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British Steel
Fate Merger
Successor Corus
Founded 1967
Defunct 1999
Industry Steel

British Steel was a major British steel producer. It originated as a nationalised industry, the British Steel Corporation (BSC), formed in 1967. This was converted to a limited company, British Steel PLC, and privatised in 1988. It was once a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index but following mergers, the business is now owned by Corus, a Tata Steel company.



BSC was formed from the assets of former private companies which had been nationalised, largely under the Labour Party government of Harold Wilson (1964-1970). Wilson's was the second attempt at nationalisation, Clement Attlee's Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain having been largely privatised by the Conservative governments of the 1950s. Only one steel company, Richard Thomas and Baldwins, remained in public ownership throughout.

BSC was established under the Iron and Steel Act 1967, which vested in the Corporation the shares of the fourteen major steel companies:

These companies commanded some 200 wholly or partly owned subsidiaries in the United Kingdom and overseas in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Africa, South Asia, and South America.

Dorman Long, South Durham and Stewarts and Lloyds had merged as British Steel and Tube Ltd before vesting took place.

BSC later arranged an exchange deal with Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds Ltd (GKN), the parent company of GKN Steel, under which BSC acquired Dowlais Ironworks at Merthyr Tydfil and GKN took over BSC's Brymbo Steelworks near Wrexham.

Change in the British steel industry

The Act brought together 90 percent of the UK's steelmaking to form BSC, a single business with 268,500 employees.[1]

One of the arguments aired in favour of nationalisation was that it would enable steel production to be rationalised. This involved concentrating investment on major integrated plants, placed near the coast for ease of access by sea, and closing older, smaller plants, especially those that had been located inland for proximity to coal supplies.

From the mid-1970s the (now loss-making) British Steel pursued a strategy of concentrating steelmaking in five areas: South Wales, South Yorkshire, Scunthorpe, Teesside and Scotland. This policy continued following the Conservative victory in the 1979 General Election. Other traditional steelmaking areas faced cutbacks. Under the Labour government of James Callaghan, a review by Lord Beswick had led to the reprieve of the so-called 'Beswick plants', for social reasons, but subsequent governments were obliged under EU rules to withdraw subsidies. Major changes resulted across Europe including, in the UK:

  • At Consett the closure of the British Steel works in 1980 marked the end of steel production in the Derwent Valley and the decline of the area.
  • At Corby the early 1980s saw the loss of 11,000 jobs leading to an initial unemployment rate of over 30%.[2]
  • In Scotland, Western Europe's largest hot strip steel mill Ravenscraig steelworks, near Motherwell, North Lanarkshire, was closed by British Steel in 1991, leading to huge unemployment in the area. It also led to the closure of several local support and satellite businesses, such as the nearby British Steel Clydesdale Works in Mossend, Clyde Alloy in Netherton and equipment maker Anderson Strathclyde. Demolition of the site's landmark blue gasometer in 1994, and the subsequent cleanup operation, has created the largest brownfield site in Europe. This huge area between Motherwell and Wishaw is in line to be transformed into the new town of Ravenscraig, a project partly funded by Corus.


British Steel was privatised in 1988 under the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher. It merged with the Dutch steel producer Koninklijke Hoogovens to form Corus Group on 6 October 1999.[3] Corus itself was taken over in March 2007 by the Indian steel operator Tata Steel.


Ian MacGregor later became famous for his role at British Coal and the UK miners' strike (1984-1985). During the strike the "Battle of Orgreave" took place at British Steel's coking plant.


In 1971, British Steel sponsored Sir Chay Blyth in his record-making non-stop circumnavigation against the winds and currents, known as 'The Impossible Voyage'. In 1992 they sponsored the British Steel Challenge, the first of a series of 'wrong way' races for amateur crews.

British Steel had agreed a sponsorship deal with Middlesbrough Football Club during the 1994-95 season, with a view to British Steel sponsored Middlesbrough shirts making their appearance the following season. But the sponsorship deal was terminated before it commenced after it was revealed that British steel only made up a tiny fraction of steel used in construction of the stadium - the bulk of the steel had been imported from Germany.

See also


Further reading

External links



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