Water Water Everywhere and only Beer to Drink
In the early years of the Derwent Iron Company, the idyllic hamlet of Consett boomed into a buzzing industrial town. Homes where built on mass to house the eager new workmen and their families, but soon the town was sinking under the pressure. Water had become a valuable and scarce commodity. Beside the small well at the back of the Commercial Hotel, the nearest places to get fresh drinking water was over a mile in any direction. Washing both body, clothes and also the home was a luxury in these hard times. It was soon found that infants as young as 2-3 were drinking beer as the water supply was too contaminated for consumption. Something had to be done. So in December 1859, the same time as the Derwent Iron Works were transferred over to the Derwent & Consett Iron Company (Ltd), a company was called into existence, Consett Water Works and a special act of Parliament sort to enable the town to get a decent water supply.
It took almost 4 years to put all the necessary pieces into place, with lots of problems and opposition along the way, but on the morning of the 15 August 1863 the first sod was cut and pipe laid from the reservoir, which had been dug earlier, situated behind the Commercial Hotel (now The Braes). Flags flew from all the shops and establishments down Front Street and along Middle Street with the slogan “ Consett Water Works – The Poor Man’s Victory”. The band of the 18th Durham Rifles played and marched along Middle Street followed by the excited crowd cheering them on. Guns fired from the Brick Flats bringing even more people into the town from Blackhill. The day was celebrated to the full and at 3 o’clock speeches were given.
By November of the same year work was completed the company having effectively piped pure water to in excess of 22000 people throughout Consett, Blackhill, Leadgate and surrounding area’s. The Consett Water Works had already prove to be a massive success. The venture had cost £25,000 of which the shares had been sold at £5 each and all been purchased by the committee themselves. Although a major boon to the people of the area, the great need to the industry of water meant it was also a very successful and profitable venture for the committee themselves.
In 1878 a Fountain was erected by the grateful public of the area in dedication to the Originator of the Water Works scheme, John Gledstone. The Fountain was placed at the junction of Front Street and Middle Street. A magnificent looking monument to a well loved and respected man.
Over the next few decades the Consett Water Works flourished and grew with the town. Expanding with new Water Works throughout the area as well as bath houses and public washeries. By 1894 the Company had expanded so much that it now found itself on the borders of Weardale. So another act of Parliament was sort to expand even further and also, at the request of the shareholders of both Companies, combine with the Weardale and Shildon Waterworks Co.
It took 8 years for the Consett Water Bill to go through the House of Commons and the House of Lords, but in June 1902 the bill was passed allowing both the expansion and amalgamation. The new Weardale & Consett Water Works Co. were now able to raise another £360,000 to upgrade and expand their combined holdings. The company once again went from strength to strength.
However, some 18 years later Durham County Council along with all the Local authorities decided that the water of their area would be better ran by the local government. On 27th April 1920 a Bill was submitted to a Parliament select committee of the House of Lords, for a Durham Water Board to be appointed with the power to purchase the existing Water Companies within their area’s. The bill was past in July 1920 with only minimal opposition and the Weardale and Consett Water company and all its undertakings were bought out and effectively swallowed up.
The only visible reminder of the Consett Water Works was the Fountain. It stood in place on Front Street until it became a hazard due to the impact of the motor car at which time it was moved along to Aynsley Terrace, overlooking the Park. In the late 1960’s it was removed for the purpose of work being done in the area and was never replaced. It now stands, pride of place, in the main street of Beamish Open Air Museum.