2012 BAC Cataloguing Grant Winner

The Business Archives Council is delighted to announce the winning applicant of the BAC cataloguing grant for business archives for 2012. Launched in April 2010, the grant is in support of the National Strategy for Business Archives. The Council intends to make the grant available annually during strategy implementation, 2010-2015.

Again, an impressive set of applications were received by the June deadline, representing a variety of business collections and localities in the United Kingdom. The judging panel on behalf of the Council has awarded the grant to Durham County Record Office for the cataloguing of archives of Consett Iron Company and its subsidiary companies.

Consett Iron Company was founded in 1840 as Derwent Iron Company, registering as The Consett Iron Company Ltd in 1864. The town of Consett came into existence because of the Consett Iron Company's decision, in 1840, to locate there, in close proximity to the Durham coalfield and local iron ore.  It became one of the world's leading iron and steel making towns, and the name Consett became synonymous with iron and steel, making the steel for Blackpool Tower, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and Britain’s most famous nuclear submarines. For over a hundred years the company was virtually the town's sole employer, with over 6000 employees (an additional 10,000 were employed in the company's collieries), the town was wholly dependent on the industry. The works demolition on its closure in 1980 left a huge hole in the town centre, and the community faced massive unemployment. The closure of the Corus steelworks on Teesside in 2010 brought to an end iron and steelmaking in the region, an industry going back to Roman times.

The collection has great potential for academic and socio-historical research.  It consists of approximately 150 volumes, 4 boxes and 4 rolls of plans, dating from c1850s-1950s. The collection includes some of the core business records for Consett and subsidiaries (Consett Spanish Ore Company, Orconera Iron Ore Company, Dorman, Long and Company, New Brancepeth Coal Company, New Jarrow Steel Company, Shotley Bridge Iron Company, Trimdon Coal Company, and Wingate Coal Company), including board minutes and shareholder information - the backbone of business history. More unusually, the collection includes steelworks and blast furnace production documentation (key products include iron rails and steel angles for shipbuilding); colliery records (from the company's coal mining interests); pension records (of particular value since there is now no company to turn to); and registers of locomotives/locomotive cranes (a unique source so invaluable to industrial railway historians). 

The judging panel recognised the importance of the collection, hugely so locally but including a national and international element through its subsidiaries and products, and Durham County Record Office included good evidence of a wide range of interest in the collection. The project plan was also clearly outlined: its aim to catalogue a portion of the entire holdings of Consett records and create collection level descriptions for the remaining deposits to draw them together was considered realistic and a good use of resources. The potential benefits of the project were particularly impressive, including opportunities for adult volunteering and learning; inclusion in a community arts and heritage festival to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the steelworks’ closure; the creation of learning resources in partnership with local schools; input into a regional education initiative focusing on Consett’s industrial past (‘Challenging History’); inclusion in the Record Office Learning Revolution project ‘Mining Durham’s Hidden Depths’ (if a grant to expand the project is successful); collaboration with the re-opened Consett heritage centre (2010); and linking the catalogue to the Teesside Archives British Steel Archive Project catalogue.

Read the report of the project completion.