Phil Brown my Steelworks Story- part 2

In 1970 i had completed 12 months training at the apprentice training centre .

Also in this year our father had joined the steelworks as a timekeeper in the main time office and sometimes Templetown brickworks .

Our mother meanwhile had been working in the Laundry Department at Shotley Bridge Hospital.

As the Steel Plant was deemed dangerous for apprentices, i was sent to the Billet Mill for 3 months training.

The old millwrights passed on their knowledge to us and gave us certain jobs to do on our own as well as working with them. After 3 months , i had to go to the Fell Coke Works.

My training here covered working on the coal conveyors and screening plant, some Bi -products from making coke was Benzole , Naphaline, Gas, on the Battery top it was very hot and dusty, the coal was charged into the oven sections using a special machine which travelled the length of the battery top. lids were lifted to charge the coal into the oven , then replaced.

But sometimes , because of pressure inside the oven these lids could blow off.!!!

The coke works had its own canteen for hot meals etc., the meals were nice , but the old scrawny pigeons sitting in the rafters were a little off putting !!!

After working in the Benzole house or the Naphaline house , your clothes carried the smell for ages.


In March 1971 our mam died suddenly with a brain hemorrhage , she was only 42 years old. This was a massive blow to us and i was allowed 2 weeks off work

When i returned to work i should have gone to the Blast Furnaces , but they kept me at the Coke works for another 3 months.

During theses months i received a lot of support from the engineering staff and the other apprentices.


My next stop was back to the Training Centre for 6 months , this time we did advanced machine work and small project work.


In the summer shutdown 1971 i worked the fortnight at the Billet Mill, i helped with the maintenance of the Scarfing machine.


The Scarfer when used, was like a large deseamer.

It burnt off any piping or scaling on the large slabs using oxygen burners.


I also worked on building the cogging rollers up and other jobs.

Near the end of the second week , it was critical that the mill would be ready for the first day back production. So some fitters ,mates and riggers worked round the clock to finish everything off practically living there .


I must have been cheeky and set my lip up to a fitter , because i ended up with a black grease beard and full side burns ,another lesson learned !!!


After the shutdown it was back to the Training Centre .

One week i had to go on a residential training course at Beamish Hall in Stanley.

On this course there was some apprentices up from Teeside , the course was to promote team work and also to help reduce costs with material wastage.

An example was — if you went on a job and you took 12 bolts and nuts to use, but you only needed 8 , return the unused items back to the stores and don’t leave them lying around.

We also had lectures from the safety department. On the Thursday, Ted Wilkinson our training officer came to Beamish  with our £5 pays.

We didn’t get any sleep on that Thursday night , it was our last night there, our celebrations got out of hand and people were locking other peoples bedroom doors , so we had bad hangovers the next day.


My next port of call was the Engine Sheds , this involved working on maintaining the diesel loco’s , traxcavators , and the diesel generator at the Power Station.

In those days everything was repaired and made good for use again, this included gear wheels.

These wheels would have the gear teeth welded up, a fitter we called ” Harry the Nog ” this was some of the work he did, if you worked with him , he would be having a drink of tea and a tab while you had to grind  the gear teeth using a template to get the profile right.

At the Sheds , who could forget the shop labourer / crane driver , his name was Raymond.

Always smartly dressed ,if he had a light blue shirt on , he would have a matching woolly hat !!

Also on one collar would be the initial R , this he said stood for receptionist.


After 3 months at the Engine Sheds i had to go to the General Fitting shop.

For 3 months i operated the Edgewick lathe.

Mostly the jobs were small batches of pins , small shafts and skimming pipe flanges. At the fitting shop i was working a 3 shift system, 6/2 , 2/10, 10/6 .

On the nightshift week , we had the shift off before college the next day, but then we had to go nightshift on the night after college.

After 3 months on lathe work , i then had to go into the toolroom for 3 months .

In the Toolroom i operated the milling machine. The main work was milling keyways in shafts and milling machine tools. Also we learned how to sharpen drills on the grinding machine. The toolroom fitters taught us well , there was nothing of any trouble to them.


Then after 6 months in the Fitting shop , i finally made it to the Oxygen Steel Plant . In the Steel Plant , the Kaldo vessels had been removed and there was 3 L D vessels,

When the plant was built in the early sixties , Consett had the insight to try two new types of steel making using the Kaldo process and the L D process using oxygen.

After a while they realised the L D process was the best. L D ‘s 1 & 2 had a capacity of about 90 ton , L D 3 was 150 ton.

The Steel Plant was a large multi storey building with 5 floor levels in the main section. 

The plant ran from SOUTH To NORTH and EAST To WEST. The first section was the Charging Bay, the molten iron came from the Blast Furnaces in via the South end of the plant with the loco .

The small pots of iron were decanted into a large charging ladle , then poured into the vessel. Moving from East to west, the next section was the heart of the plant, this was where the vessels were , boilers , pumps , fans , pipework , conveyors , lime hoppers and fluorspar hoppers, oxygen lances, boiler control room, fume hood attendants office, etc.,

Travelling west the next section was the Casting Bay, after pouring the steel from the vessel into a large ladle , it was transferred to the Casting Bay.

In this bay the molten steel was teamed into the ingot molds then allowed to cool down.

The molds were on rail bogies, so after cooling down , a loco woul d transfer the ingots from the Casting Bay  and take them to the next westerly section, the Stripping Bay. On each mold there were lifting lugs, the stripping cranes would use special locating arms to hoist the mold off the bogie , when it was hoisted up the ingot would slide out of the mold.

Sometimes the ingot would stick inside the mold, in this case a large hydraulic ram on the crane would push the ingot out.

When all the ingots were all out , the loco would take the ingots on the bogies travelling south to the soaking pits. At the soaking pits another set of cranes would be used to transfer the ingots into the pits to be reheated before being rolled in the Billet mill.

Best Regards
Phil.

Did you work with Phil? or have your own story to tell please do get in touch

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