Founded in Scotland’s ‘Steelopolis’, Motherwell, the Lanarkshire Steel Company made its name in the inter-war years. The firm made girders and other structural steelwork. It’s name can be found in the fabric of many landmark buildings including what is now the Tate Modern art gallery in London.
The Lanarkshire Steel Works was established in 1889 at Flemington, between Motherwell and Wishaw. A near neighbour was David Colville & Sons’ Dalzell Iron and Steel Works.
In fact, the company’s original plan had been to build its steelworks at Carmyle, close to the Clyde Iron Works which would provide pig iron for the steel furnaces. However that deal fell through after the company failed to reach agreement with a local landowner over mineral rights. After deciding on the Flemington site the company poached a key manager from its new neighbour, Colvilles to plan the new works.
As with other steelworks and factories, the Lanarkshire Works was turned over to producing armaments during the First World War. As happened elsewhere, as most of the male workforce went away to fight at the front women volunteered to do their jobs. The works was visited by King George V in 1917 and newsreel footage shows the king meeting some of the women who worked there.
After the First World War the company struggled to survive. Rescue came in 1936 when the Lanarkshire Steel Company was taken over by Colville’s, although the name continued to appear on its steel products. The takeover led to a change of focus: whereas the works had previously produced a wide variety of steel products it now concentrated on making heavy rolled sections such as girders and rails. The company would go on to export steelwork to places as distant as Hong Kong, Argentina and Guatemala.
A 1939 article in Colvilles Magazine, the company’s in-house publication contained an article on the Lanarkshire Steel Company that said:
Recently many improvements have been effected in the mills and melting shop, resulting in an increase in capacity to 5,000 tons of ingots and approximately 4,500 tons of finished material. Among the large variety of sections rolled at the Lanarkshire Works are 24 inch x 7 1/2 inch joists, 12 inch x 12 inch angles, centre sill sections for Canadian Rolling works, and many other sections not generally rolled in this country.
The prospects of the Lanarkshire Steel Company, established in 1889, are now bright with promise; and one feels that the recent installation of up-to-date plant and the increase of output, are justification for this optimism.
Other improvements included re-using the waste heat from the steel furnaces as part of an efficiency programme that almost halved the amount of coal used by the works. The early 1960s saw the Cogging Mill converted to electric power.
By 1960 the Lanarkshire Steel Company was producing around 5,000 tons of saleable steel products every week, up from 1,000 tons in 1900. The company was now making approximately 20% of all steel joists produced in the UK.
Motherwell’s landmark Glencairn Tower was one of the many postwar buildings to rely on Lanarkshire Steel Co girders.
By the time the British steel industry was re-nationalised in 1967 the Lanarkshire Steel Works was showing its age. By now it was a minor neighbour of Scotland’s biggest steelworks, the more modern Ravenscraig, whose workers were also better paid.
The Lanarkshire Steel Works was closed by British Steel in 1978 as part of a programme to phase-out the Open Hearth steelmaking process in favour of more modern and rapid ways of making steel. All six of the corporation’s Scottish open hearth steel plants were closed.
The site of the Lanarkshire’s iconic melting shop is now occupied by New College Lanarkshire, whose row of chimneys echoes the silhouette of the old works.