Consett Iron Company recollections by Allan Joicey

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

Request for Information/Reunion by Daphne Butler

The HCSW project have been contacted by Daphne with the following request for information and wish to for reunion if at all possible

I believe that a very good friend of mine Alice Macnaughton- Jay(maiden name) father was a manager(?) in the steelworks.

I met her in Cobham in 1967 She was a very good friend to me and I would dearly like to meet up with her It’s a long shot but thought that I would give this site a chance?

Thank you

Daphne

If anyone knows of Alice or family please do comment or get in touch with the HCSW project team

We will also do some exploring regarding the Manager link

RFI Request For Information, acronym business concept
Commander Jay Alice’s dad is pictured here he is man in the middle

Request for Info re Christopher Jones

The HCSW project team have been contacted by Gary Jones asking for information about his grandfather I’m looking for any information on my grandfather,

Christopher Jones who worked at the iron works approx 1930’s to retirement in late 60/70’s. I believe he worked at one time on the locomotives then eventually as a blast furnace operative.

Also believed to have had a serious injury at the works resulting in him losing a leg.

Just wondered if there are any official records of staff during that period

Many thanks

Gary

We have advised him of the National Archives, Durham Record Office and also the British Steel Archive

If you can provide any information, pictures please comment or email – thanks in advance

historyofconsettsteelworks@gmail.com

RFI Request For Information, acronym business concept

Visit Consett Website

Visit Consett is a website supported and funded by Project Genesis

Click on the image below to go to the Visit Consett website:

Free listing for local business and community groups is available – an easy way to promote your business or group without cost!

The History of the Consett Steelworks Group have done just that:

To contact Visit Consett see details below

Visit Consett may be contacted by emailing info@visitconsett.co.uk or by direct message on Twitter, @VisitConsett

Women of the Durham Coalfield in The 19th Century a Talk by Margaret Hedley

As part of the International Women’s Day online events March- 8th-9th 2021 we are delighted to host a Zoom Talk by Margaret Hedley on Tuesday 9th March 2021 at 7pm (no recording please)

Link to Facebook event

https://www.facebook.com/events/247198913749347?active_tab=about

First Class Charlie

Memories in song of the last train links to Consett by Graeme Richardson

The following blog post has been taken from the History of Consett Steelworks Facebook page, where Graeme kindly shared his work and background to the piece.

On the 17th March 1984 the last ever passenger train set off from Newcastle Central to Consett Station. A few lucky people paid for the chance to be part of this final journey. Sadly, the train lines were soon dismantled after the Steel Works closure. 15 months previously Prince Charles made the same journey, albeit on a slightly more Royal train. I got the idea for a story based poem/song based on this event.

In 2016 I had a poem 1st Class Charlie published in a Northern Writes publication, which was shortlisted for a NE history poetry award. I finally put this poem to music in January 2021 and thought it would work well with photos of the day, along with a few snippets from the BBC story that was shown on Look North.

A big thank you to Stephen McGahon who kindly allowed me to use his brilliant photos in this video and also Richard Judd and Steve Shields for their history lesson. All other photos were found on the internet and Facebook sarches. If you look closely you might see yourself! Enjoy.

Graeme Richardson, 22 January 2021

Closure through a lens: remembering the Works, remembering the Workers

As part of our Forged over 140 Years series of events to commemorate iron and steel production in Consett and the 40th anniversary of closure, the following is a guest blog from photographer, photojournalist and broadcaster Brian Clough. Brian was one of the people responsible for some of the most illustrative and iconic images of closure, as you can see here with these images from the Northern Echo. Brian also wrote an excellent piece in the Journal of the North East Labour History Society which has a timeline and many more images.

Our thanks to Brian for his great contribution to our Closure commemorations.

It seems hard to believe that it is forty years since the closure of a world-famous institution that became part of my life when I left school. In those days youngsters seemed to follow in well-worn family footsteps and most found work either in the pits or at Consett Iron Company. I was no different: a week after leaving school I started as an office boy in the Accounts Department following in Dad’s footsteps, moving to the Cost Office and finally to the Plate Sales Department. I left eventually, and became a photojournalist.

I remember with affection (and perhaps annoyance at the time) of being sent for ‘the long stand’ – where various offices were informed to keep you waiting for ages allegedly while they tried to find it – or being sent to the Pay Dept to ask for the ‘W Ledger’ (little knowing that Bill Ledger worked there). There were tales from outside administration in various other departments of young employees being sent for a ‘capful of nail holes’ or ‘a tin of tartan paint’.

As a journalist I worked initially for The Guardian Chronicle and covered many stories relating to what was happening at ‘the Works’ and covering many of the Christmas parties held at The Freemasons Arms in Front Street and the Trade Union Hall in John Street. Moving to the Northern Echo and based in Darlington I was often sent back ‘home’ to cover stories from the Consett area. As I was known as a Consett lad, they decided in their wisdom to send me back to cover all the proceedings that were going on with regard to the closure of the ‘Company.’ I remember with great sadness having to do pictures of the marches, and attending on the day when a government minister was pushed over while trying to explain to the steelworkers around him that it was necessary for closure. There were meetings at the old Consett Football ground and depression that seemed to fill every street in town. Sadness abounded during those traumatic times when it seemed everything that could be done had been tried but to no avail and doom and gloom lay heavy over all who worked there.

The day finally arrived when I had to return to take pictures of the last day of work and albeit that many photographers and camera crews positioned themselves at and around the entrance to the works I decided to go to the Old Tin Mill Road end. It was a good decision: I managed to take a picture that made front page the next day which I thought depicted the sadness. As much as it hurt the work force and their futures I also felt their pain to the extent that although I hadn’t worked there since leaving school it was as if I had lost a part of me too.

They say the heart of a town had been ripped out that day and although perhaps in one way it had, the strength of Consett folk will however never ever be taken away: they are, and always have been, a community that cares for each other and that survives through whatever hardships governments may throw at them. They are proud people and no-one can take that away. I, like many more, have great happy memories working there: gone is the buzz, the drone and the dust, but the spirit remains, which makes me proud to tell folk where I come from.

Brian Clough, Photojournalist and broadcaster, August 2020

Tweeting all over the world: update

The HCSW involvement in the University of Swansea Social Worlds of Steel Shaped by Steel Twitter conference at the beginning of July was a great way to share some of the fantastic images and stories many of you have sent in to us – for which we are really grateful.

The conference itself brought together steel stories from across the globe, with papers on Teesside, Port Talbot and Corby steel works, as well as insights into the steel that lies at the bottom of the sea in the form of shipwrecks. We submitted two papers, one on transport and one on the people who made Consett steel, and I have posted the scripts below. If you’d like to check out some of the other content then do have a look through the #SWOS20 hashtag – not least for some of the fantastic images speakers’ shared of their steel worlds.

We really welcome feedback, so if you have any comments or would like to add any information to these tweets please get in touch with us by emailing historyofconsettsteelworks@gmail.com. It may take us a few days to get back to you but we will reply. Twitter allows only 280 characters per tweet, but there is so much more to say about both of these topics, so if you would like to share we’d love to hear from you.

Tapping the Memories: the human stories behind the closure of Consett steelworks

1/15 Consett was built on iron & steel: a single industry town, its population grew from 145 in 1841 to almost 10,000 by the end of the century. From 1840 people came from across the UK & Ireland to work in the flourishing Derwent Iron Company, later Consett Iron Company #SWOS20

2/15 Growth was rapid & sustained until the closure of CIC, then British Steel, in 1980. In the 140 years of steel production, a strong, diverse community was forged around the Works, whose determination, innovation & enterprise made Consett profitable to the end #SWOS20

3/15 Most local families were connected to the Works, each new generation following the old: ‘it was one of those things…you fell out of bed & went to work for the Company’. From apprenticeship onwards there was loyalty too, as these cuttings from 1957 & 1979 show #SWOS20

4/15 Family & workplace bonds were the basis of community as workers grafted & socialised according to plant location & shift pattern even on retirement: this shared experience has formed powerful memories as well as strong lifelong & inter-generational friendships #SWOS20

5/15 The Douse family have CIC connections over 4 skilled generations: John, a maintenance fitter at Fell Coke Works 1959–1968; his father Tom an armature winder, his grandfather John a chequered plate pattern cutter & his great grandfather Cuthbert a fitting shop foreman #SWOS20

6/15 The closeness of their family & community ties was continued outside the Works with incredible creativity. Tom, resplendently seen here, was a skilled musician, forming the Tom Douse Mandoliers show band that involved extended family members & colleagues from CIC #SWOS20

7/15 The Douse family’s communality is representative of Consett life, & this cohesion was reflected in the community’s reaction to the threat of closure. Central to this was the Roberts family, whose strong ties to Consett were galvanised into protective action #SWOS20

8/15 Jim Roberts & his brother Brian followed their father, also Jim, & their mother Theresa in working for CIC. Jim was a fitter & turner in the Billet Mill, Brian & Jim senior worked in the Teeming Bay. Theresa, seen here in 1979, worked in the blast furnaces in WW2 #SWOS20

9/15 The Roberts family were a focus for protest in response to the closure & featured in a short 1978 film Countdown at Consett. This showed the community’s loyalty & passion but also uncertainty. In 1979 they took the protest to Westminster #SWOS20

10/15 The film shows that part of Theresa Roberts’s identity is firmly linked to place, a feeling shared by others across all generations. Wanting to stay but left with no choice, Jim & his skills left Consett in 1980 to work overseas for most of his professional life #SWOS20

11/15 Consett’s last steel was tapped Friday 12 September 1980. The teams involved, precise & quality-driven to the end, sent samples for testing. Commemorative samples were cast for workers, who competed with journalists to see the last steel from the vessel #SWOS20

12/15 True to the tradition in Consett of experiencing both good & bad times in shared community & music, that evening a piper played a final lament around the Works & many went for ‘a couple of pints to escape the misery of it.’ Within 3 years few traces remained. #SWOS20

13/15 The aftermath of closure was brutal, with an estimated 75% of the local workforce relying on CIC. Unemployment, particularly amongst under 25s, soared. Consett’s lights were temporarily dimmed rather than turned off: clearance eventually brought new, albeit different, growth #SWOS2020

14/15 The story of Consett & its steel is one of repeated adaptability & enterprise. The Works continued to innovate & thrive throughout its 140 year history & so did its workforce: it is their energy, pride & community that shaped not only the Company but also the town #SWOS20

15/15 Thanks to all who have shared their memories & images: the Douse & Roberts families, Paula Bleanch, Stephen Bridgewater, Joseph Campbell, Neil Crossan, Brian Hodgson, Bill Roberton, Billy Robson, Gwen Taylor, David Thompson #SWOS20

Forging Links in a Landscape

1/17 At over 900ft above sea level, perched on a fellside in a landlocked corner of north west Co. Durham, the town of Consett is not the most likely of locations in which to found what was to become one of the largest plants in the global steel industry #SWOS20

2/17 There is a long tradition of iron smelting & steel production in the Derwent Valley dating back as far as C13th, with remains of a C17th furnace at Allensford to the north west and the more complete C18th site of Derwentcote steel furnace to the north east #SWOS20

3/17 In 1840 when the Derwent Iron Company established its works at what was then Conside, the area had no easy access to a deep water port, no major road links, no direct access to a mainline railway nor easy access to a navigable waterway #SWOS20

4/17 What it did have was raw materials: coal from the Durham coalfield, limestone from the Pennines around Stanhope to the west & high grade iron ore in deposits local to the site at the time. This was rapidly depleted, requiring ore to be transported from further afield #SWOS20

5/17 From the earliest days the Company realised that communications were the weakness in their capacity & competitiveness & started to construct a network of integrated transport systems that allowed Consett to grow & thrive despite its geographical disadvantages #SWOS20

6/17 Control over transport links & collaborative working was key to Consett’s success: initiating infrastructure & working with other interested parties became a feature of the Company’s development. This was seen first in rail, specifically the Stanhope &Tyne line #SWOS20

7/17 From 1832 a line linking the limestone quarries around Stanhope & Consett, en route to the staithes on the Tyne at South Shields, was constructed. From 1841-1843 the Derwent Iron Co. controlled the part of the line west of Consett, renaming it the Derwent Railway #SWOS20

8/17 The challenging terrain, rising to over 1400ft & with gradients of 1 in 12ft, required several inclines, slowing movement of materials. One of the most remarkable was the double incline at Hownes Gill, a 150ft deep ravine immediately to the west of the DIC site #SWOS20

9/17 Initially using cradles to lower the wagons horizontally, a single engine on the ravine floor moved 12 loads/hour by this method. This bottleneck continued until the construction of the Hownes Gill viaduct in 1858, a single-line span of 730ft designed by Thomas Bouch #SWOS20

10/17 In exchange for a line linking the Derwent Railway to Crook, DIC agreed to sell the line to the Stockton &Darlington in 1843. The Weardale Extension Line opened reliable trade routes to the south, the second link in the integrated rail network supporting Consett #SWOS20

11/17 The final significant rail link to Consett was the 1893 line from Tyne Dock to Consett, supporting the import of ore by sea from the Orconera Iron Ore Co., Bilbao, owned by the Consett Iron Co. in collaboration with iron producing partners in Wales, Germany & Spain #SWOS20

12/17 What makes this 21 miles of line impressive are the steep gradients – up to 1 in 48 – that had to be negotiated, first out of Tyne Dock & then between South Pelaw & Consett; in the age of steam these stretches required powerful banking engines in constant attendance #SWOS20

13/17 Securing & controlling supply by owning infrastructure, CIC had staithes at Tyne Dock & Derwenthaugh, as well as 4 ore carrying ships, each named after local towns. Incidentally, these came to play a role in the relief of the Bilbao blockade in the Spanish Civil War #SWOS20

14/17 In the final years of production, collaboration, innovation & ingenuity continued to ensure Consett’s relevance in the industry, shown in the transport of molten metal from Teesside in specially designed torpedo ladles between 1969 – 76 https://youtu.be/9rLO02rit7w #SWOS20

15/17 The last ore train on the Tyne Dock line ran in 1974 with the last passenger train 10 years later. The line, along with the Derwent Railway and Hownes Gill viaduct, is now part of the C2C Sustrans cycle network, a much-enjoyed leisure facility & tourist attraction #SWOS20

16/17 This is only a partial snapshot of CIC’s overall transport infrastructure. Sitting at the heart of a finely tuned supply & distribution network, Consett’s willingness to collaborate & innovate ensured its survival long after its geographical disadvantages were known #SWOS20

17/17 Thanks for their expertise & images: C Allen, @Beamish_Museum, S Bridgewater, J Donnelly http://southpelawjunction.co.uk/wp/, D Dunn, @LandofOakIron, R Langham, S McGahon, Raines Antiques, A Reilly, @sustrans; railway diagrams & images: Colin Mountford & G Whittle #SWOS20