When the Redcar Blast Furnace opened in 1979 it was the largest in Europe. It was the culmination of steel production on Teesside which had begun in 1851 when the first blast furnace was built by Henry Bolckow and John Vaughan build at their Vulcan Street works in Middlesbrough.
Just four years later there were 23 blast furnaces on Teesside, by 1861 there were over 40 and by 1868 100 furnaces. The number of blast furnaces continued to grow and by the end of the century Teesside was producing about a third of the nation’s output. Teesside steel has been used around the world. The iconic bridges at Sydney Harbour, Chien Tang (China) and Bichenough (Zimbabwe) to name three, were all built using Teesside steel.
But the Redcar Blast Furnace is now silent. Steam and smoke are no longer bellowing out. Yesterday it was announced that the Redcar Blast Furnace will be blown out. The owner, SSI, had gone into receivership and as no buyers had came forward the furnace will close. Along with the coke ovens, also owned by SSI, 2,200 direct jobs will be lost with upwards of 8,000 including contractors and supply chain.
It had been hoped the plant could be mothballed, a process which did happen in 2010, until such time when the price of steel improves and a buyer comes forward. But mothballing is not just a case of leaving a pilot light on. The furnace has to be cooled down slowly over a period of months otherwise irreparable damage occurs. It’s an expensive process.
What has particularly annoyed Teesside folk though is that a few weeks ago the government announced a loan of £45m to Evraz, the steel-making and mining company owned by the Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich, with operations in the Ukraine, Canada, the USA and Russia.