Consett sits high on the edge of the Pennines. In 1841, it was a village community of only 145, but it was about to become a boom town: below the ground was coking coal and blackband iron ore, and nearby was limestone. These were the three ingredients needed for blast furnaces to produce iron and steel.
The town is perched on the steep eastern bank of the River Derwent and owes its origins to industrial development arising from lead mining in the area, together with the development of the steel industry in the Derwent Valley, which is said to have been initiated by immigrant German cutlers and sword-makers from Solingen, who settled in the village of Shotley Bridge during the 17th century.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Derwent Valley was the cradle of the British steel industry, helped by the easy availability of coal in the area and the import of high quality iron ore from Sweden via the port of Newcastle upon Tyne. However, following the invention of the Bessemer process in the 19th century, steel could be made from British iron ore (which was otherwise too heavily contaminated by phosphorus) and the Derwent Valley's geographical advantage was lost, allowing Sheffield to become the leading centre of the British steel industry.
Representation and governance
Consett is part of the North West Durham Parliamentary Constituency represented by the Labour member of parliament, Laura Pidcock since the 2017 general election. Before her, Pat Glass held the seat from 2010-2017 and Hilary Armstrong held the seat after 1987, having succeeded from her father Ernest Armstrong. Before 1983, the town gave its name to its parliamentary constituency. Its member of parliament was Labour's David Watkins held the Consett seat from 1966 until boundary changes.
Consett was part of Derwentside District Council, which merged into the Durham County Council unitary authority on 1 April 2009. The Consett area is currently split into four electoral divisions (Benfieldside; Consett North; Delves Lane and Consett South; and Leadgate and Medomsley), each of which elects two County Councillors.
Consett is part of the North East Region, which elects three MEPs (Member of the European Parliament) to the European Parliament. The region is currently represented by the Labour MEPs, Paul Brannen and Judith Kirton-Darling and the UKIP MEP Jonathan Arnott.
At about 900 ft (270 metres) above sea level, Consett is the third highest market town in England one of the highest towns in the United Kingdom. As a result, Consett is typically at least 2 °C colder than nearby cities such as Durham and Newcastle. Furthermore, in the winter months Consett is more prone to frosts, ice and snow than the aforementioned cities, and precipitation falling as rain in Newcastle and Durham will often fall as snow over Consett.
Consett has the usual range of amenities: shops, pubs, night clubs, residential areas and industrial estates. There are a number of villages in its immediate surroundings; some of them are contiguous (for example Shotley Bridge and Blackhill) and some are not (for example Moorside and Castleside).
The Consett Iron Company was established in 1864, a successor to the original Derwent Iron Company of 1840, when the first blast furnaces were introduced. Over the next 100 years, Consett became one of the world's most prominent steel-making towns, manufacturing the steel for Blackpool Tower and some of the UK's nuclear submarines.
Steel dominated Consett's economy for 140 years, with the steelworks' tall cooling towers and other large plant looming over rows of terraced houses. During the iron and steel era a pall of 'red dust' hung over the town: airborne iron oxide from the steel-making plant. At its peak in the 1960s, the Consett steel works employed 6,000 workers, and it was nationalised to become part of the large British Steel Corporation. Although there was intense competition in the 1970s both from British competitors and from abroad, Consett steelworks remained relatively successful and was making a profit in the year that it closed. As the rolling mills were closed in the 1970s, despite local opposition, there were discussions over the future of the plant as a whole.
Closure of the steelworks
Consett steelworks had always avoided closure, even in difficult economic times, but in 1980 it was closed with the loss of 3,700 jobs plus many more from the "knock-on" effect in ancillary industries. The unemployment rate in Consett became double the national average. According to government publicity this closure was part of the Thatcher Government's strategy to revitalise UK industry, following the industrial action that had taken place in the UK in the 1970s.
But labour-intensive heavy industry was never revitalised in Britain. Instead, many regions including the North East were partly deindustrialised. Many of the dwindling industries were uneconomic, but some regard such closures as part of a broader political strategy launched by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to defeat the unionised working class and invest in heavy industry in low-wage economies abroad to provide higher returns on investments. A major plan to restructure steel making in the UK was created in the mid 1970s. This was based on concentrating steelmaking in the UK in five coastal locations, to allow easy import of raw materials and export of finished goods. BSC Consett was not one of the locations, despite being serviced by a well-established rail network, producing high-quality boron steel and being in profit in 1980, the year it was closed.
A deputation of steelworkers lobbied the government in London. The social impact of the decision was often characterised by many of the local people at the time as "The Murder of a Town". After closure of the steel works the town became one of the worst unemployment blackspots in Britain. In 1981, unemployment in Consett peaked at 36% - one of the worst unemployment rates of any town in the United Kingdom and around three times the national average at the time. The closure of the British Steel Corporation works at Consett marked the end of the Derwent Valley steel heritage, and the decline of Consett as an industrial town. Along with the closure of coal mines, it was also a first step in the decline of all heavy industry in the Derwent Valley.
The last steel ingot from the Consett ironworks was made into a cross and is kept at St Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Blackhill.
Regeneration in the 1990s, through Project Genesis, went only some way towards repairing the damage done to the local economy by these closures. Unemployment came down to the national average, but this was partly due to outward migration and economic inactivity due to long-term illness, neither of which were included in the government statistics. In 2011 Durham County Council, which provides a lot of employment for local people, commenced a three-year plan to reduce its workforce by 1600.
Alongside the public sector, small and medium-sized businesses now provide jobs in the area. The Phileas Fogg Company (County Durham), with its factory in Consett, were mildly famous for a few years from 1988 for their snack food "Made in Medomsley Road, Consett" television adverts. The Phileas Fogg Company is now owned by KP Snacks (originally part of United Biscuits). The Explorer Group, based in Consett, is the United Kingdom's second-largest manufacturer of caravans. Elddis Transport Limited is based in the town.
Since 2000, there have been several new housing developments on the former steelworks site and surrounding areas. Derwentside College, formerly sited at Park Road, moved to a new campus at Berry Edge in September 2002 and more recently, major retailers have moved in and the site which once made steel for Blackpool Tower and Britain’s nuclear submarines is now home to rival Tesco and Morrisons stores, a string of high street outlets and fast food giants.
New industrial units are also to be built on the former steel works site, after the Project Genesis Trust secured investment of £358,968 from the Rural Growth Network (RGN) to develop bespoke business premises and offices on part of the site, (The Project Genesis Trust is the body created to regenerate the former steelworks site).
Overall around £200m has been invested into the Genesis site, including 1,500 homes. The population soared to 39,000, higher than it was in the days of steel, and unemployment plummeted. In August 2015, only 420 people were in receipt of Jobseekers' Allowance – an official unemployment rate of 1.7 per cent, significantly lower than the rest of County Durham. The wider claimant count of people receiving out-of-work benefits was 6.3 per cent, half the County Durham average, although it does not include people receiving disability benefits which is likely to be significant given the town’s industrial legacy.
A large area of the land formerly used by Shotley Bridge Hospital was sold to property developers Story Homes and work began to build a further 400 homes in 2013/2014. The Story homes development which is now the multi award winning housing estate titled "The Woodlands estate" has further aided Consett's recovery and has placed it as a top commuter town due to its convenient location situated between Durham and Newcastle
On top of all the housing developments (some still ongoing) undertaken in the Consett area of the last few years There has also been major investment into the local amenities such as the new £44million sports complex built on Medomsley Road along from the old sports facilities. Consett Academy was also given a Brand new £5.7million building that shares the leisure centre facilities.
Consett's secondary school is Consett Academy. However near to Consett in Lanchester is St.Bede's a Catholic secondary school and in Stanley is North Durham Academy which along with Consett Academy is part of the New College Durham Academies Trust , also known as NCDAT , which is managed by New College Durham.
Consett is home to the Empire Theatre, one of County Durham's oldest theatres. Recently refurbished, the theatre stages variety acts, plays and a Christmas pantomime. The theatre also screens blockbuster films at times when there are no live performances.
Several pubs have taken names that reflect the town's steel-making past: the Works, the Company, and the Company Row. From Consett's bygone days as a steel town, with a huge reliance on rail, next to where the main railway station used to be is a club named the Station Club, now opposite a health centre. With the steelworks gone, visitors and inhabitants are beginning to realise the beauty of the picturesque views over the Derwent Valley, and Consett is becoming a popular place to live for commuters from Durham and Tyne & Wear.
Salvation Army Band
Consett was the first town in the world to have a Salvation Army Corps Band. The band was formed in December 1879 and went out on the streets playing at Christmas. The original band consisted of just four players: bandmaster Edward Lennox and bandsmen George Storey, James Simpson and Robert Greenwood.
- Alun Armstrong, attended Consett Grammar School.
- Harry Ashby, (1946-2010), was an English professional golfer
- Rowan Atkinson, (born 6 January 1955 in Consett, County Durham), star of the Blackadder and Mr. Bean comedy series. Atkinson was born to Eric Atkinson and Ella May, Anglican farmers in the town of Consett.
- Arthur Bellamy, professional footballer with Burnley and Chesterfield.
- Alan Campbell, the present MP for Tynemouth and former Home Office Minister for Crime Reduction and Government Whip was born in the town.
- Mark Clattenburg, English football Referee.
- Frank Clark, professional footballer and football manager. Played for Newcastle United in their Inter-Cities Fairs Cup winning team in the 1968-69 season then went on to play for Nottingham Forest under the management team of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor where he won a European Cup winner's medal in 1979. He went on to be Assistant Manager at Sunderland AFC then at Leyton Orient. He was then Manager for Leyton Orient, Nottingham Forest and Manchester City. He is now Vice Chairman of the League Managers' Association.
- Paul Collingwood, England and Durham cricketer, born in Shotley Bridge.
- Ruth Copeland, singer/songwriter, wrote songs for soul star George Clinton.
- Lorraine Crosby, singer songwriter, worked with Meat Loaf
- Graeme Danby, is an opera singer born in the town. He is Principal Bass with English National Opera. He also devotes a great deal of his schedule to working with charitable trusts.
- Karen Harding, singer, born in Consett in 1991
- John Herdman, head coach of the Canadian Women's Football (Soccer) team from 2011.
- Anthony Hutton, Big Brother winner.
- Joe Joyce, former Barnsley, Carlisle and Scunthorpe Utd. footballer, currently Academy Manager at Newcastle United.
- Michael Kay, is a footballer who plays in the right back position. He currently plays for Tranmere Rovers. Formerly represented England Under-17s and after starting his career in the Sunderland academy had brief loan spells at Gateshead and current club Tranmere Rovers.
- Mitch Laddie, blues guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and producer
- Freddie 'Fingers' Lee, British singer, guitarist and pianist
- Christopher Lowson, the Bishop of Lincoln.
- Susan Maughan, singer, who reached #3 in the UK Singles Chart in 1962 with "Bobby's Girl".
- Paddy McAloon, founding member of the band Prefab Sprout.
- Sheila Mackie, artist
- Bob Murray, kitchen & bathroom magnate and former chairman of Sunderland AFC.
- Lee Ridley, comedian & winner of Britain’s Got Talent 2018 as 'Lost Voice Guy'.
- John Robson, professional footballer for Derby County and Aston Villa who missed only one game in Derby County's championship winning 1971-72 season under the management team of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor
- Jimmy Seed, born Blackhill, 1895. Professional footballer - Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur, Sheffield Wednesday, Manager - Charlton Athletic, Milwall. FA Cup Winner with Tottenham Hotspur, 1921; 5 England caps.
- Keith Strachan, born in Consett. Award-winning composer and musical theatre director. Compositions include "Mistletoe and Wine" and the theme music for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
- Mathew Tait, England international and ex Newcastle Falcons Rugby Union player. He now plays for Sale Sharks. Born in Shotley Bridge but brought up in the nearby town of Wolsingham
- Steve Thompson, songwriter/producer born in Consett in 1952 and responsible for a number of well known songs recorded by International recording artists.
- Barry Venison, retired footballer and pundit was born in Shotley Bridge Hospital, although he is from Stanley.
- Denise Welch, ex-star of Coronation Street, Soldier Soldier and Waterloo Road, a former panellist on Loose Women on ITV1.
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- Amelia Gentleman. "Local authority cuts: one year on | Society". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
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- "Salvation Army Brass Bands, Salvation Army Brass Instruments, brass instruments, sheet music". Brassbandinformation.co.uk. Archived from the original on 1 June 2016. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
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Graeme Danby was born in Consett and studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He is Principal Bass with the English National Opera.
- Tunney, John (4 September 2008). "Big night for Sir Bobby sells out". The Journal. Retrieved 19 September 2008.
- "Bishop of Lincoln to be introduced to House of Lords". Market Rasen Journal. 12 September 2017. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
- Paul Lester. "Paddy McAloon: 'I'll do without an audience to make the music I want' | Culture". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
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Media related to Consett at Wikimedia Commons