Tag Archives: Stockton

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 2021

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 2018

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 2022

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 2021

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 2018

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:

The River Tees: Viking frontier

The Viking history of the River Tees is explored in a series of YouTube videos by David Simpson.

Low Force waterfall
Low Force waterfall, Teesdale. Photo © David Simpson 2018

In an English region where borders and frontiers have shaped history more than any other, the River Tees is one part of the North East that’s often overlooked. Yet this valley has one of the most distinct and varied histories within the region and was as much a frontier as the Tyne, Hadrian’s Wall, the Cheviot Hills or County Durham’s ‘Land of the Prince Bishops’.

The story of the North East role as a frontier is covered in our new You Tube series: The Five Frontiers with four short videos covering each of five frontiers from the Tees to the Tweed.

Surprisingly, Scotland’s borders once stretched to the Tees and in the first of four videos covering the Tees we look at this legacy and the influence of the Baliol and Bruce families, both of whom once dominated the Tees valley and both of whom would produce Scottish kings. We discover how the Tees became a short-lived border for Scotland and became a focus for Scottish raids that sometimes bypassed much of the region to focus on the Tees.

The Tees was not just a Scottish frontier, however. In fact the earlier ‘frontier’ history of the valley is crucial to understanding the role of the North East’s distinct history and role as a borderland. The revelation of the river’s role in this respect is revealed through an exploration of the Viking period when the Tees became a distinct cultural frontier that separated off the rest of the region and helped form the North East’s distinct identity of which the Tees itself formed a part.

Viking settlement in the Tees valley divided the Kingdom of Northumbria into two parts with much of the Viking settlement falling upon Yorkshire and stretching only a little to the north of the Tees itself.

In the first of the four videos covering the Tees we explore the period when the Tees became the Scotland border before heading into the earlier period of Viking settlement that would partly inspire the nineteenth century Scottish poet, Sir Walter Scott in his Teesdale-themed work ‘Rokeby’. Scott partly draws on Viking place-names and themes including the Norse inspired river and stream-names: Balder, Thorsgill Beck and of course the famous ‘force’ waterfalls with their Viking terminology. Scott’s poem is set in a much later period – the Civil War – but Scott seems to have understood the earlier role of the Tees as a frontier drawing on its distinct Viking place-name nomenclature.

In our second video covering the Tees we see how two of the most famous Viking Kings to reign within England had associations with the Tees. Eric Bloodaxe met his end here in this valley as a result of a political intrigue associated with the old fault line within the Kingdom of Northumbria that lay along the River Tees.

The river separated the political sphere of influence of the ‘Kings’ of Bamburgh from the Viking kings of York and the downfall of Bloodaxe really marked the beginning end of the end for Northumbria itself. The other great and powerful Viking king associated with the valley is Cnut, the Danish king of all England who held land within the valley which he bestowed upon the Community of St Cuthbert at Durham.

The third of the videos covering the Viking heritage of the Tees looks at the Viking Wapentake of Sadberge – the Viking territory that lay just north of north of the river as well as exploring Viking place-names along the entire course of the valley.

South of the river we explore the strong Viking associations in the Cleveland area, focused upon the prominent hill of Roseberry Topping, once called ‘Odin’s Berge’ a former centre of Viking pagan worship. In this video we also look at the legacy of the unique and fascinating Viking hogback sculptures that are unique to Britain and most significantly focused on the Tees valley and neighbouring Northallerton ‘Allertonshire’ area of North Yorkshire.

In the fourth video again exploring the history of the Viking valley of the Tees we find the story of the Sockburn Worm, a probable mythological legacy associated with the Vikings and set within a loop of the river that has significant Viking links as well as connections to the Christian heritage of Northumbria. Finally, downstream from Sockburn within another loop of the Tees we visit the town of Yarm where the remarkable discovery of Britain’s first Viking helmet find was made.

At some point the Tees-themed videos will be followed by more videos covering the other frontiers of the region, namely Northumberland’s border country; the River Tyne and Hadrian’s Wall Country; County Durham’s Land of the Prince Bishops and of course the region’s magnificent frontier coast.