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

Request for Info re Christopher Jones

The HCSW project team have been contacted by Gary Jones asking for information about his grandfather I’m looking for any information on my grandfather,

Christopher Jones who worked at the iron works approx 1930’s to retirement in late 60/70’s. I believe he worked at one time on the locomotives then eventually as a blast furnace operative.

Also believed to have had a serious injury at the works resulting in him losing a leg.

Just wondered if there are any official records of staff during that period

Many thanks

Gary

We have advised him of the National Archives, Durham Record Office and also the British Steel Archive

If you can provide any information, pictures please comment or email – thanks in advance

historyofconsettsteelworks@gmail.com

RFI Request For Information, acronym business concept

Visit Consett Website

Visit Consett is a website supported and funded by Project Genesis

Click on the image below to go to the Visit Consett website:

Free listing for local business and community groups is available – an easy way to promote your business or group without cost!

The History of the Consett Steelworks Group have done just that:

To contact Visit Consett see details below

Visit Consett may be contacted by emailing info@visitconsett.co.uk or by direct message on Twitter, @VisitConsett

Women of the Durham Coalfield in The 19th Century a Talk by Margaret Hedley

As part of the International Women’s Day online events March- 8th-9th 2021 we are delighted to host a Zoom Talk by Margaret Hedley on Tuesday 9th March 2021 at 7pm (no recording please)

Link to Facebook event

https://www.facebook.com/events/247198913749347?active_tab=about

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.

First Class Charlie

Memories in song of the last train links to Consett by Graeme Richardson

The following blog post has been taken from the History of Consett Steelworks Facebook page, where Graeme kindly shared his work and background to the piece.

On the 17th March 1984 the last ever passenger train set off from Newcastle Central to Consett Station. A few lucky people paid for the chance to be part of this final journey. Sadly, the train lines were soon dismantled after the Steel Works closure. 15 months previously Prince Charles made the same journey, albeit on a slightly more Royal train. I got the idea for a story based poem/song based on this event.

In 2016 I had a poem 1st Class Charlie published in a Northern Writes publication, which was shortlisted for a NE history poetry award. I finally put this poem to music in January 2021 and thought it would work well with photos of the day, along with a few snippets from the BBC story that was shown on Look North.

A big thank you to Stephen McGahon who kindly allowed me to use his brilliant photos in this video and also Richard Judd and Steve Shields for their history lesson. All other photos were found on the internet and Facebook sarches. If you look closely you might see yourself! Enjoy.

Graeme Richardson, 22 January 2021

Closure through a lens: remembering the Works, remembering the Workers

As part of our Forged over 140 Years series of events to commemorate iron and steel production in Consett and the 40th anniversary of closure, the following is a guest blog from photographer, photojournalist and broadcaster Brian Clough. Brian was one of the people responsible for some of the most illustrative and iconic images of closure, as you can see here with these images from the Northern Echo. Brian also wrote an excellent piece in the Journal of the North East Labour History Society which has a timeline and many more images.

Our thanks to Brian for his great contribution to our Closure commemorations.

It seems hard to believe that it is forty years since the closure of a world-famous institution that became part of my life when I left school. In those days youngsters seemed to follow in well-worn family footsteps and most found work either in the pits or at Consett Iron Company. I was no different: a week after leaving school I started as an office boy in the Accounts Department following in Dad’s footsteps, moving to the Cost Office and finally to the Plate Sales Department. I left eventually, and became a photojournalist.

I remember with affection (and perhaps annoyance at the time) of being sent for ‘the long stand’ – where various offices were informed to keep you waiting for ages allegedly while they tried to find it – or being sent to the Pay Dept to ask for the ‘W Ledger’ (little knowing that Bill Ledger worked there). There were tales from outside administration in various other departments of young employees being sent for a ‘capful of nail holes’ or ‘a tin of tartan paint’.

As a journalist I worked initially for The Guardian Chronicle and covered many stories relating to what was happening at ‘the Works’ and covering many of the Christmas parties held at The Freemasons Arms in Front Street and the Trade Union Hall in John Street. Moving to the Northern Echo and based in Darlington I was often sent back ‘home’ to cover stories from the Consett area. As I was known as a Consett lad, they decided in their wisdom to send me back to cover all the proceedings that were going on with regard to the closure of the ‘Company.’ I remember with great sadness having to do pictures of the marches, and attending on the day when a government minister was pushed over while trying to explain to the steelworkers around him that it was necessary for closure. There were meetings at the old Consett Football ground and depression that seemed to fill every street in town. Sadness abounded during those traumatic times when it seemed everything that could be done had been tried but to no avail and doom and gloom lay heavy over all who worked there.

The day finally arrived when I had to return to take pictures of the last day of work and albeit that many photographers and camera crews positioned themselves at and around the entrance to the works I decided to go to the Old Tin Mill Road end. It was a good decision: I managed to take a picture that made front page the next day which I thought depicted the sadness. As much as it hurt the work force and their futures I also felt their pain to the extent that although I hadn’t worked there since leaving school it was as if I had lost a part of me too.

They say the heart of a town had been ripped out that day and although perhaps in one way it had, the strength of Consett folk will however never ever be taken away: they are, and always have been, a community that cares for each other and that survives through whatever hardships governments may throw at them. They are proud people and no-one can take that away. I, like many more, have great happy memories working there: gone is the buzz, the drone and the dust, but the spirit remains, which makes me proud to tell folk where I come from.

Brian Clough, Photojournalist and broadcaster, August 2020

Tweeting all over the world: update

The HCSW involvement in the University of Swansea Social Worlds of Steel Shaped by Steel Twitter conference at the beginning of July was a great way to share some of the fantastic images and stories many of you have sent in to us – for which we are really grateful.

The conference itself brought together steel stories from across the globe, with papers on Teesside, Port Talbot and Corby steel works, as well as insights into the steel that lies at the bottom of the sea in the form of shipwrecks. We submitted two papers, one on transport and one on the people who made Consett steel, and I have posted the scripts below. If you’d like to check out some of the other content then do have a look through the #SWOS20 hashtag – not least for some of the fantastic images speakers’ shared of their steel worlds.

We really welcome feedback, so if you have any comments or would like to add any information to these tweets please get in touch with us by emailing historyofconsettsteelworks@gmail.com. It may take us a few days to get back to you but we will reply. Twitter allows only 280 characters per tweet, but there is so much more to say about both of these topics, so if you would like to share we’d love to hear from you.

Tapping the Memories: the human stories behind the closure of Consett steelworks

1/15 Consett was built on iron & steel: a single industry town, its population grew from 145 in 1841 to almost 10,000 by the end of the century. From 1840 people came from across the UK & Ireland to work in the flourishing Derwent Iron Company, later Consett Iron Company #SWOS20

2/15 Growth was rapid & sustained until the closure of CIC, then British Steel, in 1980. In the 140 years of steel production, a strong, diverse community was forged around the Works, whose determination, innovation & enterprise made Consett profitable to the end #SWOS20

3/15 Most local families were connected to the Works, each new generation following the old: ‘it was one of those things…you fell out of bed & went to work for the Company’. From apprenticeship onwards there was loyalty too, as these cuttings from 1957 & 1979 show #SWOS20

4/15 Family & workplace bonds were the basis of community as workers grafted & socialised according to plant location & shift pattern even on retirement: this shared experience has formed powerful memories as well as strong lifelong & inter-generational friendships #SWOS20

5/15 The Douse family have CIC connections over 4 skilled generations: John, a maintenance fitter at Fell Coke Works 1959–1968; his father Tom an armature winder, his grandfather John a chequered plate pattern cutter & his great grandfather Cuthbert a fitting shop foreman #SWOS20

6/15 The closeness of their family & community ties was continued outside the Works with incredible creativity. Tom, resplendently seen here, was a skilled musician, forming the Tom Douse Mandoliers show band that involved extended family members & colleagues from CIC #SWOS20

7/15 The Douse family’s communality is representative of Consett life, & this cohesion was reflected in the community’s reaction to the threat of closure. Central to this was the Roberts family, whose strong ties to Consett were galvanised into protective action #SWOS20

8/15 Jim Roberts & his brother Brian followed their father, also Jim, & their mother Theresa in working for CIC. Jim was a fitter & turner in the Billet Mill, Brian & Jim senior worked in the Teeming Bay. Theresa, seen here in 1979, worked in the blast furnaces in WW2 #SWOS20

9/15 The Roberts family were a focus for protest in response to the closure & featured in a short 1978 film Countdown at Consett. This showed the community’s loyalty & passion but also uncertainty. In 1979 they took the protest to Westminster #SWOS20

10/15 The film shows that part of Theresa Roberts’s identity is firmly linked to place, a feeling shared by others across all generations. Wanting to stay but left with no choice, Jim & his skills left Consett in 1980 to work overseas for most of his professional life #SWOS20

11/15 Consett’s last steel was tapped Friday 12 September 1980. The teams involved, precise & quality-driven to the end, sent samples for testing. Commemorative samples were cast for workers, who competed with journalists to see the last steel from the vessel #SWOS20

12/15 True to the tradition in Consett of experiencing both good & bad times in shared community & music, that evening a piper played a final lament around the Works & many went for ‘a couple of pints to escape the misery of it.’ Within 3 years few traces remained. #SWOS20

13/15 The aftermath of closure was brutal, with an estimated 75% of the local workforce relying on CIC. Unemployment, particularly amongst under 25s, soared. Consett’s lights were temporarily dimmed rather than turned off: clearance eventually brought new, albeit different, growth #SWOS2020

14/15 The story of Consett & its steel is one of repeated adaptability & enterprise. The Works continued to innovate & thrive throughout its 140 year history & so did its workforce: it is their energy, pride & community that shaped not only the Company but also the town #SWOS20

15/15 Thanks to all who have shared their memories & images: the Douse & Roberts families, Paula Bleanch, Stephen Bridgewater, Joseph Campbell, Neil Crossan, Brian Hodgson, Bill Roberton, Billy Robson, Gwen Taylor, David Thompson #SWOS20

Forging Links in a Landscape

1/17 At over 900ft above sea level, perched on a fellside in a landlocked corner of north west Co. Durham, the town of Consett is not the most likely of locations in which to found what was to become one of the largest plants in the global steel industry #SWOS20

2/17 There is a long tradition of iron smelting & steel production in the Derwent Valley dating back as far as C13th, with remains of a C17th furnace at Allensford to the north west and the more complete C18th site of Derwentcote steel furnace to the north east #SWOS20

3/17 In 1840 when the Derwent Iron Company established its works at what was then Conside, the area had no easy access to a deep water port, no major road links, no direct access to a mainline railway nor easy access to a navigable waterway #SWOS20

4/17 What it did have was raw materials: coal from the Durham coalfield, limestone from the Pennines around Stanhope to the west & high grade iron ore in deposits local to the site at the time. This was rapidly depleted, requiring ore to be transported from further afield #SWOS20

5/17 From the earliest days the Company realised that communications were the weakness in their capacity & competitiveness & started to construct a network of integrated transport systems that allowed Consett to grow & thrive despite its geographical disadvantages #SWOS20

6/17 Control over transport links & collaborative working was key to Consett’s success: initiating infrastructure & working with other interested parties became a feature of the Company’s development. This was seen first in rail, specifically the Stanhope &Tyne line #SWOS20

7/17 From 1832 a line linking the limestone quarries around Stanhope & Consett, en route to the staithes on the Tyne at South Shields, was constructed. From 1841-1843 the Derwent Iron Co. controlled the part of the line west of Consett, renaming it the Derwent Railway #SWOS20

8/17 The challenging terrain, rising to over 1400ft & with gradients of 1 in 12ft, required several inclines, slowing movement of materials. One of the most remarkable was the double incline at Hownes Gill, a 150ft deep ravine immediately to the west of the DIC site #SWOS20

9/17 Initially using cradles to lower the wagons horizontally, a single engine on the ravine floor moved 12 loads/hour by this method. This bottleneck continued until the construction of the Hownes Gill viaduct in 1858, a single-line span of 730ft designed by Thomas Bouch #SWOS20

10/17 In exchange for a line linking the Derwent Railway to Crook, DIC agreed to sell the line to the Stockton &Darlington in 1843. The Weardale Extension Line opened reliable trade routes to the south, the second link in the integrated rail network supporting Consett #SWOS20

11/17 The final significant rail link to Consett was the 1893 line from Tyne Dock to Consett, supporting the import of ore by sea from the Orconera Iron Ore Co., Bilbao, owned by the Consett Iron Co. in collaboration with iron producing partners in Wales, Germany & Spain #SWOS20

12/17 What makes this 21 miles of line impressive are the steep gradients – up to 1 in 48 – that had to be negotiated, first out of Tyne Dock & then between South Pelaw & Consett; in the age of steam these stretches required powerful banking engines in constant attendance #SWOS20

13/17 Securing & controlling supply by owning infrastructure, CIC had staithes at Tyne Dock & Derwenthaugh, as well as 4 ore carrying ships, each named after local towns. Incidentally, these came to play a role in the relief of the Bilbao blockade in the Spanish Civil War #SWOS20

14/17 In the final years of production, collaboration, innovation & ingenuity continued to ensure Consett’s relevance in the industry, shown in the transport of molten metal from Teesside in specially designed torpedo ladles between 1969 – 76 https://youtu.be/9rLO02rit7w #SWOS20

15/17 The last ore train on the Tyne Dock line ran in 1974 with the last passenger train 10 years later. The line, along with the Derwent Railway and Hownes Gill viaduct, is now part of the C2C Sustrans cycle network, a much-enjoyed leisure facility & tourist attraction #SWOS20

16/17 This is only a partial snapshot of CIC’s overall transport infrastructure. Sitting at the heart of a finely tuned supply & distribution network, Consett’s willingness to collaborate & innovate ensured its survival long after its geographical disadvantages were known #SWOS20

17/17 Thanks for their expertise & images: C Allen, @Beamish_Museum, S Bridgewater, J Donnelly http://southpelawjunction.co.uk/wp/, D Dunn, @LandofOakIron, R Langham, S McGahon, Raines Antiques, A Reilly, @sustrans; railway diagrams & images: Colin Mountford & G Whittle #SWOS20