Christ Church, Consett
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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.
Consett railway station opened in 1896. It remained open for passengers until 1955 and for freight until 1967.
Consett is part of the North West Durham Parliamentary Constituency, currently represented by Richard Holden of the Conservative Party. Before 1983, the town gave its name to its parliamentary constituency: Consett (UK Parliament constituency).
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.
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 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.
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. It was nationalised to become part of the large British Steel Corporation. Although there was intense competition in the 1970s from British firms and from abroad, Consett steelworks remained relatively successful and still profitable even 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.
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. A major plan to restructure steel-making in the UK saw light in the mid 1970s, based on concentrating it in five UK 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. The social impact of the decision was often characterised by many of the local people at the time as "The Murder of a Town". 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. 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.
The last steel ingot from the Consett ironworks was made into a cross and is kept at St Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Blackhill.
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.
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. 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 restaurants.
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).
Overall around £200 million has been invested in the Genesis site, including 1,500 homes. The population soared to 39,000, higher than in the days of steel, and unemployment plummeted. In August 2015, only 420 people were receiving Jobseekers' Allowance, with an official unemployment rate of 1.7 per cent, markedly lower than the rest of County Durham. The wider claimant count of people on out-of-work benefits was 6.3 per cent, half the County Durham average, although it omits those receiving disability benefits, which will be a significant number, given the town's industrial legacy.
A large area formerly used by Shotley Bridge Hospital was sold to a property developer, which began to build a further 400 homes in 2013–2014. This development has now become the multi-award winning Woodlands Estate. This has further aided Consett's recovery as a top commuter town due to its convenient location between Durham and Newcastle.
Along with the housing developments of the last few years (some still ongoing), there has also been major investment in local amenities, such as a £44-million sports complex in Medomsley Road, near the old sports facilities. This is shared with Consett Academy, which was given a brand new £5.7 million building.
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.
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 and Wear.
Salvation Army BandEdit
Consett was the first in the world to have a Salvation Army Corps Band, formed in December 1879 to play on the streets at Christmas. The original four players were Edward Lennox and his bandsmen George Storey, James Simpson and Robert Greenwood.
- Alun Armstrong (born 1946), attended Consett Grammar School.
- Harry Ashby, (1946–2010), was an English professional golfer.
- Rowan Atkinson, (born 6 January 1955 in Consett, County Durham), starred in the Blackadder and Mr. Bean comedy series. Atkinson was born to Eric Atkinson and Ella May, Anglican farmers in Consett.
- Arthur Bellamy (1942–2014) was a professional footballer with Burnley and Chesterfield.
- Alan Campbell (born 1957), present MP for Tynemouth and former Home Office Minister for Crime Reduction and Government Whip, was born in the town.
- Mark Clattenburg (born 1975), football referee
- Frank Clark (born 1943), footballer and football manager, played for Newcastle United in their Inter-Cities Fairs Cup winning team in 1968–1969, then for Nottingham Forest under Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, winning a European Cup winner's medal in 1979. He is Vice Chair of the League Managers' Association.
- Paul Collingwood (born 1976), England and Durham cricketer, born in Shotley Bridge
- Ruth Copeland (born c. 1946), singer-songwriter, wrote songs for soul star George Clinton.
- Lorraine Crosby (born 1960), singer-songwriter, worked with Meat Loaf.
- Graeme Danby (born 1962), opera singer born in the town, gives much time to charitable trusts.
- Darren Grimes (born 1993), political commentator
- Karen Harding (born 1991), singer, was born in Consett in 1991.
- John Herdman (born 1975), head coach of the Canada women's national soccer team from 2011
- Joe Joyce (born 1961), professional footballer, currently Academy Manager at Newcastle United
- Michael Kay (born 1989), footballer for Tranmere Rovers
- Mitch Laddie (born 1990), blues guitarist, vocalist and songwriter
- Freddie 'Fingers' Lee (1937–2014) singer, guitarist and pianist
- Christopher Lowson (born 1953), Anglican Bishop of Lincoln
- Susan Maughan (born 1938), singer, who reached No. 3 in the UK Singles Chart in 1962 with "Bobby's Girl"
- Paddy McAloon (born 1957), founding member of the band Prefab Sprout.
- Sheila Mackie (1928–2010), artist
- Bob Murray (born 1946), kitchen and bathroom magnate and former chairman of Sunderland AFC
- Lee Ridley (born 1980), comedian and winner of Britain's Got Talent 2018 as 'Lost Voice Guy'
- John Robson (1950–2004), professional footballer for Derby County and Aston Villa
- Jimmy Seed (born Blackhill, 1895–1966), professional footballer at Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur and Sheffield Wednesday, and Manager at Charlton Athletic and Milwall
- Keith Strachan (born 1944 in Consett), composer and musical theatre director
- Mathew Tait (born 1986), England international and ex Newcastle Falcons Rugby Union player, born in Shotley Bridge and brought up in nearby Wolsingham
- Steve Thompson (born 1952), songwriter/producer born in Consett, responsible for several versions by international artists
- Barry Venison (born 1964), retired footballer and pundit
- Denise Welch (born 1958), television star of Coronation Street, Soldier Soldier and Waterloo Road
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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
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- Paul Lester. "Paddy McAloon: 'I'll do without an audience to make the music I want;' Culture". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
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Media related to Consett at Wikimedia Commons