THE son of a blast furnaceman who died a hero has told how his father sacrificed his own life to save his workmates.

John Jeffrey pulled two men from their station after a deadly carbon monoxide leak at what was then Consett Iron Company.

But as he returned to save another colleague he was overcome by the noxious fumes and became one of the 11 men to die in the worst disaster in the 140-year history of the steelworks.

The alarm was raised at around 10pm on July 1, 1950, and news spread like wildfire around the district.

Loved ones waited anxiously at home to find out if their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers were safe.

The Northern Echo:

Ernest Jeffrey as a young man 

Mr Jeffrey’s son, Ernest, now 92, said: “It was a Saturday night and it was going around that there was a big disaster at The Company and my father was working the 10pm-6am shift.

“My brother was working there at the time and said: ‘I’d better go up lad and see what it is happening.

“He knew more about The Company than me so I stopped with my sister and stepmother, who were at home and were crying.

“I think he cycled up and saw my uncle who told him to go home.

“He had said: ‘See what is happening in the morning lad, but it does not look too good’.

“It would have been early the next morning when we found out.

“I had to go an identify my dad. I can always remember the mortuary.

“All of the bodies were there, tinged with green from the gas. I will never forget that as long as I live.”

The Northern Echo:

Ernest Jeffrey, now aged 92

As well as those who died, 34 fell unconscious and, of those, 28 were treated at nearby Shotley Bridge Hospital.

John Jeffrey, a father-of-three, was 46 and lived at Leadgate with his wife.

After his death he received a posthumous award from the Carnegie Hero Fund for the bravery he showed.

Memorial for the men who lost their lives at Consett steelworks 

Ernest Jeffrey, who is well known in the area as a shoemaker, said: “I didn’t know that he could have got out if he had not gone back in.

“We just heard that on the grapevine.

“There was a cabin where the gas escaped. My dad had went in and pulled someone out. He was a strong muscular man.

“He dragged one out and then went back for another one, and when he went in again he never came back out. It was the gas.

“It was very sad, but we are very proud of him. When I think back I reckon he must have pretty brave to do it.

“If he was here now he would not like that word.

“He would just say ‘you just help your fellow man don’t you’.”

The Northern Echo:

The award given to the family Consett hero John Jeffrey 

Mr Jeffrey is due to officially unveil the memorial to men who lost their lives at the steelworks this morning near the site where his father lost his life.

He added: “It is about time because young people around here just don’t know what happened.

“There should be some memory of the 11 men who died that day so I am pleased this is happening.”