To Warn The Water

Dock Road

This peculiarly local expression is only heard in the lower or eastern vales of the river Tees, a stream which, from the rapidity of its upper course, and from the numerous tributary rivers and smaller streams it receives in its passage down to the village of Croft, often rises very suddenly, and occasionally to the depth of nine, and even more, extra feet of water. The consequence was that, at a not very distant period, an inhabitant of Hurworth, who we may term the Warner of the Water, was usually despatched to Yarm, to give the inhabitants of that place notice of its approach.

On the morning of Sunday, the 17th November, 1771, the whole town of Yarm  (not so much as a single house excepted) was laid under water. Six dwelling-houses were totally demolished and seven persons drowned.

The Denham Tracts. Vol.1 The Folklore Society 1892

Middlehaven

St Hilda’s is the oldest part of Middlesbrough, for most of the life of modern Middlesbrough the area has been known as The Border or Over the Border. The border being the railway track that separates the area from the rest of the town.

The border always had a reputation for being a tough, close-knit  community. A few years ago Middlesbrough council  launched a redevelopment plan for the area which they renamed Middlehaven. Unfortunately the redevelopment involved the demolition of the existing housing estate and the removal of the small community that lived there.

Some new housing has been built in the area, the development has been labelled ‘The Urban Pioneer Site’. Urban pioneers and ‘Boho Zones’ on a site that has seen continuous habitation for over a thousand years. I wonder if any of the original border families will be given the opportunity to live in these houses, I wonder if they would want to.

The people of Middlesbrough speak with a deep pride and affection for their river but have very little access to it. Walking from the town centre it struck me that the town and its river are detached, other than the lifeless old dock, there is very little accessible river frontage within strolling distance of the town centre. There are two parks that look out over the river but both are hidden away in industrial zones.

The redevelopment of the land around the Middlesbrough Dock continues but the large derelict former industrial site that sits between the dock and the river does not seem to feature in any of the proposed plans for the area.

imagetwoA new road is currently being built to improve access to the site and there is a plan to build more houses and a snow centre where perhaps former steel workers can start new careers as ski instructors.

Runner

 

Wilderness Way pt.2

I recently visited the Wilderness Way exhibition at MIMA.  In the exhibition are two huge images of Margaret Thatcher walking across the post-industrial wastelands of Teesside. The photographs were taken during her 1987 visit to endorse the work of her pet project, the newly formed Teesside Development Corporation (TDC).

Gazette

The TDC was the largest Development Corporation in England, covering some 12,000 acres in the North East of England. Established in September 1987 and wound up on 31 March 1998, it received total government grants of £354 million and generated other income of £116 million, including income from the sale of land and property. Over its lifetime the Corporation helped attract private sector investment of £1.1 billion into the area, created over 12,000 new jobs and brought 1,300 acres of derelict land back into use.

Teesdale v

From 1987 onwards the TDC were more or less given carte-blanche to regenerate a number of former industrial sites around the River Tees and Hartlepool areas. The Corporation was not popular with the local councils, it was accused of being secretive and autocratic, spending vast amounts of public money with little or no public consultation.

One of the development sites was an area of industrial land on the banks of the River Tees at Thornaby called Teesdale. The history of the Teesdale site reflects the industrial history of the area. In the mid 19th century, the area was known as South Stockton. The land was largely open fields with a couple of small ship building yards.

S Stockton

By the beginning of the 20th century South Stockton had merged with Thornaby to form the municipal borough of Thornaby on Tees. The shipyards had expanded and three large iron works had become established, The Thornaby Ironworks, The Union Foundry and the Teesdale Ironworks.  By the mid 20th century the whole site was being operated by Head Wrightson.

EAW013851

The area thrived and by the 1960s the site employed 6000 people, specialising in heavy engineering projects. In the mid 1970s the site was bought by The Davy Corporation. Foreign competition led to dwindling orders and a general decline, the site finally closed in 1987Head

 

I decided to have a wander around the site and reflect on the changes that had occurred over the past few decades.

I’m guessing that Thornaby railway station fell outside of the TDC development area boundary.  If you are travelling along the Tees valley railway line, this station is the only access to Thornaby and central Stockton, it does not make a good first impression. The world’s first passenger railway ran within a short walk from the station yet the only reference to this is George Stephenson House, home of HM Revenue & Customs, a building located some distance from the railway station.

The Teesdale development is a mixture of commercial buildings and housing, It is a triumph of the bland, an example of off-the-shelf hive architecture, most of the buildings have nondescript, unimaginative names or no name at all. A number of the buildings are empty or partially occupied, To Let signs litter the area. The call centres that once occupied the buildings have moved to places where labour and rents are cheaper.

Teesdale viiMy impression of the whole Teesdale site is that the planners took a year zero approach. There is no evidence or acknowledgement that this area was once a thriving, prosperous part of industrial Teesside, the land here is historically sterile.

Teesdale viiiIn other parts of the country, you can find clues to a site’s history by looking at the names of the roads and buildings, that is not the case here. The roads have all been named after prominent foreign universities; Yale, Stanford, Princeton, Fudan, Sabatier, and bizarrely, West Point Military Academy.

The two saving graces of this site are the riverside frontage, which is extensive, and the fast growing vegetation which manages to hide much of the architectural blandness behind grassy banks and thick foliage.

The road that used to run across the site was called Trafalgar Street, a new road now runs along its most northerly section, this road is called the Council of Europe Boulevard and leads to the Princess of Wales Bridge. I’m guessing brexiteers may lobby to restore the name Trafalgar in a year or two.

Teesdale i

During the election campaign of 1997 Margaret Thatcher returned to the site with John Major. They unveiled a plaque and planted a tree at Dunedin House, the TDC building, before Baroness Thatcher and Mr Major headed for lunch at Marton Country Club. Dunedin house is mostly unoccupied, I could not find the plaque.

The TDC was wound up in 1998. Initially it was thought to have left a surplus of £14 million. In reality, it left unaccounted debts of £40 million and allegations of secret accounts and shredded documents.Teesdale ix

Postscript.

A few years ago I bought a copy of Max Lock’s Middlesbrough Survey & Plan. I went to collect the book from the seller who turned out to be Sir Ron Norman, former chairman of the TDC. One of Sir Ron’s hobbies is bookbinding. I managed to get a small discount on the book as Sir Ron had mis-spelt Max Locks name.

Lock

Sources

The operation and wind up of Teesside Development Corporation. The National Audit Office

Evening Gazette

Peg Powler

 

DSCN0713This oulde ladye is the evil goddess of the Tees. I also meet with a Nanny Powler, at Darlington, who from the identity of their sirnames, is, I judge, a sister, or it may be a daughter of Peg’s. Nanny Powler, aforesaid, haunts the Skerne, a tributary of the Tees.

Denham Tracts 1891

 

Battling Stones

The Bulmer Stone in Darlington is a Shap granite boulder. The stone was named after a nineteenth century town crier called Willy Bulmer. Prior to this it was known as the Battling Stone.

Bulmer sign

This 1895 account by Michael Denham shows that there were once a number of Battling Stones in the area.

Battling Stones

These now unused relics of a former period are still numerous throughout the length and breadth of the land, and must remain so, unless they have the ill-luck to meet the fate of the noble Piersebridge specimen, which was blown to fragments by means of gunpowder, by a fellow in the place, A.D. 1826. The are generally found on the margin of a stream, with the upper surface inclined towards the water. These stones were used by thrifty housewives some thirty years ago, whereupon to beat, battle, or beetle their home made linens or huckabacks, which even then pretty generally prevailed for domestic wear. The linen was thrown into the running stream and gradually drawn upon the stone, and there beat with a beetle or battling staff. The Piersebridge stone lay on the  north side of Carlebury beck, a yard or two below the present footbridge. Another stone of this class, but greatly deficient in magnitude, still exists on the Cliffe side of the Tees, with one side in the river. It is on the premises of the George and Dragon Inn, not far from the bridge. I have seen it used. It is a granite boulder, as was the other.

The Denham Tracts.

Michael Aislabie Denham. 1895