…in thirty years the place had only increased its population by 129… Practically, therefore the history of Middlesbrough dates from 1841; so that, when you enter the town, look around at the large streets, the many fine houses, at the spacious river sweeping past the wharves, at the congregations of iron and other works which fill the horizon on all sides, you find yourself amid a scene of busy opulent civilisation whose first astonishing movements date back only forty-one years since. People should remember this when they visit Middlesbrough, other places are backed by centuries of labour; and the wonders they show you are the results of working upon old materials. The substance remains: it is the forms of it which have changed and which have enlarged and deepened its features. But in Middlesbrough you have something, where nothing was before. Comparatively young men point to the town, the works, the river and talk of remembering that yonder, there was nothing to be seen but a farmhouse, and that the water there, where that 3000 ton steamer is creeping along, might have been crossed by a man on stilts.
Who can withhold his tribute to this truly magnificent example of English resolution and industry? Not as a Middlesbrough man, but as a compatriot I share their pride; for it is in such towns as this that you see the secret workings of that indefatigable machine of spirited and patriotic industry, which goes on forcing this tight little island steadily ahead. We sing songs about our brave old flag, we drink to the glorious colours, but it is only by visiting such towns as Middlesbrough that you learn how we manage to keep our bunting flying at the world’s mast-head, and discover to whom the hands belong which have the true hold of the national signal halliards.
William Clark Russell. The North-East ports and Bristol Channel. 1883