Review of Last Lecture

Martin Lloyd got us off to a different start at our March meeting.  We had a brief introduction into the production of iron and steel.  Once we had recovered from the surprise we were fascinated at the processes involved, and therefore able to understand and interpret the unusual pictures that Martin showed us on the big screen.

The mountains near Bilbao are full of both coal and iron, and the area has for centuries been a centre for iron production, and in recent centuries, steel.  The first half of the twentieth century saw Bilbao's zenith, with paintings of smoky skies and fiery furnaces dominating the screen.

Iron is the fourth most common metal, making up about 3% of the earth's crust, but it does not occur in a pure state, it has to be extracted from its ore.  To do this one burns it at extremely high temperatures - smelting - and the molten metal emerges from the base of the furnace running into the prepared rivulets where it is pig iron, because it looks like piglets.  Ortega produced a dramatic engraving of these furnaces.

To produce steel the right balance of carbon has to be added.  Sir Henry Bessemer, in the nineteenth century, invented a Converter which made this process more efficient, reducing the time taken dramatically from twelve days to five minutes.  The price of steel plummeted, but the demand rocketed.  The Siemens-Martin company  then came along with an even better system which took longer - twelve hours - but made better steel.

All these processes, forging, casting, rolling, drawing, were represented in the various pictures, paintings, engravings and one or two photographs, we saw.  Most were commissioned by proud board members to put in their company board rooms. They demonstrated man's ingenuity and expertise and the drama of heavy industry with dramatic colours and varying scenes.  We not only saw the insides of furnaces ablaze, but also the ships in the port, the industrial sites spread along the river and the men working away.

Fuego Humo y Hiero:  Martin Lloyd.

Ricardo Gomez-Gimeno

Inside a steel works.

Lucas Alcaide

The stained glass

window in the station.

The end products of course, were lorries, cars, girders, ships, anything for which steel is used.  The waste from the processes was recycled; fertiliser, heating systems for the industrial sites, even using the heat to go round again to heat the furnaces.  

Some bronze reliefs were overwhelming in their exaggerated size, a little like Egyptian statues.  In extreme contrast the stained glass window in Bilbao's main railway station had beautiful colours and gave an overall picture of life in Bilbao at the height of its working life.

Bilbao had been an important port for many generations, its river with direct access to The Bay of Biscay making it most convenient for heavy industry.  In the late nineteenth century it was decided that Welsh coal would be of better quality to produce the steel, equally, the steel could be shipped back to Wales for the next stage in the process.  A flourishing trade between Wales and Bilbao was the result.  At the same time, railways became really useful to enable the workers to move heavy products about and the British provided the narrow gauge railway lines for the sites.

Martin Lloyd educated us well, and we came away feeling that we knew rather more than we had and impressed by the effectiveness of the many representations by the twentieth century artists whose works we had seen on screen.