Rotherham's Magna looks back at long history of steel

Women of Steel in action at the Steelos plant

Women of Steel in action at the Steelos plant

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A new exhibition charting the history of the site at Magna from Roman times to the end of steel production has opened at the Rotherham visitor attraction.

Steelos Gallery, supported by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £74,800, features video, audio, touch screens and a giant map.

A woman worker at Steelos, the nickname of Rotherham steelworks Steel Peech and Tozer

A woman worker at Steelos, the nickname of Rotherham steelworks Steel Peech and Tozer

Volunteers and staff at Magna who are ex-steelworkers have created the exhibition, helped by a researcher from the University of Sheffield.

Stuart Ballard, Magna’s education manager, said: “We wanted to tell the story of the site to set this building in context.

“There was an ironworks here when there was a Roman fort at Templeborough, and these steelworks were vital during the First World War.

“This building is as important to this area as Chatsworth, or Cannon Hall.

“The heritage of Sheffield and Rotherham was built on steel.”

At its height, the site employed 10,000 people and produced up to two million tonnes of steel a year.

The steelworks, which were once Europe’s largest, were known as Steelos, after the owners Steel, Peech and Tozer.

Stuart said that the research has uncovered much more of the Steelos history.

He explained that Henry Steel took over the plant in 1875 when it went bust.

He was a bookmaker and made his fortune working for King Edward VII, he then became interested in the steel industry and thought that the company was a bargain buy.

During World War One, Jim Peech, the son of one of the original owners, took advantage of the need for much increased production to get the Government to fund a huge expansion.

The site then stretched for a mile and a half from Ickles to Templeborough.

As these photographs from Rotherham Archives show, women were employed during the Second World War.

There were 14 open-hearth furnaces and 14 chimneys, which were replaced in the 1960s with electric arc furnaces.

The steelworks closed in 1993 and the melting shop was mothballed until its conversion to Magna in 2001.

One of the arc furnaces is now a giant pyrotechnic display in the visitor centre called the Big Melt.

Regular steel tours telling the story of Magna are led by former steelworkers.

As well as being a visitor attraction with more than 100 hands-on exhibits designed to explore the four ‘elements’ of air, earth, fire and water, Magna hosts regular school trips and is a corporate and events venue.

The gallery was opened last weekend by Rotherham mayor Maggi Clark.