Open main menu

HistoryEdit

Consett sits high on the edge of the Pennines. In 1841, it was a village community of only 145, but it was about to become a boom town: below the ground was coking coal and blackband iron ore, and nearby was limestone. These were the three ingredients needed for blast furnaces to produce iron and steel.

The town is perched on the steep eastern bank of the River Derwent and owes its origins to industrial development arising from lead mining in the area, together with the development of the steel industry in the Derwent Valley, which is said to have been initiated by immigrant German cutlers and sword-makers from Solingen, who settled in the village of Shotley Bridge during the 17th century.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Derwent Valley was the cradle of the British steel industry, helped by the easy availability of coal in the area and the import of high quality iron ore from Sweden via the port of Newcastle upon Tyne. However, after the invention of the Bessemer process in the 19th century, steel could be made from British iron ore (hitherto too heavily contaminated by phosphorus) and the Derwent Valley's geographical advantage was lost, allowing Sheffield to become the leading centre of the British steel industry.

Representation and governanceEdit

Consett is part of the North West Durham Parliamentary Constituency represented by the Labour member of parliament, Laura Pidcock since the 2017 general election. Before her, Pat Glass held the seat from 2010 to 2017 and Hilary Armstrong after 1987, having succeeded from her father Ernest Armstrong. Before 1983, the town gave its name to its parliamentary constituency. Its member of parliament was Labour's David Watkins, who held the Consett seat from 1966 until boundary changes.

Consett was part of Derwentside District Council, which merged into the Durham County Council unitary authority on 1 April 2009. The Consett area is currently divided into four electoral divisions (Benfieldside; Consett North; Delves Lane and Consett South; and Leadgate and Medomsley), each electing two county councillors.

Consett is part of the North East Region, which elects three MEPs (Member of the European Parliament) to the European Parliament. The region is currently represented by the Labour MEPs, Paul Brannen and Judith Kirton-Darling and the UKIP MEP Jonathan Arnott.

GeographyEdit

Consett sits above the rural Derwent valley near the boundary of County Durham and Northumberland.

At about 900 ft (270 metres) above sea level, Consett is the third highest market town in England and one of the highest towns in the United Kingdom. As a result, Consett is typically at least 2°C colder than nearby cities such as Durham and Newcastle. Furthermore, in the winter months Consett is more prone to frosts, ice and snow, and precipitation falling as rain in Newcastle and Durham will often fall as snow over Consett.

Consett has the usual range of amenities: shops, pubs, night clubs, residential areas and industrial estates. There are a number of villages in its immediate surroundings; some are contiguous (for example Shotley Bridge and Blackhill) and some are not (for example Moorside and Castleside).

The Derwent Reservoir is just west of the town. It is a popular leisure attraction and beauty spot.[2]

EconomyEdit

 
Consett steel works seen in the 1940s or 50s.
 
Middle Street, Consett

The Consett Iron Company was established in 1864 as a successor to the original Derwent Iron Company of 1840, when the first blast furnaces were introduced. Over the next 100 years, Consett became one of the world's most prominent steel-making towns, manufacturing the steel for Blackpool Tower and some of the UK's nuclear submarines.[3]

Steel dominated Consett's economy for 140 years, with the steelworks' tall cooling towers and other large plant looming over rows of terraced houses. During the iron and steel era a pall of "red dust" hung over the town, consisting of airborne iron oxide from the steel-making plant. At its peak in the 1960s, the Consett steel works employed 6,000 workers, and it was nationalised to become part of the large British Steel Corporation. Although there was intense competition in the 1970s both from British competitors and from abroad, Consett steelworks remained relatively successful and was making a profit in the year it closed. As the rolling mills were closed in the 1970s, despite local opposition, there were discussions over the future of the plant as a whole.[4]

Steelworks closureEdit

Consett steelworks had always avoided closure, even in difficult economic times, but in 1980 it was closed with the loss of 3,700 jobs and many more from the knock-on effects in ancillary industries. The unemployment rate in Consett became double the national average.[3] A major plan to restructure steel-making in the UK saw light in the mid 1970s. This was based on concentrating steelmaking in the UK in five coastal locations, to allow easy import of raw materials and export of finished goods. BSC Consett was not one of the locations, despite being serviced by a well-established rail network, producing high-quality boron steel and being in profit in 1980, the year it was closed.

A deputation of steelworkers lobbied the government in London.[5] The social impact of the decision was often characterised by many of the local people at the time as "The Murder of a Town".[4] After closure of the steel works the town became one of the worst unemployment black spots in Britain. In 1981, it peaked at 36 per cent – one of the worst unemployment rates of any town in the United Kingdom and around three times the national average at the time.[3][6] The closure marked the end of the Derwent Valley steel heritage, and the decline of Consett as an industrial town. Along with the closure of coal mines, it was also a first step in the decline of all heavy industry in the Derwent Valley.[7]

The last steel ingot from the Consett ironworks was made into a cross and is kept at St Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Blackhill.

RegenerationEdit

Regeneration in the 1990s, through Project Genesis, went only some way towards repairing the damage done to the local economy by these closures. Unemployment came down to the national average, but this was partly due to outward migration and economic inactivity due to long-term illness, neither of which were included in the government statistics. In 2011 Durham County Council, which provides a lot of employment for local people, commenced a three-year plan to reduce its workforce by 1600.[8]

Alongside the public sector, small and medium-sized businesses now provide jobs in the area. The Phileas Fogg Company (County Durham), with its factory in Consett, were mildly famous for a few years from 1988 for their snack food "Made in Medomsley Road, Consett" television adverts. It is now owned by KP Snacks (originally part of United Biscuits). The Explorer Group, based in Consett, is the United Kingdom's second-largest manufacturer of caravans.[9] Elddis Transport Limited is based in the town.

Since 2000, there have been several new housing developments on the former steelworks site and surrounding areas. Derwentside College, formerly sited at Park Road, moved to a new campus at Berry Edge in September 2002 and more recently, major retailers have moved in and the site which once made steel for Blackpool Tower and Britain’s nuclear submarines is now home to rival Tesco and Morrisons stores, a string of high street outlets and fast food giants.

New industrial units are also to be built on the former steel works site, after the Project Genesis Trust secured investment of £358,968 from the Rural Growth Network (RGN) to develop bespoke business premises and offices on part of the site. (The Project Genesis Trust is a body created to regenerate the former steelworks site).[10]

Overall around £200 million has been invested in the Genesis site, including 1,500 homes.[citation needed] The population soared to 39,000, higher than it was in the days of steel, and unemployment plummeted. In August 2015, only 420 people were in receipt of Jobseekers' Allowance – an official unemployment rate of 1.7 per cent, significantly lower than the rest of County Durham. The wider claimant count of people receiving out-of-work benefits was 6.3 per cent, half the County Durham average, although it does not include people receiving disability benefits, which is likely to be significant given the town’s industrial legacy.[11]

A large area of land formerly used by Shotley Bridge Hospital was sold to property developers Story Homes[12] and work began to build a further 400 homes in 2013–2014. The Story Homes development has now become a multi-award winning housing estate entitled "The Woodlands Estate". This has further aided Consett's recovery and placed it as a top commuter town due to its convenient location between Durham and Newcastle.

On top of the housing developments of the last few years (some still ongoing), there has also been major investment in local amenities, such as the new £44-million sports complex in Medomsley Road, near the old sports facilities.[13] Consett Academy was also given a Brand new £5.7 million building that shares the leisure centre facilities.[14]

EducationEdit

Consett's secondary school is Consett Academy. However, near to Consett in Lanchester is St Bede's Catholic School and Sixth Form College and in Stanley North Durham Academy, which along with Consett Academy is part of the New College Durham Academies Trust (NCDAT) managed by New College Durham.

CultureEdit

Consett is home to the Empire Theatre, one of County Durham's oldest theatres. Recently refurbished, it stages variety acts, plays and a Christmas pantomime. It also screens blockbuster films at times when there are no live performances.

Several pubs have taken names that reflect the town's steel-making past: the Works, the Company, and the Company Row. From Consett's bygone days as a steel town with a strong reliance on rail, next to where the main railway station used to be, is a club named the Station Club, now opposite a health centre. With the steelworks gone, visitors and inhabitants are beginning to realise the beauty of the picturesque views over the Derwent Valley, and Consett is becoming a popular place to live for commuters from Durham and Tyne & Wear.

Salvation Army BandEdit

Consett was the first in the world to have a Salvation Army Corps Band. It formed in December 1879 and played on the streets at Christmas. It originally had only four players: bandmaster Edward Lennox and bandsmen George Storey, James Simpson and Robert Greenwood.[15]

Notable peopleEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 16 December 2007.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ a b c Steel Towns: From Boom to Bust, BBC Nation on Film
  4. ^ a b Kearney, T. (1990) A Social History of Consett 1840-1990, DCA
  5. ^ Eyles, J (1980) The Diary of a Closure: BSC Consett Works December 1979 - December 1980
  6. ^ "The Consett Timeline". Made of Steel. 17 January 2013. Archived from the original on 11 June 2016. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
  7. ^ Beynon, H. & Hudson, R. (1986) 'Nationalised industry policies and the destruction of communities: Some evidence from North East England', Capital and Class
  8. ^ Amelia Gentleman. "Local authority cuts: one year on | Society". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
  9. ^ "Driving force". www.bqlive.co.uk. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
  10. ^ "Industrial Units to be built on Consett Steelworks".
  11. ^ "How Consett coped with steelworks catastrophe".
  12. ^ https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/local/northdurham/9514571.work-starts-on-new-houses-at-shotley-bridge-hospital-site/
  13. ^ "Opening of the new Consett Leisure Centre".
  14. ^ "Consett Academy".
  15. ^ "Salvation Army Brass Bands, Salvation Army Brass Instruments, brass instruments, sheet music". Brassbandinformation.co.uk. Archived from the original on 1 June 2016. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
  16. ^ Conroy, Brian (11 June 2006). "Dennis Earl". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  17. ^ The Journal (Newcastle, England) 29 April 2010 Peter McCusker: Tributes paid to golf's 'true gentleman'
  18. ^ Barratt, Nick (25 August 2007). "Family Detective - Rowan Atkinson". The Daily Telegraph.
  19. ^ Davies, Gareth A (23 July 2013). "Paul Collingwood: I knew cricket was the right choice for me". The Telegraph. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  20. ^ a b c {{cite news |title=Honorary degree for opera couple |quote=Graeme Danby was born in Consett and studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He is principal bass with the English National Opera
  21. ^ Tunney, John (4 September 2008). "Big night for Sir Bobby sells out". The Journal. Retrieved 19 September 2008.
  22. ^ "Bishop of Lincoln to be introduced to House of Lords". Market Rasen Journal. 12 September 2017. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  23. ^ Paul Lester. "Paddy McAloon: 'I'll do without an audience to make the music I want' | Culture". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
  24. ^ "Consett artist Sheila Mackie is honoured in her home town". The Journal. 19 December 2011. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  25. ^ "Weird and wonderful life of a much-missed artist". The Journal. 22 September 2010. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  26. ^ "Rams' match remembers John Robson". BBC. 3 August 2004. Retrieved 4 September 2010.
  27. ^ Nick Smurthwaite (21 March 2005). "Million pound notes – Keith Strachan". The Stage. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
  28. ^ "Discography at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  29. ^ O'Donovan, Gerard (20 May 2009). "The One to Watch: Thursday 21 May". The Telegraph. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  30. ^ Walsh, John (24 May 2009). "Playing the Part, BBC1". The Independent. Retrieved 3 September 2018.

External linksEdit

  Media related to Consett at Wikimedia Commons