Tweeting all over the world: update

The HCSW involvement in the University of Swansea Social Worlds of Steel Shaped by Steel Twitter conference at the beginning of July was a great way to share some of the fantastic images and stories many of you have sent in to us – for which we are really grateful.

The conference itself brought together steel stories from across the globe, with papers on Teesside, Port Talbot and Corby steel works, as well as insights into the steel that lies at the bottom of the sea in the form of shipwrecks. We submitted two papers, one on transport and one on the people who made Consett steel, and I have posted the scripts below. If you’d like to check out some of the other content then do have a look through the #SWOS20 hashtag – not least for some of the fantastic images speakers’ shared of their steel worlds.

We really welcome feedback, so if you have any comments or would like to add any information to these tweets please get in touch with us by emailing It may take us a few days to get back to you but we will reply. Twitter allows only 280 characters per tweet, but there is so much more to say about both of these topics, so if you would like to share we’d love to hear from you.

Tapping the Memories: the human stories behind the closure of Consett steelworks

1/15 Consett was built on iron & steel: a single industry town, its population grew from 145 in 1841 to almost 10,000 by the end of the century. From 1840 people came from across the UK & Ireland to work in the flourishing Derwent Iron Company, later Consett Iron Company #SWOS20

2/15 Growth was rapid & sustained until the closure of CIC, then British Steel, in 1980. In the 140 years of steel production, a strong, diverse community was forged around the Works, whose determination, innovation & enterprise made Consett profitable to the end #SWOS20

3/15 Most local families were connected to the Works, each new generation following the old: ‘it was one of those things…you fell out of bed & went to work for the Company’. From apprenticeship onwards there was loyalty too, as these cuttings from 1957 & 1979 show #SWOS20

4/15 Family & workplace bonds were the basis of community as workers grafted & socialised according to plant location & shift pattern even on retirement: this shared experience has formed powerful memories as well as strong lifelong & inter-generational friendships #SWOS20

5/15 The Douse family have CIC connections over 4 skilled generations: John, a maintenance fitter at Fell Coke Works 1959–1968; his father Tom an armature winder, his grandfather John a chequered plate pattern cutter & his great grandfather Cuthbert a fitting shop foreman #SWOS20

6/15 The closeness of their family & community ties was continued outside the Works with incredible creativity. Tom, resplendently seen here, was a skilled musician, forming the Tom Douse Mandoliers show band that involved extended family members & colleagues from CIC #SWOS20

7/15 The Douse family’s communality is representative of Consett life, & this cohesion was reflected in the community’s reaction to the threat of closure. Central to this was the Roberts family, whose strong ties to Consett were galvanised into protective action #SWOS20

8/15 Jim Roberts & his brother Brian followed their father, also Jim, & their mother Theresa in working for CIC. Jim was a fitter & turner in the Billet Mill, Brian & Jim senior worked in the Teeming Bay. Theresa, seen here in 1979, worked in the blast furnaces in WW2 #SWOS20

9/15 The Roberts family were a focus for protest in response to the closure & featured in a short 1978 film Countdown at Consett. This showed the community’s loyalty & passion but also uncertainty. In 1979 they took the protest to Westminster #SWOS20

10/15 The film shows that part of Theresa Roberts’s identity is firmly linked to place, a feeling shared by others across all generations. Wanting to stay but left with no choice, Jim & his skills left Consett in 1980 to work overseas for most of his professional life #SWOS20

11/15 Consett’s last steel was tapped Friday 12 September 1980. The teams involved, precise & quality-driven to the end, sent samples for testing. Commemorative samples were cast for workers, who competed with journalists to see the last steel from the vessel #SWOS20

12/15 True to the tradition in Consett of experiencing both good & bad times in shared community & music, that evening a piper played a final lament around the Works & many went for ‘a couple of pints to escape the misery of it.’ Within 3 years few traces remained. #SWOS20

13/15 The aftermath of closure was brutal, with an estimated 75% of the local workforce relying on CIC. Unemployment, particularly amongst under 25s, soared. Consett’s lights were temporarily dimmed rather than turned off: clearance eventually brought new, albeit different, growth #SWOS2020

14/15 The story of Consett & its steel is one of repeated adaptability & enterprise. The Works continued to innovate & thrive throughout its 140 year history & so did its workforce: it is their energy, pride & community that shaped not only the Company but also the town #SWOS20

15/15 Thanks to all who have shared their memories & images: the Douse & Roberts families, Paula Bleanch, Stephen Bridgewater, Joseph Campbell, Neil Crossan, Brian Hodgson, Bill Roberton, Billy Robson, Gwen Taylor, David Thompson #SWOS20

Forging Links in a Landscape

1/17 At over 900ft above sea level, perched on a fellside in a landlocked corner of north west Co. Durham, the town of Consett is not the most likely of locations in which to found what was to become one of the largest plants in the global steel industry #SWOS20

2/17 There is a long tradition of iron smelting & steel production in the Derwent Valley dating back as far as C13th, with remains of a C17th furnace at Allensford to the north west and the more complete C18th site of Derwentcote steel furnace to the north east #SWOS20

3/17 In 1840 when the Derwent Iron Company established its works at what was then Conside, the area had no easy access to a deep water port, no major road links, no direct access to a mainline railway nor easy access to a navigable waterway #SWOS20

4/17 What it did have was raw materials: coal from the Durham coalfield, limestone from the Pennines around Stanhope to the west & high grade iron ore in deposits local to the site at the time. This was rapidly depleted, requiring ore to be transported from further afield #SWOS20

5/17 From the earliest days the Company realised that communications were the weakness in their capacity & competitiveness & started to construct a network of integrated transport systems that allowed Consett to grow & thrive despite its geographical disadvantages #SWOS20

6/17 Control over transport links & collaborative working was key to Consett’s success: initiating infrastructure & working with other interested parties became a feature of the Company’s development. This was seen first in rail, specifically the Stanhope &Tyne line #SWOS20

7/17 From 1832 a line linking the limestone quarries around Stanhope & Consett, en route to the staithes on the Tyne at South Shields, was constructed. From 1841-1843 the Derwent Iron Co. controlled the part of the line west of Consett, renaming it the Derwent Railway #SWOS20

8/17 The challenging terrain, rising to over 1400ft & with gradients of 1 in 12ft, required several inclines, slowing movement of materials. One of the most remarkable was the double incline at Hownes Gill, a 150ft deep ravine immediately to the west of the DIC site #SWOS20

9/17 Initially using cradles to lower the wagons horizontally, a single engine on the ravine floor moved 12 loads/hour by this method. This bottleneck continued until the construction of the Hownes Gill viaduct in 1858, a single-line span of 730ft designed by Thomas Bouch #SWOS20

10/17 In exchange for a line linking the Derwent Railway to Crook, DIC agreed to sell the line to the Stockton &Darlington in 1843. The Weardale Extension Line opened reliable trade routes to the south, the second link in the integrated rail network supporting Consett #SWOS20

11/17 The final significant rail link to Consett was the 1893 line from Tyne Dock to Consett, supporting the import of ore by sea from the Orconera Iron Ore Co., Bilbao, owned by the Consett Iron Co. in collaboration with iron producing partners in Wales, Germany & Spain #SWOS20

12/17 What makes this 21 miles of line impressive are the steep gradients – up to 1 in 48 – that had to be negotiated, first out of Tyne Dock & then between South Pelaw & Consett; in the age of steam these stretches required powerful banking engines in constant attendance #SWOS20

13/17 Securing & controlling supply by owning infrastructure, CIC had staithes at Tyne Dock & Derwenthaugh, as well as 4 ore carrying ships, each named after local towns. Incidentally, these came to play a role in the relief of the Bilbao blockade in the Spanish Civil War #SWOS20

14/17 In the final years of production, collaboration, innovation & ingenuity continued to ensure Consett’s relevance in the industry, shown in the transport of molten metal from Teesside in specially designed torpedo ladles between 1969 – 76 #SWOS20

15/17 The last ore train on the Tyne Dock line ran in 1974 with the last passenger train 10 years later. The line, along with the Derwent Railway and Hownes Gill viaduct, is now part of the C2C Sustrans cycle network, a much-enjoyed leisure facility & tourist attraction #SWOS20

16/17 This is only a partial snapshot of CIC’s overall transport infrastructure. Sitting at the heart of a finely tuned supply & distribution network, Consett’s willingness to collaborate & innovate ensured its survival long after its geographical disadvantages were known #SWOS20

17/17 Thanks for their expertise & images: C Allen, @Beamish_Museum, S Bridgewater, J Donnelly, D Dunn, @LandofOakIron, R Langham, S McGahon, Raines Antiques, A Reilly, @sustrans; railway diagrams & images: Colin Mountford & G Whittle #SWOS20