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Historic photographs and other steelworks documents saved from destruction

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: August 16, 2014

  • (7) A Hudson tipping hopper

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THE following story is another footprint of the wonderful diversity of history we are able to celebrate here in the Black Country, and every photograph and every single snippet of information owes its very existence to Brian and Pat Hill of Kingswinford, whose combined efforts saved these images from being destroyed.

It was 1982, and the Round Oak Steel Works in Brierley Hill, a important employer and huge contributor to the Black Country economy for over 120 years, was about to shut down for good. Pat was an administrator in the offices at the steel plant and both Pat and Brian were appalled at the lack of respect being shown to the history of the place as reams of documents, photographs by the score, and other paraphernalia from the works were being literally thrown away into a skip.

By being in the right place at the right time they managed to rescue several historical items and Brian promised himself that one day he'd parcel the whole collection up and present it to the local archives. When the new archives building in Dudley was opened he was inspired to make a move, but before doing so he called in at Bugle House to show us the photographs and the documentation he and his wife had saved from destruction.

We begin at Round Oak marshalling yards with a photographic file of the steelworks wagon fleet created by John Allison, and over the next few weeks we hope to feature more of the information that Brian has brought to our attention.

The photographs displayed in the file included no less than 21 different wagons specifically designed for different jobs, eight of which are shown here. (1) A large slag bowl with carriage for transporting liquid slag from melting shops to slag tip; (2) a scale and cinder wagon painted yellow and clearly marked to prevent contamination (capacity 20 tons) for the transporting of scale and cinder from mills to melting shop; (3) skull wagon (capacity 20 tons) for the transport of moulds to three legs for breaking; (4) a billet wagon (capacity 20 tons) for transporting billets and blooms around the works.

(5) Fuel wagon, capacity 10 tons, a steel framed wagon that was used to transport coal and gas nuts from Baggeridge Colliery and about the works; (6) a cogging scrap wagon ( capacity 20 tons) with open grid floor for transporting hot crop ends from cogging mill to melting shop; (7) a Hudson tipping hopper ( capacity 12 tons) for transporting furnace rubble, gas producer ashes and works rubbish to the tip; (8) hot ingot transfer wagon ( capacity 20 tons) with open joist floor, for transporting hot ingots from arc shop to soaking pits; (9) low loading well wagon seen in the picture carrying a crane.

The descriptions may only be of specific interest to enthusiasts who follow the full network of railway history. But the number of wagons employed for different uses on a single works site underlines just how complex the steelworks operation was and how important experience and knowledge on behalf of the employees was needed for it to run smoothly.

Attached to the photo file was an article written by John Allison and a description of how he built 7mm scale models of the Round Oak wagons from the photographs he took in situ just prior to the plant closing down. Had it not been for the enthusiasm of a railway model maker, and the diligence of Brian and Pat Hill to safeguard the region's history, this page would not exist.

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