A local trust aiming to develop its vision to revive the former Brymbo Iron and Steelworks and Brymbo Fossil Forest, has received a grant of more than £800,000 from the National Lottery.
The ambitious project, being undertaken by the Brymbo Heritage Trust, focuses on the major restoration of the Brymbo Iron and Steelworks site, with plans to convert the historical landmark into a ‘vibrant, heritage-led, mixed-use visitor destination and community / enterprise hub’.
Built in the late 1790s by prominent industrialist and cast iron pioneer John ‘Iron Mad Jack’ Wilkinson, and producing steel from 1884 onwards the works ceased operation in 1990.
The remaining buildings on the site currently lay derelict but if successful in securing a full grant of £5million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the Trust aims to transform them along with the nearby Brymbo Fossil Forest into a major visitor attraction, learning centre and vibrant local space known as Brymbo Heritage Area.
John ‘Iron Mad’ Wilkinson pioneered the manufacture of cast iron during the Industrial Revolution. He invented a precision boring machine that could bore canon and cast iron cylinders, such as those used in steam engines of James Watt and Matthew Bouton – his boring machine has been credited as being the world’s first machine tool. He also improved the efficiency of blast furnaces, and led the early development of the world’s first metal single span bridge – the ‘Iron Bridge’ – in Shropshire.
Brymbo Fossil Forest was discovered in 2005 and contains a wealth of fossiled trees, stems, seeds, roots from the late carboniferous period 280 to 320 million years ago. These were found within 100 metres of the iron works and show how the botany and climate of the time combined to lay the coal seams that led directly to the UK’s industrial growth.
Along with Wilkinson’s story and the plant fossils, Brymbo Heritage Area will tell the tale of the later steelworks and its impact on the local area.
John Glen, UK Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, said: “This exciting project will tell the story of Brymbo’s illustrious industrial past and boost the local economy through a new cultural tourist attraction. It is a fantastic example of how the National Lottery is helping to preserve and celebrate the unique heritage of Wales.”
Richard Bellamy, Head of HLF Wales, said: “In its heyday, Brymbo was at the centre of Britain’s engineering prowess. Its coal was medal winning and its iron and steel fuelled the expansion of steam and the railways. This project will regenerate Brymbo’s historic buildings and boost the local economy but it will also revive this powerful story and a sense of local pride in what was achieved here.”
The grant award will now enable the Trust to grow and to engage the full range of design, engineering and legal professionals needed develop fully costed proposals, ahead of a second stage application in late 2019.
If that application proves successful the building work will get underway in 2020 with the facilities opening a year later.
In September 2017 the Trust received the backing of Wrexham Council, who provided a financial boost in the form of a £170,000 grant to help support the project.
Nick Amyes, Chair of Brymbo Heritage Trust, said: “We faced tough competition to secure this funding, and we’re absolutely delighted with this news – it came 27 years to the day after Brymbo Steelworks closed its doors on 27th September 1990.
“Thank you to all of the National Lottery’s players up and down the country for helping us bring a big part of our community back to life.”
Cllr Paul Rogers, Local Member for Brymbo, added: “This is absolutely fantastic news – everyone at the Heritage Project has put in a lot of hard work on this over the past few years with the support of Wrexham Council”
“This isn’t just something that’s started up recently and a lot of work went into preparing this bid to ensure its success – and all those at the project deserve to be congratulated for the effort they’ve put in.
“I’m sure this project will be a huge benefit to Brymbo and a key part of the regeneration of the Steelworks site.”
“This project has potential to redevelop the site for a range of purposes and also support the creation of jobs”