Memories cast in steel

GETTING THE BALL ROLLING . . . launching their campaign are, left to right, Scottish Steelworkers' Memorial Fund fundraising committee members John Scott, Tommy Brennan, Gilbert Cox, Ian Livingstone, Terry Currie and Pat Donnelly.
GETTING THE BALL ROLLING . . . launching their campaign are, left to right, Scottish Steelworkers' Memorial Fund fundraising committee members John Scott, Tommy Brennan, Gilbert Cox, Ian Livingstone, Terry Currie and Pat Donnelly.

FOR over 140 years the image of Lanarkshire has - quite literally - been forged largely through its association with the steel industry.

After the first steel plant opened in the area in the 1870s the industry provided a livelihood for thousands of families - and in return their sweat and toil created a product renowned for its quality the world over.

But pride in that product was all too often tinged with tragedy - a steel plant could be a dangerous place in which to work and many paid the ultimate price.

That’s why the Motherwell Times and Bellshill Speaker are teaming up with the Scottish Steelworkers’ Memorial Fund to help have a memorial erected as a tribute to those who have died working in the Scottish steel industry on the former site of the most iconic steel plant of them all - Ravenscraig.

Under the auspices of civic pride organisation Supercounty, the campaign has been launched to raise the money needed to erect a fitting memorial in recognition of the contribution and sacrifice of Scottish steelworkers.

MSPs, MPs, local authorities and Government bodies and agencies are all being being approached to seek contributions or help identify possible sources of grant funding - and ordinary members of the public can also help by making a donation.

Although steel manufacture and processing took place in various parts of Scotland, much of the industry was based on Lanarkshire. The roots of the steel industry in the Motherwell can be traced to the arrival in 1870 of the man often described as the founding father of British Steel - David Colville.

A shipping businessman from Campbeltown, Colville opened his first factory in 1871, but no-one at the time could have predicted the impact which the iron and steel industry would have in the life of Lanarkshire and indeed Scotland in the 20th century.

DALZELL

The company’s first plant was the Dalzell Street and Iron Works in Motherwell, which was opened in 1872 and by World War I this plant was the largest individual steelworks in the country.

The industry in Scotland went on to produce iron and steel for shipbuilding, construction, bridges, submarines, motor vehicles, consumer products and a whole range of other products.

There have been many steel plants throughout the area turning out a variety of products. They included the Clydebridge plant in Cambuslang, another in Glengarnock, the finishing mill at Gartcosh, the Clydesdale tubes plant at Mossend, the Dalzell plate mill, still going today, and, towering over them all, the ‘Craig.

But the production of iron and steel was often carried out in hazardous conditions and as a consequence the price in human terms was high.

Fatality statistics in the industry are difficult to pin down, but the records of the Bisakta Union, subsequently ISTC and now known as Community, reveal that 2,302 fatalities occurred across the country between 1913 and 2003.

However these figures purely relate to members of that union and there were numerous other unions with high levels of membership throughout the industry - not to mention the numbers of people who lost their lives from lung and other diseases as a result of working in the steel industry.

Former Ravenscraig union convener Tommy Brennan is convinced that the numbers who lost their lives in Scotland was significant.

He has personal experience of being involved in the aftermath of a number of fatalities and feels that the establishment of a memorial to those who lost their lives in the industry is long overdue.

He said: “What we are dealing with here is a great omission. We should have addressed the issue of a memorial long before now and I am determined to rectify this before much more time passes.”

Next year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of David Livingstone and North and South Lanarkshire councils have joined forces with Supercounty to promote Celebrating Lanarkshire 2013, an initiative which will pay tribute to the many iconic figures associated with Lanarkshire.

MEMORIAL

And given the role of the iron and steel industry during this period, Brennan feels that it would be fitting for a memorial be erected around this time.

Tommy has been an active supporter of Supercounty over the last 20 years and John Scott, the organisation’s chief executive, first raised the idea of a memorial with Tommy a few years ago.

To help make the dream become a reality, they persuaded a number of colleagues from the campaign to work with them.

Terry Currie, himself a former British Steel man, chairs the Steelworkers’ Memorial Fund committee and has been joined by Gilbert Cox, former Lord Lieutenant of Lanarkshire; Ian Livingstone, Supercounty chairman, and Pat Donnelly former councillor and steelworker, who is currently a member of the Community union’s executive committee.

Terry said: “It is our intention to erect the memorial in Ravenscraig in close proximity to the sports centre and we have been most gratified by the support and co-operation which we have received from North Lanarkshire Council and the Ravenscraig Development Company.”

Tommy added: “We want to put up a fitting memorial which is respectful to those we want to remember and at the same time be in keeping with the environment of an ultra modern development which Ravenscraig will ultimately become.

“However we require to raise a substantial amount of funding to achieve our goal and that is what we are currently working on.

“To date we have targeted companies and trade unions. I have been approached by numerous individuals who wish to make a personal donation and until now we haven’t really enabled people to do that. We are now giving individuals the opportunity to do that.”

The fundraising committee have been buoyed by the cross party political support which their efforts have received and Terry highlighted comments made during a recent debate in the Scottish Parliament concerning the memorial.

Terry added: “MSPs from all parties spoke with a great deal of warmth towards this cause and offered their strong support for what we are trying to achieve.

“Despite the current financial climate we are confident that we will establish a fitting memorial at Ravenscraig.

“It is essential that we look forward and use all of our ingenuity to secure a solid economic base for future generations but it is also entirely appropriate that we remember those who came before and contributed so much to manufacturing industry in Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole.”