Consett : Conside, Cunek’s Head
Consett’s name is a bit of a mystery. The earliest record is ‘Conekesheued’ in 1183 and although the second part of the name means ‘head’ the meaning of the first part is unknown. ‘Head of the Con’ or ‘Head of the Cunek’ looks a possible explanation but the only local river or stream with this name is the Cong, a burn which enters the Wear at Chester-le-Street. This stream gave its name to the Roman and Anglo-Saxon names for Chester-le-Street – which were Concangis and Conecaster.
However the Cong does not begin at Consett or even anywhere near Consett. Streams in the Consett neighbourhood feed the River Derwent to the north and to the west, or they feed the River Browney near Lanchester to the south and east. It is generally thought that the first part of the name Consett is Celtic (as is the case with the Cong) but nothing more is known.
It is possible that there was some kind of link between Cong and Consett perhaps through a local tribal connection. Concangis, the Roman name for Chester-le-Street is thought to be a tribal name meaning ‘the horse people’ so perhaps Consett was at the western limit or head of their territory with the River Derwent forming the western boundary.
In later times the element ‘head’ was replaced with ‘set’ meaning ‘a fold’ so the name became ‘Conset’ and was first recorded, (then with a single ‘t’) in 1416. Consett or Conset seems to have become the official name but from at least 1580 the popular name or pronunciation was Conside with the element ‘side’ meaning ‘hillside’. Gateshead was similarly often known as ‘Gateside’ and one of Consett’s neighbours is Benfieldside. When ‘Conside’ rose to prominence and became a major town with the development of the iron works the written name ‘Consett’ was used rather than the popular name ‘Conside’ and ‘Consett’ has stuck.
Interestingly, in legend, the name Consett is explained as deriving from the name of a giant called Con. This Con was seemingly a friend of neighbouring giants called Mug (at Muggleswick) and Ben (at Benfieldside).
The three Giants are said to have amused themselves by throwing a great hammer at each other which when dropped, made huge dints in the hillsides that can still be seen to this day. The inspiration for this giants legend may have been a large-statured hunting man buried in Muggleswick churchyard. His favourite hound is said to have given birth to six puppies in one of his shoes.
Consett in early times
In the Boldon Buke of 1183 an Arnold Pistor held Consett in exchange for Tursdale. Later much of the manor of Consett was the property of a family called Grey throughout much of the medieval era. Half of the manor became the property of the Middletons around 1481 but was purchased by a Henry Anderson in 1572 while the other half became the property of a John Hall of Birtley in about 1565.
The Blenkinsopp family owned the former Middleton portion of Consett from 1579 and still owned it in the 1680s. Most of Consett was purchased by the Wilkinsons of Durham in 1695 but a family called Rippon (also associated with Stanhope and Gateshead) owned the nearby house and lands called Consett Park from the mid 1600s.
Up until the beginning of the nineteenth all these early references to Consett are focused on land to the west of the present town where the farms and open moorland of Consett were situated. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Consett only consisted of a small number of scattered buildings over a wide area of land.
These included the 18th century Consett Buildings or ‘Buildings Farm’ in the north. Now gone, they were situated in what is now Fawcett Park just to the west of a circular sculpture that recalls the industry and ironworks of Consett. Most of the other scattered houses of Consett were focused a mile or so to the south west of present day Consett in what are now the housing estate villages of The Grove and Moorside towards Castleside.
Consett Hall, which was probably the centre of the historic manor of Consett – stood in what is now Hall Lane near the modern Hallgarth area of The Grove. There is a house here today, but this is not the original hall. Mentioned in the 1820s, Consett Hall’s earlier history is uncertain but it was the home to Consett Ironworks manager, George Forster in the 1850s and was altered during his occupation. In the 1880s it was again the home to a later manager of the ironworks called William Jenkins. Just south of the hall in what is now the Selby Gardens area of The Grove was a farm called West Consett or Consett Grove from which today’s ‘The Grove’ is named.
About three quarters of a mile to the south was another large house called Consett Park. Historically the home of the Rippons it was removed to make way for post-war housing at Moorside. It was situated just east of what is now the Surrey Crescent area of Moorside, just south of Sussex Road.
Apart from these buildings and a couple of cottages these were the main houses of the area. In 1841 the total number of houses in the entire Consett area was 39 of which 5 were uninhabited. Mostly farmhouses and centres for country estates their total population was only 195. By 1852 there were 537 houses and the population was 2,777.
Berry Edge: The Iron Town
It was in 1841 that the iron works was established at Consett by the newly formed Derwent Iron Company. The works opened on the wild moors of the Consett country estate, with the land being especially purchased by a local man and banker Jonathan Richardson for the development of the new enterprise. Richardson would receive the royalties from its activities. Later the company was renamed the Derwent & Consett Iron Company Ltd and in 1864 it became the Consett Iron Company.
From 1841 a town rapidly sprung into existence to serve the iron works and in 1854 Hugh Tremenheere who was carrying out a survey of the mining districts observed:
“Where, a few years ago, there was little else than wild moorland, there has been collected since 1841 a population of near 20,000 souls…”
Tremenheere also commented on the problems that can occur when a large mass of people arrive at a brand new town, remarking that the iron company had managed to overcome: “most of the difficulties generally incident to the sudden collection of large bodies of men, who are usually not the steadiest and the best of their class in the neighbourhoods they have left.”
Satisfied that the company had been “just, firm and judicious” in dealing with such problems Tremenheere further commented that “after the gradual ‘weeding out’ of some of the least reasonable among them, a feeling of mutual confidence is being established”.
Tremenheere was probably aware of an incident at Consett in November 1847 known as ‘the Battle of the Blue Heaps’. This was a major riot that resulted from long running tensions between Catholic Irish workers and largely protestant English workers at Consett, though it is not clear whether the events were religiously motivated. By the time of the 1851 census just under 23% of the town’s population was Irish.
Part of the problem may have been lack of policing. In 1848 there were only two policemen stationed nearby who were tasked with maintaining law and order in this community of nearly 20,000 people.
The new, populous town that sprung up to serve the ironworks was not initially called Consett and is marked on the 1850s map as ‘Berry Edge’. It was likely named from Berry Edge Farm, about a mile to the north and this farm is still there today on the west side of the Medomsley Road near the Number One Industrial Estate.
In the 1850s Berry Edge or Consett as it would become, was described as “a rising village…densely populated by the workmen employed in the neighbouring iron-works and contains two Methodist chapels, and a commodious school-room belonging to the Iron Company, with the usual accompaniment of shops, public houses, a post office &c”
This emerging town of Berry Edge or Stobswood End as Consett also seems to have been known was focused on the north side of the present Front Stree, part of which was then known as Puddlers Row. A puddler was a worker employed in the process of turning impure pig iron into wrought iron.
The other main streets were Middle Street, Queen Street, King Street (Pant Row), Prince’s Street and Trafalgar Street. Middle Street, now a pedestrianised shopping street is still there but the main part of the original town and the other mentioned streets have gone and this area is now occupied by shops and institutions such as Argos, Home Bargains, Lloyds Bank and the Consett Empire Theatre (which dates to 1913). Pant Row had presumably been the location of a well or water dispenser – a pant – that provided a basic water supply to the early town.
Consett had been chosen as the site of an iron works because of its iron ore deposits and the availability of coal in the neighbourhood. Furthermore, the prevailing westerly winds were a useful aid to the blast furnace process and overlooking crags provided a means of top loading the furnaces. The proximity of the Stanhope and Tyne Railway was another important factor enabling the delivery of produce to the port at South Shields and facilitating the delivery of local limestone from Stanhope which was important for use as a flux in the iron making process. The Derwent Iron Company purchased the southern part of this railway in 1842.
Consett iron works had been open for less than a decade when it became clear that the mined iron ore reserves were insufficient and of increasingly poor quality. By 1852 the works began focusing on importing ore from the Cleveland area. What kept the works going was the high quality and relatively inexpensive coking coal available nearby as well as limestone available from Stanhope Quarry, a relatively short distance away. Both of these were essential for iron and steel production.
The Derwent Iron Company and its successor companies owned several coal mines in the locality as well as some limestone quarries at Stanhope.
Early coal and iron stone mines owned by Derwent Iron Company included the Number One Pit near to what is now the roundabout of the Number One industrial Estate. The Number 2, 3 and 4 pits were in the Belle Vue Park and Sherburn Park areas and all would have been linked to the iron works by wooden wagonways.
Other pits owned by the Derwent Iron Company and its successor, the Consett Iron Company included Medomsley Busty, Blackhill Colliery, Delves Pit, Iveston Pit, Eden Pit at Leadgate, Garesfield Bute Pit, Marley Hill Colliery, Lanchester Colliery, Delight Pit at Dipton and a number of others. However, all of the Iron company mines were nationalised in 1947 and came under the ownership of the National Coal Board.
Iron works: The peak years to closure in 1980
In the late nineteenth century Consett Ironworks peaked under the leadership of General Manager, William Jenkins who was in charge from 1869 up until his death in 1895. This seems to have been the glowing heyday for the iron works and the thriving community of Consett.
One remarkable event in Consett’s annals occurred in December 1879 when Consett had the distinction of being the first town in the world to form a Salvation Army Band which performed around the local streets that Christmas. Meanwhile the iron works was producing iron for Britain’s booming engineering and shipping industries as well as exporting around the world. Consett even provided the iron for the construction of the Blackpool Tower which opened in 1894.
In the following century the two world wars provided a boost to the demand for iron manufacture with the works employing around 12,000 people in the Second World War. From 1951 to 1955, the works were nationalised along with all of Britain’s steelworks under Clement Attlee’s Labour government and came under the ownership of the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain but then went back into private hands in 1955.
The works were renationalised in 1967 but throughout the following decade steel making suffered a significant decline and in 1980 the government closed the Consett Works with the loss of around 4,000 jobs which was a devastating blow for the town.
For nearly 140 years the ironworks had been the lifeblood of Consett and the industry dominated everything. Such was its dominance in 1881 that more than 2,000 of the houses in Consett and Blackhill and Leadgate belonged to the Consett Iron Company who had played a major role in the development of the town.
Many of the older terraced houses in the town are built of stone but there are only a few landmarks in Consett and nothing of antiquity. The stone-built parish church of Christchurch in Church Street (at the head of Middle Street) is one such landmark and dates from 1866. It has been described as ‘Neo-Norman’. Just along the road in adjoining Parliament Street is the police station of 1887, also built in stone, while nearby in Victoria Road is the brick-built structure of the Roman Catholic church of St Patrick dating to 1959.
As for the old iron works, they were quickly and completely demolished following their closure. They had been a landmark for many miles around, easily visible from the outskirts of Durham City to the south. Today there is much open land occupying the site of the works though there are some new emerging housing estates on part of this area.
In the decade or so after the closure of the steel works Consett became a theme for much media attention and a focus for regeneration schemes such as the creation of the Number One Industrial Estate which brought a range of new work. For a time in the post-steelworks era Consett came to be known for a brand of snack food, manufactured from a factory on Medomsley Road which had considerable national popularity. It proved a great success but the firm was eventually sold in the 1990s and re-branded.
Blackhill and Blackfyne
The pleasant Blackhill and Consett Park separates Consett from neighbouring Blackfyne and Blackhill to the north and north west. The park was created and laid out by the Consett Iron Company in 1891 on reclaimed land and was gifted to the people of Consett and Blackhill.
It should not be confused with the house called Consett Park that once existed at Moorside over a mile to the south. Blackhill Colliery, also known as Consett Colliery, Mount Pleasant Pit or Consett Colliery was once situated in land in the eastern part of what is now the park. It operated from around 1840 until 1911.
North of the park is Blackfyne named from a farm house or cottage of that name shown on the 1850s map. A house called Berry Edge cottage also once stood near here. Blackhill, to the west, the ‘dark hill’, like Consett also developed as a result of the iron works and mining in the area and was described in the 1850s as:
“a large and increasing village…containing two chapels belonging to the Wesleyans and Primitive Methodists and two schools, one of which is supported by the Derwent Iron Company…”
Blackhill merges with the neighbouring communities of Benfieldside and Shotley Bridge to the north.
Delves, Crook Hall and Leadgate
The south eastern parts of Consett called Delves, Delves Lane and Templetown developed mostly in the twentieth century. On the 1850s map the Delves area was called ‘Delfts’ and was home to little more than a smithy. The word ‘delft’ could mean mine, quarry, pit or even ‘ditch’. There were quarries nearby and a colliery. A Delves Brick works also operated from the later half of the 19th century.
Crookhall to the north of Delves takes its name from Crook Hall (demolished in the 1890s) which stood near the present Crook Hall Farm buildings. It should not be confused with the Crook Hall near Durham City.
Crookhall near Consett was first mentioned in the Boldon Book of 1183 (Durham’s version of the Domesday Book) and was a free manor belonging to the De La Ley family of Witton Gilbert. Later it belonged to the Kirkleys, the Thorntons, Lumleys, Vasies and then, by 1588 to the Shaftoes. It was sold to George Baker of Durham in 1635 and the Baker family began a long association with the place.
Sir George Baker, as he became, was a Recorder of Newcastle upon Tyne and played a big part in defending that town from the Scots during the Civil War in 1644. From the 1830s the Bakers opened pits in the area with the early mines being Stockerley Pit and West Elimore Pit. The second of these was named from Elemore Hall the Baker country seat near Pittington and Easington Lane and a pit at Delves was also under their operation. This mine was curiously known as the ‘Latter Day Saint Pit’ for a time. Crookhall Colliery developed from these mines and operated until 1963.
Crook Hall played an important part in the early development of what became Ushaw College, a training college for English Catholic priests and was the link between that college and its earlier predecessor, the college of Douai near Lille in France which dated back to 1568. In 1793 the students of that college under the leadership of William Gibson fled to England to escape the French Revolution.
Some of the students were briefly accommodated at Tudhoe near Spennymoor and others at Pontop near Dipton but Gibson acquired Crook Hall and converted it into a school for training priests. In the meantime land was acquired at Ushaw to the west of Durham and the new college was completed there in 1808. The students finally moved into Ushaw College after 14 years at Crook Hall setting off on foot to reach it. Sadly Crook Hall fell into disrepair and in the later part of the century a James Fawcett acquired it. He dismantled the hall in the 1890s using the stone to build a new house in Lanchester.
Leadgate to the north of Crookhall is sometimes thought to have acquired its name from a toll gate on a lead transporting route from Weardale to the Tyne but the name first recorded as Lydgate in 1404 actually derives from an old word ‘hlid’ meaning swing, so the name means ‘swing gate’.
The main road through the village is in fact Dere Street, and Leadgate is about half way between the sites of the Roman forts of Lanchester to the south and Ebchester near the Derwent to the north. The main colliery at Leadgate was Eden Colliery which opened in 1844 and operated right up until 1980.
Hownsgill and Knitsley
Cycle paths that follow old railway routes are an important feature of the countryside just to the south of Delves and Templetown. Here Lydgetts Junction is an important focal point for two cycling routes. The C2C – coast to coast cycle route running east to west partly follows the course of the old Stanhope and Tyne Railway and intersects with the old North Eastern Railway Route which is now the Lanchester Valley cycle route.
From this cyclists’ junction (on the site of a former railway junction) you can cycle south west to Allenheads in Allendale, Stanhope in Weardale or all the way to Whitehaven on the Cumbrian coast. You can head south east to Lanchester, Durham and Teesside, north to Gateshead, Newcastle and Tynemouth or west to Consett, Stanley, Beamish and Sunderland.
Hownesgill Viaduct is situated along the C2C route less than a quarter of a mile to the south west of the junction and is a particularly spectacular feature of the route that can be seen from miles around. Built by Thomas Bouch in 1858 it carried the railway across the steep wooded ravine of the Hownes Gill. Built of yellow sandstone, it consists of twelve arches of 50 ft span rising to a maximum height of 150 feet.
The viaduct replaced an earlier system in which coal wagons were at first transported in cradles by means of inclines operated by a stationary engine at the foot of the gorge. Turntables were positioned at the top and bottom of the gorge to further facilitate the movement of the wagons. Later this set up was replaced by a funicular railway, but ultimately a viaduct, though expensive, was considered the best course of action.
Sculptures are a notable feature of the C2 C cycle route and about three quarters of a mile to the east of Lydgetts Junction is the Turner Prize winning Terris Novalis sculpture designed by Tony Cragg which is a symbol of Consett’s post-steelworks regeneration. Made of stainless steel it consists of a theodolite and an engineer’s level but are twenty times life size. They were installed in 1996 and the artist named it ‘Terris Novalis’ meaning ‘new made land’ as on his visit to the site he had found nothing left of the old steelworks site from which he had hoped to find inspiration.
Another feature of interest lies along the Lanchester Valley route just over a mile to the south of Lydgett’s Junction. Here we find the attractive former Knitsley railway station house of the 1860s which has a Scottish baronial style to it. Now a private house, there are two other identical style former station houses on this cycle route to the south at Lanchester and at Langley Park (the former Witton Gilbert Station) which are also now private houses.
Castleside, Rowley and Allensford
Castleside to the south west of Consett is thought to derive from Castle’s Side from the name of a tenant farmer by the name of Castle. The main streets in the village are made of stone and there are lovely views of the neighbouring countryside along Rowley Bank (the A68) at the south end of the village.
Rowley, a tiny neighbouring village, along Rowley Bank just to the south of Castleside was called Cold Rowley in times past to distinguish it from other places called Rowley.
Rowley means ‘rough clearing’ and may have been considered a bleak and cold setting. The term ‘Cold’ in place-names can often refer to places that have been abandoned or have shrunken in size, often in medieval times. This Rowley was once the site of a railway station that was located just to the west of the main road but the station site is now a picnic area. The railway line has also gone and is now part of the C2C cycle route.
The railway station which had opened in 1845 operated a passenger service until 1939 and was closed completely in 1966. It was dismantled in 1972 but not lost forever as the dismantling was carried out with great care brick-by-brick by conservationists from the recently established Beamish Museum. They rebuilt the station at the museum site where it can still be seen today.
To the north of Castleside the A68 leaves Castleside village via Allensford Bank which descends towards a bridge across the Derwent into Northumberland. Allensford is the home to Allensford Country Park.