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Workington Steelworks, site of
Moss Bay, Workington, Cumbria
associated engineer
Sir Henry Bessemer
date  1872 (converters), June 1877 (mills)
UK era  Victorian  |  category  Factory/Industrial Plant  |  reference  NX987280
Situated at Moss Bay to the south-west of the town centre, Workington Steelworks flourished from the 1870s onwards as one of the most important sites for steel production in Britain. Now decommissioned, the works once housed a number of Bessemer Converters, established by the father of steel mass production, Henry Bessemer.
Workington started out as a fishing village. Its docks were developed to allow the export of locally-mined coal. In the 19th century, an iron industry developed around the mining of haematite iron ore in the area, and it was the presence of haematite that led to the river-side development of the steelworks — haematite proved suitable for the new steelmaking processes.
Henry Bessemer (1813-1898) was based in Sheffield, where steelmaking using the 'crucible' method had already established, probably by Benjamin Huntsman. In 1855, Bessemer patented a method of processing molten pig iron to make steel that could be carried out on an industrial scale — the principle wasn't new but the cost-efficiency and volumes were a first.
A Bessemer Converter consists of a large egg-shaped vessel mounted on pivots. It is titled sideways, molten pig iron poured in and the vessel returned to vertical. A blast of air is introduced via holes in the bottom, which raises the ore temperature without extra fuel. The carbon and impurities in the ore are burnt off and steel is the result — 30 tons of it could be produced in 30 minutes by this method. Specific quantities of carbon and certain alloys can be added after the steel leaves the converter.
The original Bessemer process required high-grade non-phospheric haematite, the kind available near Workington, but also imported from Spain and Sweden. In 1857, Bessemer's company , the Workington Haematite Iron Co., built two blast furnaces at Oldside, just north of the town to process the local ore for his Sheffield works.
In 1872, the company built two Bessemer Converters at Moss Bay, and a few years later built rolling mills here. These mills produced the first ever commercial quantities of rolled mild steel rails in June 1877 (for the railway industry). By that year, the company had three converters at Moss Bay, each of 8 ton capacity, upgraded to 16 tons by 1912.
With the iron and steel industries in slow decline since the turn of the 20th century, the fate of the Workington Steelworks was sealed in 1974 when the last two Bessemer Converters were blown out. In 1978, the No.1 Converter was taken to Kelham Island Museum in Sheffield, where it remains. It is one of only three extant examples in the world.
Most of the steelwork buildings went out of use in 1981, though Corus Rail was still rolling rails from reheated steel blooms until 26th August 2006, when the last piece of steel came off the production line. Many of the buildings have now been converted to office space.
Research: PD and AJD
Sheffield Museum Trust ... www.simt.co.uk
reference sources   CEH NorthDIABP

Workington Steelworks, site of