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Shotton Rolling Mill
Shotton, Deeside, Flintshire, Wales, UK
associated engineer
Oscar Faber
date  August 1937 - April 1940
era  Modern  |  category  Factory/Industrial Plant  |  reference  SJ302705
Shotton Rolling Mill was constructed as part of the Shotton Steelworks, located on the north bank of the River Dee in Flintshire, downstream from Chester. Now closed, Shotton Rolling Mill was the second continuous steel strip rolling mill to be built in Britain. The mill machinery used American technology and was housed in buildings designed by engineering consultancy Oscar Faber.
The works began in 1895-6 as Hawarden Bridge Steelworks after Henry Hall Summers purchased 16ha of marshland for John Summers & Sons Ltd, a company set up by his father. The plant grew and Summers provided 12ha to the east for the building of Garden City to house the workforce.
Steel was made using pig iron and scrap iron in open-hearth furnaces. The resulting ingots were moved manually through stands of rollers to produce sheets. By the start of the 1930s, Summers was the UK's largest steel sheet manufacturer. As World War II (1939-45) approached, the demand for steel increased and the company needed an automated mill.
A German-made Sendzimir mill for cold rolling 1m wide sheets was installed and the first strip produced on 20th November 1936. The mill was fed with 6.1m lengths welded together. It worked alongside a Sendzimir continuous galvanising line, then only the second in the world. In 1946, Enfield Rolling Mills purchased the mill in order to roll copper sheets.
Summers still wanted a mill that could roll continuously. The Mesta Machine Company of Pittsburgh (founded 1898) was then one of the world's leading manufacturers of steel milling machinery. Summers' chairman Richard Summers and managing director Neville Rollason met Mesta's Lorenz Iversen in America in March 1937, and at the Savoy Hotel in London on 17th May that year, to discuss installing Mesta machinery at Shotton.
Reorganisation of the steelworks to accommodate the new mill was reported in The Times on 6th August 1937, and test piling on site began in September. The budget for the slabbing mill, continuous wide hot strip mill and cold-rolling facility was more than 2.8m. This level of investment took control of Summers away from the family the Bank of England pledged 1m, United Steels provided 1.2m in share capital and 2m was raised with debentures.
Rolling steel not only changes its dimensions but it improves the quality by reducing the size of the metal crystals, dispersing slag inclusions and increasing inherent strength. Hot rolling is quicker and requires less energy input, though it is more hazardous. Cold rolling is more accurate and produces a better finish. At Shotton, a combination of hot rolling followed by cold was considered ideal.
Large steel ingots, made on site, were heated to around 1,200 degrees Celsius for 4-8 hours until soft and plastic. They were initally rolled between steel or cast iron rollers rotating in opposite directions, producing slabs. These passed through a reversing mill, moving the slabs back and forth and then through several roll stands until the steel was reduced to a long thin strip. The strip was cooled and pickled in sulphuric acid before being rolled again to achieve the precise thickness required.
The new complex would cover some 11ha. First, the ground level was raised by 5.2m above the surrounding marsh by reclaiming 760,000 tonnes of sand from the Dee Estuary. This was pumped into lagoons bounded by earth embankments, and the water drained leaving a solid platform. The buildings are founded on concrete piles capped with concrete beams supporting structural steelwork. Concrete caissons supported the machinery. A concrete tunnel was constructed over the water main that crossed the site.
The steelworks already had some slab-making facilities, so the first part of the new complex to be built was the continuous wide hot strip mill, which occupied a building 457m long by 30.5m. The mill consisted of two gas-fuelled reheat furnaces, four roughing stands driven by alternating current motors, five finishing stands powered by direct current variable speed motors and a coiler. Furnace fuel was produced by a small coal gasification plant adjacent to the strip mill.
The strip mill began production on 9th November 1939. During World War II it also made corrugated steel sheets for the curved roofs of Anderson and Morrison air raid shelters. Steel plate 1.35m wide left the stands at some 28km per hour and the mill's output was up to 10,160 tonnes per week. A third reheat furnace was added in 1946.
The new slabbing mill was constructed on the foundations of an earlier bar mill, strengthened to take the weight of the new equipment. The slab mill had eight ingot soaking pits and a reversing stand, driven by a three-cylinder steam engine that had been in use at the steelworks since around 1917. Four of the pits were square, with a capacity of 102 tonnes, and four were circular with 98 tonne capacity. The mill was completed in 1940 and could produce 122 tonnes of slabs per hour.
The cold strip facility, which started operating in April 1940, consisted of two pickle lines, a three-stand tandem rolling mill and a coiler. It could roll up to 6,096 tonnes of 1.32m wide steel plate per week. A fourth stand was added to the tandem mill in 1948.
The rolling mill complex increased Shotton's annual output from some 264,000 tonnes of steel to around 381,000 tonnes. The continuous wide hot strip mill ran at a profit and recouped its cost by 1947. Output almost doubled every decade, and in 1965 it produced 1,287,000 tonnes. During its lifetime it rolled more than 35 million tonnes of steel strip.
The steelworks were enlarged by a further 113ha in 1947, and employed more than 13,000 people at peak production. The 1940 Mesta slabbing mill was replaced in 1950 by a mill using Davy-United machinery capable of rolling heavier and wider slabs. The steam engine remained in service until 1957, when it was moved to Rotherham.
The hot strip mill and the cold rolling mill were refurbished in 1955. A 2m wide single-stand reversing cold mill was built for high-quality finishing on wide steel sheet coils, as used in the motor industry possibly to supply Rolls Royce in Crewe. Mesta rebuilt the hot strip mill's roughing train in 1960, converting it from continuous to three-quarters continuous.
Problems with shifting foundations led to the replacement of the Davy-United slabbing mill by one bought from British Steel Corporation's Scunthorpe works. It began production at Shotton on 13th August 1978. However, steelmaking declined and the steelworks at Port Talbot were thought to offer better potential. The Shotton works closed on 31st March 1980 with the loss of 6,500 jobs. The hot strip mill stopped rolling on 23rd May that year, though the cold strip mill continued to operate until 29th June 2001.
Supervsing engineer: Reith Gray
Foundations: A. Monk & Co Ltd
Structural steelwork: Lysaght
Piling: Peter Lind
Structural steelwork: Rubery Owen
Milling machinery: Mesta Machine Company, Pittsburgh
Power supply equipment: English Electric
Coal gasification plant: International Construction Co Ltd
Water main tunnel: Holst & Co
Research: ECPK
"Manufacturing Processes" by Harold V. Johnson, Glencoe Publishing Company, Illinois, USA, 2nd edition 1984
"Oscar Faber, his work, his firm & afterwards"
by John Faber, Quiller Press, London 1989
"Construction of the Shotton Wide Strip Mill" by Jonathan Aylen, October 2004, in Transactions of the Newcomen Society, Vol.78, pp.57-85, London, 2008
"Open versus closed innovation: development of the wide strip mill for steel in the United States during the 1920s" by Jonathan Aylen, in R&D Management, Vol.40, pp.67-80, January 2010

Shotton Rolling Mill