Middlesbrough origins

‘Mydilsburgh’ is the earliest recorded form of Middlesbrough’s name and dates to Anglo-Saxon times. ‘Burgh’ refers to an ancient settlement, or perhaps a fort of pre-Saxon origin which may have been situated on slightly elevated land close to the Tees. ‘Mydil’ was either the name of an Anglo-Saxon or a reference to Middlesbrough’s middle location, perhaps from it being a middle stopping point between the Christian centres of Whitby and Lindisfarne or Whitby and Durham.

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

In Anglo-Saxon times Middlesbrough was certainly the site of a chapel or cell belonging to Whitby Abbey but despite this early activity Middlesbrough was still only a small farm of twenty five people as late as 1801.

In 1829 a group of Quaker businessmen headed by Joseph Pease of Darlington purchased this Middlesbrough farmstead and its estate and set about the development of what they termed ‘Port Darlington’ on the banks of the Tees nearby. A town was planned on the site of the farm to supply labour to the new coal port. Middlesbrough was born.

Lower Gosford Street, Middlesbrough
Lower Gosford Street, Middlesbrough (right) and the former National Provincial Bank (left), Middlesbrough were situated at the south eastern corner of the original new town of Middlesbrough © David Simpson

Joseph Pease, ‘the father of Middlesbrough’ was the son of Edward Pease, the man behind the Stockton and Darlington Railway. By 1830 this famous line had been extended to Middlesbrough, making the rapid expansion of the town and port inevitable. In 1828 Joseph Pease had predicted there would be a day when:

“..the bare fields would be covered with a busy multitude with vessels crowding the banks of a busy seaport”

Middlesbrough Farm and Joseph Pease
Middlesbrough Farm and Joseph Pease

Pease’s prophecy was to prove true, the small farmstead became the site of North Street, South Street, West Street, East Street, Commercial Street, Stockton Street, Cleveland Street, Durham Street, Richmond Street, Gosford Street, Dacre Street, Feversham Street and Suffield Street, all laid out on a grid-iron pattern centred on a Market Square.

Tower Green, Middlesbrough
Tower Green, Middlesbrough and the old Town Hall of 1846 mark the site of the original town of Middlesbrough © David Simpson

The town was a centre for shops as well as houses and in 1846 a little town hall was built at the centre of the square, one of the few features of the old town that survive.

New businesses quickly bought up premises and plots of land in the new town and soon shippers, merchants, butchers, innkeepers, joiners, blacksmiths, tailors, builders and painters were moving in.

Transporter Bridge and Dock Tower, Middlesbrough
Transporter Bridge and Dock Tower, Middlesbrough © David Simpson

Labour was employed, staithes and wharves were built, workshops were constructed and lifting engines installed. Indeed such was the growth of this port that in 1846 one local writer observed:

“To the stranger visiting his home after an absence of fifteen years, this proud array of ships, docks, warehouses, churches, foundries and wharfs would seem like some enchanted spectacle, some Arabian Night’s vision.”

By 1851 Middlesbrough’s population had grown from 40 people in 1829 to 7,600 and it was rapidly replacing Stockton as the main port on the Tees. An old Teesside proverb had proven true;

Yarm was, Stockton is, Middlesbrough will be “

The River Tees at Port Clarence looking towards Middlesbrough
The River Tees at Port Clarence looking towards Middlesbrough © David Simpson

Old Middlesbrough : ‘Over the Border’

Middlesbrough’s town centre today is quite different from the original town planned by Joseph Pease and Partners in 1829. The original early town was centred on a market square, where the first old town hall was built in 1846. Immediately to the south of this early town, lay the railway line and station of 1877, separating it from the new town centre that developed to the south.

As Middlesbrough grew, its boundaries quickly expanded south of the railway, leaving the old town somewhat isolated between the railway and river. Gradually the centre of commerce, trade and local government shifted south of the railway.

Queen's Terrace and PD Ports building, Middlesbrough
Queen’s Terrace and PD Ports building, Middlesbrough. This is part of  the old area of Middlesbrough that is ‘Over the Border’  © David Simpson

The older, original part of Middlesbrough north of the railway is sometimes known as ‘Over the border’, the border being the railway itself, although the A66 which runs across the town as a bridge a little to the south but parallel to the railway, reinforces the sense of a ‘border’.

Some features of the earlier town can still be seen, though nothing survives from the 1830s. Middlesbrough’s oldest pub, the Ship Inn, in Stockton Street was demolished in recent years. The humble Italianate style Old Town Hall of 1846 stands at the centre of the cleared, empty green square of land that once encompassed the entire extent of the early planned town of Middlesbrough. The actual streets have been demolished but street-names survive in a handful of roads that cross the green. The whole area is currently at the heart of new developments.

Another survival is the old Middlesbrough Custom House in North Street near to the river. North Street was built roughly where the old farmhouse of Middlesbrough had once stood.

Queen's Terrace Middlesbrough
Queen’s Terrace Middlesbrough © David Simpson

Notable buildings in this area north of the railway ‘border’ include Georgian style houses, (now offices) in Queens Terrace, which are of the 1840s and once belonged to the Middlesbrough’s first owners. Next door, the adjoining, red brick offices of PD Ports (formerly the Tees Conservancy and later Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority)  date from the 1890s. On the opposite side of Queen’s Square (a broad street) is the New Exchange Building of 1874 by W.H Blessley. The nearby Royal Exchange Building of 1868 was demolished in the 1980s to make way for the A66.

New Exchange Building, Middlesbrough
New Exchange Building, Middlesbrough © David Simpson

Nearby, at the south end of Queen’s Square is the railway. It crosses the road via the ‘NER Albert Bridge’ that partly hosts the platforms of Middlesbrough Station. For now, though, we remain on the north side of the ‘border’ and head north along Cleveland Street towards the river and the Transporter Bridge.

Former National provincial Bank, Middlesbrough
Former National provincial Bank, Middlesbrough © David Simpson

On the corner of Cleveland Street and Gosford Street is the former National Provincial Bank of 1872, built in French Baroque style by the architect John Gibson. It lies at what was once the south east corner of the original planned town of Middlesbrough and in later times was the home to the Cleveland Club, utilised by Middlesbrough business people.

Home of Bolckow and Vaughan plaque
Home of Bolckow and Vaughan plaque © David Simpson

Directly opposite, on the corner of Cleveland Street and Low Gosford Street are the Cleveland Buildings, Georgian in style and dating from 1841. They were the home to the ironmasters Henry Bolckow  (whose full name was Charles Ferdinand Henry Bolckow) and John Vaughan who were married to sisters and lived next door each other.

Former house of Bolckow and Vaughan in Cleveland Street.
Former house of Bolckow and Vaughan, Cleveland Street looking towards the Transporter Bridge. The ironmasters lived here from 1841 © David Simpson

Transporter Bridge and Middlehaven

Heading north and skirting the green that marks the site of the original town to the left, it is a short walk to the Transporter Bridge, riverside area and former dock area called Middlehaven to the north.

The striking Transporter Bridge across the Tees stands poised like some huge metallic dinosaur and was designed by the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company of Darlington. It was opened on 17th October 1911, by Prince Arthur of Connaught. There exists some black and white cinematography footage of the opening of the bridge with its cable car crowded with dignitaries. One chap falls over the edge, leaving his hat behind as the car departs to the opposite bank, but fortunately he lands on a ledge and is pulled to safety.

Transporter Bridge, Middlesbrough
Transporter Bridge, Middlesbrough © David Simpson

The magnificent Transporter Bridge is like a cross between a ferry and a bridge. Vehicles are transported across the river by means of a moving car which is capable of carrying 600 persons or 9 vehicles across the Tees to Port Clarence in two and a half minutes. Like the later Newport Bridge, a little further upstream, it was designed to facilitate the movement of ships along the River Tees.

The Transporter Bridge is a prominent landmark across Teesside
The Transporter Bridge is a prominent landmark across Teesside © David Simpson

The bridge has a 160 feet clearance above the river. It is an iconic landmark and symbol of Teesside and is perhaps not as well-known as it should be. It was here in the region almost two decades before the Tyne Bridge at Newcastle was constructed.

Transporter Bridge, Middlesbrough
Transporter Bridge, Middlesbrough © David Simpson

A little to the south and east of the Transporter Bridge is the former Middlesbrough Dock which opened in 1842 and is now known as Middlehaven. Here we find Middlesbrough College, the Dock Clock Tower, the Temenos sculpture and just across the dock itself, the Riverside Stadium which is home to Middlesbrough Football Club.

The Dock Clock Tower, dated by Historic England to around 1870 was used as a water tower holding reservoirs of water for the powering of hydraulic cranes. It only has three clock faces due to concerns that a river-facing clock might distract workers along the riverside from their toil.

Dock Clock Tower, Middlesbrough
Dock Clock Tower © David Simpson

Close by is the curious Temenos sculpture by artist Anish Kapoor and structural designer, Cecil Balmond which was unveiled in 2010. Two steel rings at a height of 164 feet are linked together across a distance of 360 feet by woven steel wire.

Temenos is a Greek word signifying land set aside for sanctuary or as a holy place. The adjacent Riverside Stadium is a holy place for the fans of Middlesbrough Football Club, known of course as ‘Boro’. The stadium opened in 1995 and can hold just under 35,000 people.

Temenos and the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
Temenos and the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough © David Simpson

Iron and Steel

Middlesbrough was established as a coal port and today the wider Teesside area is perhaps best-known for its chemical industry, but the real historic lifeblood industry of Middlesbrough was the making of iron and steel.

In 1850 Iron ore was discovered in the Cleveland Hills near Eston to the south of Middlesbrough and Iron gradually replaced coal as the lifeblood of the town. The ore was discovered by John Vaughan, the principal ironmaster of Middlesbrough who along with his German business partner Henry Bolckow had already established a small iron foundry and rolling mill at Middlesbrough using iron stone from Durham and the Yorkshire coast. The new discovery of iron ore on their doorstep prompted them to build Teesside’s first blast furnace in 1851.

Iron was now in big demand in Britain, particularly for the rapid expansion of the railways being built in every part of the country. More and more blast furnaces were opened in the vicinity of Middlesbrough to meet this demand and by the end of the century Teesside was producing about a third of the nation’s iron output.

Henry Bolckow statue, Exchange Square, Middlesbrough
Henry Bolckow statue in Exchange Square, Middlesbrough © David Simpson

The status of Bolckow and Vaughan reached great heights in Middlesbrough and in 1853 Bolckow became the town’s first mayor and fifteen years later became its first Member of Parliament. The development of Middlesbrough as an ‘Iron Town’ spurred on its continuous growth and by 1860 its population had increased to an incredible 20,000. Two years later, the town was visited by the Victorian minister Gladstone who remarked:

“This remarkable place, the youngest child of England’s enterprise, is an infant, but if an infant, an infant Hercules”

By the 1870s, steel, a much stronger and more resilient metal was in big demand and Middlesbrough had to compete with Sheffield. In 1875 Bolckow and Vaughan opened the first Bessemer Steel plant in Middlesbrough. At first phosphorous ores had to be imported from Spain for the making of the steel, but by 1879 methods were developed which could use local iron ores.

Middlesbrough’s rapid growth

The expanding iron and steel industry of Middlesbrough in the 1860s and 1870s spurred on the growth of Middlesbrough with a population of 19,000 in 1861 increasing to 40,000 only ten years later. The residents of this early town came mainly from neighbouring Yorkshire and the North East, but later from Cheshire, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and some European countries.

At the turn of the century Middlesbrough’s population had more than doubled to 90,000 and it must have been hard to believe that only seventy years earlier the town did not exist.

Today Middlesbrough has a population of 150,000 and is undoubtedly the heart of the Teesside conurbation and the modern ‘capital’ of the area. In English history nothing compares to Middlesbrough’s rapid growth. It is no wonder that Middlesbrough has been described as the ‘oldest new town’ in England.

Newport Bridge, Middlesbrough
Newport Bridge, Middlesbrough © David Simpson

Bridges of Steel : Tyne, Tees, the World

Associated with the making of steel on Teesside is the construction of bridges, one of the industries for which the area has achieved international recognition. Chief among the bridge building firms was Dorman Long, a firm which began as an iron and steel works in 1875 manufacturing bars and angles for ships.

A natural progression from this was to become involved in the construction of bridges particularly when Dorman Long took over the concerns of Bell Brothers and Bolckow and Vaughan in the late 1920s.

The most famous bridge ever constructed on Teesside was Dorman Long’s Sydney Harbour Bridge of 1932. This was partly modelled on the 1929 Tyne Bridge, a construction regarded as the symbol of Tyneside’s Geordie pride, but also a product of Dorman Long’s Teesside workmanship. The great example of Dorman Long’s work on Teesside itself is of course the single span Newport Lifting Bridge. Opened by the Duke of York in February 1934 it was England’s first vertical lifting bridge.

Newport Bridge, Middlesbrough
Newport Bridge, Middlesbrough © David Simpson

With a lifting span of 270 feet and 66 feet in length it is constructed from 8,000 tons of Teesside steel and 28,000 tons of concrete with towers 170 feet high. The electrically operated lifting mechanism allowed the road to be lifted 100 feet in one and a half minutes by means of ropes passing through sheaves in the four corner towers. The Newport Bridge’s lifting mechanism is no longer active.

Albert Bridge, Middlesbrough
Albert Bridge, Middlesbrough, the railway formed a border between the old part of town and new town centre that developed following the southward expansion of the town © David Simpson

Middlesbrough Centre

Middlesbrough is arguably the capital of Teesside and the Tees Valley and is famed for its industry, football club and Transporter Bridge. The heart of the town lies to the south of the railway and we cross from the old town site beneath the NER Albert Railway Bridge underneath the railway bridge into Exchange Place at the northern end of Albert Road.

Commerce House on the corner of Exchange Square, Middlesbrough
Commerce House on the corner of Exchange Square, Middlesbrough © David Simpson

Branching off on the east side is Exchange Square which hosts a statue of Henry Bolckow and home to the Zetland Buildings and Commerce House of the 1870s.

Across the road from Commerce House is Middlesbrough Railway Station which faces a prominent building called The Spensley’s Emporium on the corner of Zetland Road and Albert Road.

Corner of Albert Road (left) and Zetland Road
The Spensley’s Emporium on the corner of Albert Road  (left) and Zetland Road  (right). The red bridge at the far left of the picture carries the A66 across Albert Road © David Simpson

The Emporium building was built in the 1870s by G. Hoskins of Darlington for Backhouse Bank. Zetland Road is home to a number of handsome buildings that face the arches of the railway station across the road. The Emporium is bounded on its south side by the long sweeping bridge that carries the A66 through the centre of Middlesbrough.

Following Albert Road under the A66 bridge we enter Middlesbrough’s town centre, with the prominent tower of Middlesbrough Town Hall further along the street to the left and another prominent tower – that of the Waterhouse Building of Teesside University at the far end of the street.

Middlesbrough Town Hall, Corporation Road
Middlesbrough Town Hall, Corporation Road © David Simpson

The Town Hall and its municipal buildings date from 1883-1889 and were built by G.G Hoskins of Darlington. It stands at the crossroads junction of Albert Road and Corporation Road. Just to its east in Corporation Road is the Middlesbrough Empire, a nightclub and music venue originally built in 1897 as the Empire Palace of Varieties music hall.

Middlesbrough Empire
Middlesbrough Empire © David Simpson

On the south side of the Town Hall flanking Albert Road is the green of Centre Square which forms something of a central focal point for the town.

Town Hall, Centre Square, Middlesbrough
Town Hall, Centre Square, Middlesbrough © David Simpson

There are a number of features of interest here. There are some pleasant fountains and two Victorian statues, one of the ironmaster John Vaughan and the other of Sir Samuel Sadler, father of the Teesside chemical industry.

Statues of Samuel Sadler (left) and John Vaughan
Statues of Samuel Sadler (left) and John Vaughan (right) in Middlesbrough’s Centre Square © David Simpson and 2018

The nearby figure of John Vaughan stands outside the Edwardian public library of 1912. The library was one of the Carnegie libraries established with funding by the Scottish-American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919).

Public Library of 1912, Middlebrough
Public Library of 1912, Middlebrough, a Carnegie library © David Simpson

Next door to the library is MIMA (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art) which was established in 2007 and one of the nation’s foremost galleries of contemporary art.

Centre Square with Middlesbrough with MIMA to the right
Centre Square, Middlesbrough with MIMA to the right © David Simpson

Close by is the sculpture entitled Bottle O’ Notes by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen which has been here since 1993. The text on the outside of the bottle is from the 1768 ships log of the Middlesbrough-born Captain James Cook, while the inner text is from a poem by Coosje van Bruggen.

Bottle O' Notes sculpture , Middlesbrough
Bottle O’ Notes sculpture, Middlesbrough © David Simpson

Across the other side of Albert Road from Centre Square is the Cleveland Centre shopping centre which lies between Albert Road and Linthorpe Road to the west. Across Linthorpe Road west from the Cleveland Centre there are more shopping areas around Gilkes Street, Captain Cook Square and neighbouring Newport Road.

Albert Road finally terminates at the junction with Borough Road but a short continuation to the south is the University Boulevard which forms the entrance to Teesside University’s Waterhouse Building. It was built in 1877 by the famed architect Alfred Waterhouse as Middlesbrough High School but was subsequently acquired by Constantine Technical College in the 1960s, which later evolved into Teesside University.

Waterhouse Building, University of Teesside
Waterhouse Building, University of Teesside © David Simpson

A significant area south of Borough Road is dominated by the buildings of the University of Teesside which are flanked on their west side by Linthorpe Road. Linthorpe Road, which runs north to south from the western end of Zetland Road near the railway station runs parallel to Albert Road, but is a much longer road.

A little to the south we find Linthorpe; Ayresome; Albert Park and the Dorman Museum and beyond, further to the south is Marton (with Stewart Park); Ormesby; Stainton; Acklam and Nunthorpe.

Middlesbrough Parks and Suburbs

Stockton-on-Tees | Hartlepool Billingham Norton

Yarm and Eaglescliffe  

Guisborough and Cleveland | Cleveland Coast

YouTube : Viking history of the River Tees


North East England History and Culture