Phil Brown my Steelworks Story part 1

Here is my Steelworks Story , i will split into different sections.

My name is Philip Brown , my parents were William &  Jean Brown . I was born in the Richard Murray Maternity Hospital in Blackhill on Coronation Day , 2nd June 1953.

My father at that time worked in Newcastle , so we lived in Winlaton Mill , Blaydon

My sister Joyce was born in 1956 at the Richard Murray Hospital. In 1959 we moved to Blackhill and lived in St . Mary’s Crescent, this brought us closer to other family.

I attended Benfieldside schools , from Infants , Juniors and Secondary Modern school.  My final year at the school was 1968 – 69.

After sitting our CSE exams we started to look at what type work we wanted to do on leaving. The schools jobs advice office at Benfield Hall didn’t have much to offer in the way of jobs. A few of us applied for apprenticeships with the local electricity company NEEB and the GPO telecoms section but we had no success.

So thoughts turned towards the steel works.

At this moment in time the old “addidge” to get a job there was , It wasn’t what you knew to get a job there , it was who you knew !!  Once again, a few of us applied for jobs as Junior Operatives  (  J I S O’s )

We hit lucky and got the jobs , so in June 1969 i left the school. After the two day
induction course i started in the Billet Mill ( SBBM ),

I had to work the 3 shift system — 6/2 , 2/10 , 10/6.

The job i had to do was paint the customers number on the billets after they had come off the hot banks and cooled down , also the billet ends were painted different colours. The billets were of different sizes  , about 2 -4 inch square and 15 – 20 feet long. After the hot banks the billets were lifted off in batches and put down in the bay to be inspected for faults. the faults could be scaling or piping, these faults were deseamed out using oxygen blow torches.

Out of each batch samples had to be taken for quality checks, so a piece of billet about 6 inches long was burnt off and sent to the TRD department for testing, these samples were called crop ends.

      One shift i was painting the billet ends with green paint, when i picked up the gallon paint tin it seemed heavy , an old hand asked me why i was struggling, he said it was a special lead paint and that’s why it was heavy. It was only later on that i discovered 2 crop ends in the bottom of the tin  — the joke was on me !!!

Another lesson i learned was when i was sent to the General Stores to get some supplies. The bay forman gave me a Materials Issue Ticket ( M I T ) I had to get a gallon of white spirit , 3 half gallon paint pots , 1 dozen leather gloves , 1 dozen large paint brushes and 1 dozen small paint brushes ( sash tools ) I went to the stores to get the supplies, when i returned to the mill there was nobody there, it was tea break. So i put the supplies down in the bay and went for a cuppa. When break time was over i went back to the bay only to find everything had disappeared !! The bay forman wasn’t to pleased and told me that you don’t leave anything new lying around.

When the summer shutdown came along, i had to work it. The job i was given with a few other lads was to work under the hot banks, we had to clean up all the scale , dirt , pieces of billet and any other debris.

It was a back breaking job and the forman wanted to see the brickwork floor when we had finished.

The next job in the second week was to go round painting the gantries and walkways.

In August 1969 i applied for an apprenticeship at the steelworks , i took the exam and managed to get an interview .

After the interview i was offered an apprenticeship as a Fitter & Turner , which i accepted. I worked as a Junior Opp. until September 1969, then i started my apprenticeship at the Training Centre.

I would be here for 1 year with day release for college. As a Junior Opp. i was getting paid about £16-20 per week , when i started my apprenticeship we got paid £5 per week.

As an apprentice Fitter / Turner i had to start 12 weeks basic fitting , then 6 weeks electrical work, then 6 weeks plating welding work .

During this time we got safety talks and we were shown how to wear breathing apparatus. Then i was shown how to operate all the various machines , lathes, milling machines, surface grinders,bench drills, shaping machines.

Then we had to make test pieces using the machines.

On day release we had to go to Consett Technical College , except for my year , we had to go to the colleges annex building which was in Medomsley ( an old school building down from the Hat & Feather pub ) This was a nice walk from Blackhill except in the winter time !!

After a year  at the Training Centre we were let loose on the plant. I had been selected to work in the Oxygen Steel Plant but in 1970 the Steel Plant was deemed to be dangerous for new apprentices , so i had to go to the Billet Mill for 3 months training.

I hope this is ok for the first  story, the next one will cover working in the various departments and coming out of my time in the Steel Plant.

Best Regards


Did you work with Phil?

Would you like to share your own story?

One thought on “Phil Brown my Steelworks Story part 1”

  1. Good read Phil, remember those days well. Left school and started Apprenticeship 1969 at works training school including day release for college. Ended up at the Fabrication Dept. nothing to do with steel making but making things out of steel. I think first wage was £4.19/6p whilst a first year apprentice but my memory could be wrong and it may have been £5.00. A sixpence extra would have paid for a large mars bar (compared to mini size ones that cost £1.00 today) bar and maybe some change. Not much money but good times.


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