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Christ Church, Consett
Consett shown within County Durham
|OS grid reference|
|Unitary authority||County Durham|
|Ceremonial county||County Durham|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Fire||County Durham and Darlington|
|EU Parliament||North East England|
|UK Parliament||North West Durham|
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 seventeenth 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 from Tyneside 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 Labour MP, Pat Glass. Before her, Hilary Armstrong had held the seat since 1987, having taken over the position from her father Ernest Armstrong. Before 1983, the town had its own Member of Parliament. David Watkins held the Consett seat from 1966 until its demise.
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 Labour MEP, Stephen Hughes, Conservative MEP, Martin Callanan and Liberal Democrat MEP Fiona Hall.
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Consett sits above the rural Derwent valley on the edge of the boundary of County Durham and Northumberland. The Derwent Reservoir is located just west of the town. This reservoir is a popular leisure attraction and beauty spot. It is a town with 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, and the name Consett became synonymous with iron and steel, making the steel for Blackpool Tower and Britain's most famous nuclear submarines.
Steel dominated Consett's economy for 140 years. The steelworks was visually spectacular, too, and the town was renowned for images of its tall cooling towers and other large plant looming over rows of terraced houses. The townspeople could hear the ghostly sound of the works through the night. 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 from both 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 rumours and heated discussions over the future of the plant as a whole.
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. It was a devastating blow. The unemployment rate in Consett became double the national average. According to government publicity this closure was part of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Government's strategy to revitalise UK industry, following the industrial action that had taken place in the UK in the 1970s. A deputation of steelworkers lobbied the government in London.
An alternative perspective is that it was part of an alleged larger political strategy launched by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the UK and President Ronald Reagan in the USA to defeat the unionised working class, privatise industry, asset-strip and eventually deindustrialise large sectors of Britain and the USA. This allowed industry to move to low-wage economies abroad to provide higher returns on investments. But the history of the British Steel Corporation , even from its Wikipedia entry makes it clear that a major plan to restructure steel making in the UK was created in the mid 1970s. This was based on concentrating steel making in the UK in five coastal locations, to allow easy import of raw materials and export of finished goods. Consett was not one of the locations so its fate was sealed by its location. However, this rather deterministic perspective can be offset by the facts that BSC Consett was serviced by a well-established rail network, made high-quality boron steel and was in profit the year it was closed.
The social impact of the decision was quite devastating and it 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. The unemployment figure reached 36 percent in 1981. The demolition of the works was very thorough, and even the most imposing and architecturally important building in the town, the Company Offices, was not left untouched. To this day there is no permanent museum to the history of the steelworks apart from some pots that were used to transport molten pig iron from the blast furnaces to the steel plant, and its influence on Consett and its families over the generations has been quietly glossed over. Even the development plan implemented to re-build the town - Project Genesis - has a 'Year Zero' name which suggests there was nothing worthwhile before.
The closure of the British Steel works at Consett in 1980 marked the end of the Derwent Valley steel heritage, and the decline of the town of Consett. Along with the closure of coal mines, it was also a first step in the decline of all heavy industry in the Derwent Valley.
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.
Regeneration in the 1990s, through Project Genesis, went only some way to repair 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.
The last steel ingot from the Consett ironworks was made into a cross and is kept at St Mary's RC Church, Blackhill.
Alongside the public sector, small and medium-sized businesses now provide some jobs in the area. Phileas Fogg Company (County Durham), with its factory on the town's Number One Industrial Estate, 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 as part of United Biscuits. The Explorer Group, based in Consett, is the United Kingdom's second largest manufacturer of caravans.
Since 2000, several new housing developments have taken place 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 national retailers have moved into Hermiston Retail Park.
However, these projects and companies could not replace the jobs lost in the steel closure. Consett is now mainly a dormitory town, providing low-cost housing for people who work elsewhere in the region. ONS statistics indicate that four decades after the steel closure many residents are still unemployed, under-employed or in receipt of low wages.
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 at least taken names that reflect the town's steel-making past - the Works, the Company, and the Company Row. From its bygone days of a steeltown, 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 looking for a taste of the country.
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.
There are plans for a new £20,000,000 sports complex, incorporating a swimming pool, regional tennis centre and new football stadium for Consett A.F.C. ("The Steelmen") as part of Durham County Council's plans for the regeneration of Consett. These plans involve the demolition of the former headquarters of Derwentside District Council at Consett Civic Centre and the relocation of Consett AFC to Crookhall. The site will be redeveloped and the new Consett Academy built there.
On 5 July 2010, the Secretary of State for Education announced plans for the overhaul of England's school building programme. The announcement stated that it would be "irresponsible to carry on regardless with an inflexible, and needlessly complex programme." Many building programmes that had not commenced were cancelled but the plans for Consett Academy and an academy at nearby Stanley were "for discussion."
Local opponents to the building of an academy on the Belle Vue site in Consett unsuccessfully launched an application to have the land registered as a village green. This would have prohibited the development of the land. A public inquiry was held at Consett Civic Centre during the week commencing 12 July 2010. Finally, on 11 April 2011, Durham County Council's Highways Committee turned down the application to grant village green status for the Belle Vue area paving the way for the promised development of Consett Academy and a sports centre to replace the separate wet and dry centres in Consett. The development will see the demolition of Belle Vue Sports Centre (formerly known as Consett Sports Centre), Belle Vue Swimming Centre (formerly known as Consett Baths), Belle Vue football ground (home of Consett A.F.C.) and Consett Civic Centre (former headquarters of Derwentside District Council). Durham County Council intend to maintain a presence in the town centre through its Customer Access Point in Front Street which occupies half of the former Woolworth store. Consett Civic Centre was closed following a formal ceremony on 25 August 2011.
- Alun Armstrong attended Consett Grammar School.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bob Murray, kitchen & bathroom magnate and former chairman of Sunderland AFC.
- 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. Currently a panellist Loose Women on ITV1.
- 2001 Census Profiles (Numbers) for Major Centres in County Durham, Durham County Council, Retrieved on 10 August 2007
- Steel Towns: From Boom to Bust, BBC Nation on Film
- Kearney, T. (1990) A Social History of Consett 1840-1990, DCA
- Eyles, J (1980) The Diary of a Closure: BSC Consett Works December 1979 - December 1980
- Beynon, H. & Hudson, R. (1986) 'Nationalised industry policies and the destruction of communities: Some evidence from North East England', Capital and Class
-  Guardian, 18 October 2011
-  ONS Neighbourhood Statistics
- Salvation Army Band. Retrieved on 28 January 2013.
- "Consett's regeneration". Durham County Council. 2009. Retrieved 2010-07-17.
- "Overhaul of England's school building programme". Department for Education. 12 July 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-17.
- "Village green status inquiry is underway". The Northern Echo. 13 July 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-17.
- "Durham County Council Highways Committee minutes". Durham County Council. 11 April 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-12.
- "Consett customers to gain easier access to council services". Durham County Council. 17 January 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-23.
- "Consett Civic Centre closing ceremony". Durham County Council. 22 August 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-28.
- Barratt, Nick (25 August 2007). "Family Detective - Rowan Atkinson". The Daily Telegraph.
- "Honorary degree for opera couple". BBC News (BBC.co.uk). 2006-07-19. Retrieved 2008-09-19.
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 (2008-09-04). "Big night for Sir Bobby sells out". The Journal. Retrieved 2008-09-19.
- BBC (3 August 2004). "Rams' match remembers John Robson". BBC. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
- Nick Smurthwaite (21 March 2005). "Million pound notes - Keith Strachan". The Stage. Retrieved 2010-03-23.
- Contributors, Various. "Discography at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
- Planning Search, with weekly lists and major developments (outstanding)
- Local history of Consett and surrounding areas
- Durham County Council
- Detailed information on iron / steel works
- Consett AFC
- Consett Forums - Lively local forums. Established 2005
- Consett & Stanley Advertiser - local free paper
- Consett residents' website - in Polish
- Consett Magazine - Free local magazine online and print
- The Works - Consett online newspaper and radio show