Cleveland Coast

The Cleveland Coast at Saltburn
The Cleveland coast at Saltburn. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Redcar and Coatham

Redcar began as a little fishing village which grew as a coastal resort in the nineteenth century with the extension of the railway here from Teesside. Like Saltburn, Redcar is still frequented by day trippers in search of the scent of the sea but the biggest attraction is undoubtedly the Race Course around which the town seems to encircle. This opened in 1872 and ensured that day-trippers continued to flock.

Redcar seems to have been named from neighbouring red-coloured rocks or carrs or perhaps from the same word carr which can also mean poorly drained land, so it could be the ‘reedy carr’. This is possible as nearby Marske-by-the Sea has a boggy name that comes from the Scandinavian pronunciation of the English word marsh.

Old names for Redcar include Redker in 1165, Ridkere in 1407 and Readcar in 1653. It was only a ‘Poore Fishing Toune’ in 1510 as most activity in the area was centred on its then more important neighbour, Coatham which held a market and fair from 1257.

Coatham’s name derives from ‘cotum’ and means ‘the shelters’. Fishing boats probably took shelter from the stormy seas. Coatham was one of the most important fishing villages in the area and in 1801 it had a population of 680 people. Comparable population figures in the district show that 993 people lived at Hartlepool, 167 at Thornaby and only 25 people lived at Middlesbrough.

Redcar rose from obscurity in 1846 when an extension of the Stockton and Darlington Railway brought industry and seaside day trippers to the area. Redcar quickly expanded and soon absorbed Coatham.

Saltburn beach looking towards Redcar.
Saltburn beach looking towards Redcar. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Industrial growth in the late nineteenth century came in the form of a small ironworks near Coatham and the famed steelworks of Dorman and Long at Warenby near the mouth of the Tees built in 1917. Dorman and Long built a new town in 1918 called Dormanstown right on Redcar’s doorstep to accommodate the expanding workforce of the district and add further to the population of the Redcar area. Sadly the steelworks closed in 2015 in what was a major blow to Redcar and Teesside. The redundant works still remain, at present, a familiar coastal landmark

Noted for its steel and its racecourse Redcar is perhaps less known as the home of the world’s oldest lifeboat The Zetland which is displayed in the museum of that name in King Street which is run by volunteers. The lifeboat was built around 1810 by Henry Greathead of South Shields and originally worked at Spurn Head until it was bought by Redcar fisherman in 1802. The Zetland was built twenty years after the first ever lifeboat which was also built at South Shields.

Saltburn Pier
Saltburn Pier. Photo © David Simpson 2018


Saltburn to the north of Boulby was an important Victorian bathing resort and we are reminded of this by the presence of the North East’s only pleasure pier (1868) which juts out 600 feet from Saltburn beach.

Originally the pier was 1,400 ft long but its length was severely reduced during a storm in 1924 when it was rammed by a ship called The Ovenberg.

Saltburn Pier
Saltburn Pier. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Another intriguing feature related to Saltburn’s role as a Victorian resort lies directly above the pier where we find the oldest working water balanced inclined tramway in Britain. Dating from 1884 this funicular railway was specially designed to transport visitors back and forth from Saltburn town to the pier and beach.

Funicular railway, Saltburn
Funicular railway and pier, Saltburn. Photo © David Simpson 2018

The original little fishing village of Saltburn started beneath the prominent Cat Nab hill near the beach and is still there at the foot of the cliffs with the Victorian town and its grand houses towering above it on the cliff top.

The original village was famed for smuggling and fishing until 1860, when the Stockton and Darlington Railway was extended to the clifftop site and Henry Pease of Darlington set about the development of the wonderful Victorian coastal resort of Saltburn-by-the-Sea.

Old Saltburn.
Old Saltburn. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Highlights of this charming town include several lovely Victorian buildings including a charming station; the former Zetland Hotel of 1861; the pleasure pier; the Valley Gardens; the beautiful beach and the cliffs that tower above the coast.

Former Zetland Hotel, Saltburn
Former Zetland Hotel, Saltburn. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Saltburn’s history goes back to a time long before the little fishing village and Victorian town. In the thirteenth century we know it was inhabited by a hermit and in even earlier Roman times it was the site of a fortified Roman signalling station.

The earthworks of this fort are situated on Huntcliff, the vertical sea cliff 365 ft above sea level, to the east of Saltburn. Huntcliff was the site of one of a number of Roman signalling stations along the Yorkshire coast which were built as watchtowers against the threat of barbarian attacks from what are now Denmark, Germany and Scotland.

Dating from around 369AD the station was eventually overrun by raiders in the later fourth century AD when its occupants were murdered and reputedly dumped in a nearby well.

During an excavation in 1923, the victims were discovered when the skeletons of fourteen men women and children were found. They were clearly the victims of murder.

The Anglo-Saxons who would later settle Cleveland and give Saltburn its name may have been responsible for the murderous raid. The name ‘Sealt-Burna’ is Anglo-Saxon and means ‘salty stream’, perhaps from its salty water or because of the salt-like alum found in the neighbourhood.

The stream still flows through the town, cutting a deep wooded ravine before making its way into the sea after cutting its way through the middle of Saltburn beach.

Saltburn Beck
Skelton Beck and Saltburn beach. Photo © David Simpson 2018

When the Vikings came three centuries later they may have changed the name of the stream from ‘burn’ to ‘beck’ but the village of Saltburn retained its name. The stream, however, came to be known as the Skelton Beck.

Cleveland is an ancient district of Yorkshire with a name that was historically ‘Cliffland’. It was seemingly a reference to the coastal cliffs of the area. In fact it could mean ‘hilly district’ as the word cliff in its old sense often referred to rolling hills rather than steep-faced cliffs. The word ‘cleve’ in Cleveland may also be related to the modern word cleavage.

‘Cleveland’ is often thought to be a modern invention. This confusion is due to the short-lived ‘County of Cleveland’ which included the Durham towns of Stockton, Hartlepool and Billingham. This county was not created until 1974 and was then abolished in April 1996. The county was a modern invention but the real Cleveland on the Yorkshire side of the Tees is, however, many centuries older.

Historically, Cleveland was a district of northern Yorkshire and was thus situated entirely south of the Tees. It stretched south towards the outskirts of Whitby and the earliest record of its name was in Viking times when Harald Hardrada is thought to have landed in that part of Yorkshire called ‘Cliffland’.

Cleveland’s sea cliffs at Boulby along the coast from Saltburn towards Staithes are 679 feet high, making them the highest on the whole eastern coast of England. Their rugged recesses once provided shelter for smugglers who were especially active on the Cleveland coast during the eighteenth century.

The steeple of a nearby church was one of the places where illicit kegs of wine, gin and whisky were once hid. Smuggling was a highly profitable business and was once a common activity on the coasts of Northumberland, Durham and North Yorkshire. The naturally secluded shelters of Cleveland’s cliffland coast once frequented by the smugglers may have been used in even earlier times by Viking longships, as the Vikings seem to have settled this area in particularly large numbers.

We know this from the evidence of Viking place names which are abundant in the area. Examples include Skinningrove, Carlin Howe and Loftus, respectively meaning ‘Skinner’s Pit’ ‘Witch’s Hill’ and ‘House with a Loft’.

A mix of Viking and Anglo-Saxon village names can also be found just inland from the coast. These Viking names include Stanghow, Moorsholm and Boosbeck which respectively translate as ‘Pole Hill’, ‘Moor Island’ (or moor houses) and ‘cow shed stream’.

Nearby Brotton, Liverton and Lingdale are likely to be Anglo-Saxon names. All are named from the valleys of little streams. Brotton is thought to mean ‘Brook-farm’, Liverton is a stream name (just like the ‘liver’ in Liverpool) and Lingdale derives from ‘ling’, a word for heather.

Staithes – Captain Cook’s Coast

Staithes, situated in a deep narrow creek formed by the Roxby Beck which cuts its way through the steep cliffs ten miles north of Whitby, is undoubtedly one of the prettiest coastal villages in England. Originally it was settled by the Vikings who gave the village its name which means ‘The Landing Place’ but romantics argue that the village owes its origins to a French shipwreck whose survivors settled ashore. Staithes is very popular with visitors who come primarily for the excellent scenery. Perhaps some also come in search of the headless ghost of a young girl who reputedly haunts the coast hereabouts.

Many visitors to Staithes just love the picture postcard setting of the village but some visitors may be on the trail of Captain James Cook who worked at Staithes as a boy when he was apprenticed to a local grocer. It was here at Staithes that he acquired the love of the sea that set him on course for his long and eventful career. Indeed upon leaving Staithes Cook headed straight for Whitby and from 1775 he worked for a Whitby shipowner employed on colliers shipping coals from the River Tyne to London.

Cook’s knowledge of the sea went from strength to strength and upon joining the navy he quickly progressed to the rank of Captain. In his voyages as captain many important discoveries of new land were made in journeys that took him to Australia, New Zealand, Alaska, Tahiti and Hawaii, where he eventually lost his life on the 14th February 1779 after a disagreement between local tribesmen and members of his crew.

Our YouTube channel explores the Viking history of Cleveland and the River Tees.

Stockton-on-Tees | Hartlepool Billingham Norton

Yarm and Eaglescliffe

Middlesbrough Around Middlesbrough

Guisborough and Cleveland



North East England History and Culture