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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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