Round Oak Iron Works

The Ward family, the Earls of Dudley, owned much land in the Dudley area along with extensive mineral rights. Iron making was an important industry in the middle of the 19th century, when most of the world’s iron works were within a 20 mile radius of Dudley.

In 1855, work began on the construction of the iron works, under the supervision of Richard Smith, who was mineral agent for the Earl of Dudley’s estate. The factory, in Dudley Road, was built alongside the Dudley Canal and alongside the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway. It was also connected to the Earl’s Pensnett Railway, linking the Earl’s local coal mines and factories.

The Iron Works opened in 1857 and had 28 puddling furnaces along with 5 mills.

It employed 600 men and in 1862 won a Prize Medal at the International Exhibition, held at South Kensington, London.

Between 1865 and 1868 the factory was extended and could then produce around 550 tons of iron per week.

Richard Smith was succeeded by his son, Frederick Smith, who was assisted by Mr. Smith Casson, who in 1871 became senior manager. In 1889, the company started producing chains and ships' cables, using the bar iron produced on site.

The demand for iron started to fall in the 1870s due to competition from steel.

As a result the Dudley estate decided to convert the factory to steel production and formed a new public company, the Earl of Dudley's Round Oak Iron & Steel Works Limited, incorporated on the 16th April, 1891.

From Griffiths Guide to the Iron Trade of Great Britain.


From Griffiths Guide to the Iron Trade of Great Britain.

Round Oak Ironworks.

An advert from 1882.

Construction of the steel works began in 1893. The plant included three 17ton open-hearth furnaces, two reversing rolling mill engines, two 2-cylinder engines for a 32inch cogging mill and a 27inch roughing mill and hot bloom shears.

The chairman of was Mr. Richard Dalgleish and the managing director was Mr. R. Smith Casson. Production began in August 1894, but the venture ran into financial difficulties and went into liquidation on the 26th November, 1894.

The Dudley estate then founded a new company, The Earl of Dudley's Round Oak Works Limited, incorporated on the 15th July, 1897. The 2nd Earl of Dudley became Chairman of the new company and the managing director was George Hatton. By 1904 the steel works had five large open-hearth steel melting furnaces, standing in a shop 350ft. long by 90ft. wide.

The business was very successful until the depression after the end of the First World War, when the company had great financial difficulties. Viscount Ednam appointed a new board of directors who greatly improved the company’s situation. In 1927, George Hatton, became Managing Director and on the 14th December, 1936 the company became Round Oak Steel Works Limited.

After the Second World War, £4 million was spent on new plant. In 1951 the the factory was nationalised under the Iron and Steel Act and became part of the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain. In 1953 the factory was sold by the Holding and Realisation Agency to Tube Investments for £1.6 million. Tube Investments agreed to repay loans totalling £4.2million, and its chairman, Ivan Stedeford, took over as chairman at Round Oak. Products included alloy and carbon steel bars, railway bearing plates, slabs and large forging ingots, special sections, rounds, squares, flats, angles, channels, joists, billets, blooms, and a weldable extra high-strength steel under the brand name, 'Thirty-Oak'.

Round Oak Steel Works from a newspaper cutting from an unknown newspaper.

The steelworks was the first in the country to be converted to natural gas, supplied from the North Sea. In 1967 the firm was re-nationalised and became part of the British Steel Corporation. It was a greed that Tube Investments would share the management of the Round Oak Steel Works and the company invested in a new mill to replace open hearth furnaces and finishing plants.

By the 1970s there was a fall in demand for the company’s products and the workforce was reduced from 3,000 to around 1,200. Things didn’t improve and on the 23rd December, 1982 the factory closed, with a loss of 1,286 jobs. The factory was demolished in 1984, to make way for the Merry Hill Shopping Centre.

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