FORGES DE CLABECQ
blast furnaces / Tubize / 1781/1909 - 2001 / 2006
The roots of one of the largest Belgian steelworks of the 20th century - the Forges of Clabecq - dates back to 1781, when a small flour mill (1752) was converted into an iron forge. Through several highs and lows, the mill reached the end of XIX century as a true steel factory, served both by the railway and the Brussels-Charleroi canal. In 1888 the Forges de Clabecq (FDC) limited company saw the light. However, until 1909 the manufacturing site was circumscribed to the original area, precisely north of Rue de la Déportation.
From 1909 onwards a new, large plant was erected south of the first one, provided with blast furnaces, power station, open hearth furnaces and rolling mills. The first blast furnace (HF1) was fired up in November 1910, while the second one (HF2) exactly one year later - both of them with a capacity below 1000 t/d of pig iron and a volume of 620 m³. In 1912-13 the company participated to the construction of a coke plant in Vilvoorde (Brussels). Partly damaged during the First World War and soon rebuilt, the plant employed 1842 workers in 1920. Two more blast furnaces were added during the 1920s: HF3 in 1925 and HF4 in 1929. Like the previous ones, these were equipped with Staelher charging bucket elevators ending up in an headframe of outstanding design. The ensemble was completed in 1956, when the fifth blast furnace was fired up. By that time the plant employed 3315 people, while enlarging itself significantly. To complete the production cycle, an iron ore agglomeration plant was put in operation in January 1960. In particular, this used the pelletizing process instead of the classic sintering one, being equipped with three Smidth rotary kilns (third one added in 1964). In early 1960s the steelworks was extensively updated through the creation of a new LDAC (oxygen steelmaking) plant and a rolling mill at Ittre, on a site along the canal just south of the blast furnaces area. Employees grew up to almost 4000. Between the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s FDC faced a general modernization, closing down old facilities such as the Thomas steelworks and several outdated rolling mills while launching the new, big HF6. This one, having a daily capacity of 3500 t of pig-iron, was fired up on November 20th, 1972. At the same time, HF3 was dismantled and soon demolished. During the following years two lines of continuous casting were activated too. In 1974 FDC reached the highest number of employees in its history: 5604.
Such a positive developing scenario was suddenly interrupted by the 1973 oil shock and the following economic crisis, leading to a decrease of the steel demand. Moreover, the creation of Sidmar - running a huge, modern and fully integrated steelworks in Gent - increased the internal market competition, while taking advantage of its location close to the sea. Pressed between Sidmar and Cockerill (the group running most of the steelmaking facilities of Charleroi and Liége), FDC began to loose ground. During the 1980s the number of employees decreased together with the production facilities. HF4 was turned off in 1985 and later demolished, the Vilvoorde coke plant was closed in 1986, HF5 was dismantled in 1989 and HF1 and HF2 were both turned off in 1991. In the same year the last active blast furnace, HF6, was revamped after 104 days of stop, while HF5 was completely demolished. The following years were characterized by a series of relevant strikes and growing social disease. On November 1st, 1996, FDC bankruptcy was declared, while 1777 workers lost their job. One year later, the site was acquired by Duferco - a multinational steel trading group - and partially reactivated. The steelmill and HF6 were definitively stopped in december 2001, leaving in operation only the rolling mills (the former Ittre plant). After some years of decay, Duferco proceeded to the demolition of existing facilities: HF1 went down in 2010 while HF6 in 2012.