THE end of an era for a doomed steel mill came yesterday when the last metal rolled from its production line.

When senior roller Billy McQuade rolled out the last piece of steel at the Corus coil plate mill in Lackenby on Teesside, it signalled the end of Teesside's 160-year-old integrated steel-making industry.

Until this week, every aspect of steel production had taken place in the area, but unfinished steel will now be taken to Wales for rolling. Mr McQuade and 233 colleagues will work for just a few more days to clear the site.

The closure was especially sad for Gerry Duffy, 61, from Middlesbrough, who has been at the mill since it opened in 1965. He is one of many workers forced to take early retirement.

When the mill opened, British Steel was in its heyday and was seen as the icing on Teesside's steelworks cake.

Mr Duffy said: "There have been massive changes in working practices, but we got through all of that. I am going to stop now because the decision has been taken to let the younger lads have the jobs."

Mr McQuade, who at 54 is also retiring from the company, has worked in the mill for 32 years. He spoke of yesterday's sombre atmosphere.

"It was a sad occasion because people have worked in the mill for a long time and they realised that their mill had gone. It is something I never thought I would have to go through - it was like being at a funeral."

Last night Tony Poynter, chairman of the multi-union steel committee on Teesside, said: "It is a sad day - it is another part of Teesside's steel past that has been consigned to history.

"This area is a steel-making area and the closure of a major mill is something we should all regret. We still believe this mill is closing for the wrong reasons. Corus has closed a profitable mill. Our case was sound and that makes it harder to take.

"We need to raise the morale of the Teesside workforce to get across to them that there is a future for steel-making in this area."

Steel-worker Matthew Lodge, who has a job lined up in a different part of Corus, said: "I think Teesside has been robbed of its inheritance. This area has built steel-making up over 100 years. It is like being told of an impending death in the family - you know it is going to happen.

"There are mixed emotions among the men but they have been going quieter and quieter. They are sick of talking about it. The mood is quite sombre."

Steel from the mill was is rolled into coils, which were then used in the oil, gas, construction and motor industries.