In the 1960’s Middlesbrough and Stockton had grim old town centres, years of atmospheric pollution had turned all the buildings black and the pubs were generally named after kings, queens and the lords of the land.
Billingham was a futuristic place. It had a modern shopping precinct, a wonderful leisure centre complete with a huge swimming pool, an ice rink, a theatre and shiny new pubs built of concrete and steel with names like The Astronaut and Telstar. They even had a football team named after an ICI product, Billingham Synthonia (Synthetic Ammonia).
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.
The last time I walked this route with my camera I ended up with detective constable visiting my house.
The weather changes every 5 minutes.
This is one of the most extraordinary of experiences, a sight almost unique in England. On either side of the road are the works, steaming and sizzling – tall steel chimneys, great cylinders, pipes everywhere. The road goes on and on, to Haverton Hill and Port Clarence: there are acres and acres of this remarkable landscape.
During WWII Billingham was one of the sites chosen for the world’s first atomic weapons project codenamed Tube Alloys.
Development work for the top secret project took place at Billingham and a number of shadow factories in the Teesside area. Due to high costs, and the fact that Britain was within bombing range of its enemies, Tube Alloys was eventually absorbed into the USA’s Manhattan Project, which led to the development of the world’s first atomic weapons.
In the 1970’s ICI purchased and installed a TRIGA Mk1 nuclear reactor at Billingham. The reactor produced radioisotopes for industrial use until it was decommissioned in 1988.