Steel City: Entrepreneurship, Strategy, and Technology in Sheffield, 1743-1993

By Geoffrey Tweedale | Go to book overview

7
Mergers, Diversification, and Large-
Scale Special Steelmaking

there are too many works in existence now and . . . even when trade revives it will be impossible to operate most or any of them profitably, and therefore it behoves those concerned to get together to do something, and not merely to sit still and starve to death.

SCL Firth-Brown Records. James B. Neilson ( English Steel Corporation) quoted by a Firth-Brown director, 14 July 1931.

True rationalisation in the common steel trade, where the products are largely standardised, is clearly feasible. In our own trade, where specialised products are the essential source of profit, our opinion is that successful rationalisation is necessarily somewhat handicapped until the industries, which consume our products, rationalise, or, at any rate, show more signs of standardising the form and character of the materials they take from us.

SCL Firth-Brown Records. Directors' report on proposed ESC
merger, 18 March 1931.

At the beginning of this study, attention was drawn to an important division in steel manufacture between the bulk producers, largely located in areas such as the north-east and South Wales, and the special steelmakers, mostly centred in Sheffield. It will be readily apparent by now that there was a further split in Sheffield special steelmaking itself. This was between, on the one hand, small-scale businesses involved in the manufacture of such products as high-speed steel and engineers' tools (branches that had their origins in the Huntsman crucible); and, on the other, giant Sheffield concerns producing bulk (but still specialist) steels and forgings for armour-plate, engineering plant, and the leading consumer goods industries. The roots of this type of special steel manufacture lay in Bessemer and Siemens steelmaking and the emergence of the arms trade in the 1870s. In this sector were numbered Vickers, Cammell-Laird, John Brown, Thos. Firth, Hadfields, and the satellite firms in Stocksbridge and Rotherham ( Samuel Fox, Steel, Peech, & Tozer, and Parkgate). Like the tool steel firms, in the 1920s these companies found themselves in a very different world from that of pre-1914 days. Sheffield's lead in alloys, forgings, steel castings, and specialist engineering fabrications had lessened appreciably: patents had expired, American and Continental

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