Shropshire History




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Iron Properties

Iron Making

Iron Sites


Coalbrookdale Company



Iron has been produced since the Iron Age, when men found that the metal was stronger than bronze for use in tools and weapons. It was probably first discovered when someone used ironstone rocks to surround a fire and afterwards found blobs of melted iron.  The colour of the mineral is a quite distinctive red or orange and this makes it easy to find and mine. Processes for extracting the iron developed over the years and the generic term for this is “smelting”.


In the early days, creating iron was a skill jealously guarded by a few blacksmiths and had almost a religious reputation.  From small local forges, the industry grew into huge ironworks, where iron was smelted and heavy iron or steel products were made. A typical ironworks in the 19th Century usually included one or more blast furnaces, puddling furnaces and a foundry.  The output of pig iron in Britain went from 1.3 million tons in 1840 to 10.4 million tons in 1913. Before 1860, steel was an expensive product, made in small quantities and used mostly for swords, tools and cutlery.  All large metal structures were made of wrought or cast iron. In 1875, Britain accounted for 47% of world production of pig iron and almost 40% of steel, nearly half of which was exported to the United States which was rapidly building its rail and industrial infrastructure. By 1896, however, the British share of world production had plunged to 29% for pig iron and 22.5% for steel. The United States was now the world leader and Germany was catching up to Britain.


After the Second World War, the British steel industry was in serious decline and the Government could not persuade the industry to upgrade its plants. As a result, the Iron & Steel Act 1949 created the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain.  It was not complete nationalisation since around 2,000 iron and steel companies remained in business outside the nationalised sector. When the Conservatives returned to power, they replaced the Corporation with the Iron & Steel Holding & Realisation Agency. This succeeded in selling all of the nationalised companies with the exception of the largest, Richard Thomas & Baldwins. This remained in public ownership until it was absorbed into the British Steel Corporation when the industry was nationalised in 1967. Despite nationalisation, the industry still operated inefficiently and lost a lot of sales to foreign competitors. In the 1980s, the Government re-privatized BSC as British Steel. It dramatically cut its work force and closed many plants.


For more details of the various aspects of ironmaking click on the links above.