Shropshire Star

Coalbrookdale foundry closes: Workers tie boots to the gates as they are sent home from Aga Rangemaster

Workers have tied boots the gates outside of the Coalbrookdale Aga Rangemaster foundry as they were today sent home.

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The scene at the foundry this morning

The workers arrived today only to be told they were not needed as the gates the 309-year-old foundry closed.

As the Men of Iron left the foundry on Wellington Road the workers hung their boots, coats and helmets over the iconic "Coalbrookdale Co" gates.

The scene at the foundry this morning
The scene at the foundry this morning

In a statement read out at the start of the day, the workers said that history had to be made, and that it could not be bought.

"After 300 years today the gates will close at the Dale works for the final time," they said.

"A lot of companies close, but we feel this is different because of its special history.

"Today we would like to reflect on all those that have been part of the fabric of what is the Coalbrookdale Foundry.

"Many thanks to the local community for their support. We are a family and that will remain so.

"Up the Dale – history is made, not bought."

Some of the Iron Men remained on site to help take apart areas of the foundry.

Adam Jones was one of the workers who left later in the morning.

"Since it was announced that we were closing, it's like we've been on death row," he said.

"Just looking at the work left to do in the foundry, we knew it was going to happen earlier than we thought. We've had no control over it, we've just kept on doing our job to the best of our ability and we walked out with our heads held high.

"I've been here 16 years. I started at 23, I didn't know anything about life or work. I'm a completely different man with a whole bunch of friends. These guys are my family. It's very sad. There's nothing like this anywhere else – it'll mean a career change for us all.

"This place will never be forgotten."

Outside the gates were a few old workers and family members who wanted to stand in support despite the change of plans.

Among them was Graham Hickman, 68, who worked on the site for 40 years and today helps run the Memories of Coalbrookdale Iron Foundry Facebook page.

"The new owners in Illinois got wind of what was going on and told the workforce to clear off the site as soon as possible," he said. "They didn't want the bad publicity.

"I feel very, very angry. I retired in 2005, but the lads are furious. There's 42 of them – they've done 900 years between them. Their families have gone back four or five generations at the foundry. They have shown tremendous loyalty to the company. Now they've just been chucked out.

"This is the last cast iron company in the Ironbridge Gorge. It is now going to be very tourism related. The locals have nothing against that, but it was a working community. We started the Industrial Revolution. Americans can't appreciate that heritage, all they're looking at is money in the till."

Lauren Morris is the daughter of Glyn Baker, one of the last of the Men of Iron to leave the site.

She travelled from her home in to offer support to her father and her grandparents, who also worked at the site.

"It's a sad day for the whole family," she said.

"There are generations of families that have worked here. Even if people haven't worked at Coalbrookdale, they have links, even if they just drive past every morning to work. It's the heart of the community.

"We had hoped to be here to recognise their work and celebrate the foundry, but sending them home early has tainted that. Families have been denied the chance to support their loved ones."

This afternoon about 50 people came out to mark the final day of work at the foundry.

Those that gathered said they wanted to celebrate the final Iron Men, and the long history of work in the Gorge.

The scene at the foundry this morning

Nicola Lowery, councillor for the Ironbridge Gorge said: “It is an extremely sad day as the Ironmen of Coalbrookdale leave the foundry for the final time and officially hang up their boots.

"I would like to sincerely thank them and all whom have worked at this special site for their dedication and contributions made that have become an integral part of our history.

"There is significant legacy to this site in terms of its industrial heritage and the foundry has very much been at the heart of the industrial revolution, as it undertook the building of the world's first cast-iron bridge, which has become the iconic Iron Bridge we know today that has established international renown and status.

Graham Hickman hangs a pair of boots on the gates

"Coalbrookdale was where the birthplace of the industrial revolution originally began, located on one of the original foundry sites of Abraham Darby I where he first smelted iron ore with coke in 1709. Many in the community are saddened by the news that AGA have taken decision to cease the manufacture of castings at Coalbrookdale.

"However, it is wonderful to see the warmth shown for those that have dedicated so much to the foundry for generations and it is been heartening to see how the community have come together to express their support and gratitude, which will continue to be shown as many gather at 3pm today. Whilst it is a sad day we are very optimistic for the future and the potential of this site moving forward.

The scene at the foundry this morning
The scene at the foundry this morning

"The foundry in the heart of Coalbrookdale has a rich industrial history and I hope a buyer is secured with the vision to recognise the prestige and opportunity within this site to establish a revolutionary and innovative industrial use that realises our aspirations for the future and acknowledges the achievements of the past”."

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Aga Rangemaster announced that it would be closing the foundry in May this year.

The company said that the foundry was no longer "economically viable".

The company's factory at Ketley will be kept open, with iron for the Aga ovens assembled there being sourced from other foundries across the UK and the EU which are not part of the Aga Rangemaster group.

Aga Rangemaster was sold to Illinois-based food services giant Middleby Corporation in 2015, in a deal worth about £129 million.

This afternoon, Laura James, a spokeswoman for Aga Rangemaster, said: "Yesterday the union representing the workers at the Aga foundry at Coalbrookdale contacted the human resources department at Aga Rangemaster to ask when staff might be released. Later that day the foundry was inspected and the situation reviewed.

"There was an agreement in place between Aga and the union that staff could be released early if work needed to wind down the site was completed ahead of schedule and, as this had happened, it was agreed this morning that a substantial proportion of the remaining staff could leave immediately.

"It has been a real credit to the foundry workforce that they carried out the work with such positivity, dignity and attention to detail at this difficult time.

"The workforce chose to close the foundry gates to capture a symbolic image, a move that Aga supported and - contrary to suggestions in some media outlets - no staff were turned away at any point and none has been prevented from entering the site."

"In fact, a number of staff will continue working until November 30 and work to wind down the site will continue until the end of March 2018."

Telford & Wrekin Council leader Shaun Davies,

Telford & Wrekin Council leader Shaun Davies, members of whose family worked at the foundry in the past, hailed the history of the site and described its loss as a “big blow” to the borough.

“It is a great shame to see this historic foundry closing its gates for the last time and I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who has worked there, both past and present,” said Councillor Davies.

“This is a historic site that is symbolic of Coalbrookdale and the Ironbridge Gorge’s great industrial past and I know there will be a lot of emotion today. We will be present at the site to show support for all the workers.

“The loss of the foundry is a big blow to the borough of Telford and Wrekin and as a council, we will offer every possible support to those who have lost their jobs this close to Christmas.

“I think it is important that the landowner works quickly to positively bring the site forward and we want to work with Aga to ensure their other site in the borough remains viable.

“It is a great shame that this beacon of industry has had to close.”