Steelworks Stories: the blog

The Celtic roots that helped shape Durham by David Simpson- Northern Echo

2nd part on Irish Navvies in County Durham and Consett Area

This time a Northern Echio article by David Simpson- 25th April 2009

Extract from the article – full article on link above

Most Irish settlers arrived in Durham following the Irish Potato Famine of 1845.

Some came via Liverpool; others via Glasgow or the Cumberland ports. The 1840s, 50s and 60s were a period of rapid industrial development in England, and the failure of the staple Irish potato crop lured many Irish to English industrial regions, such as the North-East.

Only Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and London were more significant than our region in terms of their Irish populations.

Many Irishmen settled in the major towns of our region, finding menial jobs or living by their wits as hawkers.

Others were more fortunate, finding work in factories or shipyards.

Another common occupation was in railway construction.

Irish navigators, or navvies, on the railways were once a familiar sight.

Coal mining is said to have been a major attraction for the Irish in Durham but, in truth, Irishmen had little experience of this work in their homeland.

Early Irish settlers generally avoided pit work and were more likely to be found working in new ironworks at places such as Consett, Witton Park or Tow Law.

Such work was a more attractive proposition and, unlike coal mining, was not dominated by men who were precious of their line of work which often passed from father to son.

The HCSW project team would be delighted to hear from people with relatives you may have come across from Ireland and worked in the Steelworks or local area. Any pictures or stories would be great to see

Derwenthaugh Cokeworks

Derwenthaugh Cokeworks

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the site near Swalwell and Winlaton Mill had been that of Crowley’s Ironworks, which for a time was the largest ironworks in Europe.

The coke works opened on the site in 1928. They were owned and operated by the Consett Iron Company.

The works was situated by the dam marking the upper tidal limit of the river, where Swalwell Juniors F.C. now stands. The CPP which washed and blended the coal prior to the coking process stood at the north-eastern end of the site, along with large storage bunkers. A conveyor fed blended coal from these bunkers into another bunker on top of the ovens which in turn fed the charging car.

The ovens themselves were parallel to the A694, which passes the site, and stood on the area of land now occupied by the two football pitches. There were several railway sidings for both coal and coke between the ovens and the road.

The pusher was on the opposite side of the ovens, and the coke was shoved out on the side nearest the road. The quenching tower was at the north-eastern end of the battery of ovens, near the CPP, and the chimney was at the opposite end. Between the ovens and the river were the power plant with its associated boilers and chimneys, as well as the by-products plant. The latter “scrubbed” the gas produced in the ovens, extracting chemicals such as tar and ammonia, which were piped into storage tanks. The gas was then stored in a tall gas holder to the south-east of the site, near the river.

There was a motive power depot nearby to house the locomotives which shunted the extensive network of NCB sidings and lines which served the works and the lower part of the Derwent valley. In the last few years of the works’ existence, these were all diesel locomotives, but prior to this there were a large number of steam locomotives stabled here.

One of them, No. 41, was the oldest working NCB locomotive in the country, having been built for the Consett Iron Co. in 1883, by Kitson and Co. in Leeds, works No. 2509. It was of the Stephenson Long Boiler design, and unlike the ubiquitous 0-4-0 and 0-6-0 side tanks and saddle tanks which served most of the industrial railways of the north-east, it was a pannier tank, (a layout common on the Great Western Railway, but rarely seen elsewhere). Prior to the demise of its fleet of steam locomotives, Derwenthaugh began to receive locomotives from other NCB sheds, either because they had closed, or the locomotive had become surplus to requirements. Nos. 7 and 59 were two such locomotives, easily identifiable as former NCB Lambton system residents from Philadelphia shed by their narrow curved cabs which allowed them to negotiate a tunnel with very limited clearances on the line to the docks at Sunderland.

Over the years the plant took coal from Chopwell Colliery, and in NCB days, from Marley Hill Colliery, via the nearby Clockburn Drift, as well as the opencast mines which operated in the area via the opencast disposal point at Swalwell. The last local deep-mined coal used at the plant came from the Victoria Seam at Sacriston Colliery near Durham. The coke produced was either sent directly to customers by rail, or shipped from a staithe on the River Tyne, which also had facilities for the storage and shipping of liquid tar and creosote produced at the works. When built, the works were fitted with turbo-alternators. Surplus electricity from the coke works was sent to Chopwell Colliery’s power station.Excess gas from the works was sold to the Newcastle and Gateshead Gas Company. Initially the alternators’ associated boilers were fired by waste gasses from the coking process, but in 1931 the boilers were converted to fire coal because of an increase in demand for the gas from the Newcastle and Gateshead Gas Company

The works were closed in 1986 and the site was gradually cleared and de-contaminated. In addition to the football and tennis clubs on the site of the works itself, the surrounding land (which had been covered in spoil from the Clockburn Drift and waste from the coal-washing process) was cleaned up and landscaped, and is now the site of Derwenthaugh Park.

Source and thanks to Winlaton and District Local History Society

Facebook page

New website

Also see a lovely post from Alfred the Dog and Rob Moran

Alan Godfrey Maps

Alan Godfrey Maps based in Leadgate on the old English Martyrs School Site

These maps are invaluable for historians and genealogists. More than 3,000 titles have been issued in this major series of reprints of Old Ordnance Survey Maps of towns throughout Britain and Ireland.

Most of the maps are highly detailed, taken from the 1/2500 plans and reprinted at about 14 inches to the mile.

They cover towns in great detail, showing individual houses, railway tracks, factories, churches, mills, canals, tramways and even minutiae such as dockside cranes, fountains, signal posts, pathways, sheds, wells, etc.. Each map includes historical notes on the area concerned.

We also publish a series of smaller scale Inch to the Mile maps

Facebook link

Link to their website

Link of the “story” of Alan Godfrey Maps

Local County Durham Maps including Consett can be found on this link

Video of a conversation with Alan thanks to Gateshead Libraries

John Verker: Free Talk by Dave Griffiths= Mon 24th May 2021 6pm start

Free Zoom Talk by Dave Griffiths on John Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort VC

Monday 24th May 6pm start

All welcome hosted by Leadgate Community History Club

Zoom Link below

Topic: John Verker: local? hero? Talk by Dave GriffithsJoin Zoom Meeting…Meeting ID: 820 0995 6122
Passcode: 330670

For more information on this interesting character see Facebook event for some interesting content

Leadgate Community History Club website

My next part of my training by Alan Swinburne

Following my “interesting” training at Templetown Brickworks Lab my next placement was in the General Lab in the Technical Research Department.The TRD was situated at the top of the Canyon Road and in addition to the General Lab it housed The Metallurgical,Water and Refractory Labs,Chief Metallurgists and Chief Chemists Office,Library ,Workshop,Sample Preparation Room and Section Managers Offices.

          It was a completely different working enviroment from Templetown but I still met a number of characters and was given a very good training carrying out chemical anaylsis mainly of steel using “wet” analysis methods.

It was a fairly strict regime compared to Templetown ,you had to ready to start at 9.00am prompt and were not allowed to leave after work until the Lab was tidy and all the valuable items such as Platinum Crucibles were accounted for and locked away in the safe.

I remember on one occasion a crucible was unaccounted for and we were kept in the Lab for about 15 minutes until the crucible was found – in a Senior Chemists laboratory coat pocket!! 

Although the Lab was open plan (see photographs) it was divided into two areas,one area where all the technicians and trainees worked the other where all the Senior Chemists worked,as one the very Senior Chemists was known as Mexican Ed because of his moustash,that area was known as Mexico and very rarely did we cross the ” border “!

Every  day you were given several samples of steel drillings and had to analysis them for a certain chemical element- Carbon,Sulphur,Phosphorous,Manganese or Silicon.Analysis of elements such as Vandium,Copper,Nickel etc were carried out by the Senior Chemists.

In addition to the analysis of steel products the analysis of Blast Furnace Gases was also carried out.

Although we worked Day Shift in the General Lab  we provided cover for the shift Chemists in the Steelplant Lab and there was always an almighty scramble when the Cover Rota went up as not only did you get Shift Allowance but some was classed as overtime,a welcome addition  to our pay packets.

As I’ve said it was a more sedate enviroment than Templetown,but we still had many social and sporting events,it seemed every couple of weeks there was a reason for a social night out mostly in the Stirling Castle for a Stag Night,Leaving Presentation etc.

Also we were always having in house and Inter Department sporting competitions.It was a time when you made great friends,people who I am still in touch with now

We went on holidays together and one work colleague was my Best Man,worked as my Manager when I was in business after the closure and are still good friends 55 years later.

Also several married couples met in the TRD .It was also customary,as it was in all departments, to have a collection and presentation on the occasion of someone getting married or leaving.The third photo shows such a presentation, and the next photograph shows the successful TRD football team which won the inter department football knockout,a very hotly contested competition .

There was very good footballers who worked in the TRD at that time,one of which was Malcom Young who played scrum half for England Rugby team.(bottom left) 

There were several characters in the TRD,but one who was known to everybody was “Wor” Jacky Herdman. As well as being a Chemist Jacky was a farmer and because of my background he always looked out for me.

I spent many hours with Jacky delivering eggs around the works,and the odd turkey or two at Christmas.!.

Jacky also kept a small flock of sheep near the Raven Pub and when they were ready for market he would “recruit” a couple of us,hide us in the back of his van and set off on the pretence of collecting water  samples at the Fell Coke Works.

After rounding up the sheep our reward was a pint shandy in the Raven.

Happy days!!!. 

Jacky farmed at Esp Green and during a particulary bad winter had difficulty getting to work in his van so he came to work on a horse which he “stabled”in the Generator House.

This made the local Press ,see photograph

He liked the odd pint and I was told that on at least on occasion the horse arrived home before Jacky who had an unfortunate dismount after leaving the pub.

It may appear it was all play but no work but I can assure everyone, that the training and responsibily to get things right were very important,and in between the fun times we worked very hard and also still attended day and night classes at  the Technical College, but there was great comradeship through the whole department , a very enjoyable place to work.

The HCSW project team would like to thank Alan for this latest chapter about his working life at the Consett Steelworks

Beamish Museum – A History

The HCSW project team look forward to establishing more links and partnerships with Beamish Museum including working to scan and share items/pictures still to be scanned for the Beamish Collection

Here is a link to a History overview of the museum

History of Beamish

Beamish was the vision of Dr Frank Atkinson, the Museum’s founder and first director.

Frank had visited Scandinavian folk museums in the early 1950s and was inspired to create an open air museum for the North East. He realised the dramatically-changing region was losing its industrial heritage. Coal mining, ship building and iron and steel manufacturing were disappearing, along with the communities that served them.

Frank wanted the new museum to “illustrate vividly” the way of life of “ordinary people” and bring the region’s history alive.
Beamish remains true to his principles today and brings history to life for hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Frank passed away on 30th December 2014.

More about Frank on this link

A video about visiting the museum

Please do comment with your own memories of visiting

Also if you would be interested in working on the “scanning” project please do get in touch

HCSW project team

Consett Heart – an Introduction and request for donations

The HCSW project team are delighted to promote and will be looking to work with/partner with the Trustees – we would also to acknowledge and thank Project Genesis for supporting them to make sure this community asset will be saved and re-opened for the community

From the Facebook page for the group

We are a dedicated group of volunteers who have taken a long term lease on the Old Ambulance Hall, John Street, Consett with the intent of converting it into a Heritage and Arts Centre for the area.

Our goal is to create a centre of excellence that will show off both the creativity and the heritage of our area in equal measure.

The centre will have the potential to inspire creatives, give performances, teach, house micro museums, promote our heritage and so much more. We hope that it will be a place for the whole area to be proud of

Donations Welcome

Consett & District Heritage and Arts are looking for donations to help smarten up the Consett Heart – Heritage and Arts Centre, ready for openning.

Some of the things we are looking for:

1, Paint (All types), brushes, paint pads…..

2, Upgrade to Toilets and vanity sinks, etc.. (fitted would be even better

3, Door locks for internal doors

4, Tradespeople willing to donate time, goods or services

5, Lastly any donation’s of cash are always gratefully accepted.

In short if you think you can help us get the building up and running please get in touch.

Thanks all in advance

Consett Heart

Facebook page


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