Family life with and without the steelworks:

Jim Roberts’s story

My name is Jim Roberts, I am 67 years old and retired and living in Spain. I was Consett born & bred, well Blackhill, and I served my apprenticeship in C.I.C. in 1969 and stayed working at the steel works till it closed in 1980. I visited many departments during my training but on completion of my apprenticeship I worked on maintenance at the Slab, Bloom and Billet mill; my father & brother both worked at the plant till the closure. My middle brother Brian, two and a half years my junior, was a Teemer in steel plant along with our Dad who was vastly more experienced. Daniel is ten years my younger and never entered the steel works, but is featured on the TV programme [Countdown At Consett, Tyne Tees Television, 1980, which followed the Roberts family as representative of the community].

My Dad was James Roberts, and my Mam was Theresa. My Mam’s father Danny Donnelly, who married Mary-Ann Darroch, was one of 9 children; he was the local postman and held in very high esteem in those days. I remember he gave out coronation mugs. My Great Grandfather [Roberts] brought his family from the steel working area of Flintshire in North Wales, following the movement of steel workers to Consett. It was so difficult with several children. However it just goes to show how migrant populations move for work and the good of our offspring. As you can imagine it was a hardworking, loving , catholic, socialist, Irish/Scottish/Welsh, honest home we were brought up in.

The laundry in Blackhill I recollect was my Mam’s first employment, she went there after school & went back after the war. [In World War II Theresa worked in the blast furnace bottom: heavy, dirty manual work – she was quite a character]. I do know she went to the Richard Murray Maternity Hospital, where she was when she got married in 1950. Mam and Dad’s wedding was in Dorrin’s Hall, Blackhill. I was born in 1953, and my brother Brian in 1955. I do remember us living on Durham Road as the Grammar School was being built, but the four of us moved to Mortimer Street before 1958 as that’s where I started school from, overlooking the railway and the cars parked going to the steel works up Mill Road. We stayed there till the new council houses were built 1964, just below new convent. Our youngest brother Daniel was born there in 1963.

My Mam went back to Shotley Bridge General around 1970 as an auxiliary in the Occupational Therapy Department, adjacent to Physiotherapy, where she worked alongside a Mrs Sheila O’Keefe till her retirement 1986. They had great time in Shotley Bridge Hospital, lots of stories and laughs.

[Jim goes on to describe the march in London in 1980, in support of Consett workers] The buses in the background transported us from Consett. A lottery was made for MPs that we were expected to lobby, and Mam drew Mrs Margaret Thatcher, who did not respond to my Mam’s lobby request. However, her pride and joy was a photo in Parliament of her and Tony Benn, her partner in ideals.

[Jim has many great stories of his time at the Works. Here is a good example of the high jinks that went on]. As the light nights were coming the Sunday league games were playing catch up after the winter weather had seen games postponed. One of our colleagues was a goal keeper for a local top Sunday league team called “ Back “O” Shaft”, a well know pub locally. Being on a 2 till 10 shift we agreed to cover for this mate of ours at work while he performed in a top of the table clash. Of course, he went and got injured, a broken arm or wrist, no mobile phones in those days, but his team mates put him in car, brought him to work, put his overalls on and laid him outside of work shop where the shunting railway lines were – no worries about a train coming by. All on our team at the Mill were part of this. The story was that he was going to a maintenance job and tripped over the lines, hence a work accident!

When I left the steel works, within weeks my wife [Susan Roberts] and I travelled to Tobruk Libya, where I stayed till 2006 at various desert locations. I returned again in 2007 before finally being evacuated in 2011 by the royal Canadian Air Force, during the anti-Gaddafi revolution. I did return again to Libya but the safety problems forced me to be laid off ; I also spent some time in Qatar and Kazakhstan, with filling- in jobs in the UK prior to my retirement.

But like many I have wonderful memories of my days in Consett and it was happiest place I have enjoyed working.

Jim Roberts, former CIC worker