Memories shared by Alan Swinburne
Delves Brickworks was built in 1874 between Delves Lane and Knitsley Lane to satisfy the growing needs of the Company for refractory bricks and shapes
Initially the output of the brickworks was mainly fireclay bricks and shapes made from seggar clay extracted with the coal from the Companies collieries but in later years crushed Ganister rock from Butsfield Quarry was mixed with the clay to make ” semi-silica” bricks.
After the first world war it became obvious that silica bricks would have to be used in the construction of Coke Ovens,so in 1924 a new brickworks,Templetown Brickworks, was opened on the site of the old beehive coke ovens to produce Silica bricks and shapes.
Such was the demand for Silica Refractories that the brickworks trebled in size over the following years.
Almost half of all Coke Ovens in the country were constructed using bricks and shapes made at Templetown and refractories for coke oven batteries and gas retorts were exported to many countries including Australia,India and U.S.A.
My first placement on the training program was at Templetown Brickworks Laboratory ,and if I had thought my visit to the Steelworks for an interview was a culture shock it was nothing compared to my time at Templetown.
Saying that it was great place to begin your training,the people were great mentors,not only teaching you about the production and testing of refractories but also preparing you for life in the steel industry.
I still remember those people,George Summerson,Jack Casson,Maurice Thompson,Dick Hudson and Brian” Wacker” Wilson.
Our main duties included the collection of brick mixes and finished products and testing for properties such as cold and high temperature crushing strength,refractoriness and permeability etc. Although I remember a lot of what I was taught regarding the testing procedures I think I remember more of other ” activities” that took place in the Laboratory some of which I cannot repeat,but I will tell two of the most memorable which give an insight into the working environment in the 1960,s colleague with whom I started work with insisted in telling the older chemists about his weekend “experiences” on nights out in Consett,much to their annoyance,after several friendly warnings his banter continued.
On our next visit into the kilns to take samples of bricks after firing we became aware of number of women workers blocking the exits from the kiln,they grabbed my colleague as I made a hasty escape.(I had no idea what they were going to do!!!).
Fortunately my colleague was a fit rugby player and fought free and we legged it very quickly back to the Lab with 3 or 4 of the ladies in token pursuit — it must have looked like something out of a Benny Hill Show !!
Of course when we got back to the lab we were greeted by a group hysterical chemists. My colleague definitely learnt a lesson and kept quiet for the next few Monday mornings
On another occasion an argument ensued regarding which sportsmen were the fittest, there was a rugby player,footballers,cyclist and a tennis player working in theLab/offices so it was decided to have a cross country race to find the fittest.
A betting book was started with people betting on the outcome.
I was not considered to be one of the favourites,but one of the senior chemists discovered I had been school cross country champion,a fact I had to keep quiet
During the run up to the race each senior chemist took one of the competitors under his wing and practice runs and time trails were organised ,usually when some of the other runners were at college and bets placed accordingly.I was instructed not to be too enthusiatic about the race or practice runs,hence my “trainer” was able to place his bets at favourable odds.
On the day of the race worked stopped,a van was converted into a “Red Cross Ambulance” to follow the runners. kitted out with a stretcher and doctor!!!.I’m not sure what the people on the roads around Consett and Delves area thought.
I’ve included a couple of photographs of the event,one showing some of the competitors and the other of the finish,I wonder who won??.
These are only two memories of my time at Templetown,it was a great learning curve and prepared me for all the other different situations I found myself I in over the next 17 years at the Steelworks.
I think now how employment has changed since the 1960’s,believe me several of the other experiences would not be tolerated or allowed in todays society,but they did us no harm and we all went on to have successful careers!
Thanks to Brian Wilson for some of the original photographs.