a hot strip mill in 1963. Although technically impressive, the strip mill was a financial disaster and when the British iron and steel industry was nationalised in 1967, Colvilles was effectively bankrupt. The same fate awaited William Beardmore & Co's massive Parkhead forge, which became part of the Firth-Brown group in 1957 and closed in the early 1980s. Had shipbuilding and engineering on the Clyde not collapsed and had the car industry taken root in Scotland, all might have been well, but after attaining a record output of 3.3 million tons in 1970, the Scottish steel industry rapidly declined. By the late 1970s its net losses per ton were far higher than the national average and there was no alternative but to phase out its most uneconomical plant. Each closure exacerbated the problems of what remained.

Ian MacGregor (1912-1998), the British Steel Corporation's chairman, believed that the entire Scottish steel industry should be shut down. In the early 1980s this was politically unthinkable, but with privatisation in 1988, British Steel - now freed from any political and social constraints - simply closed the remaining works. The last shift at Ravenscraig was worked on 24 June 1992. The run down of iron and steel making had a knock on effect on the surviving small re-rolling and iron founding firms within the city, nearly all of which were forced out of business. All that remains of the industry, which was fundamental to Glasgow's prosperity for over 150 years, are names such as the Forge Shopping Centre in Parkhead.

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