3/2/18

DALZELL STEELWORKS in Motherwell, Scotland


My paternal grandfather worked at the Dalzell Steelworks in Motherwell, Lanarkshire, Scotland. His father worked at the steelworks. As I recall I had other relatives who also worked there. The other thing that ties all of them together is they all immigrated to California in the 1920s; not one of them ever returned to Scotland.

Click on image to see it larger.

My grandfather is in this photo. I'm not sure if any other relatives are in it. Within a few months my grandfather set off with a few of his brothers for North America. His father, mother, sister, and fiancé followed a year later. All of that would be unremarkable except for the fact that my grandfather's great-great-grandfather had arrived in North America almost exactly the same day one hundred years earlier settling in Canada. Until last year none of my family knew anything about this. I'm still fascinated to find that I had relatives arrive in 1821 and 1921.

As to the Dalzell Steelworks, I can say very little. I remember driving by it in the early 1970s on a trip to Scotland. By that time it had been open for a little over one hundred years. It was closed in 2015, but reopened in 2016.
David Colville & Sons, a Scottish iron and steel company, was founded in 1871 and it opened its Dalzell Steel and Iron Works at Motherwellin 1872. By the first World War, it was the largest steel works in Scotland and it continued to expanded afterwards taking over a number of other steel works in Cambuslang and Glengarnock.
Nationalised in 1951, it became part of the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain. It was privatised in 1955 and the construction of Ravenscraig steelworks resulted in the closure of a number of its other works. It was renationalised in 1967, becoming part of British Steel Corporation. (Source: Wikipedia)
There was a rumor on my mother's side of the family that we had some sort of connection to Bethleham Steel in Pennsylvania. I've never been able to prove this.

I personally can't imagine working in a steel mill, but then I also can't imagine being a coal miner and I have many ancestors from Scotland who made their living in the mines. I relate more to the Scottish ancestors who worked looms and made hats. What on earth would any of these people think of the way I've made my living working for myself for all but one year of my professional life? I imagine they'd think me soft and lazy. They'd be right.

This is my submission for Sepia Saturday this week. I've been away for a long time.

23 comments:

  1. Wonderful photograph, such detail and quality, you can examine each and every face and find a story there. Whether they were working in steel mills, coal mines or textile mills, our ancestors certainly knew what hard physical work was all about.

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    1. It is a great shot. I imagine there are other photos out in the world of my other relatives lined up with the Dalzell chalkboard, but this is the one one this side of the family got. What surprises me is that when you google "Dalzell" looking for old photos virtually nothing old shows up.

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  2. What a fantastic photo of steel workers! Just looking closer at all their tiny safety glasses pulled atop their caps...and most wearing a scarf (perhaps for breathing through?) it's a great glimpse into a time gone by. And I wonder why they were gathered for a photo as well...but your comment that they all moved to California and didn't return is the most amazing thing. Super post!

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    1. I didn't mean all of these fellas up and moved to California, just my ancestors. My grandfather had only one working lung so I imagine this work was very stressful for him, scarf or no scarf.

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  3. It's a fascinating group portrait that is not unlike many similar factory worker photos, yet has added interest in the men's safety glasses, hats, and neckerchiefs. A Melting shop must have been a very hot place to work, yet they are all in wool trousers and vests. The man behind the sign is the only one in a jacket and tie, so I expect he is the foreman. There's a vintage film on Steel Making in Scunthorpe on YouTube that shows this kind of work. https://youtu.be/wFNdtzUEXns

    And very nice to have you back. We've missed you.

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    1. Perhaps, like a school photo, they all dressed up for the photo. Put on their near best just for this one day. And I find it so odd seeing such a young boy in the shot, but then I don't know what sort of child labor laws existed in the 1920s in Scotland. Thanks for the link for the film!

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  4. Welcome back. What a great photo. The men look so handsome and healthy. You wonder how much protection those tiny goggles provided them but maybe in the "melting" section, there weren't sparks flying everywhere. Did you restore this photo in any way? It's so clear and crisp.

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    1. No restoration to the photo.

      I have to wonder how many of them had only recently returned from the war.

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  5. A perfect picture to match the post - maybe not suits, but flat caps galore! Interesting story about the different generations coming over 'the pond' to live and work.

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    1. Looking back through old photos of that time period I think every single male member of my family, both from Scotland and Pennsylvania, had those caps.

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  6. Good to see you back.

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    1. Thank you. I have missed it, but exhaustion is my life each day now as a caregiver. I have to focus on finding some fun.

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  7. You certainly had a photo to fit the theme! I was struck by the glasses resting on almost everyone's hat. Maybe some kind of eye protection since they all had them?

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    1. With the heat from the furnaces and the molten steel I think the glasses were needed. Which now has me wondering if my maternal grandfather wore any sort of eye protection when he worked on the railroad as a fireman.

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  8. Oh my goodness that house labeled as the American dream to own a home, well that house is incredible. The little Buckaroos are adorable as well! The history of your family is very interesting as well.

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    1. I am slowly working on another book. With luck I'll have it completed in a few months. Of all the books it's taken me the longest. I do enjoy compiling them.

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  9. What an incredible photo. And story. Look at all their glasses perched on their caps. And the little boy. I wonder what on earth he did.

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    1. I wonder about that child too. So young to be in such a dangerous job.

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  10. The kid in the front row could have been the inspiration for Alfred E. Neuman. I enjoy studying the faces in company photos. Some workers seem so happy and friendly, some seem gruff, and some seem sad. I wonder about what they were like as dads and husbands.

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    1. He does have a Neumann look! I hadn't noticed that. What I always find fascinating in old group shots is to find the person who stands out who looks modern. Most people in photos look of their time period, but it's always fun to find someone who looks like they are from today. Sometimes it's in the eyes; a gaze through time.

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  11. There is nearly nothing remaining of the Bethlehem Steel works in Bethlehem. It is now part museum, part shops, and part casino.

    I am very glad to see you back here. I know its been a long and difficult road for you of late.

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    1. I can remember watching a film in high school showing the strike busters at Bethlehem steel and thinking, "Oh please don't make this guy my relative." I didn't tell anyone that I might be related.

      Yes, it's been very tough around here. One foot in front of the other is the best I can do.

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  12. Ha! I imagine they would think us all today "soft and lazy"!
    Although they had hard physical graft they also a communial work that is very rare these days.
    Your grandfather's crew look very proud & united in your photograph.

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