Steely resolve: Consett Iron Company

The Consett Iron Company was the largest steel manufacturer in the world.

Founded in 1840, by 1860 the Derwent Iron Works in County Durham was the largest in England. Nearly 4,000 men and boys were employed on a site of over 70 acres with eleven blast furnaces.

Despite its scale, the company was notoriously unprofitable. When the Northumberland and Durham District Bank went bust, the Derwent Iron Works owed the bank £1 million.

In 1864 the works were acquired by the newly-formed Consett Iron Company for £295,318. Capital was £400,000. The firm was controlled by John Henderson, and two Quakers, Joseph Whitwell Pease and David Dale. The company had 18 blast furnaces, only seven of which were in use.

In 1865 the company employed 4,000 to 5,000 men.

In 1869 William Jenkins (1825 – 1895), a Welshman, was appointed general manager, having previously managed the works of John Guest. Jenkins was largely credited with the turnaround of the Consett works.

A political Liberal, and a staunch churchgoer, Jenkins was a humane and kind man, and generally retained his workforce, even during slack trading periods. He had a keen commercial mind and was a strong judge of character.

45,038 tons of iron were produced in 1869. Company share capital amounted to £352,732.

By 1875 the company had the largest iron plate works in the world. In 1878 the company employed 5,000 people.

In 1880 the firm manufactured 1,600 tons of iron plate every week. By 1890, 132,085 tons of iron and steel were produced, and the company had share capital of £736,000.

In 1894 the company was the largest steel manufacturer in the world. The company was remarkably profitable, a testament to its strong management.

In 1922 the company had share capital of £3.5 million.

In 1940 the company established a steelworks at Jarrow, Tyneside.

The company’s seven collieries were nationalised in 1947.

In 1955 the company had an authorised capital of £19 million. 6,300 people were employed at the Consett and Jarrow sites.

In 1965 the company employed 7,337 people.

The company was nationalised in 1967 and became a part of British Steel.

The Consett steel works was closed in 1980 due to overcapacity in the industry. Almost 4,000 jobs were lost.

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