The winter of 1866 came thick and fast, starting to set in the mid November with icy winds and snow flurries. The hardy people of the area got on with their daily lives, keeping warm and secure in the reasonably newly constructed houses supplied by the Consett Iron Company Ltd(CIC Ltd) and their predecessors. It had been 2 years since they had stepped up and purchased the failing Iron Works, which had been in receivership since 1857. Initially a number of shareholders had formed the Derwent & Consett Iron Company but unfortunately, they simply couldn’t complete the purchase. Some two years later saw the works back up for sale and the formation of the CIC Ltd with a capital of £40,000 in £10 shares stepped up and took the reigns. They officially launched the Company in 1864 and the rest is history. 1866 had been an important year in Consett’s history, the CIC Ltd purchased the Shotley Bridge Iron Works (comprising 3 plate mills and 1 puddling mill) along with the old Tin Mill and Blackhill Colliery from J B Richardson and Company. This had made Consett Iron Company the biggest of its kind in the Country. It was also they year that Consett Christ Church was opened.

February 1978 Zenit SLR Camera

However, the CIC and the area was to see one of the worst winters on record which would bring the works to a close. From the 31 December, hoar frosts and steadily heavier snowfall were being reported daily with only a few hours break between. This lasted for 23 days without a break, bringing the area to a standstill. The wind was harsh throughout causing drifting across roads and the train tracks cutting off access to the area. Men came out daily to try and clear what they could but to no avail. The furnaces of the works fell silent only the sounds of the storms could be heard. An eerie reminder of the power of nature on this hill we call home. Carts and wagons were abandoned in the snow. Travelling of any kind become hard work and at times impossible. The roads and hedgerows at Pontop and High Stables were completely covered in drifts well over 12 feet.

In the final days of January gangs of steel men and miners had been requested by the CIC to help clear roads and train tracks to try and get things running again, the snow had stopped a few days earlier but its aftermath was still quite apparent. They worked against the freezing chill and high winds day after day. By the 27th January, the trains which should have been arriving at Carr House Station at 6am were arriving nearer 4pm in the afternoon. Not the best but at least some success was had. However, on 29th January, the winds changed round to a South-Westerly direction bringing with it a major thaw. After a full month of being cut off from the outside things started to return to normal.

The papers of the day recorded the events and the older generations at that time spoke of how that was the weather they had experienced in their winters. Comments which take me back to the winter of 1979 when I was a young child, diving off roofs into snow drifts, making igloo’s and for me most importantly, the days off school. We may all be separated over time but the same experiences have, it seems, been felt by each generation.


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