The Bessemer Converter Today.

In 2001 retired British Steel employee and former engineer, Andrew Melville visited the Workington number 1 vessel preserved outside the Kelham Island industrial museum in Sheffield.

The bessemer converters were equipped with "holley" bottoms held in place by cotters. This permitted speedy replacement of the entire bottom when the tuyres had become unserviceable

Andrew Melville at Kelham Island museum

It was an emotional reunion for Andrew since he had helped his father in the bessemer shop while still a schoolboy, long before he commenced employment with Workington Iron and Steel Company.

At weekends, the vessels were taken out of service for repairs and it was his father's task to have the vessels up to operating temperature for first shift Monday morning. He'd help his father load 10 tons of coke into each horizontal vessel on a Sunday morning. They entered the vessel from a ladder put against the throat of each vessel and the coke was discharged from a kibble suspended by the overhead crane. Even when "cold" the refractory lining was still so hot that it would give a nasty burn should they accidentally touch it. The coke was spread out, covering some of the tuyeres in the base. They would build a small beehive shaped pile of coal and oil soaked rags and set fire to it. Once satisfied it was alight, they would exit the vessel. Meanwhile, the box man (the blower's assistant) would call the blower house and ask for a small amount of blast to be put on to fan the flames. In due course the vessel would be lifted to vertical, the coke fire covering all the tuyeres.

If all went to plan, the vessels would have reached full operating temperature and the remains of the fire dumped just before Monday morning shift. In later years this practice ceased when a large gas poker mounted on a rail bogie would be positioned underneath the upturned vessel.


Workington's Bessemer converter is on long term loan to the museum

In some ways it is difficult to express one's feelings when seeing the vessel here. It brings back many memories, some happy, some sad. We should be thankful that it is preserved for future generations but old-timers like Andrew notice that "They haven't got it quite right!"

While he was there, he overheard a guide relating how the vessel tipped toward us, pouring out the steel at the end of each blow - no, the vessel tipped away from us! There are brackets missing, the bottom plate is held up with bolts, not cotters and the top half of the bearing shell is missing.

You or I wouldn't spot those, but when you have given your working life to something know.

Andrew pointed out that it was easy to spot that this is the number 1 vessel. The number two vessel had a cracked belt which was repaired and strengthened with gussetted plates. You can see this on the number 2 vessel on the main page.

Photographs copyright Andrew Melville Jr.

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