The Patent Shaft Steel Works Limited - Closure

A group of Patent Shaft employees, possibly at a presentation of long service awards. Sidney Rickards is on the far right of the third row from the front, the one looking down. Some of them signed their names on the back of the photograph, they are Vick Hill, T. Burton, J. Powner, A, Adams, E. Davies, G. Knowles, L. Jones, J. E. Wright, G. Richards, G. Hewitt, C. W. Boden, W. R. Watson, and five others which are indistinct. I think they are G. Collins, A. A. Finsby, E. Hewitt, P. Kelly, and one other which I cannot read. The photo was kindly sent-in by Janice Cox, daughter of Sidney Rickards.
It looked as though the mid 1970s development scheme would secure the company's future for some time to come, but sadly this was not to be. The Patent Shaft was now the leading producer of steel plate in the United Kingdom, after the British Steel Corporation, but world-wide demand for the product fell, and prices tumbled.

In the immediate years after the completion of the development scheme, Patent Shaft broke even, both in 1976 and 1977, and even made a profit in 1978, but things went very wrong in 1979 resulting in a loss of more than £2 million. There was a lot of competition due to the availability of cheap foreign steel plate, and volatile prices for the scrap metal needed to feed the electric arc furnaces. Most of the Patent Shaft's steel plate was sold to the heavy engineering industry, which had suffered from a lack of orders for several years.

The outlook was grim. It was feared that a similar loss would be made in 1980 because the world-wide demand for steel plate for shipbuilding, heavy engineering, and construction was at an all time low. The Laird Group's main interests were in railways, bus companies, and engineering, and so the decision was taken to close the group's loss-making steelworks at Wednesbury, which resulted in the loss of 1,500 jobs.

The Patent Shaft's workforce was informed of the impending closure in late 1979 after efforts to find a buyer had failed. January 1980 was a good month for the company in terms of sales, but this was the first month of the steel strike which initially only affected nationalised companies. When the strike spread to the private sector, production at Patent Shaft also ended. Although it briefly started again, the last cast at the factory took place on 17th April, 1980.

The last cast at Patent Shaft Steelworks on 17th April, 1980, from G Furnace. Courtesy of Peter Carter, who was Steel Plant Manager at the time. It was an extremely sad event for all the steel plant workforce.
The factory closed, and in October everything was sold at an auction, held at the works on 7th, 8th, and 9th of the month.

The heavy plant sale catalogue.

Another of the sale catalogues.

From the Express & Star. Monday 6th October, 1980.

It was a sad time for Wednesbury. Due to the recession, many of the local manufacturers were struggling to survive, and unfortunately many of them have since disappeared. The closure of the Patent Shaft was a big blow for the town. The factory buildings were demolished in 1986, when the once important local landmark disappeared for good.

The "Wednesbury Alps". The spoils heaps from open cast coal mining on the former Patent Shaft site in the early 1990s. Courtesy of Brian Groves and John Hellend.

The old Patent Shaft gates in the early 1990s. Courtesy of Brian Groves and John Hellend.

I must thank Peter Carter, who was Steel Plant Manager at Patent Shaft, for his help in producing this section.

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in the Late 1970s
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