ONLINE Third Thursday Talk: The Conservation of the Consett Iron Company Locomotive Registers
by Zoe Ross, conservator Thursday 19 January 2023, from 10.30am to 11.30am £0.00
The Consett Iron Company operated from 1864 until 1980 and established itself as one of the world’s leading iron and steel producers.
Vital to the company’s success was the vast fleet of industrial railway locomotives serviced onsite. Detailed information of the repairs and transfers of locomotives were recorded in seven registers held at Durham County Record Office. The registers were inaccessible due to extensive dirt, mould and fragile paper which crumbled when handled.
The talk describes the conservation treatment which has made the registers accessible for the first time in many years, preserving an insight into the locomotives and this important era of industrial heritage.
This free event is hosted on Zoom. Your booking confirmation email will contain instructions on how to join the event online. Donations are welcome, by optional payment link.
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Steve also previously wrote us a blog post recounting some of what he talked about in his presentation, you can find the post here: