A roll made by R B Tennent, early 1940s A roll made by R B Tennent, early 1940s

Engineering Lanarkshire: R B Tennent

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One of the longest-lasting factories in Coatbridge, Robert Tennent’s foundry was started in 1857. At first the firm made castings for industry but in the 1870s the rapid development of the steel industry created a market for rolls used in rolling mills.

“Tennant’s Foundry is situated at the bottom of Buchanan Street. The enterprising lessee, Mr Robert Tennant, has recently expended upwards of £1000 in extending and re-building the same, in order to enable him to meet the demand for heavier castings in machinery and other goods of a like description. This foundry was formerly known as Smellie’s engineering establishment.”

Andrew Miller, ‘The Rise and Progress of Coatbridge and Surrounding Neighbourhood’ (1864)

Established as a limited company in 1900, R B Tennent grew from small beginnings to become the largest supplier in the UK of rolls for the steel industry, accounting for 40% of the UK’s output of chilled cast iron rolls and 60% of cast steel rolls. Such large castings demanded large amounts of space. The castings were made in large pits in the floor in which moulds were made and into which molten iron or steel was poured.

Local legend has it that one time when molten iron was poured into a casting pit it disappeared and there was found to be a hole in the bottom leading into the sewers. If any readers can verify this story we would love to hear from you!

In 1917 built a bar mill for Colville’s Dalzell Steel Works in Motherwell, a piece of equipment that survived into the era of the British Steel Corporation.


Rolling Iron and Steel

In 1942 the firm became a key part of the newly-formed British Rollmakers Corporation. In the 1950s the company decided to modernise and expand resulting in the opening of a second factory in 1965. The new Meadow Works, also in Coatbridge was equipped with modern electric arc steel furnaces; it also had more space, allowing Tennents to make the bigger rolls demanded by modern steelworks.

In the early 1970s there was a fatal accident when three people died in an explosion caused by water from a burst pipe coming into contact with molten metal, a reminder of the hazards facing foundry workers. R B Tennent later became part of Sheffield Forgemasters which was the subject of a management buyout in the late 1980s and shortly afterwards put the firm up for sale.

The decline of the steel industry had hit Tennant’s heavily. The Meadow Works was first to close, with the Whifflet Foundry lasting until 1995. The works was demolished in 2001 and the company finally dissolved in 2005.

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