9.   Elisabeth and Modernisation 1951 - 1964

The photos on this page were taken by Tim Hadley when he was an apprentice with Stewarts and Lloyds from about 1947 onwards.  They show the building of the Elisabeth furnace and associated works.


To continue the narrative, we now revert to our anonymous source:

"When the decision was taken in 1951 to build a new blast furnace, the first in the country to be designed from the start to operate on high‑top pressure, the modernisation of the works as a whole really began.

Steelmaking capacity was more than trebled with vastly improved methods of handling and with fixed furnaces capable of as high rates of output as the quality of steel would permit."

I take it that the furnace referred to is the famous "Elisabeth".  Mary Mills and Tracey Williams, in their "Images of England: Bilston, Tettenhall and Wednesfield", say that it replaced three smaller blast furnaces and was first lit in 1954.  "By tradition, after relining, the furnace had to be relit by a young girl.  The only time it was lit by a man, the furnace went out".

Ron Davies, who worked for E. N. Wright Ltd., the maintenance company, confirms this tradition and know of several instances where attempts were made to light the furnace by a man, all of which failed.

So this furnace was lit by Elisabeth (so spelled, with a s, not a z), the little daughter of one of the senior managers of the works.

Elisabeth in the course of construction.

Ron Davies also recollects that, so new and innovative was the Elisabeth furnace, that it took them two years to get it running at its best. 


W. K. V. Gale in his “The Black Country Iron Industry” (The Iron and Steel Institute, London, 1966)  comments on Elisabeth and the Bilston steel works generally in 1965:

 "There is now only one blast furnace left in the area where once there were 200, but it is a large modern one and unique in that it was the first high‑top-­pressure furnace to be built, ab initio, in Great Britain to operate in this way. 

This is the Elisabeth furnace, built in 1954 at the Bilston Steelworks of Stewarts and Lloyds Ltd (formerly Alfred Hickman Ltd).  Of 27 ft hearth diameter, Elisabeth provides molten iron for the steelworks, which have also been com­pletely rebuilt." 

Gale continues:  "The new furnace, incidentally, is far from being the only pioneer installation at the Bilston Works.  Among the others was the Ward-Leonard-Ilgner set provided by the Electric Construction Company when the former 36 inch mill was electrified in 1907; this was probably the first in a British steelworks.

Bilston Steelworks now have two 1000ton inactive mixers, seven open‑hearth furnaces of 100-120 tons capacity, a 40inch two-high reversing blooming mill, and a 32 inch two-high reversing bar and billet mill.  A vacuum degassing plant is also installed.  The principal products of Bilston Steelworks are tube-making ingots, billets 22 to 72 inch square, slabs 5-15 inches wide, and rounds 34 inches in diameter. All the rolled products can be produced in finished lengths up to 30feet."

Elisabeth in the course of construction.


This passage appears in a chapter ominously entitled "Epilogue" but which does open with the words:

"It seems that cast iron will continue to be made in the Black Country for some time".  And that was written in 1966, making no mention of the nationalisation that was to take place that year.

Reverting to our anonymous source:

"The completion of the modernisation programme in 1964, meant that the plant consisted of a high‑top pressure Blast Furnace capable of producing up to 7,000 tons of pig iron per week, using a variety of ferrous bearing materials available in the West Midlands, as well as the conventional iron ore burden now arriving from world wide sources as well as the Northamptonshire deposits.

Workers leave at the end of the day with Elisabeth, under construction, in the background.

Elisabeth in the course of construction.

"The Melting Shop contained two 1,000 ton inactive mixers, for storing molten pig iron. Seven all‑basic Magnesite lined Open Hearth Furnaces, each with a capacity of 120 tons, were capable of making all the range of carbon steels, together with a range of low alloy steels up to 4% Chromium.

The furnaces were now fired with heavy fuel oil atomised with steam; oxygen enriched the pre-heated air, enabling them to reach temperatures of 1660 degrees centigrade, and reducing tap-to-tap times to an average of seven hours".

"The addition of a Ruhrstahl Heraeus Degassing Plant allowed for the removal of hydrogen and nitrogen gases and, more importantly, non‑metallic inclusions.

This enabled steel to be made to a very high standard of cleanliness".

Elisabeth completed.

Elisabeth casting side foundations.

"The pit‑side had been modified to cast all mill ingots in casting bogies, with facilities to cast forging ingots up to 42 tons in a special bag, and Rotary Forge ingots for tube making in the North and South Side Shops.

A separate Mould Preparation Shop had been constructed to prepare ingot moulds and casting plates to ensure that all the steel could be bottom poured".

"A new mill constructed by Schloemann completed the redevelopment on the Bilston site and this enabled an extensive range of rounds to be rolled.

But blooms, billets anal slabs could also be produced to absorb the extra production from the steelworks, and this lead to the making of steel for engineering uses".

Elisabeth base and copper stoves.

Elisabeth boiler house.

"To ensure a market of Bilston billets, Stewarts and Lloyds acquired the re‑rolling mills of Thomas Ward situated at Wolverhampton and Birchley.

These comprised of a 14-inch semi-automatic mill, four hand mills, one 21 inch, two 9 inch and one 7 inch mill, capable of rolling a wide range of shapes and sections."

So much for our anonymous source.  On the rest of this page are the rest of Tim Hadley's fascinating photos of Elisabeth:

Cooper stove foundations.   Compressor.
Lift housing.   Gantry.
Tapping side foundations.   Welder at work on the construction of Elisabeth.

Compressor house under construction.


Pile driver.

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