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The Ebbw Vale Works on Film


The varied and interesting history of the Ebbw Vale Steel Works during the twentieth century told on film.



Films created by Richard Thomas & Baldwins Ltd and Ingot Pictorial.


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The Garden Festival of Wales, 1992

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Ebbw Vale Tomorrow: the plan develops

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Ebbw Vale in WW1: final flashbacks from 1918

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Ebbw Vale Steelworks in 1972

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Ebbw Vale Steelworks in 1981

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Opening of the new blast furnace at Ebbw Vale

Richard Thomas and Baldwin




A new chapter in the history of the steelworks was to open in 1935 when the works were taken over by Richard Thomas & Co. Ltd and the first continuous hot strip mill outside the USA was built at Ebbw Vale. Production took off during this time and the new works had a capacity of 600,000 tonnes per annum; the first integrated steel works in Europe.



In 1945 Richard Thomas & Company Ltd merged with Baldwin Ltd to create Richard Thomas and Baldwin, one of the largest companies in Britain. RTB would become an important and well-respected employer in the Ebbw Vale area, employing over 10,000 people at its height. The development of the steelworks site not only boosted production, but also regenerated the Ebbw Vale area. The promise of well-paid labouring work drew those who had been forced to leave during the 1930s back to the town, as well as large numbers of incomers seeking employment.



These films were produced by Ingot Pictorial during the 1950s and were intended as an introduction to the company and the processes of the steelworks to all new, and existing, employees. The films provide a fascinating insight into one of the largest companies in Britain and the lives of its employees.




It wasn't always like this




The merger of Richard Thomas and Baldwin was the latest chapter of many in the history of industry at Ebbw Vale. This footage from 1918 shows the processes used at the works at that time. The war had caused a boom in the production levels of manufacturing and industry across the country and Ebbw Vale was no exception, demand for steel rose sharply and output rose accordingly. A shell factory was established in 1915 to assist with the war effort which mainly employed female labour.



The processes used at the steelworks in 1918 were some of the most advanced of their time and in that year work commenced on two additional furnaces at Victoria which were both capable of producing 2,750 tonnes per week.



This boom was short-lived however, and the post-war slump hit production in Ebbw Vale as iron and steel prices fell sharply. The competition from Europe meant that the plant was working at 75% capacity in 1925. There was optimism, however, as towards the end of the 1920s, production picked up and production levels nearly reached those of the years immediately after the war. New investment in machinery and processes provided hope but the steel plant was closed in 1929 with the loss of around 4000 jobs. In a community which depended so heavily on the steelworks for employment, it was a heavy blow.




The "Golden Age"




The establishment of Richard Thomas Baldwin provided new impetus for the steelworks and for the surrounding community. The company had been encouraged to invest in the works by the government who were concerned at the levels of unemployment in the area.



The first electrolytic tinplating line in Europe was commissioned in Ebbw Vale and the plant’s five-stand rolling mill made tin for food cans and other tin materials across the world.



Nationalisation of the steel industry was short-lived as Attlee’s Labour government were replaced by the Conservatives only a couple of years after the nationalisation of the industry. However, Richard Thomas and Baldwin remained in state hands and continued to develop the Ebbw Vale site.



Investment in the years following the war revolutionised the steel industry in Wales and though the Ebbw Vale works was already using advanced techniques and methods, the other works at Shotton and Cardiff also improved processes. The improvement was such that by 1955, Wales was responsible for over a quarter of the steel produced in Britain.



The 1950s were a successful and thriving decade for the steel industry at Ebbw Vale and the staff of Richard Thomas and Baldwin were employed at one of the busiest plants in Britain.




Rationalisation and decline




In 1967 The British Steel Corporation was established and Richard Thomas and Baldwin of Ebbw Vale formed part of the South Wales Group. A ten-year rationalisation plan was announced which initially gave hope to the steel industry but, by the beginning of the 1970s, it was clear that Welsh steel was being priced out of the market by overseas mills and a vast raft of job cuts were announced in 1972 which proposed that 4500 jobs would be lost at Ebbw Vale.



The early 1970s were years of mixed fortunes at Ebbw Vale; there were developments to the tinplate mills but the Coke Ovens, Converter shop and the blast furnaces were all closed by 1977.



There was anger in Ebbw Vale at the scale of the closures and job losses and in 1972 the workers marched in protest.  Michael Foot, the local MP at the time, subsequently described addressing the crowd as the ‘worst day of [his] career’.




Demolition




By the 1980s, the end was near for the Ebbw Vale works. A National Steel Strike was held between January and April 1980 to protest against the decline of the industry but, by 1981, the demolition of the works at Ebbw Vale was well underway.



Although tinplate production continued until 2001, the scale was only a fraction of what it had been. On 1 February 2002, the total closure of the Ebbw Vale works was announced with the final loss of 780 jobs.




The National Garden Festival of Wales




1992 saw the site of the old steelworks transformed as the site of the National Garden Festival of Wales. Over two million visitors flocked to the event which ran for six months on the barely recognisable steelworks site. The event was a symbol of the regeneration and rebirth of areas such as Ebbw Vale, with similar events having been held in places such as Liverpool, Glasgow and Gateshead.



For many of a certain generation, it is for the Garden Festival that the town of Ebbw Vale is surely best remembered!

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