Bilston, England: men making steel in the melting shop of the British Steel steelworks. Aquatint plate by H.N. Eccleston, 1981.

  • Eccleston, H. N. (Harry Norman), 1923-2010.
  • Pictures

About this work


"The steelworks is that of British Steel, formerly Stewart and Lloyd's. The steelworks consists of three parts. The first one is the blast furnace, which makes iron: the Bilston steel works had a blast furnace called Elizabeth which made liquid iron from coke, iron ore and limestone. The iron contains 4% carbon which makes it too brittle for many industrial applications. The second one is the melting shop which turns the iron into steel of the strength required for different applications: this aquatint shows one part of the melting shop. Here the liquid iron is carried in large ladles on rail trucks and transferred from the blast furnace into an open hearth furnace with scrap; energy is applied to the furnace, the scrap mixes with the iron and produces a molten bath of metal at 1600̕C. In this process the carbon is reduced to typically 0.2% by weight, and alloys such as chromium, nickel, silicon and manganese are added to give the final required properties of the steel. Finally there is the rolling mill which turns the steel into the shapes and sizes required

"The present print is entitled "Open hearth furnace". Here the iron is being turned into steel. One of the men in the foreground has a long-handled ladle which he uses to scoop some steel out of the furnace. It will then be sent to the lab to be tested for carbon and alloy content. Behind is an open hearth furnace: at the front of each are three huge doors that can be raised by the chains shown in order to tip the liquid iron and scrap into the furnace. Below the furnace is the slag or waste produced in the process. On the left are the pipes of the water coolers that cool the outsides of the furnaces. The furnaces are lined with refractory concrete and bricks, and the water coolers serve to prolong the lifespan of these internal linings. On the ground are the tracks of the internal railway system that acts as one of the three materials-movers in the steelworks (the others being cranes and fork-lift trucks). The present aquatint plate is not likely to be made of steel from this steelworks

"Looking back from 2008, this print and the others in the set have historic status. Today, open hearth steelmaking is no longer used (Bilston closed in the late 1970s). Blast furnaces are still used but are much, much bigger and highly automated. Most steel is made today by Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) or Basic Oxygen Furnace (BOF), the former mainly for speciality steel and the latter for bulk production. Automation is now the name of the game, but it still needs guys to get hot! Steel is still teemed into ingot moulds but using much better stopper systems (sliding gate). Ingots are still used for speciality steels but most is now continuously cast (CONCAST)"--W. Church, 2008


[Bilston], [1981]

Physical description

1 printing plate : steel ; steel 25.1 x 35.5 cm


Information kindly supplied by Mr William Church, 9 April 2008

Terms of use

The Wellcome Library has a licence from the copyright holder, to reproduce this work and to authorise others to reproduce it, for non-commercial purposes


Wellcome Collection 664709i

Creator/production credits

This is one in a set of four aquatints commissioned by Mr William Church when working in his first works management post for British Steel at Bilston, Staffs. He had been aware of the need for good pictures that captured the atmosphere of the steelworks. As a collector of etchings he was in touch with people who suggested approaching Harry N Eccleston, an accomplished printmaker and a Bilston native who had studied at Bilston School of Art. Eccleston had relatives who worked in the steelworks and had produced pictures of cranes and locomotives seen from the outside, but had not been allowed inside the works. Eccleston was, at that time, head of design at the Bank of England Print Works and was responsible for the series of notes including the Waterloo five pound note
On receipt of the commission, Eccleston made preparatory studies for the aquatints in the form of photographs, watercolours and gouaches. The work on the four plates took place over some ten years. Editions of 70 were made; probably about half of the impressions were bought by members of the steelworks staff at cost


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