Stocksbridge Steel Works Heritage

Stocksbridge would not be here today if it wasn’t for the Steel Works, the valley bottom is still very much made up of the current works but in it’s prime the works went all down the valley. The football club was born out of the former works team merging with another local football club back in 1986. Here at Stocksbridge we are proud of our Steel Heritage and this page is a brief history of the Steel works and you can read a more detailed version in this PDF supplied by Liberty Steel.

Samuel Fox acquired the old cotton mill in 1842, at first renting it from its then owner, Joshua Newton. Nine years later, in 1851, he purchased the mill outright from Joshua’s son, Thomas Newton. Fox converted the place to use as a wire mill, and built much of the infrastructure of Stocksbridge, primarily to house his new workforce and to supply their needs. The wire was initially for textile pins, but around 1848 the business expanded to include wire for umbrella frames which led to Fox developing the “Paragon” umbrella frame in 1851.

The business continued to expand, and extended into different products, but underwent a major change in direction in the early 1860s when Fox realized that he could save large amounts of money by making his own steel for the wire, rather than buying it in. Furnaces and a rolling mill were installed, which in turn allowed the production of railway lines and springs. The business was incorporated into a limited company in 1871. Between 1872 and 1877 a railway line was built to link the works with the Manchester, Sheffield  and Lincolnshire Railway at Deepcar. This was the Stocksbridge Railway, which existed as a subsidiary company until 1992. Samuel Fox & Co joined Steel, Peech and Tozer  at Templeborough to form the United Steel Companies (USC) following the First World War. From then on the products of the USC sites were coordinated so that each works specialised in set products. Fox’s specialised in special steel produce such as spring steel and stainless steels. This developed into the manufacture of high-quality steel for the aviation industry. One specialised department assembled and tested springs for Rolls Royce cars. During the Second World War, ‘Sammy Fox’s’ Steelworks was kept busy as part of the war effort. During the Sheffield Blitz  by the Luftwaffe, the bombers used the dam at the end of Stocksbridge as a turning point for their run back toward Sheffield. Following nationalisation in 1967, the British Steel Corporation split the stainless steel departments off into a separate business which by 2004 had become part of Outokumpu. During the 1980s and 1990s the Stocksbridge works was part of the United Engineering Steels group (a joint venture between British Steel and GKN) and was known as “Stocksbridge Engineering Steels”. In 1999 the works were taken over by Corus and were part of the Corus Engineering Steels (CES) group. Although for several years Corus ran at a loss, it returned to profit, in part helped by a rise in demand for steel caused by Chinese economic activity.

Steel manufacture in Stocksbridge had always been by melting iron and steel firstly in crucibles (from 1860), then Bessemer converters (from 1862) and Siemens Open Hearth Furnaces (from 1899 until 1968) and lastly Electric arc furnaces (from 1939 until 2005). Iron has never been produced from iron ore at Fox’s, by any method.

In October 2006, Corus was taken over by the Indian company Tata. Corus Engineering Steels (Stocksbridge site) was renamed Tata Steels Speciality. During the 2008 recession Stocksbridge works reduced its workforce and output, focusing on producing lower quantities of high-value product for the aerospace and oil and gas markets. After the recession the company returned to profitability and began investing once again. In 2011 £6.5 million was invested in boosting the site’s ability to produce aerospace steel, and further developments were planned for 2013. However  in early 2016 an announcement from Tata that they would be selling their entire steelmaking interests in the UK, due, they said, to crippling electricity prices in the UK which are more than double the price in the European Union  and in other competing countries, and to large volumes of cheap steel which are being exported to the west by China. If a buyer could not be found, then steelmaking in the Stocksbridge valley would finally end, after almost 160 years.   However on 9 February 2017 it was announced by Tata and by the Liberty House Group, that the latter had purchased Tata’s entire UK steelmaking operation for GBP 100 million. This has secured the continuation of steelmaking in the Stocksbridge valley.

A lot of the early days of our club can be connected to the Steel works none more so then former Chairman Allen Bethel. Allen is retired credit manager at Stocksbridge works who took the helm at Bracken Moor Lane in 1986, 77-year-old ‘Mr Steels’ retired at the club back in 2018 but still visits the club at home games. Bethel, pictured, tells fans he will always look back on his time turning Steels into one of the most stable and highly respected clubs in south Yorkshire, both on and off the field, with “immense pride”.

Unsurprisingly, Bethel also singled out helping to launch the career of  former England striker Jamie Vardy as one of his greatest achievements alongside building a club boasting one of the best pitches and training facilities in the area, 13 squads from a thriving junior section upwards and a proud and widely acknowledged reputation for paying its players and creditors on time.

Bethel said: “It’s seeing players develop and go on to make a career in full-time football. We sold Lee Mills to Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1991-92 and Simon Marples who went on to have a successful career with Doncaster Rovers. But it was the arrival of a skinny lad called Jamie Vardy following his release from Sheffield Wednesday that I shall always look back upon with immense pride, and of course the rest is history.”

Looking back to the club’s founding, he added: “It all started in 1982 when I had about six local kids and formed Stocksbridge Juniors. It was then I met Michael Grimmer [Stocksbridge’s current secretary] and things developed from there. 1986 saw the merger of Stocksbridge Works and Oxley Park to form what is now Stocksbridge Park Steels.”

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