The Holgate Wall is standing proud. The preservation of the last feature of Ayresome Park was celebrated and given a religious blessing this week. On the anniversary of the final match at Boro’s former home a plaque was unveiled to celebrate nearly 100 years of football heritage.
Work to stop the wall falling into disrepair was completed late last year and on Monday (April 30) a special celebration took place at the wall 12 years to the day since the last ever competitive game at Ayresome Park.
The Holgate Wall originally formed the perimeter of the Holgate Poor Law Institution which was a Victorian workhouse. It would have kept the former inmates inside the institution where they were forced to work out their days in hard labour. Breaking rocks for the crime of falling on hard times.
It eventually acted as an enclosure wall behind the Middlesbrough fans’ Holgate End and is the only remaining part of the Ayresome Park ground. In 1966 when the venue was used for the World Cup the wall was hastily raised in height to keep people from leaping over to watch games for free.
Therefore far more than a pile of bricks the Holgate Wall has had an important role in the heritage and social history of Middlesbrough town and football club.
The future of the Holgate Wall was in doubt after Ayresome Park was demolished in 1997 to make way for 130 new homes. Residents, heritage consultants, local ward councillors and Boro fans campaigned for the wall to be preserved. It was a long, hard fight but one that was eventually won.
Repairing and stabilising work was carried out thanks to a £11,800 grant from Middlesbrough Council’s Capital Programme Small Scheme Allocation and a donation of £12,500 from builders Barratt Homes.
On Monday it was exactly 12 years since Boro beat Luton Town 2-1 in the last ever league game at Ayresome Park in 1995. John Hendrie scored the winning goal that day that eventually proved enough to clinch promotion. A fitting way to say goodbye to the old ground then in footballing triumph.
Twelve years on and those attending this week’s celebration for the saved wall enjoyed a cup of Bovril, in the company of former Boro goalkeeping hero Jim Platt. The former Northern Ireland no.1 had memories of saving a penalty at this end of the ground. There were also councillors present who helped secure the funding. Rob Nichols, resident of Ayresome Park and editor of Boro fanzine Fly Me To The Moon reminisced about standing on the Holgate and the unique atmosphere experienced in the former kop end. Father Pat Keogh came along to give the wall a Catholic blessing.
The small event also marked the installation of an information board erected near the wall to inform passers-by of its significance.
Linthorpe Councillor Julia Rostron said: “To have saved the wall, which is of historical value for the town and to Boro fans, is something to be really proud of and the information board will help ensure its significance will be clear to all.”
Mike Roberts, Managing Director at Barratt North East, said: “This is good news for local residents and the restoration will retain a piece of Middlesbrough’s sporting history for future generations.”
Rob Nichols, editor of Fly Me To The Moon, said the wall will act as a reminder of three important institutions in Middlesbrough’s history – the Work House, the General Hospital and Ayresome Park football ground.
He said: “The football ground was almost like a place of worship for Boro fans for nearly a century. Preserving those bricks in situ means we keep alive great names like Mannion, Hardwick, Clough, Camsell and Maddren.
“I can picture parents and grandparents standing by the wall and passing down tales of the great Ayresome players like passing down family heirlooms.”
The height of the wall has been reduced during repair works due to the foundations not being sufficient to support the wall’s previous height. But now it will stand proud and be able to withstand the rigours of winter as a permanent reminder of Middlesbrough’s sporting history and a monument to some of the darker times of our social history.
Photos Tracy Hyman – above Rob Nichols with John Wilson author of Ayresome Park Memories.
below – Jim Platt remembers with Mike Roberts, Barratt North East.
Father Pat Keogh talks to Lisa McCormick from BBC Tees.