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.

Can you help? SteelWorks Advent Calender 2022

We are about to plan our Advent Calender of posts to mark XMAS 2022 with a Steelworks theme where possible

Do you have any content be that pictures, memories that you would consider allowing the HCSW Project team to use?

Was there a XMAS tree and decorations in the Offices?

Staff XMAS dinners or parties?

Anyone be a Steelworks Santa?

If so please do get in touch

Welcome to History of Consett Steelworks

Welcome to History of Consett Steelworks, a resource for the memory of a community, a place and an industry.

Our aim is to gather the stories and the memories of the people who lived and worked in Consett during the time of the steelworks, as well as connect everyone with the towns industrial past.

We are adding new content all the time, and the gallery area is under constant construction.

We hope to have plenty of content from the community to share.

Have you got pictures, documents, stories to tell please do get in touch or comment

http://www.historyofconsettsteelworks.com

Consett’s Grand Old Building

One building that many folks who remember the works, feel should have never been pulled down, was the main company offices.

I don’t have or know the exact date this building was erected on the site of the steelworks, but I do know from the photos we have, that it was almost certainly there with the first version of the works to stand on the site, back in the very early 1900’s

We certainly have it situ on the 1970’s Ordnance Survey map, as the above map segment shows, the National Library of Scotland maps from 1892 to 1914 also show the building in the same place, as the following shows

And we have photos from around about the same time as the NLS map was produced, showing the building already complete.

For quite some time after the building was build, in the early part of the 19th Century, the road going past the offices, and indeed through the heart of the steel works itself, was a public road, connecting what’s now berry edge road, to the grove and Consett Hall, which I’m led to believe was one of the works owners houses.

At the same time, you could also turn to the North and head along the public road known as “Tinmill Road” to reach Blackhill.

Right next to the offices was built one of the first row’s of workers houses, “Staffordshire Row”

Which was subsequently demolished when the Steelworks was re-developed in the mid 1900’s to be the plant and layout, most of us remember today.

You can see in the photo above, the last remaining house from Staffordshire row, slowly being taken apart to make way for the new extensions that would later be used to house the works medical facilities.

Having a public road running down through the area however, left us with a very important mark, called a “Bench Mark”.

Benchmarks where marks created by the Ordnance Survey to record the land height at that specific location, these where then used to work out the contours and shape of the surrounding land for the mapping teams to understand the geography of the UK at the time.

Benchmarks where usually placed on buildings that the OS felt were

  • A) Never going to be moved, and where going to remain in place for a very long time to come.
  • B) Where always going to be publicly accessible

Benchmarks were carried forward onto every OS map created from that date forward, which if you look closely at the 1970 OS Map segment, you will see has been recorded as 233.46 meters above sea level.

I can’t fit the whole map into this blog post however as it’s too big, but the general layout of the flattened area of the works after it’s re-development in the mid 1900s and along the rail corridor under the grove bridge across to Consett North signal box shows that it was mostly flattened to this height. Unfortunately, as this road was closed to the public after the re-development, the Ordnance survey, was never able to re-measure the land heights as newer surveying methods where developed, so we know precious little about the shape of the plot of land the company had, other than the general contour layout from the 1:50k OS Landranger series.

Around this time, the offices were expanded too, you can see in the previous image, that a new block was added on to the northwest facing part of the building

The white part on the south west facing part (Can be seen just behind the new part in the previous image) I believe was added on very early in the buildings life time, as we can see it clearly in this very early image of the building.

If you look closely too, you can see the last house from Staffordshire row (Shown in a different image above) before it started getting its roof removed.

One of the questions we frequently get asked here at HCSW is “Where would the building be today, if it had not been pulled down

Well we can answer that very easily, first off, the NLS maps web page has a useful “Transparency” feature, that allows us to merge the old and the new maps:

However, this doesn’t always give us the best view, and you can’t zoom in very close, as the underlying modern day maps switch off after we get to a certain level.

Since we here at HCSW have spent quite a lot of the previous years, mapping the site, and matching the 1970’s maps up to the modern-day maps (A process called Geo-referencing) we can use the maps we have created with applications, such as Google earth:

The original building is in Orange, the later extensions in Red

If we put a small light blue cross on the map:

And place that same cross, on the “Street View” of the same location:

We can then line that location up, with the older photographs as follows:

With this image being about as close as we can get to the modern street view above:

One thing we sadly do not have a lot of photos of, is the inside of the building, the only 2 we have that we know for sure are of the inside, are the following 2 “Entrance Foyer” and “Staircase” photos

There are many photos from the outside of the building, I’ve included some more from our collection, below.

The one view that MANY of you who worked at the steelworks will remember, will be this one:

I’m told that this was the “Pay Office” where every Friday you would go and pick up a paper envelope with your week’s wages in (There was no electronic banking in those days)

This was the extension built in the yard around the back of the building, shown as this area on the 1970’s map:

Apart from the extensions, the main building itself, changed very little over the years it was in use, and remained in very good condition (Despite it’s location) right up until it’s eventual demise.

What are your thoughts?

Do you think the building should have been kept, and renovated to provide offices for local small businesses?

Or perhaps it could have been renovated and turned into flats or other modern day living accommodation, rather than flattening the site and building houses on it that are not very much bigger than your average flat.

If myself and the rest of the team are honest, we would have liked to have seen the building kept, and at least some of it converted to offices, or community space, after all, what better place to house a “Consett Museum” than the place where the towns fortunes where originally made.

Do you have any photos of the inside of the building, or any plans showing its layout? If you do, we’d love to see them, and possibly even make a digital copy of them.

It’s a great shame that we lost such a wonderful building, but I guess that’s the price of progress, even if we don’t always agree with it.

Alan Campbell- My life at the “Works” a series- An Introduction

My name j Alan Campbell but known by many as Cass.

I worked at the Billet Mill. The Masons Dept.TRD and then The Foundry.

At almost 88. I have fantastic memories

I was a good local footballer. After I became too old to play aged 50.

I started Shotley Hospital F.C..and Consett Over 40s F.C.

I started the Villa Real Cup for the under priviaged childern at Villa Real.

To my knowledge the Sunderland and District Over 40s may still run this competition.

I left Consett to retire in 2015. In the Wall to wall Sunshine of Thailand.

A brief version of my life so far.

Forging the Blast Furnace

After creating a painting of the “Blast Furnace”, I was asked if I could comment on my artistic processes and the reason, I decided to paint it.

I thought about it for a while, and here’s my thoughts.

I’m NOT a Consett native, let’s get that out the way, right up front. I hail originally from the rural backwaters of Shropshire. If you delve into the 18th Century history of that area however, just as with this area around Consett, you’ll find plenty of early collieries and iron & steel making experiments, and the birthplace of Iron forging along with “IronBridge” the first bridge of its kind in the world, a subject that had always fascinated me somewhat.

When we moved to Consett, 5 years ago, I was really very happy to find that we’d moved to an area that had a similarly rich and industrial backstory.

As I got to know people and make new friends, I was fascinated by the stories of the town, the tales and legends of the surrounding moors, and the diverse collection of industries and entrepreneurs the area once gave rise too, along with the mills, mines and of course the towns Iron & Steel making history.

I looked at many of the photos of the town that can be found on the internet, I was very surprised by many of the before & after photos as it was then, compared to now. Looking even at the view from our own house, it was hard to believe what once stood on the site I was seeing with my own eyes. I found myself thinking, wondering why this town didn’t have its own “Pitmen Painters” or “L S Lowry”, it occurred to me that this was something I could try my hand at doing!

I found the following photo, and decided to use that as a “Base image” to start working from:

The photo that started it all.

While this was a good photo, I had to use various other source material to aid me in the initial construction of the painting, including photos from other steelworks around the country, owing mainly to the fact that majority of the images I had access to for Consett where only Black & White, and I wanted this to be a colour painting.

A studied a lot of the work of the artist “Joseph Wright” too, this helped me get a real feel for the contrasting lights & darks in the image, the blazing heat and light of the furnace, and the dark corners mere feet away from it where the light fades, I hope that I managed to capture some of his mastery of the subject in my work.

Fairly soon, my first sketch of the scene came to light, it was pretty much my “Base” reference photo, but with a large portion of the outer edges of the foreground removed.

My Initial Sketch of the Scene

My next step was to try and set the atmosphere of the initial sketch, I knew that setting the atmosphere I wanted would come from using the correct tones and shades of grey, giving the various objects in the image their own look and feel, I spent quite a bit of time just shading things in, with different levels of grey, eventually producing a shaded and now more realistic looking scene.

They grey shaded sketch starts to come to life.

Finally, it was time to start adding some colour to the image. As I mentioned previously, I studied a number of other photos of differing steelworks, to get a feel for the Orangey/Yellow glows of the furnace, the bright white heat and the dark, dirty grimy corners surrounding it. In some scenes the only light many workers saw was the glow of these furnaces and the heat they produced.

I kept the surrounding area outside the furnace as dark as I could, without losing the detail, and the final colour version of my painting came to life.

My Painting was now looking very much alive.

And there we go, this is my first one, I doubt very much it will be my last one, not with so much inspiration to draw on from around this area we know as Consett.

There are still many tales left for me to tell.

Andy Davis (Oct 2022)

Life on the the Railways of Consett

Back in July, we held our first in-person event in a long time, we invited “Steve Shields” an ex-Br train guard to talk about his life and experiences working the Consett to Tyne Dock route used primarily for shipping in Iron ore, and shipping out the finished product’s from Consett Works.

Steve was a mine of information and knowledge about the inner workings of the line and the various character’s that inhabited its world, as well as revealing some very funny anecdotes of life on the rails (and off the rails in some cases…)

I know the route myself pretty well (Having done the work I have to map it out in digital form) and I was there hanging on every word, every incline, every slipped brake story as Steve skilfully recounted tales from his time as a train guard, I could picture in my mind’s eye every curve in the track, and each of the main signal boxes, it truly was fascinating listening to him describe things as they used to be.

We all had a good chat afterwards.

After Steve finished his talk, we all had a good chat together, and Steve showed us some items from his personal collection of memorabilia collected during his career.

Steves most prized possession – A name plate that used to sit atop the signal leavers in Consett North signal box.

Steve had many interesting items with him, including one of his most treasured, the “Annfield Branch” name plate from Consett North signal box. In the later years of his career, Steve was the signal-man at Consett North and was responsible for helping to get the wagons in and out of Consett Steelworks.

Signal Bell from Baxter wood Signal Box at the start of the line Scotswood to Durham line (SBC)

Steve still works on the railways today, and even though it’s not Consett, still loves every part of his job.

The event was recorded in 2 parts, as we stopped for a break half way through.

Part one of Steves talk.
Part two of Steves Talk

Steve also previously wrote us a blog post recounting some of what he talked about in his presentation, you can find the post here:

https://historyofconsettsteelworks.com/2021/11/29/consett-railway-rip-my-friend-by-steve-shields/

We hope that Steve will come back “Home” soon and treat us to some more tales, of life on the Consett Railways, stay tuned and watch this space.

Joy of local history- an image and background

The joy of local history

Delighted to be contacted by Deborah Crozier

This is a picture of my late Father, John Britton.

He lived at East Law and made this sword for Amethyst Homes, which is on display at a housing estate in Consett set into a rock.

He made it when he was 86/87 years old.

Didn’t know if it would be of interest to The Last Swordmakers of Shotley Bridge.

We thank Deborah for sharing this image and background

The Railways- a Memory Shared

Another “memory” shared by the Leadgate Resident please do comment with you own memories or get in touch with your own memories of Leadgate and local area

It’s the late 60s and I’m living in Sherburn Terrace,Consett the terrace of houses opposite the ‘Horse’,at the start of the row was the coal yard with its office and weigh bridge,to the rear of the yard was a gantry where the shunter engine would push the coal Train into and then one of the workers would release a handle and it would shoot down the hopper into a pile below then the digger would move it into a larger stock pile .

On coming out of our house across the back yard and outside netty(the coldest place on earth in the winter)was the back cobbled lane as kids we had to be careful as not to dirty any of the neighbors washing as it was always hungout in the lane apart from when they were blasting at the works as the red dust went everywhere.

We would climb the high wall,sit on it as this was our view of the station yard and all the sidings,as kids it was so exciting watching the Big trains pull in and drop there loads then uncouple and go and pick  up a empty rack of coal wagons and take them to where ever to be refilled.

Then as I said earlier the shunter would take over moving the different stock wagons around the yard.

My dad(rip) worked for British railways based at Consett starting out as a wheel tapper then worked up to become a guard then in later years working in the station building(now a cafe) on a state of the art railway computer system called TOPS,this system controlled the routing of all rail movements in the top and bottom yard all the way to Tyne dock.

I still remember his uniform,black trousers, white shirt ,a BR tie and a cap with a orange BR logo badge on it.

He also had a BR issued lamp which had a dial on the top which you could set to either clear,red or green and a black leather satchel,this was for his paper work and no doubt his bait.

Dad always spoke fondly of the guys he worked with at Consett,afew names I can recall are a Mr Temperly, Mr Rowell,Mr Pat Rooney Snr  and two Leadgate chaps,Mr Jimmy McCabe and Mr Kevin Richardson (Rip to all of them).

Funny how things in life pan out,my granda on my dad’s side worked on the railways at Rowley St  and after his passing we donated a number of his note books and official books to Beamish Museum

Then my dad worked for them and when my brother left school,any guesses where he went ? and No I didn’t join the ‘railways’.

To the other side of the coal yard was a lane going under the bridge to the Washeries,not sure what happened there but I remember the land around it and the heaps always seemed to be on fire or smouldering and if if you went further along the lane there was a rail line does anyone know where it went to ?

This is just a short recollection of my memories of the local railway as a child,I know there’s a few gentlemen still living in Leadgate who worked for BR locally,let’s hope they read this and add their own memories.

An old gentleman once told me,next time your parents or grandparents are reminiscing don’t dismay what they are saying for one day, you’ll wish you’d listened.How true.