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Sunday, 28 July 2013

Consett & Blackhill - home of The Consett Iron Company (and my great grandfather!)

Consett is a Durham town forever linked with miners, steel and industry. So much so that when Margaret Thatcher died earlier this year, TV crews went to Consett to get a reaction to her death. Needless to say, they weren’t exactly big fans of Britain’s first female prime minister in Consett.

But long before the closures and unemployment in Consett of the 80s and subsequent deades , when my great grandfather, William Henry Brown was born in Blackhill (an area of Consett) in 1895, it was the heart of British industry.

Me upon arrival in Blackhill!

The Consett Iron Company (previously the Derwent Iron Compnay and later part of British Steel)  were colliery and limestone quarry owners, and iron and steel manufacturers. They were at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution and the whole area was dominated by their presence -  from the collieries and red dust from them that affected the landscape to the recreation areas and houses provided for the workers.

William’s father and other family members were employed by the Company and he too in time would work for them, as did nearly all the men in the town.
We visited Consett and Blackhill on day 2 of our trip. The road that William was born in and lived in until his marriage in 1915 to my great grandmother still exists in name (Dale Street), but the houses have all been pulled down and replaced with a modern development. I knew this before our trip (as I had looked on Google streetview) but there is still a moment of regret when you see that roads around where you’re standing are intact and the road you are after isn’t!

The view of the Derwent Valley - once home to Consett Iron Works

The fact that many roads still had the original Victorian terraces did however mean that I was able to envisage what William’s house would have looked like.

I was also able to enjoy the stunning views of the Derwent valley that once would have been dominated by the iron works, and take a walk through the Blackhill & Consett Park which has recently been totally refurbished due to a Heritage Lottery grant that has allowed the park to be restored to it’s former glory -complete with replica Victorian bandstand. The park was originally gifted to the town by The Consett Iron Company, and the Company’s presence has been kept in the refurbishment.

Consett Iron Company reference on park entrance


Many of the workers (including my ancestors) lived in terraced houses in Consett known as “Company Rows” as they were provided by the Company. The rows often matched the jobs in the Company – Furnace Row and Puddler Row appear in my family history, with furnace worker and puddler appearing as occupations. The rows were all pulled down in the 1930s but the name lives on in the Wetherspoons pub that is on the site today – it’s called The Company Row!

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Tundergarth - A beautiful Scottish church

The first place we visited on our trip was Tundergarth and it was a lovely place to start.

Tundergarth is a rural village in Scotland, not that far from the border with England. I use the term “village” loosely as it is so rural there are just a few farm cottages scattered amongst rolling hills. I knew before we visited that it was rural, but I hadn’t really considered how rural until I was there. I’m a town girl and as the taxi drove the three miles from the nearest town to Tundergarth parish church, I will admit that I did start to worry we would not be able to call a taxi to come back again – you could see nothing for miles except open beautiful Scottish countryside.

The parish church that stands now was built in 1900 on and beside the ruins of a much older church, and the immaculately kept churchyard has many 18th and early 19th century headstones including one in particular that I had come to see.


The picturesque Tundergarth parish church

My 5 x great grandfather, William Graham, is buried at Tundergarth along with several of his relatives. William was a tenant farmer in Tundergarth and he died in 1827. The family spent a long time in Tundergarth and the area of Dumfries around it before moving on to the North East of England, probably in search of work.

Like many of the graves, weathering has made some of the inscription difficult to read on the family grave but with a bit of perseverance (and a monumental inscription recorded previously) you can make out the following:

"William Graham, tenant in Mosshead, who died March 12th 1827, aged 83 years. Also Mary Johnstone, who died 12th April 1847, aged 87 years. Also James Graham, son to William Graham, in Mosshead, who died August 21st 1792, aged 6 weeks. Also Mary Graham, sister to the above, who died at Mosshead, January 11th 1817, aged 667 years. Also William Graham, son to John Graham in Mosshead, who died 13th February 1837, aged 11 months. Also the above John Graham, who died 6th March 1869, aged 86 years"

As I stood at the grave of my ancestor who lived nearly 300 years ago and farmed the land around me, I felt an amazing sense of belonging. The connection between then and now felt stronger, and I could imagine William’s family standing where I now stood when they buried him.


Me at the grave of William Graham (1744 to 1827) and family, Tundergarth churchyard

Additional info on Tundergarth

As well as the ancestral pull, Tundergarth has its own charm – an idyllic, peaceful piece of rural calm. As we stood in the graveyard, there was no noise except birdsong and the odd “Baaaaaa” from the sheep in the field next to the church. Beautiful on any day, it was especially beautiful on a warm summer’s morning as it bathed in sunlight. It is difficult to imagine that anything could shatter the calmness felt there, but it has seen tragedy a rural parish of it’s size should never see.

I mentioned earlier that Tundergarth is three miles from the nearest town. The town is Lockerbie.

On the evening of 21 December 1988, Pan Am flight 103 came down over Lockerbie. I won’t dwell on the horrors of that evening as I am sure everyone is familiar with the terrorist atrocity. A total of 289 people died – everyone on board, plus some Lockerbie residents on the ground. There is a “famous” photo that has come to symbolise the Lockerbie disaster – the nose cone of the plane lying in a Scottish field. The field is in Tundergarth, just opposite the church.

There is a "memorial room" in the Tundergarth churchyard. A former stone watch room, it has been renovated as a memorial to those who died in the disaster and we visited for some quiet contemplation. There is also a visitors centre at Dryfesdale cemetery, just a few miles away which tells the story of both the Lockerbie air disaster and the wider history of Lockerbie. Dryfesdale Cemetery is also home to the Lockerbie Air Disaster Memorial and Garden of Remembrance, which we also visited. The list of names on the memorial is heartbreaking - there are so many, it looks like a war memorial.



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Monday, 15 July 2013

Such an enjoyable week. I loved every minute!

I am back from the North East and it looks like I was right when I said that I may not be able to blog whilst away due to being tired! The six days we were away were jam-packed with sight seeing and research and as a result we were absolutely knackered at the end of each day!

We had fantastic weather - the North East of England and the Scottish borders were basking in sunshine all week with the highest temperatures of the year. If anything it was too hot, as we got a bit too warm and miserable as non sun worshippers. I even got sunburn on a bit I missed with suncream which is a sentence I never thought I would write after a day in SCOTLAND (a country known for being cold, but which was 30 degrees the day we were there!). Our apartment hotel was fab (the apartment was gorgeous) and it was very close to the railway station which made our trips outside of Newcastle a little easier.



We went to libraries and archives but also went to places my ancestors had lived and died, as well as museums for a wider context of the lives they lived. We spent time in Newcastle, Gateshead, Durham, Consett, Blackhill and Beamish and our day in Scotland was spent in Dumfries, Tundergarth, Dryfesdale and Lockerbie. We'd planned to spend a second day in Scotland visiting Glasgow but I forgot to book our train tickets in advance and walk on fares were close to £200 so I decided to keep Glasgow for another trip!

I've learnt lots about the area, my family and the times that they lived in and it was a thoroughly enjoyable week of genealogy. We saw the sights of the North East and I was amazed by how beautiful the area is. We fell in love with the region and I can't wait to return.

I will blog more about the week in the coming days - once my feet stop hurting, and I am a bit more organised!

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Sunday, 7 July 2013

Packed and ready to go!

The sun is shining, I'm all packed and tomorrow me and hubby go on a summer genealogy holiday.

We're off up to the North East of England for six days, staying in Newcastle but taking in lots of North East towns and Scottish towns where my ancestors have lived and worked. I know it's not everyone's idea of a summer holiday, but we're looking forward to it :-)

We've got some appointments booked at archives, some trips to museums planned and my iPad and digital camera are charged and raring to go. I'm hoping to blog during the week whilst I am away but that will depend on how good wifi is and how tired I am after long days researching!

We've done day trips for genealogical research before, but this is our first longer trip in search of information on those who have lived before us. Wish me luck!

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