The furnaces roared and rivers of molten steel ran red – for generations Scotland’s steelworks were the powerhouse behind the industrial revolution and laid the foundations for a modern world of construction.

The steel they produced created James Watt’s first steam engines and canons for Waterloo. A quarter of the world’s ships were built on Clyde, buildings emerged from steel skeleton frames, bridges spanned rivers and gorges, opening up communities and fuelling a new age of commerce.

Once the fierce beating heart of industry, depressing new figures released in light of the collapse of British Steel have now revealed the scale of the demise of the Scottish and UK steel industry over the past 40 years.

According to trade union GMB, the UK’s steel industry employed 186,000 people in 1981, when giant steelworks like Ravenscraig in North Lanarkshire provided lifeline employment for 12,000 people at its peak, and produced its iron in blast furnaces fuelled by Scottish coal.

In those days, the vast site close to Motherwell and Wishaw was Western Europe’s largest producer of hot-strip steel which was processed at Gartcosh, and a producer of slab steel for the nearby Dalziel Works, a plate mill that supplied shipbuilding industry and off-shore oil platforms construction.

But falling world demand, recession and cheap Chinese steel ripped the heart from the UK industry, and from Ravenscraig to Redcar, across Wales and the Midlands, businesses have toppled.

According to the union, 80% of steel jobs had vanished by 2017, with just 32,000 left.

The collapse has seen a 90% drop in Scottish steel employees – from 19,000 in 1981, to just 1,800 in 2017.

The impact is replicated across the country with jobs shed at an astonishing rate in Yorkshire and the Humber, where 40,000 people lost their livelihoods over the same period, and in the West Midlands, with 25,800 job losses.

But the loss is greater still when compared to the 268,500 people that British Steel employed at the time of nationalisation in the Sixties – and the many thousands more who worked for firms which relied on the steel giant to keep small businesses afloat.

The figures put into context the scale of the industry’s collapse as it enters what appears to be its final death throes with the collapse of British Steel. The UK’s second-biggest steel company’s demise has put a further 5,000 steel jobs at risk and is set to impact on thousands more at small firms which rely on it for work.

Ross Murdoch, GMB National Officer, said: “The decline of the UK’s steel industry is devastating to see.

“Consecutive UK governments have failed to protect our proud steel heritage, and now Theresa May is overseeing its demise.

“Ministers must be prepared to make use of all the options – including nationalisation – in order to save our steel industry.”

The collapse of an industry which was once the pride of the nation would have been hard for past generations of Scots to even imagine.

From early Celtic metal works which sprung up around the Firths of Tay and Moray to the first 'ironmasters' in the 1600s, the Industrial Revolution and the mammoth furnaces at Ravenscraig, Scotland's iron and steel works provided the raw materials that built the nation.

For decades, the industry was dominated by the Carron Iron Works in Falkirk, which produced canons, stoves, pots and fireplaces, and worked hand in hand with James Watt to create his revolutionary steam condenser – the vital spark that ignited the industrial revolution.

But in more modern times the focus for Scotland’s steel industry would eventually settle on Motherwell, where Dalzell Steel and Iron Works sealed Scotland’s reputation as one of the world’s greatest steel-producing nations.

Its owners David Colville and Sons had hit on a method of mass-producing steel at a cost-effective price, using an open-hearth method of production which enabled them to burn off the impurities found in Scottish pig iron and remove carbon from the crude material.

The Motherwell works opened in 1872, and by the First World War it was the largest steelworks in Scotland, having consumed the Clydebridge Steel Company in Cambuslang and the Glengarnock steelworks.

A £20 million vision for an integrated iron and steel works and a hot strip steel mill at Ravenscraig in North Lanarkshire took shape in the early Fifties.

And by 1957, the area’s skyline was set to be interrupted by the steelwork’s three 70 metres high reinforced concrete cooling towers, and two huge blue gas holders, one bearing the plant’s name and 80 metres tall.

It was a familiar sight for Jim Fraser, who left school in Wishaw in 1969. It was two years after the British Steel Corporation was formed, and Ravenscraig would provide his work and income for the next 23 years.

“Ravenscraig was the big employer, and we were cannon fodder for industry,” he recalls.

“You never got a chance to pick what subjects you wanted to do at school. I loved history and geography, but they said ‘no chance, son’ and I was given technical drawing, engineering and science subjects instead.”

He remembers his first day well. “It was a culture shock. They took me up to see the blast furnace, it was like staring into the heart of a volcano.

“There wasn’t much health and safety to speak of. Men were killed, burnt to death.

“The dust was terrible. The women at home could see the dust coming, and they knew to run out and bring in their washing or it would be filthy.”

Mr Fraser remembers shifts that would roll on into a 24-hour stint at work, such was demand for the Motherwell steel and the need to ensure the work was done.

But while Ravenscraig and other steelworks pumped out some of the best steel available, falling world demand, competition and a global recession wounded British Steel and forced it to slash its workforce from 142,000 in 1980 to 52,000 in 1988.

The miners’ strike of 1984 had sent industry and the unions into chaos while privatisation in 1988 by Margaret Thatcher’s government sparked a chain of closures and concerns for Ravenscraig’s future.

A promise to keep it in operation until 1994 was broken and British Steel announced its closure in 1992, with the loss of 1,800 jobs.

Mr Fraser took his six-year-old son with him to work on his last day and sat him close to the blast furnace so he could watch a piece of industrial heritage die.

“Most people went on to get other jobs eventually, some didn’t. Anyone who worked there will feel for the people in places like Scunthorpe.

“Losing the steelworks will destroy the town – and it will take it a long time to recover.”