My Dream for Consett

Ray Lonsdale’s statue of Tommy, at Seaham had a profound effect on me. Tommy, or using it’s real title of “One Minute Past Eleven” depicts a weary First World War soldier slumped and gazing ahead. 

Tommy represents how many troops felt when the war ended  – we had ‘won’, but at what cost?  Ray’s transformation of a lump of steel into such an emotive figure has made a long-lasting impression on me personally. As a former steelworker, I know how much skill is involved in creating such a figure. It has also led me to wonder why Consett, a town built on steel, does not have such a figurine? Why don’t we have a fitting symbol of the years of toil at ‘The Works’?

Commemorating Industrial Heritage

 ‘The Hollowed Ground’, is a new film about the history of the Durham coal mines.  It covers the very first pits up until The Miner’s Strikes, and the closure of all the Durham mines.  It’s an interesting film depicting how whole communities were destroyed with the closure of the mines.  Some have recovered, some have not. What struck me at the end of the film was how some small mining communities have commemorated their mining heritage with various sculptures.  Ray Lonsdale’s work features in quite a few of them.  Yet again, it made me think Why can’t Consett have something similar?

Community Engagement

For this project to succeed, I would need help, but was anyone else interested?  I posted on a couple of Consett-related groups on Facebook and contacted all Consett’s Councillors. The Councillors were incredibly positive and agreed to help where they could. The various groups on Facebook were also very encouraging, and several offers of help were made. Fortunately, Christine Thomas from the Building Self-Belief CIO offered her assistance.  She has campaigned before and has a lot of knowledge she was willing to share in relation to applying for grants and other ways to fundraise. As a charity, Building Self-Belief has been working on a Consett Heritage Project and they have an extensive knowledge of the history of the steelworks – and the impact the closure had – and still has – on the town.

Taking Action

I decided to take action – time for Consett to have a true representation of its industrial heritage – something to be proud of! I contacted Ray and asked how much money I would need to raise to buy a sculpture. ‘Shy Bairn’s get nowt’ – time to make my dream a reality! Much to my delight, Ray is extremely interested in creating a piece of work representing Consett Steelworkers. What a lovely guy, we chatted away and he explained the process of creating his work and how they are designed and constructed.

More than just a Sculpture

It quickly became obvious that there was more to this than just buying the sculpture.  Where is it going to be located?  Who is going to maintain it?  What is it going to look like?  How do we raise the money? In my own head I began to picture what this sculpture could look like.  I envisaged a man dressed with a helmet and goggles beside a vessel pouring molten steel. We shared lots of ideas – but then soon realized, the best person to talk to was Ray Lonsdale himself. Christine and I made an appointment to visit Ray at his workshop in Hetton.

The Two Red Rubber Band Workshop

Ray showed us around the workshop and we saw some of his current projects and we discussed ideas for what could be made for Consett. I showed Ray a photo of the Steelworker next to molten steel and he asked ‘Was he the only one who worked there?’  No – he wasn’t. Steel was produced by the contribution of thousands of people at Consett Steel Works.  Blast furnacemen, train drivers, bricklayers – there were so many trades and roles.  Also, the photo I showed Ray was of a steelworker wearing a mask and goggles. You couldn’t see what expression he had on his face, and as Ray said, with the need for PPE equipment, making a distinction between tradesmen is difficult.  Ray’s work is about emotion, and his advice is that historical figures work much better, because we get to see their expressions.

A Fabulous Example

Ray showed us the work he has done for the Sunderland shipyards.  They faced a similar issue to Consett, i.e. who is it that built the ship?  Ray’s solution is superb. A sculpture depicting two guys sitting on a bench looking along the river Wear in 1940s clothes, eating their bait.  Their expressions show them reminiscing about the past but hopeful about the future.

My Dream for Consett

Wouldn’t something similar be appropriate for Consett? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could work together as a community and raise the funds and get Ray to create a fabulous statue to represent the history and spirit of Consett Steel?

Who is with me? Will you help me to realise my dream for Consett?

By John Fox

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  1. I am almost sure I saw this in Jetton this morning, is that where you’ve made it? So strange that I saw it and then this has popped up lol. It is magnificent, I had a really good look at it!

  2. Tommy (11.01)is a fabulous piece of work and every time I pass it I can’t help but stop and ponder what it would have been like at 11.01 in November 1918.

  3. He also has a sculpture in Horden Park (Peterlee) which depicts a miner, the inscriptions are very poinient. Also one in Sunderland of a Vaux Dray and horse again poinient words

  4. Excellent quality of these different SERVICES MEN

    I’d like to thank you for these fine places of North East art I’m heading to Scarborough Bank Holiday weekend definitely calling into say Hello to Franky on the sea front 👌

  5. Fantastic work again. I love all of rays work, Tommy. Marra etc and the vaux dray at sunderland is amazing 👏


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