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History of Bilston - Part 17

Bilston Steel Works - Nationalisation: 1966.

When Labour won the 1945 general election it was committed to a programme of nationalising many basic industries, including iron and steel. This proposal was hotly contested by the Conservatives who argued that there was no point in taking over an industry that was running profitably. The government’s first priority was nationalising coal and they did this while trying to finalise their plans for iron and steel nationalisation. So it as not until 1949 that they brought forward the Iron and Steel Act. Because of delaying tactics in the House of Lords the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain did not come into operation February 1951. It was a different form of nationalisation from that used for coal and the railways. Instead of acquiring the whole undertaking of the numerous iron and steel companies, the Corporation only acquired the share capital of the firms concerned. This gave them effective control whilst allowing for the fact that many of the companies had many ancillary activities outside the production of iron and steel. So Stewarts and Lloyds became nationalised.

Almost immediately the Labour party lost a general election and the new Conservative government repealed the nationalisation of iron and steel. The from that nationalisation had taken enabled them to do this by privatising – selling off the share capital – of all the companies they controlled. This they succeeded in doing (with the exception of Richard Thomas and Baldwins) and Stewarts and Lloyds re-entered the private sector. It was not until 1966, when a new Labour government under Harold Wilson, renationalised the industry, that Stewarts and Lloyds finally became part of a fully nationalised industry as part of the British Steel Corporation.

"Together with all other large steelworks, the Combine was nationalised in 1966. With re-organisation Bilston, Wolverhampton and Birchley Works became part of Special Steels Division, Carbon Group, of the British Steel Corporation.
"With the advent of nationalisation, the Finishing End was increased in size to allow for bars to be carefully cooled, straightened, shot-blasted or peeled and then dressed by either chipping, grinding or oxy-propane scarfing, to meet the high quality requirements of B.S.C. grading system.

"Most steel leaving Bilston Works was guaranteed internally sound and therefore the ultrasonic testing of material was carried out extensively. To increase the speed of inspection, the Divisions Research Laboratories of Swinden at Rotherham created a method known as M.I.D.A.S.. This was developed at Bilston. Working on magnetic principles, any surface defect disturbs the pattern of eddy currents, which can therefore be detected and marked with a paint spray for subsequent dressing.

"Methods of improving production techniques were always being sought and extensive trials were carried out with Open Hearth Furnaces, using atomised fuel oil and oxygen. By charging scrap at both ends and firing with both burners together, by-passing the re-generator chambers, charging times are drastically reduced and tap-to-tap times of three hours should be possible. "The 14-inch Mill at Wolverhampton Works was extensively modified. A larger re-heating furnace was to be installed and the mill stands altered and re-positioned to increase both the product size range and its output."

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