Consett, Our Town

There were in the olden days of the Derwent Valley three brothers, all giants, great men and tall, named Cor, Ben and Con, who were said to have lived in a cave at Corbridge in Northumberland, and Benfieldside, and Consett respectively, and to have been the possessors, in common, of a large hammer, which each, at a whistle, could throw nine miles. When any of the brothers wanted to use this tool, this was the way it was conveyed, but on one occasion, Con who had become blind, let it slip and made a hollow dene, or hole in the ground near Consett, called Howden, and which remains to this day. Con was supposed to have lived in a cave in Howen's Gill, and is generally believed to be buried there.

Consett is a busy town in the North East of England, more specifically in North West Durham. It stands more than 800 feet above sea level and once upon a time it had a unique industrial skyline visible for miles around. It is a friendly town, the town has known unemployment and hard times, but it has weathered them all. Much has changed over the years in Consett and the following is a brief overview of Consett.

If you were to look at a map pre-dating 1839 you will find no reference to the town of Consett. Only a few wide roads, Barr House and the original Carr House flanked a bleak and desolate hillside.

In 1840 a chance find of ironstone, combined with the availability of coal and water, prompted a small group of men to invest in the setting up of an iron and tin plate company. By the time it was realised that the supplies of ironstone were insufficient to satisfy the needs of the newly founded Derwent Iron Company the investment was too great to pull out and arrangements were made to bring in ore from Cleveland. This began a period of rapid growth for the town which was first called Berry Edge.

In the early days Consett Market Square was one huge clay hole and dump for odds and ends. The old Tin Mill Pit was a quaint rickety looking place. Nearby was a causeway or bridge whose footway consisted of traverse pieces of wood which were, like the hand railings, constantly getting out of place. No sooner had the traveller run the gauntlet of these trap holes than he had to skip over and open sewer or gutter. Many a Consettonian ran aground in that particular spot and had to lie until daylight enabled him to steer a correct course.
The only decent shops in the early days were owned by Mr Aynsley and Mr Shaw. The others were in low cottages, with shop windows fitted, and it was these sites that the business premises in Middle Street were founded.

In the early days there were insufficient local workers particularly of the skilled kind, to supply the demand the new works were creating. A massive influx of families from all over Britain began. They arrived with hopes of prosperity and security but were faced with hardships and inadequate living conditions. There was employment but no facilities. Housing was basic and overcrowded. Violence and drunkenness were common, mostly due to beer being more readily available than water. Over the years civilising influences emerged and Consett became less 'Wild West Style Frontier Town' and more a prosperous town and community.

For most of it's life Consett's development was linked to the Iron Company which as the main employer influenced every aspect of life. It was a logical assumption that when school days were over employment would be found in the Iron Works or one of the 37 mines owned and run by the Company. It was not an uncommon event for 65 year long service awards to be presented.
The town continued to grow and prosper for many years. The in the early 1980's events took place that would change the Consett forever. The Iron Works were closed down and the workforce made redundant. A number of other business also closed at this time, these were business who depended on the Iron Works for their survival. The job losses ran in to the thousands. The town was naturally devastated. It's foundation and reason for being had been ripped from underneath it. Consett became a well known town throughout the country at this time for all the wrong reasons as TV news and documentary crews arrived to highlight the plight of the town. Our Boys Brigade company featured in one of these documentaries.
The people of Consett refused to go down without a fight and over the years the people have picked themselves up, dusted themselves down and moved on with their lives. A number of Industrial Estates sprang up in and around the town and it was from one of these estates that Consett was once again thrust into the public eye once more. In the early 1990's Phileas Fogg snacks (Made by Derwent Valley Foods) began a TV advertising campaign that told everyone that the snacks were made in 'Medomsley Road, Consett' and welcomed everyone to 'Consett International Airport'.

Consett once more began to prosper, this time without the heavy industry that had been it's backbone for so many years. Currently Consett is expanding at an incredible rate with new housing projects all over the town, the number of new houses being measures in the hundreds.
The famous Consett skyline changed forever with the closure of the Iron Works. There is now nothing left of the old industrial sites , barring odd pieces preserved as a reminder of Consett's industrial history. The old industrial sites are now green fields, housing projects and business parks. Despite the massive changes the town has survived and has once again begun to develop and grow. The future looks much brighter now than anyone could have imagined in those dark days of the early 80's.

The above information was derived from the following books.
The Consett Story - Consett Lions Club (1963)
Consett - Derwentdale Local History Society (1995)
Consett - 2nd Selection - Derwentdale Local History Society (1997)
The People's History : A Nostalgic Look at Consett - Derwentdale Local History Society (2001)
The People's History : Consett The Past Relived (1999)