Consett’s last small bit of railway history.

Those of you old enough to remember Consett in it’s hey-day, or even towards the end will no doubt remember just how much railway infrastructure there was throughout every corner of the town.

As the sands of time march on however, so does progress, and with every step we loose just a little bit more of our past. And so it comes to be, that the old coal yard on Sherburn Terrace has finally been earmarked for re-development, and demolition of the site has been started.

Before we go any further, I’d like to give a big shout out to Rhys Hood who allowed me access to the site just for a few minutes to get some photos from the inside…

THANKS Rhys!

For those of you too young to remember, the coal yard I’m on about is the “Speedy Hire” tool hire shop across the road from the Grey Horse pub.

Today, it just looks like a small industrial unit, but 40 or so years ago, it was a very different story.

Let’s start with a snippet of the OS map for the area from about 1976

Coal yard in 1976

I’ve highlighted the grey horse (Left) in green.

and the houses next to it (Right) in orange.

You can see from the map, at one point in time, one of Consett’s main railway lines (The one to Sunderland & Tyne-dock) ran through this point, and out through Leadgate round Stanley and through Beamish. This main line was the Last of Consett’s working railways (The 3 other routes had been pulled up many years earlier), There was a reasonable size railway bridge going over Crook-hall road, with a large embankment carrying the railway going right through the middle of what’s now the “Rolling Mill” housing estate.

The view today as seen from where the end of the coal drop siding used to be.

Sadly we don’t have any actual photos of the bridge, or the signal box or the original coal drops itself, the closest photo we have is a black and white image taken from the site of Consett’s goods yard behind Sherburn Terrace, showing the rescue of a derailed truck.

Rescuing a derailed truck, the coal depot would have been just behind the locomotive and derailed truck in the distance. (Photo used with permission of Craig Dunn)

If you examine the 1976 map you can see that the site had it’s own railway siding coming right into and at a stop right against the far fence, the whole purpose of this siding was to allow coal wagons to be positioned over the “Coal Drops” (of which there where 3 on site) and the bottoms of the wagons opened to “Drop the Coal” into storage bunkers ready for bagging up into sacks and delivering to local home owners.

Consett like most industrial towns of the time, predominantly had coal fires, and those places that did have central heating, where generally powered from a coal fuelled boiler producing steam, some of the “posher” houses, such as those along the promenade had gas central heating, but gas for the mass market was still a few years away for most of the population. A lot of places still had the weekly coal delivery come to them by way of a large horse drawn flat wagon, pulled along the back streets of the town and sacks of coal tipped directly into coal shoots built into the backs of peoples sheds.

There aren’t many houses left these days that still have their coal shoots, but if you look along the back lanes of some of the older streets, there are still some to be found.

Everyday trains laden with coal would pull off the main railway line, be shunted up onto the siding for the coal drop, empty their load of black gold, then be taken away to the nearest mine, to be loaded up once more.

The coal drops themselves as they look today.

By 1976 Consett itself no longer had any working coal mines (The last one was the “Victory Pit” located on the site that is now occupied by Lidl on Delves Lane) so the coal trucks quite often came quite long distances to get their deliveries into town.

As more and more homes and businesses required daily coal delivery’s, and the later years of the 1970’s early 1980’s saw mechanized wagons become too large for the coal drops, the site fell into disuse (Your humble author can remember as a teenager, playing balancing games walking across the rails over those very drops trying not to fall into them), and most of the operations for “Arthur Page” and “Thomas Donkin” (Consett’s 2 most prominent coal merchants) where moved to the main Station Yard (Now the site of Consett’s main Doctors Surgery)

Consett Station yard – Now the site of the main doctors surgery (Image used with permission from Craig Dunn)

In the photo above (Taken when one the “enthusiasts specials” rail tours came into town) you can see the large mechanised coal wagons that replaced the flat carts in the foreground. The original drops at Sherburn Terrace where just too low for these large vehicles to fit under, and instead had to be filled with JCB diggers and local conveyer belt chutes. If you look closely in the far top left corner of the above image, you can see the small embankment rising up that would have held the railway siding going over the coal drops.

In early 1990 after sitting unused for at least 10 years, speedy hire took over the site and built their tool hire showroom. During this time, the land behind started to get redeveloped, and the bridge carrying the railway and embankment was also demolished.

The actual coal drops themselves, and the brick abutments used to support the embankment that held the bridge, where retained to hold up the embankment that still stands behind the location today.

The embankment behind the site as it stands today. (The same embankment that can be seen in the top left of the B&W photo of station yard above.)

The remains of the bridge support as seen through the fence from Crook-hall lane.

The same remains as seen from inside the compound

SO what does the future for the site hold?

Well we now know that the location is going to be the new home of the Consett branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Kingdom Hall. Looking at the very detailed plans made available to Durham County Council, it would appear that the actual historic parts of the site are likely to remain.

As well as the site itself, there is also the perimeter wall which when you look at it, is quite unmistakably old railway architecture, with it’s large granite blocks and curved top.

Unmistakable Old Railway Architecture 😀
The compound as seen from behind Sherburn Terrace

The new plans for the site show the coal drops and bridge support retained, with the coal drops themselves being converted into Bicycle parking for the hall, and the wall that runs round the back alley and back out onto the front is to be kept as the perimeter wall for the site.

The large area behind Sherburn terrace is to be dug up, and re-laid as a car-park, with the new building itself occupying the same footprint roughly as the original speedy hire building.

New plans with the old coal drops themselves highlighted in purple, and the original wall highlighted in pink.

It’s nice to see that new uses can still retain the historic features that the site was originally known for, and I hope the sites new owners actually explain to future generations the importance of this site as it was to Consett’s past, we had a number of Coal Yards of this type around the town, and this is not only the last remaining one, but also the last real remaining remnant of anything related to Consett’s proud historic industrial and railway past.

There are still a few bit’s and pieces around town IF you know where to look, and as all things covid related start to disappear leaving life normal once again, we intend to plan and take folks round on a series of walks designed to highlight sites and remains such as this one, I’d love in the future to still be able to include this one in our list.

If you have any photographs of the original site, the bridge, Carr House west signal box or the surrounding area, please DO GET IN TOUCH, this area of town is one of those sadly forgotten areas (Like Templetown) where there was a lot going on, but not many photos where taken, we’d love to see any you have and even add them to our archives for future generations to see.


UPDATE:

Mark Donaghy has kindly posted some pictures taken from inside the old depot in our Facebook group. (Thanks Mark!) you can view them here : https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=690833818947447&id=100863484611153