In 1939 I was born, the son of a face working coal miner and his wife.
My paternal grandfather was also an ex miner from a nearby village (Sacriston) and my maternal grandfather a steeple jack from a village which no longer exists called Riseburn ? where my mother was born and raised.
Both families have earlier links to the railways.
The village where I was born still exists as Langley Park and is situated in the Browney river valley about 4 miles west of Durham City.
Consett lies almost due east 8 to 10 miles away.
My earliest recollections are of living, along with my sibling sisters, one older and one younger, in a terraced colliery house within sight, sound and smell of Langley Park Colliery and it’s associated coke works.
A railway line ran east to west within 20 yards of our door. I was to learn later that this was used to carry coke to Consett for use in the steel works.
The distinctive sounds and smells from the coke works still linger in my memory and many, unknown to me then, would be experienced much later at Consett.
The glow from CIC when slag was being tipped could be clearly seen and the rotten eggs and creosote smells from the coke works ? well no one seemed to suffer coughs or colds in those days.
I remember infant school, the winter of 1947 and junior school all within the village but from a change of address further away from the railway thankfully. 11 plus was the norm in those days and Mr Taffy Lewis managed to secure Johnston Grammar School places for four of us. Lifelong friends.
We then moved into a council house at the other end of the village away from the colliery but I promptly contracted “scarlet fever” and spent the next three months in an isolation hospital at Lanchester.
My introduction to grammar school was consequently disastrous, I ended up hating it and left with only bad memories. “You are not going down the pit so go and find yourself a job” I was told. 1955 saw me at CIC being interviewed by Mr Fishwick where I was offered a job.
My induction was to take place in the workshop of the “Blast Mechanics” and I then started work as an “assistant pump house attendant”. It involved shift work, two buses from Langley Park to Consett and 11/2 mile run to the lower ponds pump house.
The only bus available for a 6.00am start was from Lanchester. Walk, pushbike, lift in the newspaper delivery van nightmare.
Fortunately Mr Fishwick having reviewed my application, suggested I apply for an apprenticeship.
Tests all passed, Blacksmiths shop or Garage mechanic ? I chose the latter. I still have my indentures. Apprenticeship initially also meant no shift work a major bonus.
The garage itself was situated at the end of Berryedge road with a number of adjoined buildings, an ambulance depot and direct access to the Manager’s office.
A much larger building was the main workshop area with one small and two much larger pits. Vehicular access was originally by way of a yard outside the ambulance bay and a 90 degree right hand turn onto the pits. Dodgy to say the least.
Access was later moved and enlarged to enable easy and safe approach directly from the main works road.
There was also a small hut and two fuel pumps situated in the yard opposite what as Milton Lishman’s paint shop.
Apprentices checked and topped up each returning tractor trailer combination on a daily basis.
It was not seen as the drivers’ job at that time. As a unit we serviced and repaired a large fleet of vehicles, plant and mobile equipment used throughout the plant and even on the melting shop stage. 16 tractors with drawbar trailers (later replaced by articulated units) all AEC delivered steel billets, blooms and occasional slabs to Jarrow, Darlington and Redcar, 6 cubic yard dumptrucks serviced the blast furnaces from the ore handling plant opposite the Garage, numerous lorries of several makes were dedicated to different departments and cars, vans and chauffer driven limousines dealt with visitors, directors and senior personel and consumable collection and delivery.
Two tankers also served the needs of the fell coke works.
The garage was managed by Tom Gallon, his second in command being Fred Greaves.
Foremen were Jack Harris, Alan Reed, Roly Oliver and in my early years, on permanent night shift
Willy Walton. Peter Mantle looked after the trailer section which was, for some reason classified as semi skilled work. Panel beater/welder was Nick Heatherington and three other staff, Kit Ianson, Jimmy Hepple and a.n.other.
Tyre fitter was Les Scott but the storekeeper’s name escapes me Alan ? Auto Electrics were handled, initially on dayshift,
Later on a three shift system by Murray Batey, Ted Cuthbertson and Austin Donnely. Mechanics during my stay were :-
Barney Hunter (best friend and my best man) Barney went on to do brake system research at “Lockheed” ,conscription with the R.E.M.E. and went on to lecture at Edinburgh University.
He is still with us and lives in Penicuik near Edinburgh.
Alec Sellars (from Bridgehill), Ben Nicholson (Stanley) John Cranney (played cricket to a high standard for Shotley Bridge) Ian Gibson (IG to his friends, ex Jakey Robsons on Blackhill bank) Ken Davies (Blackhill and an early mentor ) Ronny Elliff (Came from a garage on Medomsley road- opposite the market ?) Albert Fairlamb.
Apprentices following on from me and Ralph Robinson were, as I recall :- Ken Glendinning and his younger brother Gordon. (Their father ran a haulage business, next to the river and just over the bridge at Shotley. Ian Farrer.
Chris Callaghan. On permanent nightshift with Willie Walton was Bill Eager and another night shift driver (Ianson) Emergency cover for the Ambulance which was also housed at the Garage. Bill’s son Les was also a dayshift mechanic.
Later, as the work load increased a need for twenty four hour cover led to a three shift system being introduced for selected personnel.
Unusual vehicles :- A massive slag transporter was commisioned . Powered by a Rolls Royce engine and occupying both sides of the road. I am unsure how effectively it performed compared to the locos used previously. It was a nightmare to work on and it’s reliability questionable.
Blawknox Machine was a mobile hopper containing dolomite.
It ran on the stage of the melting shop, trying to dodge the ” chargers” which reigned supreme up there, and it was used to “fettle each furnace” between firings. Fed from the hopper, a high speed flat belt shot a stream of dolomite, through the open door of the furnace to repair any damage to the lining.
“Austin Ruby Special”. Around 1961 A director’s son (Boot) was given, as an optional reward for obtaining his degree, either a “morris 1000 traveller” or convert a 1936 “austin ruby saloon” to a “souped up special”.
He chose the latter and I was ‘voluteered’ to assist and oversee the build. It was completed and functioned well but I have no idea what happened to it thereafter. Wish I had taken some photos.
Harthope Quarry I have fond memories of occasional days out too. Always a pleasant experience and a valuable break from our normal routine.
CIC owned and worked a quarry. It was situated high on the moors adjacent to the road from St Johns Chappel over to upper Teasdale and referred to as “Harthope”
We serviced the equipment stored and used there to extract ganister which was taken, by lorry to the works and used in the steel making process. .
These served as driving practice opportunities for us apprentices along with shopping trips for “cardice” (liquid nitroged) used by the TRD and consumables of all sorts.from Newcastle and Gateshead.
Tommy Hogg taught me to drive and Class one HGV License was also necessary I recall that we also serviced equipment for Consett Golf Club and were occasionally called upon to ferry patient to and from Shotley Bridge hospital in the works ambulance. Originally an old Morris Commercial, later replaced with an up to date Bedford.
My apprenticeship ended in 1960, conscription had finished by then so I missed out on National Service but I was retained by the Company and consequently married Joan, my soul mate for over 60 years and counting.
The 60s were good to us, we had two boys, enjoyed fishing and brass band trips and shared a holiday cottage with two other families.
The severe winter of 1963 saw me unable to get home for a week stuck in Consett. I lodged with a colleague at Villa Real but was able to secure 12 hour shifts due to staff shortages caused by the weather. Happy days !
Things changed with British Steel’s involvement, the writing was on the wall and there was uncertainty everywhere so it was decided, on the advice of my manager, to widen my horizons and learn about the retail sector of the motor industry.
I reluctantly left the Company in 1970.
I soon became aware of the true value of my apprenticeship and experience at Consett
The massive shortage of true craft skills was noticeable wherever I worked for the next eight years and in 1978 I was invited to apply for a position with the Skills Training Agency of the government’s Manpower Services Commission.
I was able to satisfy the practical and theoretical entrance examinations and after several residential trainer training courses started a new chapter in the Civil Service as an Instructional Training Officer.
We moved to our present house the same year and Training, Quality Assurance and IIP has provided for us ever since in both the public and the private sector.
I retired from being Training Manager at P C Henderson (Garage door manufacturer) in 2003.
It was sad to hear of the demise of the works and I have often reflected on the time I enjoyed there.
I was able to attend a couple of reunions with a few ex colleagues.
Sadly few now remain, but Ironically, while I worked as an Instructional Officer at Durham, and when it closed a number of ex British Steel employees were enrolled there to retrain.
Coincidentally three other Instructional Officers were also ex CIC apprentices. Small world but such a valuable and lasting legacy.
Consett has shown emarkable resilience and it’s proud people are testament to the prosperity it now enjoys. Risen from the ashes.
With thanks for the opportunity
N.A.Joicey RPT. (19 April 2021)
note we will be adding some pictures and documents from Alan in due course too