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Giant crane pulls down Sheerness steel mill to mark an end of an era for Island

By John Nurden

Demolition crews have moved onto the old Sheerness steel mill site to begin pulling down the former factory.

The disused former Thamesteel complex at Blue Town on the Isle of Sheppey has remained abandoned for more than four years.

Steel production furnaces have been removed and are now stored outside.

Watch it come down: this giant crane uses water jets as it rips down the steel skeleton.
Watch it come down: this giant crane uses water jets as it rips down the steel skeleton.

A giant crane equipped with twin water jets to dampen down dust began work before the bank holiday.

One insider admitted: "It's like ripping the heart out of the community. It's the end of an era for Sheppey.

"The building was always an eyesore and probably should never have been built there in the first place.

A demolition crew has moved into the former Sheerness steel mill site.
A demolition crew has moved into the former Sheerness steel mill site.

"But it gave many Islanders good jobs and has left them with fond memories."

Peel Ports is refurbishing existing warehouses and creating a 32-acre car park for imported vehicles.

Piling for a new road bridge across the Brielle Way linking the site, now called Wellmarsh, to the docks was expected to start this week. The bridge should be completed by September.

A bridge across Brielle Way here will link the docks.
A bridge across Brielle Way here will link the docks.

Peel has recently submitted revamped plans to Swale council for approval.

The scheme will include tree planting around the base of the bridge where it enters the site.

There has been no update on plans to reintroduce steel rolling at the plant although jobs have been advertised.


History

The steelworks were built during 1971 with one electric arc furnace, a casting plant and a reinforcing bar (rebar) rolling mill.

The first bar was rolled on January 29, 1972 and full-scale production started on March 26, 1972. The plant was opened by the Duke of Edinburgh on November 8, 1972.

Plant capacity was doubled in 1974 by adding a second furnace and casting machine and building a new rod rolling mill.

Before: inside the plant. Photo: Behind Closed Doors www.bcd-urbex.com.
Before: inside the plant. Photo: Behind Closed Doors www.bcd-urbex.com.

Production standards and outputs rose constantly, despite the lengthy British Steel strike of 1980 which the local employees ignored leading to well-publicised mass picketing.

The company invested heavily in new technologies such as a new C furnace and mill drives during the 1980s and 1990s but in 1999 it was surprisingly bought by the Welsh steelmaker Allied Steel and Wire (ASW) based in Cardiff.

This was a reverse takeover as Sheerness was profitable and ASW was not. The money came from an investment company.

Hundreds of cars are now parked on the site.
Hundreds of cars are now parked on the site.

In 2002 ASW went into receivership taking Sheerness with it and leading to the loss of company pensions which resulted in a long, and still continuing, bitter campaign for its reinstatement.

The campaign, famous for its Stripped of our Pensions naked stunts , led to the introduction of the Pensions Protection Fund by the government.

Saudi company Al Tuwairqui bought the failed steelworks in 2002 using the furnace and caster to make billets to send to Saudi Arabia.

The old plant has been stripped out and is being stored outside.
The old plant has been stripped out and is being stored outside.

It later invested heavily in a new furnace, caster, bar and rod mill. At this point the name was changed to Thamesteel.

Production continued until 2013 when the Sheerness site again went into liquidation.

The site has always been leased from the docks and has been returned to the port to store imported cars.

Rail tracks were lifted and sold.
Rail tracks were lifted and sold.

Peel Ports has ripped out train tracks and is pulling down abandoned buildings as part of a massive revamp of the 53-acre site.

Do you have memories of working at Sheerness steel mill? If so, leave them below or email jnurden@thekmgroup.co.uk

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