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.

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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.