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 historyofconsettsteelworks@gmail.com.

HCSW supporting WEA with Routes of Social Change Project

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/history/five-new-north-east-walking-24353019

Article published in the Newcastle Chronicle June 2022

WEA North East have created an innovative History Walks project called the Routes of Social Change. A set of modular, mapped walking trails through the rich social History of the North East of England.

Having been awarded funding by the Lipman-Miliband Trust and WEA’s own Volunteer Innovation Fund to develop the project to pilot innovative app-guided “audio-visual walks” across the Region.

https://wea-historywalks.org.uk/ link to Routes of Social Change website and more about the walks

The History of Consett Steelworks project team are delighted to be supporting the WEA North East team on this project

We hope many people will explore the walks and be great to see your comments/feedback in due course

Picture Shared

HCSW project team were delighted to see this posted on our Facebook page by Lynn Breen

My sister Sandra Hunter posted this photograph on another page, and I thought this group may be interested. My brother-in-law was Eddie Hunter.

“Photo of Douglas Vernon (centre front) and I think his management team of Consett Iron company. Date approximately 1967/8. My husband was one of the first group of personel to form the Work Study Dept in Consett Iron Company. He’s not on this photo but for some reason I have this photo. My husband really idolized Mr Veron, as he was a great boss. I can’t ask my husband about this as he passed away 3 years ago, but knew he so respected this opportunity and start in management”

posted by Lynn Breen on https://www.facebook.com/History-of-Consett-Steelworks-100863484611153

Can you add any names or have any memories of working with or for Douglas Vernon

The Modern way of Life

It comes as no surprise to most, that there are some very old buildings in Consett’s town centre. The Grey Horse for example has a date of 1848 on it’s front door.

The Grey horse dates back to 1848

There are other buildings, that also have dates on the front of them, or where known to be some of the first buildings built in the town.

Take for example, this one:

Barclays was one of (if not the first) commercial bank to come to Consett.

When it was quickly realized that Consett as an industrial town was growing fast, that naturally attracted the banks.

Barclays, Lloyds and the Co-Operative society where the first 3 to have purpose built buildings, buildings which from old dated photos, we can trace back over 100 years!

Barclays for example, we have photos going back to the 1820’s, 1890’s and as close to home as the 1970’s and 1980’s when the skyline that Barclays was always part of, was still dominated by our Steel works.

Barclays has seen the steelworks come, and go. (Photo used with permission from Paul Matthews)

So what have old banks, got to do with the title of this post?

Well like most things, nothing lasts forever, it’s just been announced today (17th June 2022) that Barclays will close this branch in September 2022. A building that has been featured in so many of Consett’s historic photos for well over a century will finally cease to be there any longer.

I know, progress has to march on, and I doubt for one minute that the building will get demolished. It’s an old building, with Consett’s spirit firmly embedded into it, and it’s foundations.

The ONLY actual bank that will now be left in town, in it’s original building, will be LLoyds:

Lloyds as seen on Google Earth (August 2018)

How long that will remain with us, is anyone’s guess.

The Co-Op bank, ceased to be a bank many, many years ago

Co-Op bank building on Newmarket street (Google Earth August 2018)

We have a number of photographs from inside the Co-Op building, when it was in the process of being renovated, I may do a follow up post on that at some point in the future.

The premise however, is the same, bit by bit, our history get’s eroded, the “Digital Future” and a generation that is now used to everything being done online, means that we are likely to see more and more losses like this.

We might be allowed to take some photographs of the building before it closes, and we will attempt to contact the relevant people to see if we can make this happen.

As we prepare however, to say goodbye to another bit of Consett’s history, let us remember that like many of our older institution’s, Barclays has seen this town through some of it’s lowest points, and grimmest of times, and celebrated with this town as we came out of the other-side of those times, and continued to grow and flourish as a community.

To those who remained as faithful customers, and continued to use their branch in-person, I’m sure the staff of Barclays, Consett will say a big warm thank-you.

Our town may change, but it’s spirit will not. I hope that the building get’s new owners, who will look after and cherish it, and who continue to put it to good use, time will tell, as the progress of the modern way of life, marches on.

Learning your Trade- Apprenticeships

The learning of a trade through apprenticeship, in which a young person was placed with and formally bound to a master, has roots way back in medieval times. By the 16th century it was generally accepted as a means of providing technical training to boys and a very few girls in a wide range of occupations.

Before the introduction of this legislation, apprenticeships were regulated by the guilds of trades and craftsmen.

An apprentice, often starting as young as 10 or 12, would learn his trade over a period of years — often seven, but it could be longer or shorter than this — with his master being responsible for his board, lodging and clothing as well as teaching.

The 1563 Act was abolished in 1814, as the popularity of apprenticeships waned “due to conditions in factories and exploitation of young apprentices”, according to a House of Commons research paper from 2009.

Apprenticeships in certain trades, particularly those which required practical skills, remained popular in subsequent decades.

There were around 340,000 apprentices per year in the early twentieth century, according to an Institute of Directors (IoD) policy paper from 2003.

By the mid-1960s — “the high water mark for apprenticeship in Britain” according to the IoD — roughly 35 per cent of male school leavers aged 15 to 17 went on to do an apprenticeship.

Source https://feweek.co.uk/history-of-apprenticeships/

Did you or family do an apprenticeship at the Consett Steelworks?

Did you teach the apprentices?

The History of the Consett Steelworks project team would be delighted to learn about your experiences, hear your stories and see your pictures

please comment or email historyofconsettsteelworks@gmail.com

Steelworks Apprentices 1964
Newspaper article on the opening of Consett Technical College funded by CIC

School Steelworks Walk offer

Pictures of School Steelworks Walk guided by Rob Moran in this case for a class from Lanchester EP School

The History of Consett Steelworks (HCSW) project team would like to extend an invite to all local schools to get in touch to discuss arranging a School Steelworks Walk

Rob Moran from our project team has now guided two walks for classes from Lanchester EP and is ready to guide more children to give them a tour of Steelworks site

The walks are FREE and are part of the ethos of the project to pass on the memories and history to the next generation, who hopefully be the next custodians and volunteers

Either comment, pass on to contacts or email historyofconsettsteelworks@gmail.com

Republished book on local Bricks including a part on TempleTown Brickworks

A republication of a book detailing many of the former northeast brickworks, is to be available at the end of next week and orders can be placed at the Path Head Watermill website.

An account of Templetown Brickworks is included in the book.

http://pathheadwatermill.org/index.asp?pageid=727402

proceeds going towards up keep of Pathhead Watermill which is worth a visit

Did you work at Templetown Brickworks the HCSW project team would love to read your memories and see any pictures

Local History Month 2022- The Value of being custodians

The History of Consett Steelworks (HCSW) project team are honoured and proud to be the Custodians for recording and cherishing the industrial heritage which was the life and times of the Steelworks at Consett

Plans are being made to attend events and share some of the wonderful items that the community have kindly donated to the project so that as many people as possible can “enjoy” them

We also hope that in due course there could be Derwentside/Consett Museum for permanent display and from which guided tours like in Durham for example could go from

Being Custodians is about allowing us to enjoy the heritage now but also to make sure future generations can too

If you or family have possible items to discuss donating we would be delighted to hear from you

Please comment or send the HCSW project team an email historyofconsettsteelworks@gmail.com

#historyofconsettsteelworks

#localhistorymonth

#cherishthememories

Did you Work/Volunteer at Minsteracres on the old stable barn rebuild in the 1960’s?

Did you or family work/volunteer on the old stable barn rebuild in the 1960’s if so please do comment or get in touch with the HCSW project team

This following paragraph is from the Minsteracres website

The students then moved to other centres and Minsteracres became a novitiate house. At the same time another dream was realised, namely to open a retreat house. In order to achieve this, the old stable block was converted into residential accommodation, mainly with the help of volunteers from the Consett area who generously gave their time. The retreat house was opened in 1967.

source https://www.minsteracres.org/about-us1/#:~:text=The%20name%20%E2%80%98Minsteracres%E2%80%99%20goes%20back%20to%20medieval%20times,in%20a%20quarry%20for%20millstones%20%28%E2%80%98mill%20stone%20acres%E2%80%99%29.

Image by Andrew Curtis

Text with the image

Minsteracres Monastery

Minsteracres was the former residence of the Silvertop family, built on a hilltop site approached from the north up a long avenue of Giant Redwood trees.

The Silvertops were devout Catholics, persecuted for their faith, who made their fortune from control of coal mines in the Ryton and Chopwell areas. The original L-shaped house dates from 1758. A second floor was added under the stewardship of John Silvertop (1748-1801) who inherited the estate in 1789. Subsequent large additions followed, including an extension designed by John Dobson.

On John Silvertop’s death the estate was inherited by his son George who travelled widely, bringing back exotic plants and trees for the grounds, and works of art for the house. On his death in 1849 the estate passed to his nephew Henry Charles Englefield, who took the surname, Silvertop. He build a private chapel adjacent to the mansion, which was to become the parish church for the local Catholic community, dedicated to St Elizabeth and opened in 1854.

His heirs all died young, several in the Great War. Minsteracres was used during the Second World War as a base for fire service training and shortly after, Charles Arthur Silvertop sold the house, church, stables and 60 acres of land for use as a Passionist Monastery. The remainder of the estate, including 15 farms, cottages and 5,000 acres of land was sold to Tyneside industrialist Charles Cookson.

Friar Colum Devine of the Passionist Order, with the help of local volunteers, transformed Minsteracres into a monastery, and the derelict stables and coach house into a retreat centre which opened in 1967.

Minsteracres: Peaceful retreat marks 250 years – Hexham Courant, Tuesday 17 February 2015: LinkExternal link

source https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4424129

Local History Month May 2022- A Night out in Consett- a memory shared

Nights Out In Consett

A Memory of Consett.

I have some wonderful memories of nights out in Consett in the sixties.

There was a pub called the Masons Arms run by Kevin and Ina Kearney and the barmaid Jenny, I think. It served the most beautiful beer in the world or so we thought, Tuckers ales.

On a weekend it would be filled with all sorts of characters, Army Sam, Wilf Patta, Vince Blacky, Willy Dicken, Phil Terry, all supping those big creamy pints, and the girls would join us as well – Julia, Celia, Fred, Cath, Angela – I could go on but they were special.

The juke box would be blasting out Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Animals and a few Irish rebel songs Kevin had secreted in the juke box under different names.

Such happy times. From there to the Brit , same thing only the beer was Vaux {yuk]. A few in there and then on to the Mount Pleasant as long as Jenny let you in.

The occasional band would be playing, mostly rubbish but you did get the odd one that was good but by that time of night who cared.

The final port of call was that trendy night club opposite the Freemasons, Bottos. There were always fights on in there but that was part of life in Consett and woe betide anyone from Stanley. A taxi home and do it all again the next day. Happy memories God bless, Sam

Source a memory added to Francis Frith website – see link

https://www.francisfrith.com/consett/nights-out-in-consett_memory-36331

Picture by Red Dust aka Phil Bartle – https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063136934895

What are your memories of nights out in Consett? please comment or get in touch to share