Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Middleton-in-Teesdale: A Potted History (NY950253)

The capital of Upper Teesdale; the centre of the region’s lead-mining industry; Alfred Wainwright’s favourite haunt – all titles bestowed upon this picturesque little town set deep among the hills of the Tees valley.

Pre-1800, Middleton-in-Teesdale was a quite ordinary agricultural village – a market town, in fact – until, that is, the London (or Quaker) Lead Company decided to relocate its northern headquarters there from Blanchland in 1815.  Lead ruled thereafter, until 1905, during which time a multitude of new buildings were erected, tastefully, and of local millstone grit.  A ‘New Town’ grew to the south, administrative buildings to the north (including the impressive Middleton House) – solid, functional erections, now softened with the passage of time and faded memories.  For the nineteenth century days of lead were difficult times – only the most hard working and loyal workers aspired to the New Town. But the Quakers were caring bosses, it seems – a very early co-operative was built here; and by 1857 90% of the population was involved in the industry.  There were Methodist, Baptist and Anglican chapels (but, strangely, no Quaker Meeting Houses), schools, and arches – arches everywhere, in fact: a trait of the town.

Always a market town for sheep and cattle, it is now a designated Conservation Area. Gardens and trees abound: ash, sycamore, elm – even giant redwood and a monkey puzzle tree!  Good walking country – including the Pennine Way – lies close by; and the waterfalls of High Force and Cauldron Snout, together with reservoirs a plenty, all nestle nearby. And in the churchyard lies the church of St.Mary’s, built in 1878, and a curious detached belfry – its three bells once operated by one man using both hands and one foot – standing since 1557.   The present church is at least the third such edifice to be built on the site, with the original most probably being constructed in the twelfth century.

Middleton-in-Teesdale railway station, as was, stood at the very end of the Tees Valley Railway branch line.  The line operated from 1868 until it fell to the Beeching axe in 1964.

The activities of ancient man are evidenced by the presence of nearby Kirkcarrion tumulus, a pine-covered hill to the south of the village dating back to the Bronze Age.