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History of Middlesbrough

A BRIEF HISTORY OF MIDDLESBROUGH by Web Master Dave Hodgson

Cargo Fleet: Although Middlesbrough was not founded until around 1829 the nearby village of Cargo Fleet was an important trading area since medieval times, and was formerly a fishing village, which historical links indicate was called Caldecotes. The term Caldecotes is an old Anglo-Saxon name meaning ‘Derelict Habitation’ which was a place of safe harbour where travellers and fishermen could rest from the cold weather of the Northern England shores. It is reported that the name Caldecotes was corrupted into Caudgatefleet, then finally into Cargo Fleet.

In the eighteenth century Cargo Fleet was then known as Cleveland Port (Named after the nearby Cleveland Hills *), and was where large sailing vessels off loaded their cargo into smaller vessels, which could then navigate up the River Tees past Middlesbrough to Stockton on Tees, which was the main trading port in the area at that time.

* If you browse around some web sites you will find the term Cleveland to mean the hilly district or cliff-land the word cliff in its ancient sense you are informed, referred to rolling hills rather than steep faced cliffs as we would know today. However I have searched to verify this information and cannot confirm whether this is true or not, most certain is that the old English word ‘Clif’ meant a bank or slope so maybe Cleveland in ancient times was called ‘The land of the Clifs’.

It is also possible the name Cleveland originated from the ‘Cleveley’ family which owned a small hamlet at Ormesby which is located within the Tees valley i.e. the Cleveland area. The name of Cleveland is itself an ancient name, and should not be confused with the County of Cleveland, which was formed in 1974 from parts of East Durham and North Yorkshire.

Cleveland was an important area for many Viking settlement’s and was probably one of the earliest parts of Britain to be occupied by these raiders from across the North Sea. In September 1066, the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada (hard ruler) with 300 ships sailed along the North East Coast plundering and burning Scarborough (at town on the coast a few miles South of Whitby). On the 25th September King Hardrada along with Tostig brother of the English King Harold gave battle with King Harold’s forces at Stamford Bridge.

It is reported that it was a hot day and the Norwegians had taken off their ‘Byrnies’ a sort of leather jacket. Harold and his English forces crushed the Norwegians and Hardrada and Tostig were killed. Of the original 300 ships that sailed with Hardrada less than 25 returned to Norway.

The Birth of Middlesbrough by Web Master Dave Hodgson

Middlesbrough is situated on the South Bank of the River Tees, on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. The earliest recorded form of Middlesbrough’s name is Mydilsburgh and dates to pre-Saxon times. The term ‘Burgh’ is a from an ancient settlement, or pre-Saxon fort It is unknown whether the term ‘Mydil’ (middle) was the name of some ancient Anglo-Saxon landowner or a reference to Middlesbrough’s location mid-way between the two important towns of Durham and Whitby. In the early 1800’s Middlesbrough was only a very small collection of a few local farms, perhaps less than 30 people.

In 1829 a group of Quaker businessmen under the leadership of Joseph Pease from Darlington purchased the local farms and planned the development of what they referred to as ‘Port Darlington’ on the banks of the River Tees for importing coal. By 1830 the famous Stockton and Darlington railway (# see further below) started by his father Edward Pease, had been extended to Middlesbrough, assisting in the rapid expansion of the town as a trading port.

In 1847 Iron ore is discovered in the Cleveland Hills at Skinningrove, in 1850 Iron ore was found by John Vaughan and mining engineer John Marley, in the nearby Eston Hills, who along with his trading partner Henry Bolckow set up a small iron foundry with rolling mills. The discovery of iron ore prompted them to build Middlesbrough’s first blast furnace at Vulcan Street in 1851/52.

The demand for iron was at an all time high mainly due to the expansion of the railway network across the United Kingdom. More companies formed in the area and built numerous iron works, which along with the import of coal on the River Tees soon led Middlesbrough to overtake Stockton as the main trading port on the river. What became known as the ‘Ironmasters’ district was founded by industrialists such Bolckow and Vaughan, but we must not forget the contribution of people such as John Gjers (Ayresome Ironworks) Bernhard Samuelson (Britannia and Newport Ironworks). Skilled workers arrived in Middlesbrough from older iron-making districts such as Staffordshire, Shropshire, and South Wales. Labourers who handled pig iron and slag came from farming areas such as Yorkshire, East Anglia and Ireland. The change to their lifestyle for these rural new-comers is almost impossible to imagine as they faced the harsh conditions and noisy crowded streets of old Middlesbrough’s Cannon Street area and across the railway lines known locally as ‘over the border’.

The home of Bolckow & Vaughan

In 1868 John Vaughn died aged 69 years, and Middlesbrough had become the most famous iron-making town world-wide and was nicknamed ‘Ironopolis’ (The Great City of Iron) In 1853 Bolckow became Middlesbrough’s first mayor, and later 1868 became its first Member of Parliament.

By 1860 the population of Middlesbrough was around 20,000. By 1870 the demand for steel had overtaken the requirements of iron, and the company Bolckow and Vaughan founded opened Middlesbrough’s first iron and steel works. Iron and steel was exported to many parts of the world, from Africa to Australia, and associated with the making of steel was the Dorman Long steel works, built along the River Tees between Cargo Fleet and Redcar.

Dorman Long opened in 1875, and became well known internationally for its construction of bridges. Dorman Long became famous for its construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, across Port Jackson, which was modelled on the 1929 Tyne Bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne. What is not so well know (although it will be now this is published on the Internet) is that around this time Dorman Long steels works had a major cash flow problem, and the directors of the company fearing the business could go into liquidation bequeathed the company’s social and sporting club to its members in perpetuity so that in the event of the liquidators being called in the works social club would not go as well.

However Dorman Long steelworks did not go into liquidation but overcame its cash flow problem, however the works social club was now in independent hands and continues to trade successfully to this day. Indeed the author of this web site Dave Hodgson once had the fortune to work there happily for many years as Club Steward and Bar Manager. During this time I had to opportunity to meet and have enjoyable conversations with many famous UK entertainers such as Ken Dodds, Bob Monkhouse, and Bernard Manning.

Dorman Long steel works continued supplying steel and in 1933 completed the single span of the Newport Lifting Bridge the first in the country, across the River Tees at Newport. The bridge was opened officially by the Duke of York in February 1934, with a lifting span of 270 feet weighing in at 2700 tons. The electrically operated lifting mechanism comprising of two huge 325hp electric motors raised the entire road span 120 feet allowing ships to pass under the bridge. Sadly no large enough vessels now travel up to Stockton, so the lifting part of the bridge has now been disabled, and the road span permanently welded to the main roadway.

The author Dave Hodgson can remember with awe and fascination at this gigantic section of road-way lifting high into the air, part of our great engineering heritage has now been lost forever.

The Transporter Bridge

I could not leave this section on famous Middlesbrough bridges without a mention of the most notable of all ‘The Transporter Bridge’, which was designed by the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company of Darlington and opened 17th October 1911, by Prince Arthur of Connaught. The Transporter Bridge is classed as a ferry-bridge (see the photograph left) at 850 feet long (260 m) 225 feet high (69 m) and a distance between the two towers of 580 feet (177 m) make this one of the largest working bridges of its kind anywhere in world.

Vehicles drive onto a platform or cradle officially called ‘the car’ supported by suspension cables from a boggy-car mounted at the top of the bridge. The platform is then pulled across the river by two cables the ends of which are connected to a hugh winch in the winding house. Two motors generating 30 brake horse power drive the winch, even in the most severe gale one motor should be sufficient to drive the winch, although the bridge normally closes when wind speeds reach 45 mph. All under control of the platform driver. At each side of the platform is an enclosed section for foot passengers to take shelter from the cold winds that sweep down from the North sea.

The bridge was made further famous in 2002 when a new series of the TV comedy ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’ titled ‘A Bridge too Far’ appeared to show the famous Transporter Bridge being dismantled to be shipped across to America there to be re-assembled in Arizone. Due to tricks in camera technology the Transporter Bridge actually appeared to be getting dismantled and many people travelled from all over the UK to see this amazing feat of engineering accomplishment. Imagine their surprise when they found the bridge still standing in all its majestic glory. (As if the people of Middlesbrough would ever let the Transporter Bridge be demolished :-)

The Transporter Bridge has also appeared in other films and TV programmes such as Billy Elliot, The Fast Show, and Steel River Blues.

Middlesbrough Today

Modern Middlesbrough is very different from the original town centre that was formed around the market square and parish church of St Hilda’s, which stood on the site until 1969. In 1899 the now existing Town Hall was built on Albert Road and Corporation Road junction

Today modern Middlesbrough is centred around four large shopping centres only minutes walk from the Town Hall. Cleveland Centre, Hill Street Centre, Dundas Arcade and Captain Cook’s Square. Along with the ever expanding University of Teesside, the Law Courts, Central Library, Radio stations and numerous shopping outlets and bars, football stadium, multiplex cinemas and night clubs all located within walking distance has made Middlesbrough one of the regions centres of commerce with an ever increasing vibrant night-life.