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

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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) 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)

Physical description

1 print : aquatint ; platemark 25.1 x 35.5 cm

Work type


Open hearth furnace Bilston 1981 HN Eccleston




  • [Bilston],


  • [1981]


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Bilston, England: men making steel in the melting shop of the British Steel steelworks. Aquatint by H.N. Eccleston, 1981.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY


Credit: Wellcome Collection

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