Middlesbrough’s Viking Suburbs: Ayresome
Although Middlesbrough is an industrial town at heart, its surrounds are made up of of a number of different communities that stretch out towards the lovely countryside of the Tees and Leven vales to the west and the Cleveland and Eston Hills to the south.
Many of these places started life as small agricultural villages or farms that have been absorbed by the growth of Middlesbrough in the nineteenth and twentieth century.
Several places have names that indicate their Viking origin. For example close to the town centre is Ayresome, previously the home to Middlesbrough Football Club. Middlesbrough played at Ayresome Park until 1995 when the club moved to the Riverside Stadium near the old Middlesbrough dock.
Once separate from Middlesbrough, Ayresome’s name comes from the Old Norse ‘ar husum’ which means ‘houses near the river’. Viking settlers probably established houses hereabouts in easy reach of the River Tees where perhaps their longships or fishing vessels were stationed. The name of Aarhus in Norway has exactly the same meaning as Teesside’s Ayresome, as may the east Denmark coastal town of Arhus.
Over the years the name Ayresome has changed slightly from Arushum in 1129 to Arsum in the thirteenth century and is marked on Saxton’s map of 1577 as Ars-ham but this spelling was probably a less accurate interpretation of the pronunciation than the modern form, Ayresome.
Normanby, Lazenby, Lackenby, Stainsby, Tollesby, Maltby, Coulby, Acklam and Nunthorpe
Several Middlesbrough suburbs have names ending in ‘by’ which signifies that they were once Viking settlements. It means ‘large farm’ or agricultural estate. The town of Thornaby (part of Stockton borough) to the west is perhaps the best known and its neighbours include Maltby and Stainsby each respectively the settlements of Vikings called Thormad, Malti and Stein. The name Stainsby is recalled in the song Stainsby Girls by the Middlesbrough-born singer and songwriter Chris Rea in reference to a school now called Acklam Grange.
Acklam is another suburb of Middlesbrough but its name seems to be Anglo-Saxon rather than Norse in origin. It means ‘at the oak woodland’ or ‘oak clearings’. Coulby Newham and Tollesby (the settlements of Kolli and Tolli) as well as Linthorpe are yet more Viking names. Thorpe (torp) is a term for a smaller outlying Viking settlement often connected to a ‘by’ place.
The Viking theme to the suburb names continues to the north and east. Notably, Normanby means ‘Norwegian’s farm’ and has nothing to do with the Normans or someone called Norman. Out towards Eston and Grangetown are Lackenby and Lazenby – the first being the settlement of a Viking called Hlackande , the second once a home to a ‘leysingr’ meaning a freeman.
Nunthorpe, a southern suburb on the outskirts of Middlesbrough was originally just called ‘thorpe’ being ‘a small farm’. It became Nunthorpe from a Cistercian nunnery that existed here in the twelfth century. The nuns who briefly settled there were apparently evicted from Hutton Lowcross for rowdy behaviour, though this may not account for the nickname ‘Naughty Nunthorpe’ that has sometimes been given to the area.
Ormesby, Ormesby Hall and North Ormesby
Ormesby is an intriguing name. Wyverns or ‘worms’ are very much part of North East legend and in Viking mythology dragons were called ‘Orms’. Ormesby is a place-name of Viking origin and means Worm’s village but the Orm of Ormesby was a Viking settler called Orm. This was a popular name amongst the Vikings and occurs in other English place-names like Ormskirk (Worm’s church) near Liverpool and Ormside (Worm’s Hill) in Cumbria. Like the Middlesbrough area, Cumbria and Merseyside were areas of extensive Viking settlement.
The stately Ormesby Hall is the best-known historic feature of Ormesby. The hall belongs to the National Trust and is primarily 18th century but originally dates back to the 1600s. It was once the home to the Pennyman family who owned the manor of Ormesby.
The quite separate North Ormesby to the north, known locally as ‘Doggy’ possibly from an old dog-leg in a railtrack, was a small ‘new town’ created by James Pennyman. Now a Middlesbrough suburb unlike the other ‘by’ names of Middlesbrough, North Ormesby does not have Viking credentials.
Coulby Newham : Catholic Cathedral
Coulby Newham is a modern suburb which represents one of the most recent developments in Middlesbrough’s expansion though it is built on the site of an earlier settlement.
It is the home to Middlesbrough’s modern Roman Catholic Cathedral of 1998 which is dedicated to St Mary. The cathedral replaced an earlier Victorian cathedral that stood in Sussex Street in the centre of Middlesbrough but this was gutted by fire in 2000.
The Roman Catholic diocese of Middlesbrough covers much of North and East Yorkshire and stretches as far south as the city of Hull which is included in the diocese.
Linthorpe, once a separate village is most familiar in the name of Linthorpe Road which was once a country road called Linthorpe Lane. It is the main thoroughfare in Middesbrough town centre and links central Middlesbrough to the suburb of Linthorpe.
Historically called Lyventhorpe the name of the village means the ‘farm belonging to Leofa’. The Victorians built a new village of Linthorpe in the 1860s but over time it was subsumed by Middlesbrough’s rapid growth.
In 1879 Christopher Dresser founded the Linthorpe Art Pottery in Linthorpe village and his business achieved signifcant fame and international recognition, receiving awards for its brightly coloured art-ware. Sadly there was strong competition from other potteries and the business did not last more than a decade. Examples of the pottery ware are highly collectable today.
Marton : Birthplace of Captain Cook
Marton is a pleasant southerly suburb of Middlesbrough with an Anglo-Saxon name that could mean marshy farm, or farm near a maer (a boundary), or perhaps even farm near a mere or a lake. It is home to the pleasant Stewart Park which contains the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum.
Of course, like most Middlesbrough suburbs Marton was once a quite separate village in a rural setting surrounded by open countryside. This was how it would have been in Captain James Cook’s day long before the town of Middlesbrough came into being.
The Captain Cook Birthplace Museum opened on the 28th October 1978. Cook was born on 27th October 1728 so it was a fitting celebration of the 250th anniversary of his birth. An urn made of granite from Point Hicks in Australia marks the spot of the thatched cottage where Cook was born. The purpose-built museum was constructed close by.
Cook was one of the world’s greatest explorers and navigators and the museum houses themed galleries and exhibitions associated with Cook’s life and travels. Cook later moved, as a boy, to Aireyholme Farm at the foot of Roseberry Topping – the famous hill which dominates the landscape to Middlesbrough’s south. Cook was educated at a school in nearby Great Ayton before moving on to Staithes and Whitby where his maritime career began. See our Cleveland page for more on Captain Cook and his local connections.
Cargo Fleet to South Bank and Tees Mouth
Today the modern industrial activity of the port of the Tees is downstream from Middlesbrough’s centre along the river to the east. Yet also just down stream from the old Middlesbrough Dock is an area of Middlesbrough called Cargo Fleet which has much earlier roots.
Cargo Fleet was originally a medieval fishing port called Kaldecotes or Caldcotes situated at the point where the Marton and Ormesby Becks joined the River Tees.
Before its medieval development, the Anglo-Saxon name Caldcotes referred to cold-shelter cottages, or a place of refuge where fishermen or travellers could shelter from the wild winter weather. Today, this site is lost in the industrial landscape of the district.
Somehow the name Caldecotes was corrupted into Cawker, then into Caudgatefleet and finally Cargo Fleet. During the eighteenth century Cargo Fleet was also known as Cleveland Port and was the point where large ships off-loaded their cargoes onto fleets of smaller vessels which were then able to continue the journey along the River Tees to the port of Stockton.
South Bank and Wilton
Further downstream to the east of Cargo Fleet is South Bank where the industrial landscape of the modern port begins to dominate. South Bank came into existence in 1855.
Neighbouring communities to South Bank include Grangetown – once the site of an outlying farm or ‘grange’ swallowed up by urban development. To the south is the nearby ICI Wilton Chemical Works complex which lies surprisingly close to the beautiful open scenery at the foot of the Eston Hills. The A174 acts as a line of demarcation between the industrial and rural scenery.
Wilton Castle is a 19th century mansion with a nearby golf course but is built on the site of an earlier medieval castle. Wilton was first mentioned in the Domesday Book and was the site of a manor that became a castle in the 1200s. The manor and later castle belonged to the notable Bulmer family until the sixteenth century who trace their origins back to Saxon times.
Eston and the Eston Hills
The Eston Hills were the local source for the iron ore on which Middlesbrough’s place as a steel town was built.
In 1881 one commentator described how the ironstone of the Eston Hills processed at Middlesbrough had been used in the building of structures throughout the world:
“The iron of Eston has diffused itself all over the world. It furnishes the railways of the world; it runs by Neapolitan and papal dungeons; it startles the bandit in his haunt in Cicilia; it crosses over the plains of Africa; it stretches over the plains of India. It has crept out of the Cleveland Hills where it has slept since Roman days, and now like a strong and invincible serpent, coils itself around the world.” Sir H.G Reid.
Eston has ancient origins. Eston Nab, a prominent landmark in the Cleveland Hills overlooking the Tees valley was the site of an Iron Age fort dating to pre-Roman times. Later, the Saxons settled the neighbourhood and gave Eston its name.
Eston means East Farm and the Teesside suburb lies across the busy road to the north of the Eston Hills. Eston’s parish church, dedicated to St Helen was built in the 1100s and stood here for centuries but in the late twentieth century it suffered from vandalism and fire. For the sake of its preservation the church was removed stone by stone with each block of stone carefully numbered.
The church was painstakingly re-assembled from 2011 as an historical attraction at the Beamish Open Air Museum in County Durham. It is part of the Pockerley Manor section of the museum which focuses on life in the North East in the early 1800s.
The Tees Estuary and Paddy’s Hole
The River Tees enters the sea in a wide estuary at Tees Bay north of Wilton, Grangetown and Redcar. Its entrance into the North Sea is clearly defined on the coast by the pier-like breakwaters of the North Gare and South Gare on either side of the estuary.
The gares were built following a great storm in 1861 in which 50 vessels were wrecked on the sand bars between Redcar and Hartlepool in the vicinity of the estuary.
Both Gares are under the management of the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority and the South Gare is the sight of a coastguard station which monitors the busy shipping activity of the estuary.
The South Gare with its little harbour of fishing boats is popular with photographers who enjoy the unique mix of scenery and the interesting drive through industrial landscapes to reach the gare.
The Tees estuary is one of the biggest on the North Eastern coast and is dominated on either side by the large areas of reclaimed industrial land called Seal Sands near Hartlepool on the northern bank and Bran Sands on the southern bank.
Docklands and the now redundant Redcar steel works dominate the south bank of the river and along with the industry to the north create a curious combination of natural beauty and industrial awe.
Over on the north side Seal Sands is the site of an Oil Refinery and a Chemical Works. The two hundred and twenty mile long Ekofisk oil pipeline has its terminus at Seal Sands by which oil and gas liquids are piped ashore from the Ekofisk oilfield for processing at one of the largest plants of its kind in the world. Today oil exporting is one of Teesside’s most important industries.
Despite all the heavy industry the Tees estuary is very important for its wildlife. Seal Sands is now only half its original size due to land reclamation but is still the winter home to thousands of wildfowl and waders.
Seals may still be seen basking in their man made surroundings. Autumn and Winter is the best time of the year for viewing wildlife at the Tees estuary.
The main species are Little Stints, Curlew Sandpipers, Ruffs, Greenshanks, Wood Sandpipers, Bar-Tailed Godwits and Whimbrels. In winter time Golden Plovers may also be seen but Winter is best for duck-watching when the main species are Shoveler Ducks, Widgeon, Long-Tailed Ducks, Goldeneye and Teal.