Corby: 'Devastating' steel works closure remembered 40 years on

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Corby steelworks 1978Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The steelworks dominated Corby in the 1970s. Its closure led to more than 10,000 jobs going over three years and unemployment rose to 30%

The "devastating" impact the closure a British Steel works had on a town has been remembered almost four decades on.

Steel worker Dougie Reid campaigned to save jobs after the company announced the Corby works' closure 40 years ago this month.

More than 10,000 people were made redundant and the Northamptonshire town's unemployment level rose to 30%.

Council archivist Billy Daziel said he believed "it is only in the last 10 years" that the town had recovered.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
A large number of Scottish workers settled in Corby after Stewarts and Lloyds opened its works in the 1930s
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And Scottish workers kept arriving after World War Two - including Dougie Reid - earning the town the nickname "little Scotland"

Corby's steel and iron industry expanded in the 1930s, with the construction of Stewarts and Lloyds' Steel Works.

The town's population grew to 10,000 with the works - Europe's largest - employing 4,000 people.

By 1979, Corby had between 55,000 and 60,000 residents, said Mr Daziel, Corby Borough Council's heritage development worker.

In February 1979, British Steel announced plans to close the works, which were nationalised in 1967.

It said the steel market was flat, too much steel was produced in Britain and described the Corby works as "uncompetitive".

Image source, Corby Borough Council
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Unions and workers campaigned against the closures
Image source, Corby Borough Council
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Billy Daziel said the consequences of the works' demise "were sudden and dramatic" - his Scottish grandfather was employed by the steel works for 43 years until he was fired just before its closure

Mr Reid was one of many steel workers who moved to Corby from Scotland, earning the town the nickname "little Scotland".

He described how the sky above the town "lit up, red with the reflection from the furnaces" - and helped lead the campaign against the closure.

The works' demise was "a sad, sad day" that forced him to move away to find work, he said.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
The iron and steelworks in Corby (photographed shortly before its closure in 1980) was a major employer in the town
Image source, Corby Borough Council
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Conservative minister Michael Heseltine, now Lord Heseltine, opened Corby's enterprise zone in the 1980s after the steel works closed, while the later Labour government funded Catalyst Corby

Mr Daziel said the sharp rise in unemployment had a "dramatic" impact on the town

He said it "went from a prosperous, stable town to a very high unemployment black spot with little opportunity".

The industry continues in the town, with Tata Steel manufacturing about 250,000 tonnes per year of "thin-wall welded tube from steel strip" and employing about 500 people.

The £48m Corby Cube - a council office, library, theatre and register office - was completed in 2015 and is one of the town's regeneration projects.

Mr Reid, who returned to the town two years ago, said: "People are now in jobs, the ground the works used to be on are now full of fresh factories.

"Corby has really rejuvenated."

Corbei: A town's history

  • Evidence of settlement as far back as the Bronze Age
  • Invaded in the 8th Century by Danish Viking settlers
  • Previously named Corbei, from "The By of Kori"
  • Always known as an iron-working region - with specific mention in the 1086 Domesday Book - and had its own ironstone works in 1910, before Stewarts & Lloyds took it over in 1920

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