|The Patent Shaft
Steel Works Limited - Closure
A group of Patent Shaft employees,
possibly at a presentation of long service awards.
Sidney Rickards is on the far right of the third row
from the front, the one looking down. Some of them
signed their names on the back of the photograph, they
are Vick Hill, T. Burton, J. Powner, A, Adams, E.
Davies, G. Knowles, L. Jones, J. E. Wright, G. Richards,
G. Hewitt, C. W. Boden, W. R. Watson, and five others
which are indistinct. I think they are G. Collins, A. A.
Finsby, E. Hewitt, P. Kelly, and one other which I
cannot read. The photo was kindly sent-in by Janice Cox,
daughter of Sidney Rickards.
|It looked as though the mid 1970s development
scheme would secure the company's future for some
time to come, but sadly this was not to be. The
Patent Shaft was now the leading producer of steel
plate in the United Kingdom, after the British Steel
Corporation, but world-wide demand for the product
fell, and prices tumbled.
In the immediate years
after the completion of the development scheme,
Patent Shaft broke even, both in 1976 and 1977, and
even made a profit in 1978, but things went very
wrong in 1979 resulting in a loss of more than £2
million. There was a lot of competition due to the
availability of cheap foreign steel plate, and
volatile prices for the scrap metal needed to feed the
electric arc furnaces. Most of the Patent Shaft's
steel plate was sold to the heavy engineering
industry, which had suffered from a lack of orders
for several years.
The outlook was grim. It was feared that a
similar loss would be made in 1980 because the
world-wide demand for steel plate for shipbuilding,
heavy engineering, and construction was at an all
time low. The Laird Group's main interests were in
railways, bus companies, and engineering, and so the
decision was taken to close the group's loss-making
steelworks at Wednesbury, which resulted in the loss
of 1,500 jobs.
The Patent Shaft's workforce was informed of the
impending closure in late 1979 after efforts to find
a buyer had failed. January 1980 was a good month
for the company in terms of sales, but this was the
first month of the steel strike which initially only
affected nationalised companies. When the strike
spread to the private sector, production at Patent
Shaft also ended. Although it briefly started again,
the last cast at the factory took place on 17th
The last cast at Patent Shaft
Steelworks on 17th April, 1980, from G Furnace. Courtesy
of Peter Carter, who was Steel Plant Manager at the
time. It was an extremely sad event for all the steel
|The factory closed, and in October everything
was sold at an auction, held at the works on 7th,
8th, and 9th of the month.
The heavy plant sale catalogue.
Another of the sale catalogues.
From the Express & Star. Monday 6th
|It was a sad time for Wednesbury. Due to the
recession, many of the local
manufacturers were struggling to survive, and
unfortunately many of them have since disappeared.
The closure of the Patent Shaft was a big blow for
the town. The factory buildings were demolished in
1986, when the once important local landmark
disappeared for good.
The "Wednesbury Alps". The
spoils heaps from open cast coal mining on the former
Patent Shaft site in the early 1990s. Courtesy of Brian
Groves and John Hellend.
The old Patent Shaft gates in
the early 1990s. Courtesy of Brian
Groves and John Hellend.
|I must thank Peter Carter, who was Steel Plant
Manager at Patent Shaft, for his help in producing this section.
Return to the Factory
in the Late 1970s
Return to the