A Life of Service to Consett Iron Company

Joseph (Joe) Dixon’s story, told by his Grandson Ian Moules

The following Consett Story will appeal to many of our members: Joe’s life was full of steam trains and this is his superb legacy for his Grandson, Ian, who has inherited his love of things steam. Overcoming adversity early in his life, Joe was clearly a Consett man to the core, and it is great to hear his story.

My grandfather, Joseph Watson Dixon (Joe), was born in 1902 in Derwent Cottages, Medomsley – now just empty fields opposite the Hat & Feather pub; all that remains is the old reading rooms. His father had been a lead ore miner in Allendale and Hayden Bridge before moving to Consett to work in the coal mines.

He joined Consett Iron Company (CIC) in 1919. By 1924, the year he got married to Hilda, he was a ‘locomotive fireman’, indicating that he was taking the traditional steam loco development route (still practised today) of cleaner, fireman then driver. By 1929 he is recorded as a locomotive driver. Between 1924 and 1936 he lived variously in Derwent Cottages (Medomsley), Windsor Gardens (Consett), Plantation St and Front St (Leadgate). Presumably, these were all properties owned or built by CIC. His heart was always in Derwent Cottages; he was devastated when the houses were demolished in the 70s.

Sometime around 1949/50, he was involved in an industrial accident. The details were always vague beyond the fact that he ‘fell under a train’. Whatever the cause, it resulted in him having his leg amputated above the knee. Although he always joked about it (wooden legs run in the family!), it caused him a great deal of pain throughout the rest of his life. He would suffer excruciating ‘phantom pains’, i.e. pain that seemed to come from his missing leg. I recall that he used to get his tin leg prosthetics from Roehampton, which had become famous for prosthetics as a result of dealing with soldiers from both wars. I used to stay with them in school holidays and always remember a thud on the floor as he took his leg off and put it under the bed!

Following the accident, he was made a ‘rail traffic foreman’ and given a job for life. I suppose that was their form of industrial compensation – no questions asked – in those days. Around that time, they moved to Rosedale Avenue in Blackhill, which is the home I remember and visited frequently throughout my childhood and after.

Joe retired in 1967 when he was 65. However, I’m old enough to remember him walking up St Cuthbert’s Avenue from the Ritsons Road bus stop (which is nowhere near Ritsons Road, but therein lies another story). I was always told that they weren’t allowed to travel on the posh (yellow) Venture buses, but had to use the (red) Northern buses because of their dirty clothes. One abiding memory I have is the smell of oil on his brown corduroy trousers. I treasure the photo I have of the two of us outside their house.

I recall Grandpa, as I knew him, often drew steam locomotives. They were always the same shape and had A1 written on the side with him and his trusty pipe in the cab. It wasn’t until many decades later when I started trying to piece together details of our family history that I realised he was probably drawing his engine. So, with the help of Google, I tracked down the locos used at CIC and, low and behold, discovered the Kitson engines, plus a photo of Joe by just such an engine (A11). It was exactly like the ones he used to draw. So, imagine my excitement when a discovered the only preserved loco (No. A5) at the North Tyneside Steam Railway Museum (http://www.ntsra.org.uk/).

All that talk and exposure to steam locos was bound to rub off. I have been a fanatic ever since and now volunteer at the Watercress Line (Mid-Hants Railway) at Alresford, Hampshire, near where I live. I have been treated to various loco firing/driving experiences and have indoctrinated my son with both our family history and love of steam.

Joe had a significant impact on my life. He was a kind and loving character, but with a core of steel; his fists were like rocks (I wouldn’t have liked to cross him). Sadly, he died in 1981, aged 79, but he is always in my memories.

Joe and Hilda with me in 1980

Ian Moules, steam enthusiast