Tees Valley : Steel Valley

Tees Valley

Tees Valley is a modern term that describes a particularly distinct part of North East England. It encompasses areas that were historically (and culturally still are) parts of south east County Durham along with much of an ancient district in the far north eastern corner of Yorkshire called Cleveland.

Newport Bridge, Middlesbrough
Newport Bridge, Middlesbrough © David Simpson

Officially, ‘Tees Valley’ includes, on the Yorkshire side of the River Tees, the Teesside borough of Middlesbrough along with Redcar and the associated smaller towns and villages clustered along the Cleveland coast.

North of the Tees and still in Teesside is the historic County Durham town of Stockton-on-Tees. Then we have the two slightly more outlying Durham towns of Hartlepool on the coast to the north and Darlington to the west. Darlington is situated in the low-lying countryside of the Skerne valley, a little river that forms a tributary of the Tees which it joins near Croft.

The River Tees at Stockton.
The River Tees at Stockton © David Simpson

The Tees Valley is a ‘border zone’ between Yorkshire and Durham and has attributes common to both. As an industrial region in the North East one thing that makes Tees Valley distinct is that, unlike Wearside, Tyneside, south east Northumberland and much of County Durham, it lies outside the historic coalfield. That’s not to say it wasn’t affected by the industrial developments associated with coal, it’s just that culturally it was never situated within that part of the region.

Dock Offices, Hartlepool
Dock Offices, Hartlepool © David Simpson

Nevertheless, the most important historic event in the industrial history of the Tees Valley was the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway of 1825, its primary purpose being the shipment of coal from south west Durham to the port of Stockton-on-Tees. Similarly, West Hartlepool owed its birth and growth to the shipment of coal as too did the initial birth and growth of Middlesbrough.

However, partly associated with the nearby availability of coal, it was industries connected to iron and steel that were the primary factor in the development of the Tees Valley’s industrial might.

One legacy and important factor in this is the broad scattering of mining villages along the Cleveland coast near Saltburn, stretching south towards Whitby, at Brotton, Loftus, Skinningrove (once the site of a steelworks) and Skelton. Historically these mining villages have much in common with their County Durham coal mining counterparts except that these were places associated with the mining of ironstone rather than coal.

Spirit of East Cleveland : Ironstone miners sculpture by William Harling
Spirit of East Cleveland : Ironstone miners sculpture by William Harling at Skelton © David Simpson

Iron and later steel was the lifeblood of the Teesside area and it was iron that really spurred on the extraordinary growth of Middlesbrough, Britain’s ‘Ironopolis’ as it was known in the nineteenth century. Bridge building at Middlesbrough and Darlington and the manufacture of railways were important steel-related industries too, along with shipbuilding and engineering, all of which were important aspects of local pride and prestige.

Transporter Bridge from Port Clarence looking towards Middlesbrough
Transporter Bridge from Port Clarence looking towards Middlesbrough © David Simpson

The iron ore deposits of Eston and the Cleveland Hills and coast helped to make the region’s steel making industry, a process enabled by purified coking coal from County Durham. Coal too played its part in the chemical industry that capitalised on the extensive salt deposits of the locality.

The iron and steel produced on Teesside significantly contributed to the industrial developments, heritage features and cultural characteristics of other parts of the region and across the world too perhaps best symbolised by the Middlesbrough- built Tyne Bridge at Newcastle upon Tyne or the Sydney Harbour Bridge over on the other side of the world.

You can read more about the history of the Tees Valley area in the following pages of the England’s North East site:

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