Friday, 30 December 2011

The Yearby Hoard (NZ600210)

In 1954, the sleepy hamlet of Yearby, a little to the south of Redcar, hit the headlines when the remains of two ceramic vessels were unearthed during ploughing. The pottery was nothing more than rather coarse seventeenth century tableware, but what was contained within caused a bit of a stir: a total of 1,197 silver coins dating from 1551-1697.

The find was quickly declared as ‘Treasure Trove’ and packed off to the British Museum – though I understand the hoard is now held by the Dorman Museum in Middlesbrough.  The question is: what was it doing under a farmer’s field in Cleveland?

The general consensus seems to be that it was an illegally acquired ‘stash’ of some kind – possibly connected to the activities surrounding a former landmark thereabouts. For a large and ancient pigeon cote once adorned the hamlet*, and this would have been used to breed and house birds for the sport of shooting. The theory goes that at one such gathering of the local gentry, some local thief may have made off with a ‘gambling pot’, hid it … then lost it!

More amusing Yearby yarns can be perused here (upon part of which the above article was based).

* I understand this building has now been demolished – can anyone confirm this? Or does it still exist? Is the dovecote shown here a modern incarnation?

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The UK’s Only ‘Straight Mile’ (NZ605242)

Horseracing in Redcar goes back a good deal further than the relatively short life-span of its current racecourse. Races took place on Redcar Beach at least as early as the beginning of the 1700s – and continued to be held there until the 1870s, when new Jockey Club rules meant that ‘public entrance fees’ were to be introduced. This necessitated the construction of the current affair near the town centre, which was opened in 1872.

The new racecourse was built to comply strictly with the ‘new regulations’: fences for hurdles, a parade ring, a proper drainage system, etc. In 1875, a permanent Grandstand and Steward’s Stand were added, reportedly described as ‘second to none in the kingdom’. A second stand and stables were built in 1877, by which time we have early mention of the lauded ‘Straight Mile’ in a complimentary press report.

During WWI and WWII the young course was largely abused by the military (with good reason, you might say), and left in a sad state come 1946. Thanks largely to Major Leslie Petch (Manager from 1946 to 1971) and his dedicated team, Redcar’s premier sporting venue was thereafter revitalised with a series of improvement schemes and innovations. Astonishingly, it was the first course in the country to have CCTV, a timing clock and furlong posts. The current ‘new’ Grandstand was added in 1964.

The modern-day course is an elongated oval of just over 1mile 4furlongs, with tight bends. There is also a 3furlong ‘chute’ that joins the track where the southern-most bend meets the straight, providing a 1mile straight course, supposedly the only 'Straight Mile' in the UK that is both straight and level.

Get into genealogy...

Friday, 23 December 2011

Redcar Town Clock (NZ602252)

Question: When does a Coronation Clock become a Memorial Clock?  Answer: When it’s in Redcar!  Let me explain…

During the future Edward VII’s long wait for the British throne, he became something of a regular at the bracing North-East seaside resorts that are Redcar and Coatham.  So much so, in fact, that when he was due to finally succeed his mother as monarch in 1901, the local dignitaries thought it a splendid idea to raise a special Clock Tower in his honour – so they set about collecting donations.

Redcar and Coatham had recently amalgamated into a single authority, so it was thought appropriate to site the new structure on the old boundary between the two.  Anyway, he can’t have been that popular, as the appeal fell largely on deaf ears.  £300 was raised – some of it by selling ‘penny bricks’ – but it wasn’t considered enough to complete the project, so the venture was shelved.

Come 1910 and the death of the said monarch, they had another whip-round and this time the locals dug a little deeper.  The erection was finally built and dedicated as a, erm, Memorial Clock Tower.  Architect: William Duncan.  Builder: John Dobson.  Clock by Robert Richardson.  Unveiled 29th January 1913.

Better late than never.

The image is from a 1914 postcard.  The clock was restored to working order in 2006.

My History

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Jane Gardam (c.NZ593251)

Jane Gardam is one of the most famous natives of Coatham, having been born in the town on 11th July 1928 – and still very much alive as I write. Gardam is known for her works of both children’s and adult fiction, and also pops up occasionally in The Spectator and The Telegraph as well as penning works for radio.

She was born as Jean Mary Pearson and educated at Saltburn High School for Girls and, subsequently, at the University of London where she read English. In 1951, she worked as a librarian, travelling between hospitals; then took up editorial posts at, firstly, Weldon Ladies Journal (1952) and Time and Tide (1952-4). After her marriage to David Gardam in 1954, she dedicated her time almost exclusively to raising her three children, enduring lengthy and often difficult absences by her husband who was working abroad. She didn’t take up writing in earnest until the late 1960s

From 1971, the published works began to appear – for both children and adults, as well as short stories. Her first adult novel was God on the Rocks in 1978, which enjoyed great critical acclaim. She won two Whitbread Awards (The Hollow Land and The Queen of the Tambourine, in 1981 and 1991, respectively), together with a host of other honours and nominations (including a Booker Prize shortlisting for God on the Rocks). She was appointed an OBE in 2009, and currently lives between her homes in the south-east and Yorkshire.

Fittingly, her one non-fiction work is the appropriately-named The Iron Coast (1994), recalling the days of her youth in and around Coatham.

In case you don’t know what she looks like, try here – though she’s a good deal older now.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Sir William Turner (NZ593216)

Everyone who has the slightest interest in the history of Cleveland is well aware of the Sir William Turner Almshouses, Kirkleatham. But who exactly was this most generous of men?

William was born in Guisborough, a little to the south of Kirkleatham, in 1615, to an already well-to-do family.  In the early 1620s, his father bought the Kirkleatham estate and began developing the site as the family home. But William was more than capable of making pots of money of his own, proving this following his move to London as a young man where he excelled in the fabrics wholesaling business.

After a long and successful career, during which time he amassed a huge fortune, he was knighted by King Charles II in recognition of his public works – and even found himself serving as Lord Mayor of London in the late 1660s, shortly after the infamous fire, during which time he worked closely with the likes of Christopher Wren in the rebuilding of the capital.

In the mid-1670s, Sir William, perhaps mindful that he had never married nor had children, surrendered most of his wealth to build the now famous almshouses in Kirkleatham – an institution founded in 1676 as the Sir William Turner Hospital. He determined that the hospital be established for the care of 40 people: ten old men, ten old women, ten boys and ten girls.

After his death in 1692 aged 77, control of the almshouses passed first to his nephew, then his great-nephew, Cholmley Turner. The great man’s will also made provision for the founding of a Free School in the village – a task completed by Cholmley in 1709, and which survives today as Kirkleatham Old Hall Museum.

Interested in Family History? Try this lot...

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Dormanstown ‘New Town’ (NZ584238)

‘New Towns’ are often thought of as a twentieth century phenomena, but they have been a constant feature of the evolving British landscape – especially since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.  Teesside is strewn with such Victorian creations, though several did not see light of day until later.

Dormanstown wasn’t even conceived of until the rush of industrial activity brought on by World War I. Dorman Long, the company made famous by its later construction of both the Tyne and Sydney Harbour bridges, was in urgent need of extra workers at the time, and decided to built a new settlement on its own doorstep at the very height of international hostilities.  The work began in 1917, and by 1920 was pretty much finished.  The marshy site went from a single building (Westfield House) to 300+ dwellings, as architects Adshead, Ramsey and Abercrombie literally ‘went to town’ on their fancy ‘garden village’ plans.

Most of the houses were built with steel frames and clad with concrete, but were modestly elegant affairs in the Georgian style – though most (all?) have now been demolished.  The town was added to further in the following decades, including the construction of what is believed to be England’s first purpose-built homes for senior citizens.

The town was, of course, named after Sir Arthur Dorman, the joint-founder of the Dorman Long company.

[The above image is taken from the ‘Historyof Dormanstown’ website – at which MUCH further information is available (click through to the extra pages, too)]

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Building of Grangetown, 1881-82 (NZ547210)

The original ‘eight streets’ of the settlement of Grangetown were built during the early 1880s. Named Bessemer, Vaughan, Stapylton, Laing, Holden, Wood, Vickers and Cheetham (plus the main thoroughfare of Whitworth Road), the Victorian layout has now all but disappeared.  Here is the almost complete transcription of a contemporary ‘interview’ of the time (full text at

From The Daily Exchange, 1st November 1882

Building a New Town

On Monday afternoon last our reporter had an interview with one of the firm who have contracted to build the new town of Grangetown, a place which for rapid growth is probably without equal. Perhaps it would be more interesting to give the result of the visit in American fashion. Having had a walk round the place we adjourned to what was termed the office, but which would have been better named had it been called a wholesale ironmongery store, the following dialogue took place: 

When you started this town were there any buildings? 
Yes; 23 cottages. 

These were of the same kind as those you are now building? 
Yes; these were our pattern to go by, but we improved on them. 

How many acres of land did you purchase? 
We purchased about 22 or 23 acres, which does not include the brickyard. 

What was the immediate reason for building this place; was it for the men employed in the steel works of Messrs Bolckow, Vaughan, and Co.? 

Where had the people come from? 
They came from Middlesbrough, North Ormesby, Lackenby, Normanby, and South Bank district. 

When you have completed your undertaking how many streets will there be? 
Well, there are only eight streets, or 16 half streets, with a main street running through the centre. 

Containing how many houses? 
Seven hundred and sixty-eight houses, exclusive of the shops. 

When you commenced you were aware that it would be one of the largest building undertakings in England. And you are going to accommodate how many? 
Between 5,000 and 6,000 people. 

You commenced the building about when? 
On the 1st of April, 1881. The first houses we built in Vaughan-street.

I did not observe any horses or carts? 

No; a remarkable feature in this large concern is that we have not a single horse or cart; lines of rails being laid in the streets, everything is brought to the door by the steam engine. 

Have you any gas? 

No; nor any arrangement been made for the place to be supplied with gas. 

(I have since learnt that the Normanby and Eston Gas Company, has received an order from the Eston Watch and Lighting Committee to supply Grangetown with gas, it being in their district)

Where do you get your water from? 
That is supplied by the Stockton and Middlesbrough Water Company. 

I notice you have raised the cottages above the street. 
Yes we put a two-foot foundation in, which we fill up with ashes and then they raise the floors about another foot from the street. 
What institutions have you? 
We have none; neither a chapel nor a church, although the Primitives and Wesleyans are holding services in a cottage. There wants to be a Church, Primitive chapel, Wesleyan Chapel and a Roman Catholic Chapel. 

At present you might call it a godless town then? 
Yes, for we have no place of worship, reading room or school. The School Board however have a site at the south side for which plans have been prepared and are at present in London awaiting the approval of the Local Government Board. 

You have no railway station? 
No; but we anticipate having a station this side of the steelworks, to be called Grangetown. 

There is no public house, I think? 
No, but there will be one shortly. 

Yet men, they can get drink, and are often seen reeling about the place. 
A great amount of shebeening takes place. 

How do they spend their Sunday? 
By drinking and lounging about. The children are allowed to do as they would any other day. Of course there are exceptions. 

How many policemen have you? 
We have three; two have been here about three months, and one has just come; but this is not sufficient. 

About how many bricks have you made here yourselves since you came? 
Five millions at our brickyard in addition to those we have had to buy. We have got our ironmongery wholesale, the woodwork we have got from the lessees of the Cargo Fleet Timber Yard. 

Of what nationality are the inhabitants? 
They are principally Irish, but there are a great number of English and Welsh. Some of the inhabitants have gardens in which they devote their leisure time, others keep pigs, while one man, more given to saving than his fellow-workmen, has rented a small piece of land, and bought a couple of cows. I might say that in the original plan there is a church shown, but the land has not yet been allotted. 

The access to the place is not good? 
No; but they are making some plans for a sub-way, and another for a bridge. I do not know which will be adopted, but one of them is sure to be adopted. 

What kind of drainage have you? 
The place is well drained, the main drain emptying into the Tees. The drainage cost £2,000. We have a Post-office and a money-order office but no telegraphic communication. 

This was the end of the conversation. If any of our readers would like to know anything further, we would advise them to visit this wonderful place for themselves. 

As well as the complete ‘interview’ at, there is much else to be found concerning the town via the link.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

William Short VC (NZ555180 & NZ547210)

William Henry Short was born in Eston, Middlesbrough, on 4th February 1885, to his (at the time unmarried) parents, James Short and Annie Stephenson.  He spent his early days at 11 William Street with his eight siblings.  In 1900, the family moved to nearby 35 Vaughan Street, Grangetown, and Will became a fairly well-known local footballer, with spells at Grangetown Albion, Saltburn and Lazenby United.

From the age of 16 until the start of the First World War he worked as a craneman at Bolckow, Vaughan & Co. Steelworks in Eston.  At the outbreak of hostilities, he joined the Green Howards and travelled to France in August 1915. 

During the long, drawn-out affair that was the Battle of the Somme (July-Nov 1916), Short saw action at an early stage around Contalmaison on 5th and 10th July.  Then on 6th August, at Munster Alley near Pozieres, he conducted himself with such bravery that he was to be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. As the London Gazette officially declared:

For most conspicuous bravery. He was foremost in the attack, bombing the enemy with great gallantry, when he was severely wounded in the foot. He was urged to go back, but refused and continued to throw bombs. Later his leg was shattered by a shell, and he was unable to stand, so he lay in the trench adjusting detonators and straightening the pins of bombs for his comrades. He died before he could be carried out of the trench. For the last eleven months he had always volunteered for dangerous enterprises, and has always set a magnificent example of bravery and devotion to duty.

It seems that he lay in the trench for some time, dying the next day (7th) before he could be moved.  He was buried at Contalmaison Chateaux Cemetery, though his name is recorded on memorials in both Eston and Grangetown.  The VC itself can be seen in the Green Howards Museum in Richmond, Yorkshire.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Eston’s ‘Bold Venture’ (c.NZ562179)

In the spring of 1850, the fledgeling Cleveland ironmaking industry was floundering.  Established as recently as 1840 by those great speculators Henry Bolckow and John Vaughan, the first iron foundry at Middlesbrough was not shaping up as planned.  Despite the construction, in 1846, of smelting works to aid the operation at Witton Park, 20 miles to the west, the business was struggling to keep its head above water.  Ore quality and quantity, as well as transportation costs, were becoming unmanageable.

In 1847, the ‘Cleveland Main Seam’ of iron ore had been discovered at Skinningrove, and Bolckow and Vaughan soon began shipping it in – but the solution was not ideal.  Then, sensationally, in 1850, Vaughan and his mining engineer, John Marley, fell upon new deposits of iron ore in the Eston Hills.  It was the defining moment in the history of Cleveland, and the point at which Middlesbrough’s looming financial disaster was averted.

In August 1850 – within weeks of the discovery – the first trial quarry was dug in the heights above Eston, and named ‘Bold Venture’ by it’s chief engineers.  By the end of the year, 4,000 tons of ore had been extracted, smelted at Witton Park, and the iron finished and rolled out at the Middlesbrough foundry – all making full use of the new railway network.

On 6th January 1851, the Eston Mine and its railway branch line were formally opened amid great pomp and ceremony – and production began to boom.  By the mid-1850s, Eston had its own blast furnaces…

And the rest, as they say, is, er, history.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Cargo Fleet (NZ517207)

The Teesside conurbation is famous for its extraordinary Victorian growth, but that is not to say there was nothing in the vicinity before the Industrial Revolution.  One of many modest settlements along the course of the old river in the days before the masses arrived was Cargo Fleet, a name which can still be found amidst Middlesbrough’s surburbia.

It sat (and indeed still does) on the outside bend of the River Tees little more than a mile to the east of the present-day Middlesbrough Railway Station.  Historical sources place its habitable history back at least as far at medieval times, when it was a little fishing village known as Kaldecotes (a name which is Anglo-Saxon for ‘the cold-shelter cottages’) located where the Marton and Ormesby Becks joined the Tees.

In time, its name became corrupted to ‘Cawker’, ‘Caudgatefleet’, and then ‘Cargo Fleet’ – or so the story goes.  Though it seems more likely that the ‘Cargo’ element came from settlement’s role as an off-loading point for large vessels during the 18th and 19th centuries, when cargo would be transferred to smaller boats for onward journey.  Additionally, two-thirds of Middlesbrough’s exports at one time passed through its busy little harbour.  Old maps show that it was at this time also know as Cleveland Port – indeed both names are shown on the 1856 OS map.  ‘Fleet’, in case you’re wondering, comes from the Anglo-Saxon fleot, meaning ‘stream’.

As industry saturated the area, Cargo Fleet lost its sense of isolation and identity.  As the years passed it came to be known, unofficially, as ‘Claggy Foot’, presumably on account of its muddy expanses. 

That last bit is just a guess.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Well, Well, Well (NZ515159)

In the churchyard of Marton St.Cuthbert’s, near Middlesbrough, sits a headstone of which has carved upon it the words “Remember Death” and three coffins each with the initials of the three robbers* who lie there.

The headstone was erected in memory of Robert Armstrong (28), John Ingledew (39) and Joseph Fenison (28) who lost their lives on 11th October 1812.  The three men, it is said, had stolen some meat from the butcher’s shop but, as they were taking it away, they were disturbed, so threw it down the well in the yard at the rear of the shop.  They later returned to reclaim their quarry, and one of the men went down the well.  When he did not return the second went down to see what had happened to him.  When he did not return the third man went down – all three were suffocated by the ‘carbonic acid gas’ at the bottom of the well.

The inscription on the headstone finishes with the warning that anyone contemplating entering wells should first see whether a candle burns and, if it does all the way to the bottom, they can go down – but if the candle goes out they should stay out.

The burial entry dated 13th October 1812 records that Robert Armstrong, Joiner; Jo.Ingledew, blacksmith; and Joseph Fenison, labourer, were suffocated in a dry well behind the Rudds Arms by foul air.  It is recorded as an accident.

* It has since been pointed out to me by Christine McQueen, a descendant of Ingledew (first name JAMES, not John), that according to her research the three men were not robbers but merely three honest men trying to recover goods which had been lost down the well in question. One source (a newspaper report of 1st December 1812) makes no mention of them being criminals. Like the bad historian I am, I have carelessly mislaid my own source for the story!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Acklam Hall (NZ487170)

Acklam Hall, famously the only Grade I-listed building in Middlesbrough, dates from around 1680, having been built by Sir William Hustler on land owned by the family since the 1630s.

Acklam has a distinguished history, the Domesday Book recording the existence of a King’s manor there in 1086. The de Boynton family seem to have had early rights of ownership thereabouts – indeed it was they who sold the land upon which the hall would be built to the Hustlers on the eve of the Civil War. Construction is believed to have been completed by 1683 – though a third level was added in 1845. It was – and still is – blessed with highly ornamental interiors.

The Hustlers retained ownership from 1637 until 1928 when it was sold to Middlesbrough Corporation for £11,500.  In 1935 it was reincarnated as Acklam Hall School, and afterwards lost most of its ornamental gardens as the institution expanded into Acklam Hall Grammar School in the 1950s – becoming Acklam High School in 1968.  Various other name changes followed, until it morphed into Middlesbrough College in 1995.

With upkeep costs soaring, the hall’s future is in some doubt. As of 2011, Middlesbrough Council/College seem set to sell the structure to developers for multi-purpose usage.

[the above picture dates from c.1913]

Friday, 18 November 2011

Willie Hornung (NZ504188)

Ernest William Hornung was born at what is now 404 Marton Road, Middlesbrough, on 7th June 1866 – a spot more famously known as Erdely Villa, which was for many years the Convent of the Holy Rood. Hornung is best known as the creator of the Raffles series of novels about the gentleman thief of Victorian London.

Hornung was the youngest of eight children born to wealthy Hungarian coal and timber merchant, John Peter Hornung (‘Erdely’ is the Hungarian name for Transylvania). Assured of a good education, he soon found himself packed off to Uppingham School in Rutland. In 1883, he was despatched to Australia on account of his asthma, where he worked as a tutor for a little over two years – a period of his life which had a major impact on his future writings.

Returning to England in 1886, he worked as a journalist for many years, and married Constance Aimée Monica Doyle, the sister of his friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in 1893. Raffles first appeared in Cassell’s Magazine in 1898, and during the next ten years or so the character featured in 26 short stories and novels – and a play – bringing him considerable fame. Astonishingly, as early as 1905 the character featured in a 15-minute film.

His only child, Arthur Oscar, died in action during the First World War, and he himself visited the trenches – an experience which influenced of his later work. He died in France in 1921, aged 54.

Hornung was a keen amateur cricketer, and was once described as “a man of large and generous nature, a delightful companion and conversationalist”. The model for Raffles was supposedly one George Ives, a Cambridge-educated criminologist and talented cricketer (and gay rights campaigner).

At the risk of infringing copyright, I shall merely point you to a picture of the man himself, which may be glimpsed here. My thanks to Chris Twigg of the excellent 'Hidden Teesside' website for permission to use the image of Hornung's birthplace.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Middlesbrough’s Trophy Cannon (NZ492192)

In the aftermath of the Crimean War of 1853-56 various items of plunder found their way to many points across the UK.  One such piece was a Russian cannon, brought to the young industrial town on board the Advance in 1858.

No one knew quite what to do with it, and it was passed from pillar to post for several years, until Albert Park was laid out in the 1860s – and the cannon placed in a spot overlooking a lake which came to bear its name in around 1866.  It was fired in February of that year to signal the planting of the park’s first trees.  And there it stayed for a very long time.

However, immediately after World War II, the town corporation took the decision to fill in Cannon Lake due to ongoing drainage problems, and the gun was placed into cold storage in 1947 – but somehow managed to find itself dumped in a wood in Stewart Park, where it languished for almost two decades.

In the mid-60s, the Evening Gazette publicised its plight, and it was rescued and given to the local Territorial Army unit, who set it on a plinth outside their Drill Hall on the Middlesbrough-Stockton road.  But by the late ‘70s it was back in the hands of the museums’ service – and in 1978 was placed in an appropriate spot near The Dorman Memorial Museum, near to the town’s Cenotaph.

Then, in 2001, the gun was relocated – back to Albert Park, where it remains today.

My thanks to Chris Twigg of the ever-informative 'Hidden Teesside' website for permission to use the above image. You will also find more information and pics here.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Alice Schofield Coates (c.NZ495200)

One of Middlesbrough’s most prominent political figures of the 20th century was Alice Schofield. Activist, suffragette and councillor, she was born in the town in 1881, and died, after a full and worthy life, as recently as 1975.

Her early days were inauspicious, to say the least.  With three elder brothers, her mother felt unable to cope, and dispatched her daughter to Manchester to live with an uncle and aunt.  It would be the making of her, as she moved confidently through childhood and into a career as a teacher by the turn of the century.  Influenced by her colleague, Teresa Billington, she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1904 – though broke away from the same in 1907 to help form the Women’s Freedom League after disagreeing with the way in which the Pankhursts were running the WSPU.

By 1909, she was back in Middlesbrough, and still campaigning for Women’s Rights – suffering a short spell in prison for her troubles.  In 1910, she married local merchant Charles Coates, not long after he had rescued her from attack at an open-air meeting in Guisborough.  With her financial future seemingly secured, she and her three children enjoyed a comfortable home life, and continued campaigning for both the WFL and social reform in general up and down the country (and even abroad). 

In 1924, her husband lost much of his money, though they were able to maintain a reasonable standard of living (for a time they ran a boarding house).  Alice was a paid organiser for several representative bodies in her time, and a long-time member of the fledgling Labour Party – as well as becoming a JP.  She also became Middlesbrough’s first female councillor in 1919, serving until 1926.

Alice campaigned on several fronts thereafter.  And despite being widowed in 1939, she carried on in public life until 1958 – dying in Middlesbrough in 1975, aged 93.  By all accounts (including those of her children), she was a stern and impressive-looking woman, who got things done!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

An Infant Hercules (c.NZ494210)

Yes, “Middlesbrough in 1832”.  To the uninitiated, it seems incredible.  The former medieval village had shrunk to little more than a farmstead by the turn of the nineteenth century, but would soon see its population boom beyond belief in the ensuing decades…

Yarm was, Stockton is, Middlesbrough will be.
[Old Teesside proverb, believed to have been uttered by industrialist Joseph Pease in the 1830s]

Population of Middlesbrough:
1801:   25
1829:   40
1831:   131
1841:   5,500
1851:   7,600
1861:   19,000
1871:   40,000
1881:   58,000
1891:   75,000
1901:   90,000
1932:   139,000
Present:  c.140,000

A growth rate believed to be unprecedented in Victorian England.

This remarkable place, the youngest child of England's enterprise, is an infant, but if an infant, an infant Hercules.
[William Gladstone, 1862]

Friday, 4 November 2011

The Transporter Bridge (NZ500214)

The more modern a landmark the more likely it is to be disliked, it seems, by those who know it.  With the passage of time, and as feelings of familiarity grow, often such prejudices disappear as an ageing creation becomes assimilated into the local psyche.  It may even become a loved and protected treasure.  And so it is with the Transporter Bridge, Middlesbrough, as it moves beyond its centenary and begins to enjoy a new-found place in the hearts of Teessiders.

Built in 1911 to meet the growing demand for improved communications across the Tees, the famous old erection epitomises the town’s famed rapid Victorian growth – population of 131 in 1831 to in excess of 91,000 in 1901.  A ferry had previously laboured under the increasing strain and, though the idea of constructing a bridge was mooted as long ago as 1858, progress was slow.  Alderman McLauchlan advocated the idea strongly in 1901, and eventually the notion permeated Council circles until being properly adopted in 1906.  An Act of Parliament was thus obtained in 1907 and years of preparation followed culminating, in 1909, in the appointment of the Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company of Darlington as designers/engineers, with Sir William Arrol & Co. of Glasgow named as contractors.

It was Alderman McLauchlan himself and the then mayor, Colonel Poole, who laid the two foundation stones on the south bank on 3rd August 1910.  Little more than a year later the bridge was complete, and HRH Prince Arthur of Connaught performed the opening ceremony on 17th October 1911 with a host of other dignitaries in attendance.

The ‘Tranny’, as it came to be known, is a curious affair.  One of only sixteen such bridges built worldwide (and most likely to be the last survivor), it works by the simple principle of rolling a suspended ‘car’ hung from overhead cables from one bank to the other.  The journey takes some 2½ minutes, and around 600 persons (or the equivalent weight in vehicles) may be carried at once.  The original toll of 1d per passenger and 6d per car remained in force until as recently as 1967 when, in fact, such items as carts, oxen, sheep, cows and goats were still listed among the tariff rates!

Not long after the threat of demolition was averted, Martin Phillips wrote in 1992 that the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge “is a focal point of local pride and a symbol of achievement and hope.  As I write during a recession it is difficult to see how anybody would wish to destroy such a symbol” – surely the height of praise for any landmark, anywhere in the world.

Facts & figures:  
Total cost: £84,000;
Total length: 850ft;
Span between towers: 570ft;
Highest part of bridge from high water mark: 225ft;
Concrete in foundations: 10,000 cubic ft;
Steel in bridge: 2,600 tons.

[this article was taken from Aspects of North-East History, Volume 1, by Michael Southwick –available from here in both hard copy format and as an e-book]

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Billingham’s 'Brave New World' (c.NZ470215)

In the late 1920s, author Aldous Huxley was looking for ideas for his new novel.  Inspired by the utopian works of H.G.Wells, he was thinking about something similar, yet different.  In his quest for an alternative angle, he paid a visit to the banks of the Tees and the much talked about industrial wonder of the day – namely, the chemical works of Brunner Mond at Billingham.

Until the First World War, Billingham had been chugging quietly along on the coat-tails of the Industrial Revolution, with its many small-scale industries and its modestly low-profile.  Demand for raw materials for explosives during WWI, however, led to the construction of a new plant in the town dedicated to the production of synthetic ammonia.  Several hundred acres at Grange Farm were just what the planners were looking for, and construction began in 1917.

However, the war ended before the plant was finished, and the site was taken over by Brunner Mond in 1920.  Synthetic ammonia was still produced, but was instead directed into the manufacture of fertilisers.  In 1926, the company merged with other firms leading to the birth of Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd (ICI) – after which the complex boomed.

In walked Mr Huxley and he was transfixed.  Being almost brand new, it was on the cutting edge of industrial technology, and the author is known to have taken copious notes of the equipment and processes he saw.  The introduction to one of the more recent editions of his resultant novel, Brave New World, that great dystopian vision of the future, states that the Billingham visit was his inspiration. 

As if evidence is needed, Mustapha Mond, a character in the book (and Resident World Controller of Western Europe, no less), takes his surname from Sir Alfred Mond, one of the founders of Brunner Mond/ICI.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Hospital of God (NZ491275)

Copyright of Peter Robinson Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

The modestly named ‘Hospital of God’ in Greatham village a little to the south of Hartlepool has origins stretching back many a century.  It was founded in 1273 by Robert de Stichell, the then Bishop of Durham, as a refuge for the poor and elderly. 

However, by the 16th century it was being used more as a “house of entertainment for gentlemen”, and, though it was ‘reformed’ in 1610, it eventually fell into a state of considerable disrepair by 1724.  It seems to have then revived briefly – including a move to allow women access to the facilities from 1761 – before declining again by the end of the 18th century.

At the turn of the 19th century the site was cleared and the present structure built during 1803-04.  It is likely that the original buildings occupied the lawned area in front of the present, and rather pleasant, affair – though no traces remain.  For the last two centuries it seems to have been in continuous use and added to from time to time.

The institution still cares for the infirm today, with 63 almshouses maintained on the site and around the village.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

‘Seaton Carew’ (NZ525296)

Always considered something of an odd title for a town, the name ‘Seaton Carew’ has puzzled historians and students of place-name meanings for decades.  And I’m not at all sure that we’re all yet agreed on the definitive answer.

There can be no doubt about the first two syllables.  ‘Sea-ton’ is from the Old English sae-tun, meaning ‘sea settlement’.  The ‘Carew’ element undoubtedly comes from a personal name – an early surname – which most seem to agree on as having come from one Petrus Carou, who held land in the vicinity in 1189.  So we have “the settlement by the sea belonging to Peter Carou.”  Sorted?  Not quite.

The thing is: where does ‘Carou’ come from?  And the jury is still out on this one.  Search far and wide on the Web and across several trusty tomes of reference, and you will get no further than either Norman French or Welsh or even Cornish.  Peter Carou’s nationality (or, perhaps, that of his ancestors) cannot, it seems, be pinned down, and experts old and new seem divided about whether ‘carou’ comes from the very old Celtic root word car (love) or the Welsh caerau (forts) or caer-rhiw (fort-hill).  So the old ‘Carou’ family were either of Norman stock, or were well-to-do Welsh seafaring sort.  Take your pick.

Interesting, though.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Hartlepool’s Submerged Forest (NZ520315 & thereabouts)

On the foreshore at Hartlepool, and a little to the south towards Seaton Carew, lies an expanse of ancient submerged forest dating to around 6-8,000 years ago.  It isn’t always submerged: the occasional harsh winter scouring brings it to the surface once every decade or so, when it then makes the news for a short period before disappearing from view.

In Mesolithic times, this little corner of the North-East was covered with woodland and peat bog – and extended a good way out to sea, too, with Britain, at the time, still connected to mainland Europe via a chunky land-bridge.  When the sea level rose, the forest was flooded, and the present-day coastline slowly developed. 

Several archaeological investigations have taken place in the area in recent decades, during which time worked flints and lines of stakes, etc., have been discovered, including a two-metre stretch of wattle hurdling dated to 3,600BC.  In 1971, the remains of a Neolithic man were found in nearby peat deposits.

But ancient remains have always been coming to the surface, ever since the 18th and 19th century development work in and around the town.  And records show, in fact, that a ‘wood of Hartlepool’ still existed as recently as the 13th century.

It is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest. 

More info here, and a picture of one of the famous stumps can be found here.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Heugh Battery (NZ532338)

Heugh Gun Battery was built on Hartlepool Headland from 1859, when fears of a French attack on the British mainland were rife.  Nine guns were placed in three locations, though not all emplacements remain.  The original guns had a range of about a mile and a half, but were never fired in anger.

In the 1880s and 1890s the weapons were upgraded, then at the turn of the century a major overhaul of the whole site took place with substantial restructuring in concrete – most of which remains today.  The new guns which were fitted at this time had a range of over seven miles and, thanks to the uncertainties of 20th century international relations, were kept primed until the mid 1950s.

In 1914, they became the only British mainland guns to engage a 20th century enemy when they exchanged blows with German warships who were having a pop at the nearby town.  During WWII, the guns were upgraded again, doubling their range, but were never used.  Eventually, the defences were, of course, rendered useless by the development of long-range nuclear missiles, and the battery was closed in 1956.

[Information taken from the Heugh Battery Museum website]

Friday, 14 October 2011

Harvest Time at the Harbour (NZ522338)

Such was the decline in the fortunes of Hartlepool’s once renowned harbour, that by the dawn of the nineteenth century it was out of commission entirely.

Incredibly, in 1808, a ‘grant of the harbour’ was made to an individual, who immediately enclosed the silted expanse for the purpose of agriculture.  The enterprising maritime farmer successfully grew corn on the huge slake for some time, whilst arguments raged about the state of the once great port and its protective, but crumbling, pier – the storms of 1810 further heightening tensions.

In 1813, local citizen and burgess, William Vollum, indicted the enclosure as a nuisance by way of a petition.  The case went to court in Durham and a verdict delivered in his and the town’s favour – and the harbour was saved.  In time, and after many more years of debate, the area was returned to its watery state thanks to the demands of the industrial revolution.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Fish-waste and Tatties (NZ528338)

Despite being a thriving port of some importance for many centuries, Hartlepool was in general decline during the eighteenth century.  Before its dramatic recovery during the Victorian era, its population numbered no more than a thousand or so, all of whom were crammed into what we now know as The Headland.  During the sleepy 1700s, the town tried, not altogether successfully, to tempt folk to its bracing climes by way of medicinal springs, particularly the iron-salt spa near the Westgate.  For some reason, Thomas Gray, the famous poet, visited in July 1765 to take the waters, and wrote to his friend Dr Wharton:

I have been for two days to taste the water, and do assure you that nothing could be salter (sic) and bitterer and nastier and better for you... I am delighted with the place; there are the finest walks and rocks and caverns.

Some weeks later, he wrote again:

The rocks, the sea and the weather there more than made up to me the want of bread and the want of water, two capital defects, but of which I learned from the inhabitants not to be sensible. They live on the refuse of their own fish-market, with a few potatoes, and a reasonable quantity of Geneva [gin] six days in the week, and I have nowhere seen a taller, more robust or healthy race: every house full of ruddy broad-faced children. Nobody dies but of drowning or old-age: nobody poor but from drunkenness or mere laziness.

He wasn’t the only one impressed with the locals.  Isambard Kingdom Brunel remarked in 1831, on the eve of the settlement’s industrialisation:

A curiously isolated old fishing town – a remarkably fine race of men. Went to the top of the church tower for a view.

If only he were able to climb the steps of St.Hilda’s tower now and see the difference.