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The Last Tap

As early as the 1960s and 1970s there were rumours that British Steel planned to close Brymbo. Unfortunately, the new bar and billet mill opened in 1980 just in time for a recession.  With falling demand for quality steel from British car makers, Brymbo steel also faced increasing competition from European steelmakers who enjoyed state subsidies.

The closure was announced on 14th May 1990. © Bersham Heritage Centre

The workforce at Brymbo Steelworks rose to the challenge: production records in the melting shops and the rolling mills were continually broken with no loss of quality.  Although the workers had faith in the steelworks, the new owners United Engineering Steels did not.

The Vacuum Arc De–gassing plant – helping Brymbo to produce world-class steel. Wrexham Heritage Services, 91.27.9 © Stewart Bale.

Their decision in 1986 to invest £60 million by installing ‘continuous casting’ in their steelworks at Rotherham, rather than in Brymbo, heralded the work’s future closure.  Despite the work’s profitability, high productivity and unique quality control systems, UES announced the closure of Brymbo Steelworks on 14th May 1990.  The last furnace was tapped on September 27th.  As the final steel made its way through the works, each section closed in its turn, until finally the Inspection Departments signed off the last delivery in February 1991.

Brymbo Steelworks from the south, 1983 © private collection - View Large Image

It was the end of two centuries of iron and steel. The dawn of a new era for Brymbo has taken a long time, but slowly a new community is being built on the site of the old works.  Local people and ex-steelworkers came together as Brymbo Heritage Group in 2005 to help preserve the steelwork’s remaining historic buildings and the stories they symbolise for future generations.

We still use steel today. Who makes steel now and who makes the profit from these sales?

We still use steel today. Who makes steel now and who makes the profit from these sales?

Brymbo, an end of an era Orange dust no longer rising,
The sheds are cold and still,
The rolls have all stopped turning,
Way up upon the hill.

The Ladles are all empty now,
The furnaces burn no more,
Shouts of men, no longer heard,
Across an empty floor.

Rolling mills stand hushed and wasted,
The days of use are gone,
Gone weeks of breaking records,
Where men worked hard and long.

Shouts of “Shears to roller”,
Or “Halt it cogging mill”,
Would echo from the ‘tannoy’,
To the workers on the hill.

Cranes rusting, still and silent,
Pits empty, dusty, bare,
No sounds of hot saws whirring,
In the dark gloom of despair.

It’s just a sad reminder,
Of days that have gone by,
Where they’d make and roll the billets,
And stack them to the sky.

The men who pushed the barrows,
Are still alive today,
I bet they never even thought,
Theyd sell it out this way.

‘Twas the ending of an era,
When Brymbo tapped the last,
But better steel youll never see,
Nor pride, nor work, nor cast.

There’s just a ghostly silence,
That remains upon the hill
Sons of sons have worked there,
Alas, no more they will.

Keith ‘Wallis’ Williams - Brymbo Steel 28” mill (1967-1974)

World Steel production 2005

World Steel production 2005
(selected countries only)
Million tons
China 395
Japan 112
United States 95
Russia 66
South Korea 48
Germany 45
Ukraine 39
India 38
Brazil 32
France 20
Taiwan 19
UK 13
Iran 9
Poland 8

Total world steel production in 2005: 1132 million tonnes.
Total world steel production in 2006: 1230 million tonnes.
Source: International Iron & Steel Institute

World Steel production 2005 - view large version

Employment in steel industry (thousands of steelworkers)

Year France
1974  158 232 197 459
1990  46 125 51 305
1996  39 86 37 240
2000  39 77 29 197
Cf production figures (million metric tonnes)
2006  19.9 47.2 13.9 112.5

Employment in steel industry - view large version