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.