Working in Leadgate
The North East of England was an industrial heartland throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries (up to the 1980s). Leadgate village situated on the Durham Coalfields, and its near neighbour, Consett being heavily invested in metal working made the area a place of work and innovation.
Most of the industrial land was owned by the Derwent Iron Company (later to become the Consett Iron Company); the company was the largest single employment opportunity for the workers of Leadgate. The company's interests included mining and metal working, both of which required manpower and a workforce close to the works.
Clearly one employer with a virtual monopoly, as the only mass employer, had its own problems. 1800s Britain was not a happy working environment, miners for example were usually employed under the "Bond System" little short of slavery, at best they would be paid quarterly, some annually. With families and children to house, clothe and feed they would be forced to use the company shops as a source of credit. Pay day would have been little more than receiving payment and then clearing the debts to the company, for the cycle to start all over again.
Not only were working conditions harsh, the need for family survival normally meant a miner's wages could not support the family on its own, women had also to work, even scavenging for coal in the debris. The lack of organised schooling at the turn of the 19th Century meant young children, some as young as 8 years old, found themselves slaving down the pit.
Gradually terms and conditions started to change for British workers, by 1860 there was a real clamour for change and various Acts of Parliament were put in place to help relieve the burden. Sadly that didn't help the plight of the children. Even up to and beyond the Great War 1914 - 1918, children would find themselves moving into the work force at 13.
Colliery Works 1980's
Marching through Leadgate on route to Durham Miners Gala
From the Carl Southern Collection
The Derwent Iron Company
The land around our part of Durham was not only rich in coal but also in ironstone. In 1840 the Derwent Iron Company was established, with the aim of quarrying and smelting the mineral ore close to Consett. By late 1857 the company was over a £1 million in debt, arrangements to sell the company failed however they struggled on, under the threat of bankruptcy until 1864 when a new Consett Iron Company Limited was formed.
The Consett Iron Company Limited 1864
The new limited company started with £400,000 raised from 4000 shares costing £10 each. The Managing Director was J. Priestman. Two local Members of Parliament, Henry Fenwick and John Henderson, were among the directors. It became the owner of 18 blast furnaces. The company had the capacity to produce 80,000 tons of pig iron and 50,000 tons of finished iron per year. It also owned a thousand workers' cottages and 500 acres of land. Source Wikipedia
With ironstone and other mineral ore being almost exhausted in the local area, the company had to turn to the railway as a source of getting material to Consett. Investment in the railways was essential and the company invested in local railway companies.
With the expansion of railways around 1876 came the need for steel, the Iron company saw its production of iron drop by one third. In an attempt to regain market share they switched products to iron plate for ship building. In 1882 the company switched production to steel, that switch, which was a huge success, led to the steel works becoming one of the biggest steel plate manufacturers in the world by 1889. During the Second World War the company was employing as many as 12000 people.
In 1951 the Steel works were nationalised under the short lived, Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain, then privatised in 1955 as the Consett Steel Company before being renationalised in 1967 as part of the British Steel Corporation.
Sadly in 1980, after a long struggle, the works closed around 240 years after the fledgling Derwent Iron Company was born. By the time of the closure, between 3000 - 4000 people worked in the plant, the effect of the closure and the loss of business that supported the industry meant that unemployment in the Consett area was around 35%.
The Last Shift leaves the works
The Consett Iron Comany Ltd 1864 acquired the sites at Bradley and Crookhall, these sites sat within the boundaries of the parish of Leadgate 1863.
It has been difficult to find early photographs of the workshops themselves, however the workshops provided the mechanical backup for the company, mainly the upkeep of mining assets.
It would be fair to say that the village of Leadgate owed much of its development, growth and wealth to the Consett Iron Company in all its guises, being not only predominant in mining (Eden Colliery amongst its assets), metal working at the Consett plant ( 3 miles from Leadgate) and the influence and investments in Railways.
Working on the Railways
The earliest Railway or Wagonway as they were first described, arrived in Leadgate in 1834, the Stanhope & Tyne Railway, designed by George Stephenson and built in 1834. Primarily built to carry ore to the Tyne docks, it was later utilised by the Derwent Iron Company (later the Consett Iron Company).
The Stanhope & Tyne built a station at Carr-House (near Villa Real) nothing remains of the station except for the old engine shed (originally part of the Medonsley Line) which still stands in what was known as Carr-House field.
Brian Harrison: Joe Mallon; Joseph Campbell; Terry Richardson; Stephen Bridgewater; Mark Chadder; Peter Horsman; Michael Wilson; Guss Parkin; Gary Parkin; Graces Guide: Leadgate History Society
Leadgate Community History Club do not claim any copyright over the photographs on this page. They remain the copyright of the source site and, in some cases, the copyright owners, they are referenced here for educational purposes, and when attributable, proper attribution has been given. Please do not use or reproduce without attribution and/or acknowledgement to the original copyright owner.Back