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Christ Church, Consett
|Consett shown within County Durham|
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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 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.
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At about 900ft (270 metres) above sea level, Consett is the 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.
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 Derwent Reservoir is just west of the town. This reservoir is a popular leisure attraction and beauty spot.
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, and heavy industry in low-wage economies abroad provided higher returns on investments; but some consider that the closure was part of a broader political strategy launched by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to defeat the unionised working class. 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, making 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. The unemployment figure reached 36 percent in 1981. The closure of the British Steel Corporation 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 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.
The last steel ingot from the Consett ironworks was made into a cross and is kept at St Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Blackhill.
Alongside the public sector, small and medium-sized businesses now provide 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, 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 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 on 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 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 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 launched an unsuccessful 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 in 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, a former panellist on Loose Women on ITV1.
- Karen Harding, singer, born in Consett in 1991
Consett is an established market town, with a residential population of 24,828 (according to the 2011 Census).Missing or empty
- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
- Steel Towns: From Boom to Bust, BBC Nation on Film
- Kearney, T. (1990) A Social History of Consett 1840-1990, DCA
- Beynon, H. & Hudson, R. (1986) 'Nationalised industry policies and the destruction of communities: Some evidence from North East England', Capital and Class
- 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
- "The Consett Timeline". Made of Steel. 17 January 2013. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
- 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. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
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- The Journal (Newcastle, England) 29 April 2010 Peter McCusker: Tributes paid to golf's 'true gentleman'
- Barratt, Nick (25 August 2007). "Family Detective - Rowan Atkinson". The Daily Telegraph.
- "Honorary degree for opera couple". BBC News. BBC.co.uk. 19 July 2006. Retrieved 19 September 2008.
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.
- Paul Lester. "Paddy McAloon: 'I'll do without an audience to make the music I want' | Culture". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
- "Rams' match remembers John Robson". BBC. 3 August 2004. Retrieved 4 September 2010.
- Nick Smurthwaite (21 March 2005). "Million pound notes - Keith Strachan". The Stage. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
- "Discography at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
Media related to Consett at Wikimedia Commons