Day 6: Closure, forty years on: remember the Works, remember the Workers
12 September 1980 is a date etched into many people’s memory as the day that iron and steel production in Consett ended. Within 3 years the site was virtually cleared and there was little trace of the industry that dominated Consett both physically and metaphorically for over 140 years.
Over 3000 people lost their jobs, with many more in industries that relied on the Works for survival. Over a third of people of working age in Consett were unemployed, and figure far in excess of the national average. More to the point, people also lost a way of life that had been a familiar across generations of Consett men and women: the steel works was the heart of the economy and the society of Consett, and strong community bonds were disrupted and severed as families, especially the younger members, left the area to seek work elsewhere.
The lights of Consett were not out, but were certainly dimmed.
Today’s Forged Over 140 years focuses on the workers: all those men and women who made Consett steel and proudly maintained CICs reputation for excellence and innovation.
We have four events to share today. The first is the recording of the unveiling of the memorial organised by our colleagues in Project Genesis, to the workers who lost their lives in the production of iron and steel in Consett, and in particular those 11 courageous men who died in the blast furnace gas accident in July 1950. The unveiling ceremony takes place on the morning of the 12 September and is being filmed so all can take part; as soon as we have the link we will post it here.
Update: here is the link to the recording of the unveiling ceremony:
Our colleagues at Land of Oak and Iron also have an unveiling of their own: Douglas Vernon’s comprehensive work, Thread of Iron, is being re-released in a new edition, and there will be a virtual launch today. This seminal work is a compendium of steelworking in the Derwent valley, and is a fantastic gazeteer of the activities of CIC and British Steel, including the events leading to closure, from someone who lived through the changes. The cover image is a wonderful woodcut from local printmaker Cathy Duncan, and there are plenty of local stockists.
Our colleagues at Durham County Record Office have been in touch to tell us about the fabulous online exhibition and video montage, Looking Back at Consett Steelworks, on their webpages. The Record Office holds a substantial amount of archive material on Consett Iron Company, and should be the first point of call for anyone looking into the history of iron and steel production in West Durham and the Derwent valley. We look forward to forging stronger links with them in due course.
Finally, we have two workers stories on the closure to share, both from different perspectives. Firstly, our Film Club Matinee is a wonderful recording, again organised by our friends in Project Genesis, of steelworker Ernie Jeffrey, who had first hand experience of the working at CIC and also of the accident in 1950. We also have a own blog post from Brian Clough, a former steelworker but better known as a photojournalist and broadcaster, who recorded the protests in the face of closure and was also on site when the last steel was tapped on 12 September 1980.
His photographic account of the events leading up to the closure, the last day and the demolition of the site, charting protest, reluctant resignation and removal, is both poignant and illustrative. It is also worth reading his timetable for closure in the North East Labour History Society’s journal from 2013, beautifully illustrated with Brian’s wonderful images.
Our thanks to all those who have shared and contributed to this commemoration of 140 years of iron and steel in Consett. The determination, community, generosity, openness and perseverance that maintained steel production for that length of time, despite the odds, is still running strong in Consett’s veins today.