Station Name: CONSETT

[Source: Alan Young]

Date opened: 17.8.1896
Location: On east side of Delves Lane
Company on opening: North Eastern Railway
Date closed to passengers: 23.5.1955
Date closed completely: 2.10.1967
Company on closing:

Passenger services: British Railways (North Eastern Region)
Goods services: British Rail (Eastern Region)

Present state: Demolished - site lost under new road (A692)
County: Durham
OS Grid Ref: NZ112507
Date of visit: September 1967 & 6.5.2006

Notes: In the early 19th century, the area of north-western County Durham where the town of Consett would develop was sparsely inhabited windswept moorland, of little agricultural value. However quantities of iron-ore lay beneath the surface, and a Sunderland mineralogist, William Richardson, recognised the economic potential of these resources. In the1830s and 40s the demand for iron goods was rising, led by the expanding railway system in Britain with its insatiable demand for iron rails. With such a market in mind, Richardson founded the Derwent Iron Company in 1841, close to the recently-opened Stanhope & Tyne mineral railway (which ran from upper Weardale to South Shields). The terraced cottages he provided for his workers formed a community originally known as Berry Edge, which developed into the town of Consett.

The early years of this iron industry were less than successful, owing in part to the imprudence of a bank with which the company was involved, and it was not until the Derwent Iron Company was taken over (and renamed the Consett Iron Company) that the industry really thrived and the village expanded; the 1891 census recorded 8,760 inhabitants, and by 1951 Consett was a
substantial town whose population was almost 39,000. The iron and steel industry grew to dominate the town, economically and visually. Perched on the summit of a steep westward-facing scarp almost 1,000 feet above sea level, the works were visible from many miles away. Vast quantities of furnace slag were dumped on the slope to the west, whilst the chimneys belched out huge volumes of red dust. The local iron-ore proved less abundant than had been expected, and eventually imported ore had to be hauled uphill to Consett from near the mouth of the Tyne. Coal, suitable for coke production, was available in the Pontop coalfield, a few miles north-east of Consett. This was of enormous benefit to the growing iron and steel industry, as was the limestone from upper Weardale.

Consett station, opened in 1896, was not the first to serve the growing community. In 1834 the Stanhope & Tyne ‘railroad’ had opened to carry limestone and coal. Most of this line was unsuitable for passenger traffic, having numerous extremely steep inclines. However, from the outset local people made informal journeys in the coal wagons, and in 1835 official public trains began to operate between South Shields and Chester-le-Street (Durham Turnpike).  When a particularly steep section at Hownes Gill (some two miles south-west of Consett) was replaced with a 150-foot high viaduct, and a deviation line to avoid Nanny Mayor’s incline near Waskerley was built, passenger services began to operate from Crook and Tow Law, past the site of the 1896 Consett station, to terminate at Carr House, where a station opened in 1858.

Consett still did not have a conveniently situated station, or even one bearing its name. However on 1 September 1862 a passenger and goods line from Durham, via Lanchester, opened to a point about a mile west of Carr House, where the first Consett station was built. It was immediately south of the present A692 road to Castleside, at the southern end of the ironworks site and, like Carr House, some distance from the main built-up area of Consett. This terminus was short-lived, as the line was extended northwards up the Derwent valley, via Lintz Green, to Newcastle. Consett station closed to be replaced with Benfieldside, a short distance north, on 2 December 1867. This station was renamed Consett on 1 November 1882, despite being located much closer to Blackhill, a large village which also housed Consett Iron Company workers. On 1 May 1885 it was renamed once more, this time as Consett & Blackhill, before becoming Blackhill on 1 May 1896.

Returning to the route through the final Consett station, the service to Carr House ended on 1 October 1868. During the 1870s and 80s Consett grew rapidly, as did several villages to its east - Leadgate, Annfield Plain and Stanley – which were served by mineral railways, but the absence of a passenger service was resented by their residents. The old Stanhope & Tyne line was still
unsuitable for passenger traffic, with two 1 in 27 inclines at Annfield Plain where wagons were rope-hauled by a stationary engine. Eventually, on 23 May 1887, Royal Assent was given for the North Eastern Railway to construct a route avoiding these inclines by means of a broad curve, but even this new line would be steeply graded, much of it at 1 in 51 and 1 in 55, with a short stretch reaching 1 in 35. The double-track diversion and upgraded old route as far as the East Coast main line, which it joined at the north-facing Ouston Junction near Birtley, opened to passengers as far as Annfield Plain on 1 February 1894. The existing single mineral line westward was doubled, with some slight realignment and construction of new bridges, and a new curve was built in 1893 from Consett East to North junctions. Passenger services between Annfield Plain and Blackhill began on 17 August 1896, without any formal ceremony, calling at the intermediate stations of Leadgate and Consett.

The 6:10 am from Newcastle to Blackhill was the first train on the opening day. At first there were five trains each way on weekdays, with some additional services east of Annfield Plain. In June 1920 the timetable shows eight trains from Newcastle to Consett on Monday-to-Friday, six continuing to Blackhill; ten on Saturdays, six continuing to Blackhill; and a further late train on
Wednesdays-only, terminating at Consett. There were two trains on Sunday in each direction, working to or from Blackhill. Seven trains left Consett for Newcastle on Mondays-to-Fridays, five originating at Blackhill, whilst there were nine on Saturdays, six of which started from Blackhill.

By the 1890s the NER had entered a phase of constructing economical timber buildings at its new stations, but in the case of those between Birtley and Blackhill the risk of mining subsidence also justified the use of lighter structures. At Consett there was one broad island platform on which a long, single-storey timber building with a slate ridged roof accommodated the passenger facilities and offices. There were two small gables midway along the north-west side of the roof. The building was surrounded by a generous flat roofed awning with a deep crenulated valance, in its later years supported at intervals by second-hand rails. A ramp led down to the platform from the road overbridge. A large area of sidings spread to the north-west of the station. Wood was used not only for the station buildings but for the goods shed and stable as well. The stationmaster was denied the dignity of a detached dwelling, as at many stations, but had to be content with accommodation at the end of Sherburn Terrace.

It would appear to have been the most important station on the Birtley-Blackhill route, but Consett booked considerably fewer passengers than some of its neighbours. In 1913 Consett issued 79,041 tickets whilst Annfield Plain and Shield Row (later West Stanley) issued 114,212 and 170,308 respectively. Blackhill station was well situated to serve the steelworks and the north-western area of Consett’s urban sprawl, as well as being a four-way junction; for these reasons it greatly exceeded Consett’s bookings, issuing 145,849 tickets in 1913.

The town continued to grow in the 20th century, but the use of its station declined after World War I, principally owing to competition from buses. In 1931 Venture buses operated between Consett and Newcastle (via Rowlands Gill) every twenty minutes, including Sundays, whilst Northern bus 33 provided a half-hourly service via Leadgate and Burnopfield. Further Northern buses (service 11 via Rowlands Gill and 29 via Whickham) also plied between Consett and Newcastle once an hour. This intensive service contrasted with about a dozen trains on weekdays, and two on Sundays. Annual ticket bookings at Consett station in 1930 had slumped to only 14,973, less than a fifth of the volume of 1913.

Although Consett station was not directly affected, two of the lines that converged at Blackhill – from Crook and Durham – closed to passengers on 1 May 1939. Passenger numbers at Consett continued to dwindle, and the train service was reduced. The first British Railways timetable (summer 1948) showed only four weekday trains via Annfield Plain to Newcastle (five on Saturdays) and one on Sundays. In the opposite direction there were five weekday trains, with none on Sundays. Public timetables traditionally presented two separate tables, Blackhill – Consett – Newcastle (via Annfield Plain) and Consett – Blackhill – Newcastle (via Lintz Green) and it was unclear how many services travelled over both lines.


Ticket for last train into Consett on 17th March 1984
From summer 1948 the tables were combined to indicate that some trains operated a circular service, so Consett passengers apparently had a greater selection of trains and could choose the slightly shorter journey to Newcastle via Blackhill (17½ as opposed to 19½ miles). By 1951 passenger bookings had slumped to 6,279 from Consett, and 4,122 from Blackhill. On 1 February 1954 the Blackhill to Newcastle via Lintz Green line closed, leaving Consett with an infrequent service of three trains to and from Newcastle on Mondays-to-Fridays and four on Saturdays. By summer 1950
the Sunday train had ceased to run. On 23 May 1955 passenger services between Blackhill and Ouston Junction were withdrawn and Consett station closed. Whilst the other stations on this line were soon demolished, including West Stanley and Annfield Plain in May-June 1965, Consett survived almost intact well into the 1970s. Goods facilities were retained until 2 Oct 1967 after which there was only public delivery siding provided.

The route through Consett was popular with enthusiasts who relished the sight (and sound) of steam locomotives battling against the gradient to haul iron-ore trains up to Consett, usually with the assistance of a banking engine. In the later days of steam, 9F 2-10-0 engines headed and banked the trains, with class 01 2-8-0s and Q7 0-8-0s occasionally deputising on banking duties. From November 1966 diesels took over all operations, but their struggle to reach Consett with their heavy load continued to attract attention. At Consett the steelworks had its own fleet of tank engines until the 1950s, later giving way to Hunslet 0-6-0 diesels; these operated as far as the sidings beside the station.


Consett steelworks - click to enlarge
By the 1970s Consett steelworks had become a remarkable example of geographical inertia: local mining of ore had long ceased, and coal mining was in terminal decline, yet steel production continued in a recently modernised plant, necessitating the long, uphill journeys of raw material and fuel. In September 1980, in the face of intense local opposition, steel-making came to an end, and almost 3,000 jobs were lost. Although the population of Consett was in decline, it was one of the largest towns in Great Britain without passenger rail access,
and local people believed that restoration of the train service could have a role in shoring up the area’s post-industrial economy. The line had been maintained to a high standard for the heavy mineral trains and was left in place to carry materials away from the steel site and rails from the extensive sidings. Calls to retain the line fell on deaf ears, and the last train, a special railtour organised by the Derwentside Rail Action Group, visited Consett on 17 March 1984. Rails were soon removed, but the trackbed is one of many in County Durham which, thanks to the vision and enterprise of the county council, is maintained as a footpath – the Consett & Sunderland Railway Path; it also forms part of the C2C (Coast-to-Coast) cycle route. However nothing remains of Consett station, or of the hundreds of acres of sidings and the steelworks upon which the town depended.

Sources:

Tickets from Michael Stewart, timetable, last day ticket and poster from John Bainbridge
Other web sites: Rallways 1960s - 1980s, includes photographs of the Consett steelworks and railway shortlyt before closure. Big John's Rail and Tram photos, includes a gallery of the last train to Consett.

Click here for other views around Consett Click here for freight movements around Consett


SLS/RCTS 5 day North East Railtour at Consett Station on 28th September 1963
P
hoto by Brian Johnson




1921 1:2500 OS map


Loaded train passing Consett station in May 1965.
P
hoto by Brian Johnson


Consett Station in September 1967
P
hoto by Nick Catford

Consett Station looking north west in 1971
P
hoto by Peter Howie

Consett Station in 1976
P
hoto by John Cameron

The last train into Consett was organised by the Derwent Rail Action Group running on 17th March 1984 from Newcastle. It stands at the site of the demolished Consett station on 17th March 1984, the station
was to the right of the train.
P
hoto by John Bainbridge

Consett Station site in March 1984 after closure of the steelworks
P
hoto by Roy Lambeth

Site of Consett Station in May 2006. The coal yards was to the left under new housing
P
hoto by Roy Lambeth