Consett Iron Company
The Consett Iron Company Ltd was a major United Kingdom industrial undertaking based in the Consett area of County Durham. The company traded as colliery and limestone quarry owners and iron and steel manufacturers. The company was registered on 4 April 1864 as successor to the Derwent & Consett Iron Company Ltd. This in turn was the successor to the Derwent Iron Company, founded in 1840. The Consett Iron Company was absorbed into British Steel in 1967.
The company’s seven collieries and various coke ovens passed to the National Coal Board on nationalisation in 1947. The Consett Iron Company itself was nationalised in 1951, becoming part of the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain, was denationalised shortly afterwards, and renationalised in 1967. British Steel Consett Works was closed in 1980.
However the best local ironstone was soon exhausted, so the company arranged for extensions to the local railways which allowed it to access new sources of ironstone, including from 1851 onwards those in Cleveland.[a]
By 1857, the company owed the failed Northumberland and Durham District Bank almost a million pounds, and was put up for sale. An attempted sale to the newly formed Derwent and Consett Iron Company fell through.:2
It was not until April 1864, after years of uncertainty, that a new Consett Iron Company Ltd was formed with capital of £400,000. It became the owner of 18 blast furnaces and the capacity to produce 80,000 tons of pig iron and 50,000 tons of finished iron per year, as well as a thousand workers' cottages and 500 acres of land.:2
Success under William Jenkins
In around 1876, railways around the world stopped using 'malleable iron' for rails, using steel instead. The effect on Consett was dramatic: production fell by a third. Fortunately, demand for iron plates for shipbuilding was rising rapidly and the company switched all its production to iron plates.:3
In 1882, Consett Iron Company began to switch production to making steel plates for shipbuilding using the Siemens-Martin process.:3 This uses open hearth furnaces to convert pig iron to steel by burning off excess carbon. The first Siemens furnaces came into production in 1883.:3
In 1887 the company began to adapt to produce steel in a variety of cross-sections, such as angle (L-section) steel, rolled joists and girders for shipbuilding, creating the Angle Mills on a sixteen-acre site. These mills could produce 1500 tons of angles, bars and girders per week.:4
By 1892, in addition to steelmaking, the company had a foundry (a mile from Consett at Crookhall) capable of making 150 tons per week of iron castings, and a brickworks capable of making around 12,000 bricks per week. The estate had grown to roughly 2700 workers' cottages. There was a 16-bed Infirmary to treat injured workers. The 6000 workers were paid a total of £416,000 per year.:5 As an example of the continuous investment in modern equipment, in 1893, the foundry bought a Roots blower from Thwaites Brothers.
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The general manager from 1869 to 1894 was William Jenkins. He joined Consett Iron Company as general manager from Dowlais Ironworks, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, bringing the company into prosperity for the first time.:158 Jenkins wrote a history of the company, describing in detail the facilities and staff; he died in 1895. Jenkins was largely responsible for enabling Consett Iron Company to make sizeable profits during the industrial depression that lasted from the late 1870s through to the early 1890s; that he achieved this with a company that had been struggling with bankruptcy from the start shows his ability. Alongside this efficiency, he found time to care for his workers. For example, he provided houses, schools, churches, a public park, a soup kitchen for distressed workers, a children's tea party for Queen Victoria's Jubilee Day, an infirmary, a trip to the seaside for the miners and many smaller examples.:158
The company remained in profit throughout Jenkins's time as general manager, as illustrated in the table, despite wildly fluctuating market conditions, especially in shipbuilding on which Consett Iron Company depended. Jenkins was always cautious and retained what for the time were large amounts of capital, rather than distributing as much as possible to shareholders, to protect the business. This prudence enabled the company both to invest without generally needing to borrow from the bank, and where necessary to borrow at low rates of interest: in 1881 it issued bonds at 4% instead of the more usual 4.5%.:164 The company's share of the British steel market reached a peak of 7.1% in 1894, falling to 4.2% by 1910.:154
Richardson and Bass (1965) note that "Contemporaries regarded him (Jenkins) as being particularly shrewd in two respects: in his judgement of what was profitable business, and in his choice of men for managerial posts."
George Ainsworth became general manager after Jenkins, continuing his efficient and profitable management. Ainsworth had been sub-manager for many years under Jenkins, and appears to have followed the same approach to management; he successfully reconstructed Consett Iron Company in 1903-1909 at a cost of £750,000, maintaining the company in profit. Ainsworth ran the company from 1894:159 until his death in 1920.
By 1924, the company had share capital of £3,500,000; it had also issued £1,500,000 in debenture stock in May 1922.
In 1938 the company was wealthy enough to help to found the New Jarrow Steel Company from the old Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company which had collapsed in 1933, leading to the Jarrow March of 1936.
During the second world war, Consett Iron Company managed to continue production despite having to use low quality iron ore. It employed about 12,000 workers at that time.
In 1951, the rest of the Consett Iron Company was nationalised by Clement Attlee's Labour government into the short-lived Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain, along with all of Britain's steelworks.
The Consett steelworks was privatised in 1955, and a new steel plate mill was opened in 1961 to supply the shipbuilding industry. About 6000 workers were employed at the works at that time.
Consett Steel Works was renationalised in 1967, this time by Harold Wilson's government, into the British Steel Corporation, at a time when iron, coal and shipbuilding were all in steady decline in Britain. British Steel was an organisation with serious problems: complacency about running its steelworks below their capacity and so at low efficiency; outdated technology; price controls that reduced marketing flexibility; rapidly rising input costs for coal and oil; lack of capital for renewal of manufacturing equipment; and increasing competition from abroad. Government policy to keep employment artificially high only increased the difficulty for British Steel.
Amidst intense debate and large demonstrations by workers and sympathizers, Consett Steel Works was finally closed in 1980. Around 3-4000 workers lost their jobs, resulting in an unemployment rate of 35%, twice the national average at the time.
The sky over Consett, which had long been famous for its thick haze of red iron oxide dust thrown up by the steelworks, cleared as the works fell silent; the cloud of steam around the tall cooling towers and chimneys, "Vulcan's great forges", finally dissipated. Some Consett steel workers took part in the demolition.
Closure of the steelworks in 1980 resulted in high unemployment levels; employment returned to the area in the following decade, with a more diversified industrial base.
- In 1842 the company bought the southern section of the former Stanhope and Tyne Railway from the company to enable it to access new sources of ironstone. After the West Durham Railway constructed a line to Crook, the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) began construction of the Weardale Extension Railway to Crook, which opened on 8 November 1843, from a junction on its leased Weardale Railway. As a result, the DIC proposed an extension from Crook to the foot of the Meeting Slacks incline, which latter became Waskerley station, to provide a southern shipping route for their lime and iron products, and access to more ironstone. Having obtained an extension of their right of way from the Bishop of Durham, the DIC submitted the plans to the S&DR, who agreed to the extension as long as the DIC leased the entire southern section of the former S&TR to them. The Stanhope to Carrhouse section passed into the possession of the S&DR on 1 January 1845, with the completed 10 miles (16 km) Weardale Extension Railway from the Wear Valley Junction to Waskerley opening on 16 May 1845.
- National Archives
- Durham Mining Museum
- "Consett Iron Co". Grace's Guide. 4 May 2012. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
- William Jenkins. Description of the Consett Iron Works. 1892. Page nos refer to online pages e.g. '2' means 'Early History'.
- Marley, John (1856-7). "NEIMME Transactions, Volume 5". Cleveland ironstone. Outline of the main or thick stratified bed, its discovery, application, and results, in connection with the iron-works in the north of England. North of England Institute of Mining Engineers. p. 168. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
- "Stanhope and Tyne Railway". Disused Stations. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
- Jenkins, W. (2008). Consett Iron Works in 1893. Ad Publishing. p. 77. Retrieved 2 April 2012.
- Kenneth Tucker, 1977.
- "Consett photos". William Jenkins. Consett History. 6 March 2012. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
- Richardson and Bass, page 157.
- "Consett Iron Co. Ltd.". Durham Mining Museum. 31 March 2012. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
- Blair, Alasdair M. (Winter 1997). "The British iron and steel industry since 1945". Journal of European Economic History 26 (3): 571–81.
- "Nation on Film: Steel Towns - from Boom to Bust". BBC. April 2004. Consett - Steel Town. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
- Wood, Kerry (19 February 2010), "Consett remembers closure of its steelworks", www.chroniclelive.co.uk
- Grace's Guide. Consett Steel Works. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
- Thorold, Henry (1980). County Durham (Shell Guides). Faber and Faber. p. 192. ISBN 978-0571116409.
- Marshall, Ray (17 June 2009). "Remember When Stories". Focus on Consett meltdown as steelworks shut. Evening Chronicle. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
- "Local History: Consett heritage in pictures". BBC. March 2008. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
- "Consett, County Durham". NorthEastLife. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
- "Photographs of Consett". Railscot. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
- Bowen, David (16 January 1994). "First they shut the Consett works and then came recession but . . . The steel remains". The Independent.
- Garside, W.R. Consett Iron: 1840-1980. A Study in Industrial Location. Business History, 1 October 1991.
- Jenkins, William. Description of the Consett Iron Works. Mawson, Swan and Morgan, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1892. Reprinted as Consett Iron Works in 1893. Ad Publishing, 2008.
- Richardson, H.W., Bass, J.M. The Profitability of Consett Iron Company Before 1914. Business History, Vol 7, Issue 2, 1965. Pages 71–93. DOI: 10.1080/00076797400000015.
- in Tucker, Kenneth A. Business History: Selected Readings, Routledge, 1977. Google books
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Consett Steel Works.|
- A town is born from iron, steel and coal
- Description of the Consett Iron Works 1892
- Durham Mining Museum - Consett Iron Co. Ltd
- Steel Towns - From Boom to Bust - BBC: Nation on Film - Steel - Background
- Consett heritage in pictures - BBC: Wear: Local History
- Consett Iron Company - Science & Society Picture Library
- Moorside, The Grove and Consett Iron Company - Consett History
- Consett Iron Company Ltd - The National Archives, 1951–53, Ref BE 2/61
- Consett Iron Co - Grace's Guide
- Amber Online: Steel Works - photographs by Julian Germain
- Timeline History of Consett Iron Works - Challenging History