Steelworks Stories: the blog

Templetown Brickworks Memories shared by Alan Swinburne

Memories shared by Alan Swinburne

Delves Brickworks was built in 1874 between Delves Lane and Knitsley Lane to satisfy the growing needs of the Company for refractory bricks and shapes 

Initially the  output of the brickworks was mainly fireclay bricks and shapes made from seggar clay extracted with the coal from the Companies collieries but in later years crushed Ganister rock from Butsfield Quarry was mixed with the clay to make ” semi-silica” bricks.   

After the first world war it became obvious that silica bricks would have to be used in the construction of Coke Ovens,so in 1924 a new brickworks,Templetown Brickworks, was opened on the site of the old beehive coke ovens  to produce Silica bricks  and shapes.

Such was the demand for Silica Refractories that the brickworks trebled in size over the following years.

Almost half of all Coke Ovens in the country were constructed using bricks and shapes  made at Templetown and refractories for coke oven batteries and gas retorts were exported to many countries including Australia,India and U.S.A.

 My first placement on the training program was at Templetown Brickworks Laboratory ,and if I had  thought my visit to  the Steelworks for an interview was a culture shock it was nothing compared to my time at Templetown.

Saying that it was great place to begin your training,the people were great mentors,not only teaching you about the production and testing of refractories but also preparing you for life in the steel industry.

I still remember those people,George Summerson,Jack  Casson,Maurice Thompson,Dick Hudson and Brian” Wacker” Wilson.   

Our main duties included the collection  of brick mixes and finished products and testing for properties such as cold and high temperature crushing strength,refractoriness and permeability etc.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Although I remember a lot of what  I was taught regarding the testing procedures I think I remember more of other ” activities” that took place in the Laboratory some of which I cannot repeat,but I will tell two of the most memorable which give an insight into the working environment in the 1960,s   colleague with whom I started work with insisted in telling the older chemists about his weekend “experiences” on nights out in Consett,much to their annoyance,after several friendly warnings his banter continued.

On our next visit into the kilns to take samples of bricks after firing we became aware of number of women workers blocking the exits from the kiln,they grabbed my colleague as I made  a hasty escape.(I had no idea what they were going to do!!!).

Fortunately my colleague was a fit rugby player and fought free and we legged it very quickly back to the Lab with 3 or 4 of the  ladies in token pursuit — it must have looked like something out of a Benny Hill Show !! 

Of course when we got back to the lab we were greeted by a group hysterical chemists. My colleague definitely learnt a lesson and kept  quiet for the next few Monday mornings

On another occasion an argument  ensued regarding which sportsmen were the fittest, there was a rugby player,footballers,cyclist and a tennis player working in theLab/offices so it was decided to have a cross country race to find the fittest.

A betting book was started with people betting on the outcome.

I was not considered to be one of the favourites,but one of the senior chemists discovered I had been school cross country champion,a fact I had to keep quiet

During the run up to the race each senior chemist took one of the competitors under his wing and practice runs and time trails were organised ,usually when some of the other runners were at college and bets placed accordingly.I was instructed not to be too enthusiatic about the race or practice runs,hence my “trainer” was able to place his bets at favourable odds.

On the day of the race worked stopped,a van was converted into a “Red Cross Ambulance” to follow the runners. kitted out with a stretcher and doctor!!!.I’m not sure what the people on the roads around Consett and Delves area thought.

 I’ve included a couple of photographs of the event,one showing some of the competitors and the other of the finish,I wonder who won??.

 These are only two memories of my time at Templetown,it was a great learning curve and prepared me for all the other different situations I found myself I in over the next 17 years at the Steelworks.

I  think  now how employment has changed since the 1960’s,believe me several of the other experiences would not be tolerated or allowed in todays society,but they did us no harm and we all went on to have successful careers!

 Thanks to Brian Wilson for some of the original photographs.

Alan Swinburne

Steelworks stories: the blog

Welcome to the History of Consett Steelworks blog, an place to bring forward some of the steelworks stories that you’d like to share. New content is always welcome, so if you have a story you want to tell or a memory you’d like to record please get in touch with the HCSW team at

Plate Mill started 1959 opened in 1961

Description from you tube-​ –

1959 saw the start of construction work on what was the world’s most advanced steel plate rolling mill at Hownsgill in Consett, County Durham, UK.

The huge building was 2.7 million cubic feet in volume and the first plate was rolled there in September 1960.

It was officially opened by Lord Mills in April 1961

3 videos show the builing

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

This part one of a series of Blog posts about the Plate Mills if you have any content, pictures or stories/memories you would like to share please do get in touch with the HCSW project team

A Painting by Philip Oliver

Peter Horsman shared a picture of the Steelworks and it made me want to find out more – Did you know or work with Philip?

So I emailed the artist and he kindly has replied

Thank you very much for your message and for your interest in the print. 

I only have the one illustration of Consett Steelworks, however I do plan do paint more in the near future if there is enough interest.  I formerly worked at the Steel Works, employed as a welder for five years. 

I have many memories of the Works. The large chimney being towed at the rear belonged to the Billet Mill, and I remember working inside it when it was erect. 

For your interest, I met my wife in the Company and my friend’s Wife, was the Company Director’s Private Secretary.  I hope this helps.

By all means, please feature or reference me in your blog and I will be delighted for you to share this also. 

Many Thanks 

Kind Regards,

Philip Oliver, Artist and Illustrator…/aec-tractor-unit…/

Philip’s watercolour depiction of the former ‘Consett Iron Company’ in County Durham. It is 40 years this September since the closure of Consett steel works. The industry was Consett’s biggest employer with 3,700 workers directly employed and supporting another 7,000 jobs indirectly. Whilst County Durham had many coalfields, Consett was renowned for its steel production. The iron company was founded in 1840 to exploit the area’s natural resources of iron ore, coking coal and limestone. Consett’s Iron Company however began steel production in 1889, boasting the largest steel plate factory in the world.

A few years later in 1894, the town of Consett was said to be the largest manufacturer of steel in the world. Steel from Consett was used in the construction of Blackpool’s famous tower, ships and more recently, for nuclear submarines. Consett boomed and consequently, developed housing, a Hospital and a vast rail marshalling infrastructure. The Consett Iron Company peaked during World War Two when 12,000 workers were employed. During the 1960’s, the steelworks had been nationalised as British Steel.

Philip’s painting is set in the late 1960’s and it features a pair of AEC tractor haulage units arriving into the Steel Works with a long and heavy load.  The artist has captured the dramatic scene in the background of the many chimneys belching out red smoke. This was a result of the iron oxide, appearing rusty red in colour and fell across the Town as what was locally referred to as ‘red dust’.  On the 12th September 1980, the works closed, and steel production ceased, leaving a devestating impact upon the town. Not a trace of this scene remains today.

This is a high quality, giclee print. Only 750 produced and signed exclusively by the artist.

Thanks to Philip Oliver for his interaction and allowing us to share this print and a little of story behind it

Have you purchased one of the prints?

Richard Judd

Chair of the HCSW Project

Lanchester EP Steelworks Walk led by Rob Moran

Lanchester EP are doing a project on Consett Iron Company and on Thursday I took them on a tour of the site.

We visited the memorial of the brave men who lost their lives in 1950 and spoke of the story of that terrible night.

We had a map of where the building of the steelworks were with pictures of the cooling towers and the power station.

We looked at the slag ladles and went to the park where I told them of the Battle of the Blue Heaps.

We ended up at the steel circle where they found out that Consett steel made the Blackpool Tower, the first UK nuclear submarine HMS Resolution, Sydney Harbour Bridge and a few more.

The children were a credit to the school, they asked lots of questions and enjoyed themselves.

This is the first time History of Consett Steelworks group have done this.

Hopefully it’s the first of many visits in keeping our local history alive.

Rob Moran part of the HCSW Project team

May 2021

John Pears by his son Neil Pears

From the CIC Magazine

The picture of John Pears getting his pre wedding present got us thinking to see if we could find out more about him and even get some pictures of the wedding

Well after posting on Leadgate Old and New Photographs his son Neil commented and has provided some pictures and background

John Pears was born in Leadgate on 31st July 1943

He worked at the Steelworks Steel works 1959-75

So here are 3 photographs of the wedding of John and Valerie supplied by Neil .

The Wedding was on 3rd of October 1964 at Leadgate Methodist Church. Best man was Eric Macdonald

He was married to Mam for 32 years writes Neil

3 kids Alison 56 Me 55 & our Mark 46

Supplied by Neil – His best man was Eric Macdonald writes Neil
on the steps of Leeadgate Methodist Church-picture thanks to Neil Pears
Another picture John and Valerie with the Boys Brigade 1966 thanks to Neil Pears- do comment with names

Neil also enjoyed some active times with his dad too = he writes My dad & I, walking up Skiddaw August 1977

John went on to be a local councilor between 1979 and 1991

Member of the Leadgate Gleeman Choir

Also active with Derwentside singers and Consett theatre workshop

Loved to play golf 3 times a week and loved following Newcastle United

Was part of the Boys Brigade from 1955, captain 1970-79

Also involved in the local Methodist Church Council

John died 8th October 2011

Consett & District Heritage Initiative *CDHI

Consett & District Heritage Initiative are a voluntary organisation.

The group was founded in May 2010 with the goal to make the history of our area accessible to all.

We believe in education and have already given numerous school display’s and talks.

In the past 6 years we have also had numerous open days and seen 1000’s people through our doors.

Our Archives are growing at a steady rate with donation’s of photo’s, postcards, books and artefacts and we hope this continues.

Through archiving and sharing of information we hope to save our history for the future generations.

We are based in The Lodge, Blackhill & Consett Park where we have our office on the second floor.

The Lodge is located just up from the bottom gates on the left.

Our office is open every Wednesday from 10am -4pm for anyone interested in finding out more about our local history or to give help with your family history (Tuesday 10-12.30).- note currently closed due to the Covid Pandemic

Link to Facebook group

the History of Steelworks Project are delighted to partner with and work with CDHI. Did you go and see their display at Tesco in Sept 2020 for example. We look forward to supporting and promoting each others activities as we go forward

Heritage Trail by Project Genesis

Have you walked all or part of the Heritage Trial?

What are you thoughts?

Please do share any pictures

More about the Trail and a map on the #vistitconsett website

Description from the Visit Consett Website

The Heritage Trail project was conceived to create and enhance a footpath to celebrate Consett’s heritage and industrial history. In linking our tourism and heritage assets across the town to the stunning countryside, the Trail encourages both visitors and residents alike to explore North West Durham. 

Taking in existing footpaths and following parts of the C2C cycle route, the Heritage Trail has magnificent views across areas of outstanding natural beauty and as Consett is close to world-renowned tourist attractions such as Beamish Museum and Durham City, it is the perfect place to visit. 

The Project Genesis trust is known locally for developing the community assets across the town, including the Consett Urban Park, Fawcett Part, improvements to the C2C route and the Grove Ponds site. 

As the Trail is a circular route, walkers can start at any point. Consett town centre is linked to the Derwent River Valley, via the Hownsgill Viaduct and up through the Grove Ponds. All the footpaths have been improved or created with ample signage for locals and tourists to find out more about our Industrial Heritage.

Improvements to the car parks and the addition of picnic tables at specific points on the Trail, mean walkers can enjoy a leisurely stroll through the stunning countryside and access sites such as the former steelworks pumphouse and the Hownsgill Funicular Railway which had been lost to public access and awareness for several decades. 

Walking the Heritage Trail

Length of route: 6km (without detours)

Time to walk: approximately 3 hours

Parking is available adjacent to the Trail at Lydgetts Junction and at Pemberton Road. It is a short walk to the Trail from Allensford car park. There are dedicated Heritage Trail way markers throughout the walk. Follow orange arrows for a clockwise route, and green arrows for anticlockwise.

The Trail is unsuitable for cycles, except where it coincides with the National Cycle Routes 7 and 14. 

The paths have mostly been surfaced; unsurfaced paths may become muddy and therefore suitable footwear should be worn. Any steep sections of the trail are marked as such, but they are not very long. Please take care on sections of the Trail where the path narrows or becomes steep. 

Bench and seat down by the Pump House
Heritage Trail Map

Steelworks Walk for all ages

Delighted to hear that Rob Moran “local historian” had a great session and walk with a class from a local school

He will be doing a post about it in due course

n the meantime well done Rob I know you put alot of work into making it happen and research which held you in good stead for the number of questions asked

Rob and Peter Jack Shaw will be hosting a Steelworks Walk as part of the Closure Weekend in Sept 2021 watch out for more details in due course

This is building on the work the Community Steelworks Mapping group are doing and the research Rob has been doing

Also do join and follow Rob and Alfred the Dog’s Landmark travels on the group link below

An example of the Steelworks Walk researched and hosted by Rob Moran – this at Blackhill and Consett Park

Bedroom view of the Works-by Leslie Lowes

This slag-tipping operation used to light up my bedroom ceiling at night in Blackhill.

A rosy glow started as a glimmer on the distemper that swelled and grew until the bedroom flushed into a fiery pink that transformed it into an exotic boudoir just for a moment.

Alas it soon disappeared and returned me to a bleak white reality. But just for a moment it was transformed and made me look at things creatively.

Bedtimes were certainly interesting in Blackhill then.

picture shared by Stephen Bridgewater
Shared by Rob Moran and Alfred the dog

Health & Safety Focus in June 2021

Our next “Focus” will be in June on Health and Safety so if you have any related content, stories or memories please get in touch

Be good to speak to Union Health and Safety reps for example, anyone who worked in the infirmary

In due course once archives are back accessible at Durham, Beamish and Teesside we will be looking for content their including any Accident books

The Focus will build us up to the anniversary of the 1950 Accident- we would also like to “speak” to families to get their input

Please email the HCSW team on

Methodist Tapestry-a Flagship Project

A fascianting talk and so good to learn the process of how a panel is designed and made

Thanks Dave from the Weardale Museum for the presentation and Liz for the co-ordination

Anyone who might have an interest in doing a panel or has an idea for a panel for the Methodist Project please email the project team

You do not need to be an expert embroider to take part and support can be given. Also volunteers welcome from around the world, of all ages and you do not have to be a Methodist or religious

Our first panel has now been handed over to our Technical Adviser, Tracy Franklin. Many thanks to Norma for her hard work in creating the Education panel for our Core Collection! I’m sure you’ll all agree Norma is an extremely talented stitcher 🙂

Not everyone who participates in this project has to be able to produce work of this quality, though – we’re interested to hear from anyone who has worked on anything from a cross stitch kit, a kneeler for a church or any other project.