Thursday, June 11, 2020

Exploring the Archives: English Steel Corporation Limited

Variable Density Wind Tunnel, Grimesthorpe, 1930
Sheffield City Archives is among the foremost research centres for the study of iron and steelmaking during the 19th and 20th centuries. The collections housed in Sheffield are critical, not only to our understanding of the local economy, but of the wider British steel industry (including naval manufacturing and armaments) and its connections to the global economy. One of our largest business collections is that of English Steel Corporation, formed in 1928 to take over the vast steel interests of Vickers, Vickers-Armstrongs and Cammell, Laird and Co. To give an idea of scale, by 1961, ESC was parent of 20 subsidiary companies employing 16,000 persons. The company was absorbed into the British Steel Corporation (BSC) in 1967.

100 tonne Electric Arc Furnace,
Tinsley Park Works
Fred Steel, First 
Furnacehand at ESC
During that time, the company created a lot of records - over 300 boxes of material survive at Sheffield Archives.  During the 1980s, Sheffield Forgemasters, an associate company of British Steel Corporation, which ran the former English Steel plants from the 1980s, inherited these historical records.  With little need of them themselves, and taking up a sizeable chunk of space, Forgemasters passed them to Sheffield Archives in 1988.  Here they joined a growing collection of steel manufacturing records - many acquired from derelict works and skips during the 1980s when steelworks were closing down with unprecedented frequency.  Since then, many of these records have been meticulously cleaned, packaged and listed by the archivists and conservator.  However, English Steel remained something of a daunting task - shelf after shelf as far as the eye could see - boxes full of leather-bound volumes and foundry-blackened ledgers.

230 ton steel ingot made by English Steel
Visit of Queen Elizabeth II to the 
River Don Works, 1954
It was thanks to our long time researcher, and then doctoral student, Chris Corker who was studying the Sheffield steel and armaments industry, that we finally got the ball rolling in sorting this behemoth of a collection and making some sense of its contents, much of which had not been looked at since the 1930s.  Chris and one of the archivists worked their way through each box to produce a list to give an idea of the content and scale of the collection. The importance of the records quickly became apparent: there were large amounts of material unknown or thought missing from the research community, in a predominantly complete run, from the formation of the company to its incorporation into the British Steel Corporation. Directors’ reports, extensive accounting material, annual reports, and directors’ minute books were all there. In short a treasure trove of information.  The records tell the story of English Steel’s formation as part of a rationalisation movement, its transition into a Second World War economy, privatisation, de-privatisation, restructure into a holding company and ultimately privatisation into the British Steel Corporation over the course of four decades.

Scouring tools at ESC
English Steel Corporation Limited
The collection also contains important records relating to subsidiary companies - famous names associated with Sheffield’s steel industry in the early 20th century such as Vickers, Cammell-Laird, John Brown and Company, Firth-Vickers Stainless Steels, etc. and other companies a little further afield such as Armstrong Whitworth and Taylor Brothers of Manchester.

We’ve added hundreds of archive photographs of English Steel Corporation to Picture Sheffield:

The full list of records in the archives can be searched here:

You can also watch the 1964 film 'Castings in Steel' made by English Steel Corporation explaining the process of casting steel:  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comments (subject to moderation).