from iron, steel and coal
A town is born
A town is born
from iron, steel and coal
    The town of Consett owes its growth to the maufacture of iron and later, iron and steel.
When the Derwent Iron Company was formed in 1841, the transformation of what was originally a rural scene of a farm or two and some thatched cottages, began.
The company quickly expanded and took out leases of ironstone and coal royalties in the immediate areas. The Redesdale Ironworks amalgamated with the company and the Bishopwearmouth works was purchased.
    As well as the original two blast furnaces, expansions were made to include puddling and also rolling and finishing mills. However, after this intial successful beginning, nearly twenty years of difficulties followed.
Coal was abundant and fairly cheap to get out in the area, but when it was found that when intial pockets of ironstone had been worked out, the reserves, though plentiful in the immediate area, were proving to be difficult and uneconomical to work. When alternative supplies were obtained from Cleveland and Cumbria, they proved to be cheaper, even when the carriage costs were included.
    In 1857, the works were brought to a standstill for a time due to extreme financial difficulties involving the company and the Northumberland and District Bank. Months of protracted negotiations involving shareholders of the bank and the railway companies, resulted in a new company being formed: The Derwent and Consett Iron Company. By the middle of the 1860's, the works had expanded to include 18 blast furnaces, rolling mills, collieries, coke ovens, foundries and engine shops. In 1864, the Derwent and Consett Iron Company had still not completed the purchase and in April of that year a new company, the Consett Iron Company Ltd., purchased the whole of the undertaking.
    1866 saw a strike by the puddlers bring the company to a standstill for a few months and a depression set in, but despite this, development continued as new blast furnaces replaced the old ones, pits were sunk and coke ovens built at Westwood and Langley Park. Before this, the building of a vast number of houses and cottages for the workforce had begun and this was to continue for years. The 1870's also saw an amalgamation which resulted in the formation of the Orconera Iron Company Ltd. and this company was able to acquire large supplies of haematite ore from Spain, thus guaranteeing Consett plentiful supplies of quality ore for many years. 
     Very briefly, the next twenty years or so was a mixture of struggle and development as steel rails replaced the iron rails trade, iron plates for shipbuilding were replaced by steel produced by the Siemens-Martin process and consequently, the company kept abreast by constructing large melting shops to accomodate the necessary furnaces. In addition, in this period, new general offices were built, a steam-driven cogging mill erected, angle mills built to supply angles and other sectional steel for shipbuilders and towards the end of the century, Garesfield Colliery, together with railways and shipping quays, was purchased and Langley Park was further developed.
     In 1906, the chairman, Sir David Dale - a man who had been associated with the company for many years - died. Then came the 1914-18 war and the company came under control of  the Ministry of Munitions, while the collieries came into the hands of the Coal Controller.

    During the post-war trade boom, four ore-carrying steamers were bought to keep the furnaces supplied and in the 1920's when the boom collapsed, it was seen to be a necessity in order to compete, that some modernisation of the works was needed. Despite the intense trade depression and general unrest, wholesale reconstruction of the works began, including the provision of new plate mills, melting shop, new steel furnaces, a brickworks at Templetown and a new coke oven plant at the Fell - Europe's first all-silica coke oven battery. In addition, a tar distillation plant was erected at Templetown.
Sir David Dale
    Meanwhile, despite all, the building of workers' housing continued. By 1929, the company had a new coke oven and by-product plant at Derwenthaugh which was quickly followed by a coke nut depot there. This wholesale development and modernisation was all the more remarkable in that it took place in a period of the utmost industrial depression, including the 1926 General Strike, which brought the country to a standstill.
    When war broke out again in 1939, full production and full-time working resumed and the government scheduled the iron and steel industry as a 'controlled industry'. War of course meant the company working flat out to meet the requirements, but it had to curtail plans for modernisation and development. At the end of 1943, a modern, mechanically-charged  blast furnace came into production, with a capacity three times more than the old small furnaces. New ore-handling plant, sinter plant and a pig casting machine were also installed. When the National Coal Board was set up under the Labour Party's nationalisation measures, seven of the company's collieries were involved, but the company carried on regardless. 
    September saw another new blast furnace, similar to the previous No. 2, then three years later, a third large modern blast furnace finally saw the demise of the old blast furnace plant. At the end of 1955, Consett had experienced the whims of two governments. In 1951, Labour had nationalised the industry and then it had been given back to them through privatisation by the Conservatives. By 1961, Consett was able to produce qualities of steel unmatched anywhere around the world.
     Less than twenty years later, the blow fell - Consett was to close! 'Lack of demand' was one reason given. 'Too small and isolated' was another. 'It would have to close sometime in the future anyhow, as it didn't fit in with BSC's plans for the development of large works situated near deep-water ports' was another report. 
    Whatever the reason, on September 12th 1980, 4,500 jobs and an estimated 5,000 more, due to the 'knock-on effect, were lost when the works were forced to close. This in a town where iron and steelmaking had been a way of life for nearly a century and a half.

The above is a very brief history of the works. Tommy Moore gives much more detail in his recent book

'Consett - a commemoration of the Works'
Middle Street, Consett
The Works
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