Teesside University Boost Programme: The Tees Transporter Bridge, World War I and transporting Prisoners of War

Tim Butler For six weeks during the summer I have been working on a Teesside University BOOST placement on the £2.6m Heritage Lottery funded Tees Transporter Bridge Visitor Experience Project alongside Tosh Warwick, the Tees Transporter Bridge Education, Learning and Events Officer.

My experience working on the Middlesbrough Council led project has been exactly that; an experience. While I have worked in an office environment before, I have never worked on something that related so closely to my history degree and because my placement has been so relevant, I believe it has helped me to enjoy my experiences and achievements with a greater interest and to accept the challenges I have faced with a resolute sense of purpose. A considerable portion of my placement has been concerned with research and while some might find this taxing, as a history student I have relished the opportunity to hone my research skills as they are necessary for my degree.

The main focus of my research has been the role and use of the Tees Transporter Bridge during the First World War for an article which contextualises the role of the Bridge during WW1 at a time when much work is taking place as part of the Centenary commemorations.

For this research I have spent significant amounts of time working with the staff at Teesside Archives and Middlesbrough Reference Library, in addition to working with other organisations such as Stockton Libraries. Perhaps my most interesting discovery whilst undergoing this research was the presence of Prisoners of War at Port Clarence during the First World War.

Little is known about the Prisoners of War but the role of the  Tees Transporter Bridge in transporting POWs across the river was discovered when using Middlesbrough Council Minute Books detailing tolls and charges on the Bridge from 1914-1918. Newspaper cuttings from the Royal Visit to the Tees in 1917 even record German POWs waving to the King from the river side.

Another interesting part of my research has been my involvement in the ‘Bridging the World’ project/exhibition.

Dorman Long Illustrated 1959

After browsing the Cleveland Bridge Collection in Teesside Archives we made some important and timely discoveries of photographs documenting the construction of the Rio–Niteroi Bridge, built by the Cleveland Bridge Company and Redpath Dorman Long.

These photographs helped showcase Teesside’s bridge building heritage and the then ongoing FIFA World Cup in Brazil and were featured in a double page spread in the Gazette.  I was involved in press releases on a Transporter Bridge Dance Project and a Transporter Bridge book launch.

One of the highlights of my experience has been working on a well-known BBC Television production, providing historical research for those being filmed. The production will be aired in early 2015 and though I may not be visible on screen, I am there in spirit (and slightly behind the camera, out of sight). In addition to working with BBC Television, I also worked on an interview with BBC Radio Tees concerned with a local touring WW1 exhibition called ‘Remembering Our War’, which was resident at the Transporter Bridge Visitor Centre.

Remembering Our War

My experiences over my six-week placement have been most useful to my education and my career prospects; I have developed my skills in areas such as research and writing press releases and I have come to realise that there is a lot more to the professional working world than I previously thought.  I have sincerely enjoyed my summer placement; it has influenced my career decisions, even encouraging me to focus my dissertation topic on local history and I shall be continuing my role in a volunteer position with the soon to be launched Friends of the Tees Transporter Bridge group.

Tim Butler, History Student, Teesside University


James Cook, Canada West, Middlesbrough and All That…

If you have ever wondered about the people that fashioned the giant totem poles guarding the entrance of Captain Cook Birthplace Museum then Thursday evening’s talk by senior curator, Phil Philo on Captain Cook and Canada’s west coast had many of the answers. This was the final talk in the series of Royal Geographical Society/Institute of British Geographers programme kick started by the sell out Sir David Attenborough address at the Middlesbrough Theatre on “The Lost God of Easter Island.” It was a fascinating conclusion to a series of spotlights on aspects of Cook’s progress through his three great circumnavigational voyages of discovery.

This talk focussed on the third and final voyage, where the goal to try and find the fabled North West Passage was ultimately beyond even the great Cook. Mind you it was not until the early 20th century that anyone managed to cut a path through the Arctic ice and pick a route around the north of North America. Cook gave it a good try and as with his attempts to sail to the lost continent of the south he pushed on further than anyone before. If Cook couldn’t find a North West passage, Europe should really have realised that there wasn’t going to be an easy, worthwhile way to sail around Canada.

The third voyage is of course the voyage that claimed James Cook’s life on Hawaii but as Phil Philo pointed out there was an incredible amount of information and knowledge gathered from a mission that visited Canada, Russia and even China as well as many Pacific islands. Skilled artist John Webber recorded the peoples and the places visited with a series of detailed and revealing sketches and paintings. Eyes into many worlds now long lost.

Cook sailed into the vast sounds and fjord like waters off Canada’s west coast needing to replenish his supplies and replace a damaged mast. For the next month he and his crew explored the region around Vancouver Island and traded with a people that were very keen to barter for everything. Cook recorded in his log about a people that lived in a balance with the surrounding nature. They rowed boats and lived in houses of giant logs, dressed in clothes and hats fashioned from the bark and offcuts from trees of the forest. There were many examples of their skilful craving of the local wood, large house sculptures would later mature into the full scale totem poles once more metallic tools had found a place in their culture. Metal knives and large ship’s nails were top of the list of the items the Nuu-chah-nulth natives wanted in return for food, water, animal pelts and the wood for the ships.

Phil Philo told us that the name Nootka itself was probably a mistake, the local people called this out when they came out to reach Cook in their boats when he first arrived. They were probably telling him to go round the island to a better anchorage and he mistook it to be the name for their island.

A great thing about these slide talks is that as part of your £5 entry fee you can go into the museum and see examples of the artefacts collected by Cook. There are modern copies of the conical hats, with their whaling illustrations and the face masks worn as hunt decoys but there is also an original carved item collected from the voyage itself. It is amazing to actually see this.

Phil Philo explained that Cook always collected by trade. The expedition of the 18th century was in some ways far more enlightened in its foreign affairs than 21st century missions. Therefore when native people arrive from the Pacific or Vancouver area they are happy to see the artefacts on display in Middlesbrough. Even though in some cases these items could be the earliest survivals of an almost lost culture, there is a connection between our peoples and they are happy that through these artefacts they are in their thoughts. I love that idea. We are very lucky here in Middlesbrough to have these bridges to other cultures and societies right across the other side of the world.

Having been brought up in Marton and attended Captain Cook School I am obviously biased when I say Captain Cook Birthplace Museum is the best museum there is anywhere but I seriously think it takes some beating. Not only is this a celebration of the life and work of a remarkable man that was born into humble beginnings but also throws out hundreds of link to the wider world past and present.

This series of talks have been fascinating for revealing the back stories behind different aspects of the amazing collection. We can take our hats off not only to the feats of science and seamanship of Cook and his crew but also for the incredible skills of many of the native peoples encountered and their symbiotic relationship with nature that nurtured them.

I hope there will be more talks with the Royal Geographical Society/Institute of British Geographers and through following in the footsteps or fathoms of James Cook Middlesbrough can continue to explore its unique place in the wide world.

Incidentally Phil points out at the end of each talk that there is a considerable library of books in the museum and they can be available as a study resource if booked ahead. Next week, Wiremu Puke, a traditional New Zealand Maori craftsman is arriving at the museum and from Tuesday to Thursday he will be finishing a replica of a sculpture collected by the great 18th century botanist Joseph Banks, when he was travelling with Cook. You can watch Wiremu at work with traditional stone chisels before colouring the work, the same techniques Cook observed 250 years ago. Wiremu will be presenting the finished item for permanent display at the museum. Do get along to see him at work.




The Olde Young Tea House for Independent of the Year!

One of Middlesbrough’s thriving independent businesses is celebrating after winning the Middlesbrough heat of Independent of the Year. The Olde Young Tea House won the public vote, going up against both new and established businesses, showcasing the local indie scene with everything from micro pubs to disability aids to American sports clothing.

Now tea bees of Middlesbrough and beyond are being encouraged to cast their votes in the national competition – in fact, anyone who has ever set foot in The Olde Young Tea House can help them to win!

The Olde Young Tea House

The local heat was run entirely through Love Middlesbrough’s Facebook page, with a simple like or comment counting as a vote, and over 1050 votes were cast in likes alone.

Now The Olde Young Tea House is currently in second place in the national competition, up against a variety of businesses from all over the country, and needs your support.

Click [here] then like the photo to cast your vote – and don’t forget to share on your own Facebook page too.  With the power of social media, just a few likes can bring Middlesbrough’s indie offer to the attention of the whole country!

We love our ever growing independent scene and we don’t want it to be a secret any more – we want everyone to see how proud we are and how much Middlesbrough has to offer!


Auld Hands at Heritage Gallery

There is a fascinating exhibition of paintings that are windows into an almost lost world of heavy industry and manufacturing in the north east on show at the Heritage Gallery, Cargo Fleet. The once mighty shipyards of the great rivers of the region are brought back into work by artist Graham Hodgson but he does not gloss over any of the noise, dirt, grime or danger.

A former Coldstream Guard and Archaeological Illustrator, Graham was born into a shipbuilding family and community. He has utilised the skills developed from a Sunderland University BA Honours Illustration Art and Design to explore the heritage of his own working community.

Graham’s passion for his heritage and strong sense for his history is evident in every brush stroke. His paintings take a vantage point at the front line of the work face inside the shipyards.

These are paintings where the sparks fly, the metal being hammered is red hot. The chains are incredibly heavy. The toil is dirty, dangerous but highly skilled and so, so difficult. You can almost hear the deafening sound of those rivets being smashed home.

It might be dirty, noisy and dangerous but team work is to the fore. The sense of community and companionship bonded this band of work brothers.

It was life lived out in the shadow of the giant vessels all depicted through the eye and unfailing brushstrokes of former archaeological illustrator and son of the working community, Graham Hodgson.

The ships being built dwarf everything in scale and dwarf the lives lived out between shifts in rows of terraces off dark back alleys. People who mighty find sanctuary in the inviting glow from little taverns. There is perhaps some poetry in the shafts of light from stain glass windows of churches that bleed into that darkness. Or ion the other hand it could be spell a sickening sadness through another death in the community. A loss that is a ghostly vision in a window being peered into endlessly by a former worker,m perhaps nearing the end of his own days.

I chatted with artist Graham Hodgson about his exhibition and started by asking him whether his archaeological illustrator background had much influence in the way he approaches his subjects.

GH: It is telling the stories through history but trying to do the technical side of it as well which comes through the archaeological side of it. It is all the research from looking at all the old tithe maps to talking to all the people that worked in the ship yards, oral history. So the archaeological side of it is very strong and that will always come through.

I depict the old back lanes, with the back yards I used to live there, so I have got a personal history of that so I know exactly what that is like. But my paintings showing working in the ship yards, hammering steel or putting rivets in or fixing propellers on ships, when health and safety really wasn’t there, that is from research. My archaeological background really helps me because I know how to research.

I was talking to a gentleman here tonight he worked near this building when the iron works were here. So talking to him about that was very interesting and could lead me to do a next batch of paintings, continuing the theme.

The paintings in this exhibition you have a direct depiction of what happened in the ship yards years ago. The dirt, the rats etc. And the health and safety wasn’t there. But then you’ve got what happens after the ship yards. The painting Salvation. If we talk about a near death experience. Apparently you would go through a tunnel of light and end up at the other side. I have called it Salvation because it is what you’ve done and what’s coming next. So it is a depiction in the cubist form of someone working in the ship yards and they are going into heaven. Whether they are facing us we don’t know because they are a silhouette. Or are they facing away and facing the actual light. So you can read it as going into heaven from someone who worked in the shipyards or it could be depicting as someone working in the shipyards with all the steam and the smoke, the smog, fumes, no health and safety, no masks, no boots, wearing their own clothes. So the painting has those two things going on. But it’s actually leaving that darkness and going into the light in a working day or leaving earthly pain and going into heaven. So it is the same thing, leaving the darkness and going into the light. So it is a depiction of the shipyards but also what’s at the end of it as well.

Q: And when you are talking about lack of health and safety a lot of these guys have had the time bomb of being hit by asbestosis years and years afterwards, haven’t they? Now for many.

GH: Yes. Of course. You have people with tinnitus, hard of hearing. Hard to breathe at times. Because you would have guys rolling up asbestos and playing with it and throwing it at each other. I know that because I have been told that is what some used to do.

I remember my father coming home and being very quiet and me being a young child not knowing why. Whereas now when I talk to him he says it was when he saw an accident. On launch day, they launched a ship and it was just before he became chief engineer and they were launching a Royal Navy ship. A guy got caught in the chains and they couldn’t find parts of his body. The chains were so heavy, hundreds of tons, he was caught with the chains around him and that part of his body was shoved into his body. So a limb went into his body.

My dad used to just come home. Now he will tell stories about when I was young.

Q: It is almost like the horrors of war.

GH: It is. It is that roughness, that community. Play hard, work hard. That kind of community bond that you would have with a colleague. I was in the services myself and we would have that comradeship, somewhere like the desert where you are relying on him and he is relying on you. It was the same thing in the shipyards it was that band of brothers.

Q: And I can see from your paintings that they are literally working in teams.

GH: All the time. They are working in teams like the Tail End Gang (painting showing a team fitting a propeller on a giant ship) was a nickname for the guys working on the propellers. That really skilled gang would work on putting the propeller on. So they would know intimately what the other guy was going to do or was thinking. It was that working kind of ethic.

I was talking to an older guy, before doing this painting. He was harking back to want to get back to that. Almost like when I die I want to go back to that. Wanting that comradeship which he hasn’t got now.

Q: The painting at the other end showing the launching of a ship shows the amazing scale of these vessels.

GH: Massive, that is why I painted it. When Princess Anne came up to see my work in South Shields, she was doing an opening and I had the artwork up and was invited to go along. She looked at the artwork and I told her that that painting was of Northumbria which she launched in 1969. I said to her what about the size of it as I have only seen photos. She said it was so big it went over you. You cannot really picture it but tried to get it. But she said you got the size right. Because that was just the nose of the ship I have painted.

Q: It is like a whale. You have also painted a street where the ship is ready to launch at the end of the houses, completely overshadowing the whole community.

GH: Yes. I have deliberately changed the actual historical scene on purpose. It goes down hill but I have made it flat on purpose so it is generic with any scene in the north east, even Middlesbrough etc.. So I have changed it. So if you lived on that street you would say everything is there but the street went down. But I have made it flat on purpose so it is generic with any scene. So it could be Swan Hunters, which it actually is. Or Redheads, or Tyne Dock or Middlesbrough or docks in Sunderland or Hull or anywhere. So it is generic and that feeling of it.

Q: There is a painting of a church and you can see the lights shining out into the dark. Is that Jarrow?

GH: This is South Shields. It is a place called Hardon village where my father used to pass. We moved to Marsden Road, he would pass the church every day. When he would leave for work in the morning it was night time. Up very, very early. When he came back it was dark. He saw something was going on at the church because the lights were on. So I depicted that scene because he would pass it when it was night time and that is part of the shipyards, it is part of the heritage of my area and part of my background from what I remember my father saying. My mam would say there is something happening at the church and then they talk about it. That is why I painted that because he would pass that everyday.

Q: It obviously means a lot to you, your heritage and your family heritage and no doubt you want to depict it all before it is gone from everybody’s memories.

GH: That is right. There was a lady in earlier on and she looked at a painting of the man looking into the window and started crying because that connected to her, that sense of loss, that sense of it has past, there is a wanting for it. The painting of the old guy looking in the window, that old guy could be anyone. He could have money in the bank, he’s could be retired. He is could spend time somewhere else. He could be meeting someone else. He could be in Paris. He could be in the Lake District. He could be somewhere where he felt a little bit better but he’s not interested in that, all he is interested in is staying in his little broken down house, his furniture has gone, his  paintings have gone and he could be going to retirement home but he doesn’t want to, all he wants to do is sit in that dank house and look in that window where every so often he will sees (remember) his wife. He doesn’t want to be anywhere else he wants to be where he lived and where they had children. It is that sense of history.

Q: So are these paintings windows into people’s histories and shared memories?

GH: Yes, all these paintings I have spoken to gentlemen to find out what it was like doing that. Or where I spoke with Princess Anne to find out about the scale of the ship she launched. That is not even a quarter of the ship (that fills the canvas) it is just a fraction. Speaking to her about that, or the gentleman that made chains with his father. They had a big press.

(looking at a painting of men making chains) He said his buckle on his belt would get red hot. An old guy had said to him, turn your buckle around. You see they lifted the red hot metal and it was so close to them and their belt buckles. Their buckles would become red hot and if they bent over it would burn their chests. So they wore their belt buckles on their side so they didn’t burn themselves.

The guys holding the metal up were wiry guys but strong. They would have a big guy pulling the chain to hold it. The rest would hammer away at metal that was glowing red hot. They would pick it up when it was red hot without any gloves, no health and safety in their own clothes. They would walk home in the same clothes, their jackets would be ripped. No work clothes.

The old man Graham had talked to was describing the end of a generation here that worked in their own clothes without overalls, gloves, safety shoes, masks or anything at all. They moved their belt buckles that held their trousers up to prevent them getting molten from the red hot metal they were hammering just a few inches away from their bodies.

He said imagine the noise all day long of hammering the metal, if they missed it could have burst their eardrums. But they rarely did miss they were so skilful. So the conditions must have been incredible.

Auld Hands is on show at the Heritage Gallery, Cargo Fleet, Middlesbrough Road TS6 6XH until 15th August. There could hardly be a better place for an exhibition depicting the aces and places of north east heavy industry than the former head offices of Cargo Fleet Ironworks and later Dorman Long Teesside.

Please get along to see this powerful show. It is free. There is a big car park, a bus stop outside and a café in the gallery. Open 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.


Making a Splash with Chris Tomlinson

The good people of Middlesbrough had the opportunity to get in the splash with an Olympic athlete this morning. Middlesbrough long jumper, Chris Tomlinson, took time out of his training schedule today to pose on a massive 3D pavement artwork in Middlesbrough city centre to celebrate 20 year of National Lottery funding to sport.

The artwork was rolled out on the pavement in the centre of town depicting a gravity-defying diving board perilously high above a stadium of athletic sports which gave The National Lottery funded athlete his first try at the high dive.

With less than three weeks to go to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, Chris said it was fun to be back in Middlesbrough:

“It’s not long now to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the pressure is mounting so it’s nice to take time out of training to meet the public and have some fun with this piece of art.

“My career has been helped immensely by National Lottery funding and it’s helping me prepare for the Glasgow Games. It’s been great to have a go on the high dive and help celebrate 20 years of funding to sport. Everyone who plays the National Lottery should be proud of the difference their money is making.”

Every week, National Lottery players raise over £33 million for projects all across the UK and currently fund over 1,300 elite athletes.  In the last 20 years, over £180 million of National Lottery funding has been invested in sports projects in the North East. This includes over £15.8m of National Lottery funding to create and redevelop 170 sports pitches and playing fields in the region.

Vicki Kennedy, spokesperson for The National Lottery, said: “The National Lottery made its first draw twenty years ago this year.  Since then our massive investment in sport has raised the performance of our athletes – like Chris Tomlinson – built world-class venues, boosted grassroots sport and improved facilities in Middlesbrough and across the North East.”

After taking a step backwards from his pavement diving board experience Chris had a few words of thanks for the massive helping hand provided by National Lottery funding.

“It is 20 years of support of Lottery support for athletes. They have been a massive help to myself in the last 10 years or so. National Lottery Funding really helps the grass roots which are the backbone of the sport. We all look at the top end, the elite and that is very entertaining but everyone at the top end have come through the grass roots. You don’t just walk on the track and run 9 seconds or jump 8 metres, we all go through a system and that is something that really should be recognised.”

Chris was then a little more specific about the benefits of the funding.

“They offer the top athletes medical support, you pick up an injury and you get expert help and scans and they get on top of things very quick which allows you to get back on form asap.”

“Financial support is also decent,” he continued, “some get means tested out of this but it is very important particularly for young athletes. When you are coming through the ranks that is when it is really important.”

Chris will be hoping to make hit the mark in the long jump pit in Glasgow but how did this 3D diving board compare to his normal jumps?

“I jump much further but apart from when I go to schools I never measure it out or I would think I can’t jump that far.”

Having experienced the Olympics in London I wondered if it had given Chris a taste of what the atmosphere at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow might be like this summer.

“Absolutely I think London blew most peoples minds in all honesty. Obviously it was built up there’s no doubt about that but I think it delivered. I was fortunate enough to be in there in the so called Super Saturday, albeit missing the medal. But the atmosphere was incredible, it was just the noisiest stadium I’ve ever been in.

I was fortunate enough to be at the Riverside when we beat Steaua Bucharest and I always regard that as one of the best nights of my life and the atmosphere in there was pretty amazing. But the atmosphere at the Olympics was even better in all honesty. It was something special because everyone was behind the Brits. You go to a football match and there are maybe 80 000 people but you have half and half. I was going to say when Middlesbrough were playing but that was a few years back now. If we have Man U and Liverpool they might both have 40 000. But for the Olympics there were 75 000 people and 74 000 were all behind the Brits. But not only that, these are people that have been waiting for their tickets literally years in advance. So they are up for it. So it was very special and I am sure the Commonwealths are going to come close.”

So roll on the Commonwealth games then in Glasgow later this month and hopefully Chris Tomlinson can shake off niggling quad injuries to put himself back at the top of the English and Commonwealth long jumpers.