Much is made, and quite rightly so, of the bridges of the Tees, however we have another historic bridge on Teesside that is often overlooked. The Billingham Branch Bridge was built in 1934 by Dorman Long to carry the northern approach road to the Newport Bridge over the now-disused Billingham Branch railway. The Grade II listed bridge is reputed to be the first welded steel bridge in Britain.
Crossing Peg Powler’s beat
The section of road from Girsby to Over Dinsdale is marked on the OS map as ‘Roman Road’. During the 18th century Gainford Antiquarian, John Cade, studied the Roman Roads of the north and theorised that a Roman road ran from the Humber estuary to the River Tyne. Cade thought that the road may have been an extension of Ryknild or Ickneild Street, a road that ran from Gloucestershire to South Yorkshire. Cade placed the crossing point of the Tees at Sockbridge. The Roman Road became known and is still referred to Cade’s Road.
In the 1920’s Archaeologist OGS Crawford took a look at the area and thought that the crossing point of the was more likely be Middleton One Row at the site of a medieval bridge known as Pountey’s Bridge. A reliable late nineteenth century source reported timber piles and abutments being visible at the site. An earlier report states that a large number of squared Stones being found in the river.
Recent work by the Mid Tees Research Project has discredited Crawford’s theory and moved the search for Cade’s crossing eastwards to a bend in the Tees close to Newsham, where at least three separate river crossings once existed.
The modern road leads to the bridge over the Tees at Low Dinsdale. The bridge was originally built in 1850 by the Surtees family and operated as a toll bridge. In 1955 the bridge was taken over by the North Riding County Council and the original trussed iron beams were replaced with steel beams rolled at the Cargo Fleet Iron Works, a concrete deck was cast then over the beams. The bridge was further upgraded in 1993.
In the churchyard of St John the Baptist at Low Dinsdale is the lower portion of an eleventh century cross shaft. The shaft is carved on all four faces but quite weathered. There are other carved stones within the church but this church is always locked when I visit.
Bridges over the Tees. The Cleveland Industrial Archaeologist. Research report No. 7 C. H. Morris. 2000
Archaeologia, or miscellaneous tracts relating to antiquity Vol.7
The Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture
Map Extract reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
Transporter – a memory
A friend and I took a walk around Sleights moor starting at the High Bride Stones, a group of Prehistoric Standing Stones that have been interpreted as the possible ruins of two Four-Poster Stone Circles or the remains of a number of Stone Rows.
We followed the lines of stones to the edge of the moor and the descent into the Murk Esk valley.
A Ladder trap, one of two in this small area, both thankfully empty.
Descending the bank to the Low Bride Stones on Sheephowe Rigg.
Like the High Bride Stones on the moor above, this is a very ruinous site. Archaeological surveys have revealed over 100 stones including a mutilated cairn. The current best guess is that many of the stones once formed part of a prehistoric enclosure.
We moved north along the top of Lowther Crag to the disused Bolton Crag quarry, one source of the beautiful Middle Jurassic moorland sandstone. Across the Esk valley we can see the quarries at Aislaby. Stone from these quarries was used to build the 11th century Abbey at Whitby, the foundations of the old Waterloo and London Bridges and the piers at Whitby.
Walking up onto the moor top we found small, loose boulders made of ‘white flint’. This stone was prized by the steel industry, its high silica content, up to 98%, meant that it was ideal for making refractory bricks and moulding sand.
We moved across the highest part of the moor to Black Brow and its two Bronze Age kerbed burial mounds, the Flat Howes. This is the highest section of the moor, there are uninterrupted views along the Esk Valley to the Kildale Gap, across the moors towards Fylingdales and down to the coast into Whitby, a fitting place to spend eternity.
Stan Laurel went to school in Gainford, that’s more than enough of a reason to have a wander around.
Lovely Medieval cross slabs line the church porch walls
Inside the church, a pair of carved stones
There is a dragon carving on the opposite face of the second stone, it is almost impossible to see the carving as the stone is close to the wall and fixed into the floor. A photograph of it can be seen here
The house next to the church has an impressive piece of garden architecture.
A path from the churchyard leads down to the Tees, its waters stained with Pennine peat
A boulder, transported from the Shap Fells.
A wall blocks access to a broken Bailey Bridge, many of its boards are missing, one of the supporting columns has been washed away.
With no convenient river crossing, the distant dovecote will have to wait
Returning to the village, I stop to admire this lovely Festival of Britain bench.
Illustration of Gainford Carved Stones from The Antiquities of Gainford. J.R Walbran 1846
Preston upon Tees
A suicidal mallard left me stranded and wandering for half a day around Preston upon Tees.
A dead-end lane runs from the main road across farm land on the outskirts of Preston. At the end of the lane is a double row of houses called The Moorhouse Estate.The estate was built in 1936 as part of the Land Settlement Act, which redeployed men from industry on to the land to work in small holdings.
A bridge carries the railway line over Moorhouse Estate lane. The original Stockton to Darlington railway ran on the other side of the main road through what is now Preston Park. The route of the line can be still seen as a low embankment in the woods running parallel to the main road. The line was moved to its present position in 1852.
Not knowing the area I follow the network of footpaths from the main road towards the river.
The Preston Pipe Bridge built in 1959 by Dow-Mac Engineering Construction Ltd at a cost of £42,000
The Jubilee Bridge, opened in 2002 links Stockton with Ingleby Barwick. During the 1990’s Ingleby Barwick was reputed to be the largest private housing estate in Europe.
Piercebridge Barrow alignment
A while ago I came across a reference to a couple of Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age barrows on the southern bank of the Tees close to Piercebridge. Lowland barrows are rare in the Tees valley so I was keen to find out more about this pair. On further investigation I noticed that there were three barrows, one north of the river and two south. Looking on the map I noticed that the three barrows formed an alignment that crossed the Tees at the point where the Romans had built a bridge. Projecting the alignment south leads to the Iron Age Oppidium of Stanwick.
According to Ray Seton’s Astronomical Significance chart, the barrows are also roughly aligned to the rising sun at the summer solstice 2000 BCE.
This map shows that the ancient crossing point was still being used as a ford in the nineteenth century
I checked through all of the sources but could not find a reference to this barrow alignment, so on a misty morning my friend Martyn and I set out to give the place a looking at.
The two barrows on Betty Watson’s Hill and a cup marked cobble stone with two possibly three cups. In North Yorkshire there is a definite association between cup marked stones and prehistoric funerary monuments.
I suggest that the barrows were not actually aligned on the river crossing but were aligned on a trackway or road that crossed the river at this point. The trackway and crossing point, if regularly used, would probably have been quite visible. There is plenty of evidence in the archaeological record to demonstrate a relationship between prehistoric monuments and trackways.
The Tees at Piercebridge and the remains of the Roman bridge. The bridge is built on a gravel bed which is rich in flint pebbles. Perhaps in prehistory this place was not only significant as a river crossing point but also as a source of raw materials.
This part of the River Tees also had a special significance to the Romans. A substantial amount of votive offerings have been recovered from this small section of the river, leading to the suggestion that there was some form of shrine here during the Roman period. The barrow alignment may suggest that this part of the river also carried a spiritual significance to the people who populated this area long before the arrival of the Romans.
The Girsby Bridge
There has been a church at Sockburn since Saxon times. The estate was bought in the 1830’s by Henry & Theophania Blackett of Newcastle. They decided to demolish the church to create a romantic ruin. A replacement church was built about a mile away at Girsby.
After the church had been moved, the locals continued to use the Sockburn river crossing and paths across the estate as they had done for generations. The Blacketts resented this intrusion and blocked the pathways. This led to legal action against the Blacketts by the Darlington Highways Board. The Blacketts lost the case but used their wealth to pursue the case through the courts.
After two years of constant legal wrangling with ever increasing court costs, the Highways Board came up with a novel solution for paying the solicitors bills, they levied a rate upon on the inhabitants of the township of Sockburn. Since the main inhabitants were the Blacketts, this meant that the family were paying the legal costs of both sides. The matter was eventually settled, the paths across the Sockburn estate remained closed and the Blacketts built a new bridge across the Tees.
The new bridge was designed by Thomas Dyke of West Hartlepool. It was constructed with five spans of wrought iron, bowstring girders supported by cast iron trestles set into the bed of the river.
To this day there remains no public right of way through Sockburn.
Bridge over Troubled Water. Northern Echo June 2009
Bridges over The Tees. C H Morris June 2000
Ironopolis – Ian Horn
A graphic response by Kimberley Jane Evangelista