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.

Blackhill park Bowls Club 100 years old in 2023. Request for information and pictures

The History of Consett Steelworks project team have been approached by a member of the committee of the Blackhill park Bowls Club as follows

I am on the committee of the BLACKHILL bowling club was just wondering if you have any information of the club as we approach our 100th year in 2023.

I have been sending articles to the Bowles International magazine who are very interested

regards

John Haney

Of course the park is on land donated by the Consett Iron Company

If you have any documents, memories or pictures please do get in touch by commenting or email on historyofconsettsteelworks@gmail.com

The Club is also always keen to see new members with Carpet Bowls available during the Winter months see their Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/1772565532981062

Sarah Morgan – What was the Role of a Coke Filler? and more…..

Images supplied by Sarah Morgan

Sarah Morgan a social historian and author has made contact with the History of Consett Steelworks (HCSW) project team

Hi, I’ve been researching my great grandfather, Ben Bennison for my next novel. Ben was a coke filler in the Consett Iron Company in 1911 until he went off to fight in WWI. 


 I don’t suppose you know exactly how and what a coke filler did? Did he push wheelbarrows of coke up to the Bessemer converter, on a gangway?? 


I have a nice letter from the  works manager saying had he not left for the war, he’d have been made a foreman soon. ( He left to manage a coke works in Tondu.) I could send a copy for the archive if it is of interest. 


You may have already covered this explosion in Jan 1915 in the blog, if not it may be of interest.


Sarah.

Sarah has agreed for us to do this Blog to share her request and open discussion on the couple of issues she has raised

I’d be pleased  for a blog post asking what a cokeman filler did in 1911. I’ll find the letter and send on in the next couple of days.  I have a few photos of Ben, mostly from the DLI archive in Durham records office, evocative as in the trenches and marching through Newcastle and off to war.


 In 1901 he was already in  the steel works, aged 18. Can’t quite see what he’s employed doing  in 1901,  maybe as a millers man.?? Maybe in the rolling mill? Did they have a rolling mill back then?

Link to Sarah’s blog

So can you help by describing what a Coke Filler’s role was?

Did any of your family work at the Steelworks and then go off to World War 1?

Also any information on the explosion of 1915 would also be welcome

Thanks to Sarah for getting in touch

Faces of the Works Project

The History of Consett Steelworks (HCSW) project team are delighted we have been approached by Richard Eyers regarding a project he is starting as part of his part time MA university studies

He writes

The idea of the Faces of the Works project comes from a part time documentary photography MA course that I’m doing, and seeing the traces of the Steelworks around Consett, and always hearing about it, but knowing little, having only moved into the area twenty years ago.

I want to try and capture memories and faces, and also to picture the new generations in the same families, whilst recording some of your stories.

I should stress that I’m not a professional and this isn’t a commercial project, but I will want to share the project with the community. You can see some of my photography on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/remotelyrockdr/) and on www.knitsley.com.

It would be great to talk to you and to find a place where you would be comfortable being photographed. If you’re open to the idea, by email (rock_dr@me.com) or by phone 07736 674360.

Happy to meet somewhere in Consett, like Morrisons, Wetherspoons, or wherever you would prefer.

Updates

There will be regular updates on the HCSW website and Facebook group and in due course we will work with Richard to arrange a “travelling exhibition” and other ways of sharing the results of the project

Another good example of HCSW project team supporting others as part of “recording” the rich history and memories of the Steelworks

please comment or send an email to historyofconsettsteelworks@gmail.com if you would like to chat to Richard about being part of his project

Hownsgill Bridge captured by Richard Eyers

The Last Train-latest Blog from southpelawjunction website

The History of Consett Steelworks Group are delighted to share the latest blog post from the wonderful http://www.southpelawjunction.com website

Please if sharing credit the website and also the photographer/s

The last train…

Posted on by John Donnelly
Courtesy of Keith Turner, three new photos of the last train at South Pelaw, Leadgate and Consett. Added to the Last Passenger Train page.

If you have any railway related images that you would consider sharing please do comment or email us and we can arrange support to scan if needed and for the scanned images to shared both to HCSW and also to southpelawjunction websites

The last train rounds Brooms Curve just outside Leadgate on 17 March 1984. Photo copyright Keith Turner

Working with Billy Ellwood

The History of Consett Steelworks (HCSW) project are delighted to announce we will be working Billy Ellwood who has some wonderful negatives from the late Tommy Moore to arrange to support scanning and sharing the images

Biily is also “film maker” and made this video “Out of the Wreckage” which recently some “stills” have been shared on the Facebook group recently

https://vimeo.com/user1079294

The HCSW project team are delighted that Billy has approached us and shares our wish to share these memories not only for us to enjoy now but also for the future generations to come

The project team would also like to ask that when sharing images that you try and credit the original photographer where possible. We also may ask you to add credit once confirmed

If you have any pictures or documents you would be happy to share or need help to scan to share please either comment or email historyofconsettsteelworks@victoriastevensconservation

Link for the HCSW Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/514469112794199

Coffee Morning Thank You

A joy to have a first in person meet up at the Coffee morning event at Consett Methodidst Church

Thanks to Peter Jack Shaw for his slideshow and 3D virtual demonstration

Good to see and meet

Dave Weston

Bill Turnbal

Robert Gowland

Colin Davidson and daughter

Also to meet and chat to Martin Herron who is an associate of Julian Germain

Thank you for coming

Venture Bus Meet Up 2021 next month Sat 9th Oct 10am same place and a talk by Harry Bunney

We are exploring have a coffee morning every other month from Jan 2022 on a Saturday morning 10am-12am at Consett Methodist Church but would need to ask for donation of £2 as we do have pay for the hire of the venue for the 2 hours at a cost £30.

If anyone would like to do a 1 hour max talk/presentation at one of the coffee mornings please do get in touch

We are also beginning to look at funding applications for various projects next year.

We need to grow the number of subscribers to our website blog as this is something we can add to applications to indicate local interest

If you are happy to be added to receive the blog posts by email please do get in touch or comment and we will get back to you

Richard on behalf of the HCSW project team

CDHI Display at Lodge, Blackhill Park Sept 2021

The History of Consett Steelworks project team are delighted to share and encourage all to visit this display by our heritage partners CDHI

Brian Harrison from CDHI writes

The CDHI have put up a display commemorating the closure of Consett Steel, 41 years this month.

The display can be seen at the front of the Lodge in Blackhill & Consett Park, when the building is open, for the next few weeks.

We plan on doing rolling displays at least once a month from now. If you get a chance to have a pop in we hope you enjoy

More about 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 10 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).

Link to CDHI Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/213017885386150

HCSW Project Coffee Morning Sat 11th Sept Consett Methodist Church 10am-12 noon

The History of Consett Steelworks project team are delighted to announce our first in person event of 2021

A coffee morning on Sat 11th Sept 10am-12 noon at Consett Methodist Church

We will have a rolling video presentation of pictures, maps to enjoy

Please do come along and have a cuppa. We would also love to discuss and see any pictures/documents you may have and explore how we can scan them to add to the website

Refreshments will be available for a small donation to the church

We look forward to seeing you

A Chair from the Company Offices

Serene McGeoghegan wrote on a post on the Consett in Old Photos Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/1472194386383321 which is admined by Stephen Bridgewater (worth a look through)

I have in my possession a chair from the British Steel boadroom.

Its a beautiful mahagony or rose wood. It has a bowed back and is chunky in looks I think its called a wrap round back.

I remember my mam polished it. Everything seemed to be polished in those days.

Allways remember the smell though of the steelworks on my dads work clothes and his workboots were red.

Hair slicked back with old spice and good suit and shiny shoes to the Demi and Blackhill Church.

Oh! Shiney shoes and brass was always popluar and brasso sales must have scored high.

It looked such an elagant building and Iv’e heard the interior was magnificent as is my boardroom perhaps its a captians chair.

picture by Serene McGeoghegan
picture posted by Stephen Bridgewater on Facebook group Consett in Old Photos

Do you or family have any other items from the “Company Offices” or pictures of the Boardroom or other rooms in the wonderful building?

The Foundry by Alan Swinburne

 The new Foundry was put into production in July 1959.replacing the old Crookhall Foundry,and was situated at the south end of the old Plate Mill on a site previously occupied by the Soaking Pits for the old Cogging Mill.

It was built to supply the increasing demand for castings by the expanding  Open Hearth Steel Plant.  The metal ,mostly grey iron,was produced in two 15 tons/hour Cupola furnaces which worked in a similar way to a Blast Furnace,but using Pig Iron instead of Ore in the charge. 

The Heavy Bay manufactured Pallet Plates also known as Bottom Plates ranging from 8 tons to 12 tons.

These were used in the Steel Plant as a foundation for the Ingot Mould to be placed on before teeming.In addition to Pallet Plates and Ingot moulds the foundry cast ladles for use in the Blast Furnaces and Steelplant weighing up to 13 tons.

The Light Bay produced Jobbing castings in weights of 1lb to 5 tons for maintenance of all departments within the Steelworks.It was also a good place to get your replacement fire grid for your home fire made!!!.

The foundry also had a small non-ferrous department where castings of up to 500lbs were made.

The foundry operated on a day shift bases and my main duties were temperature measurement during tapping the furnaces and teeming the castings,checking of incoming materials including sand and non ferrous metals along with general Quality Control of finished products. 

Although I enjoyed all my training,my time at the Foundry was one the best placements I had,so much so that when I was transferred to the Plate Mill against my wishes I applied for and got a job at British Leyland Foundry in Coventry,but due to an industrial dispute at BL the job was put on hold and when I was reoffered the job ,circumstances had changed(something to do with  with a member of the opposite sex !) and I stayed at Consett. ot a bad decision as it turned out!!!.

The Foundry was like a large family,almost separate from the main works,were everybody looked after you,but that didn,t stop pranks being played.

On one occasion I was working a Saturday shift overseeing the production of SG Iron in the non ferrous shop.In the break between casts I disappeared to the local betting shop to watch the Grand National promising to be back in time to add the required addition to the next cast.

Unfortunately I was late back and one of the Furnancemen had done my job for me,but found my protective clothing had disappeared.When I enquired where it was,they pointed upwards,and there was my gear on the hook of the “high flyer “crane. It was a strenuous and precarious climb up the vertical ladder to retrieve them – – LESSON LEARNT!!! 


Also you were given responsibility and confidence to deal with senior managerment at a fairly young age.I was sent to present a cost saving report I had produced to Bill Hume ,a senior manager whose office was on the upstairs in the General Offices,I had hardly been in the offices never mind upstairs and found it a daunting experience,so much so that I tapped on his office door which was inches thick and when no one answered  I  returned very quickly to the Foundry telling my boss he wasn’t in.

A quick phone call confirmed  he was in,and I was sent back and told to knock hard this time.I presented my report,Bill thanked me and assured me my recommendations would be implemented.

On return to the Foundry I was told never to  worry about meeting Senior Managers,just remember they were once young nervous employees in their early career,something I  remembered for  the rest of my career.

Some years later I met Bill Hume socially and he asked me if I was still working at the Foundry,he probably remembered more about short meeting than I had!!!.


Just a couple of lifes lessons I learnt which helped me in the following years both pre and post closure.