Round Oak Steelworks

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The Round Oak Steelworks were an important steel production plant in Brierley Hill, West Midlands (formerly Staffordshire), England. It was founded by Lord Ward, later the Earl of Dudley in 1857 as an outlet for pig iron made in the nearby blast furnaces. During the Industrial Revolution, the majority of iron-making in the world was carried out within 32 kilometres of Round Oak.[1] At their peak, thousands of people were employed at the works. The steelworks was the first in the United Kingdom to be converted to natural gas, which was supplied from the North Sea.[2]

Steel was produced at the works using basic electric arc and open hearth methods. Principal products included alloy and carbon steel bars (case hardening, bright drawing, free cutting, machining, hot and cold forging), special sections, railway bearing plates, rounds, squares, flats, angles, channels, joists, billets, blooms, slabs and large forging ingots. Round Oak manufactured a weldable extra high strength steel under the brand name, 'Thirty-Oak'.[3]

In 1953, the steelworks was purchased by Tube Investments.[4] In September 1966, the 3½ mile long railway between the steelworks and Baggeridge closed.[5] By the 1970s, the factory's viability and profitability began to decline due a fall in demand for its products. At its peak some 3,000 people were employed at the plant, but by 1979 the jobs cuts began and the plant's future was thrown into serious doubt.[1]

It finally closed on 23 December 1982, by which time 1,286 people were working there. [1] After being in operation for 125 years its closure pushed Brierley Hill's already high unemployment levels even higher. The closure came in spite of a fierce argument by local MP John Blackburn that the plant was still profitable and should be retained.[6] Demolition work took place during 1984, when it was purchased by Don and Roy Richardson.

The farmland which stood in the shadow of Round Oak Steelworks was designated by the Government as an Enterprise Zone in 1981, being extended to include the site of the works in 1984.[1] Between 1985 and 1989 was developed as the Merry Hill Shopping Centre by Richardson Developments.[1] It brought thousands of jobs to the local area and spearheaded a region-wide transition from manufacturing to services as the key employer of local workers.

The first businesses did not move onto the steelworks site until December 1990, when new offices were completed as part of the Waterfront development.

Despite the closure of the works in 1982, a steel terminal was opened on the adjacent railway in August 1986 and is still in use.


  1. ^ a b c d Patrick Keiller (1999). Robinson in Space. Reaktion Books. ISBN 1-86189-028-1. 
  2. ^ ProQuest Information and Learning Company. The Engineer. London: Morgan-Grampian. 
  3. ^ The Acorn. House magazine of Round Oak Steelworks. Issue Summer 1971.
  4. ^ Ronald Stanley Edwards; Harry Townsend (1958). Business enterprise: Its Growth and Organisation. New York: St. Martin's Press. 
  5. ^ David St John Thomas; J Allan Patmore (1973). A regional history of the railways of Great Britain. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-6208-9. 
  6. ^ W. G. M. Salet; Anton Kreukels; Andy Thornley (2003). Metropolitan Governance and Spatial Planning: Comparative Case Studies of European City-Regions. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-415-27448-6. 
  • Collie Knox (1957). Steel at Brierley Hill : the story of Round Oak Steel Works, 1857-1957. Manchester: Newman Neame. 

Coordinates: 52°29′10″N 2°06′50″W / 52.486°N 2.114°W / 52.486; -2.114