We love International Museum Day!

Happy International Museum Day!

Given that museums are so full of history, and the fact that I just can’t stop myself being a history geek, I thought today was the perfect opportunity to talk about some lesser-known local museum history.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that we’ve only ever had two museums in Middlesbrough, but in fact, there was a second museum which opened after the Dorman and before the Captain Cook Birthplace.

Exhibiting a collection of mammals and birds, and local bygones, a relatively dinky museum lived in rooms in Marton Hall (a beautiful building located in what is now Stewart Park, which was unfortunately lost to fire).  The museum opened on June 18th 1931, but closed in 1939 when the outbreak of WWII required the Fire Brigade to take over the space it was occupying.  Sadly, it never reopened.

This fab little titbit came from The History of Middlesbrough by William Lillie, Borough Librarian (1968).

The Museum, Stewart Park, Middlesbrough
(Postcard from my own collection)

Delving even further back into history, a forerunner to Middlesbrough’s museums opened in 1859.  On Monday, 18 April, the Middlesbrough Polytechnic Exhibition opened at the Oddfellows’ Hall on Bridge Street West.

It was a great collection of objects, some of which fell into neat categories like watercolour paintings, but by far the biggest category was ‘miscellaneous’, so it was probably best described as items from people’s personal collections!

Contributors included HRH Prince Albert, the Earl of Zetland (the Second, Thomas Dundas), local notables HWF Bolckow and messers John and Henry Pease, current and future mayors of Middlesbrough, William Fallows and Edgar Gilkes, and prestigious manufacturers including Minton and Coalbrookdale.

This exhibition was four years before the Middlesbrough Athanaeum – a society organised for the cultivation of literature, science and the arts – was inaugurated (also at the Oddfellows’ Hall), and thirty one years before Middlesbrough’s first ‘museum’ opened to the public in the Town Hall, so it was probably only open to a select group of people.

Pages from the Polytechnic Exhibition programme
(From the Dorman Museum’s collection)

We couldn’t have a blog post about museums without mentioning our two gems.

The Dorman Memorial Museum opened in 1904, a gift to the town from Sir Arthur Dorman, in memory of his son George Lockwood Dorman, who died in the Boer War.  Dorman Museum The museum originally showcased the impressive personal collections of notable local figures, including Ancient Roman and Egyptian artefacts, and the extensive T. H. Nelson ornithological collection, which was bequeathed to the museum in 1914.

Today, the museum holds the largest public collection of stunning locally-produced Linthorpe Art Pottery in the world, and a highly impressive collection of items designed by the visionary Victorian industrial designer, Dr. Christopher Dresser.

The Captain Cook Birthplace Museum opened on the 28th October 1978 Captain Cook Birthplace Museum – the 250th anniversary of Cook’s birth. Its site in Stewart Park is close to the granite urn which marks the site of the cottage where Cook was born.

The galleries tell the story of the world-famous navigator, from his birth in Marton to his voyages.  It also has fab temporary exhibitions on Cook-related themes like seafaring, Pacific animals, and Australian Aboriginal life.

So there you go, a full on history geek post for International Museum Day!


Tom Dresser VC statue unveiled

The newest statue to a local Victoria Cross (VC) winner has been unveiled outside the Dorman Museum.  The statue was commissioned to mark 100 years since Private Tom Dresser was awarded a VC for his heroic actions in a battlefield in France, and was created by sculptor Brian Alabaster, who also created the amazing Stanley Hollis VC statue which stands opposite the Dorman Museum.

Tom Dresser was born in Yorkshire, around the beginning of the 1890s.  There are conflicting accounts of where, specifically, he was born, and in which year – it varies between 1891 and 1892.  According to the Beck Isle Museum in Pickering, which claims to have a copy of Dresser’s birth certificate, he was born near Easingwold on 9th April 1891, so hopefully this is a reliable record!

We do know that Tom was educated at Hugh Bell school here in Middlesbrough. He worked for Dorman Long, both before and after the war, before taking over his father’s newsagents, which stood at 65 Marton Road.  Many older residents of Middlesbrough still remember him, and the fact that he kept his VC in a tobacco tin behind the counter!

Tom Dresser’s VC was awarded for his actions on a battlefield near Roeux, France, on 12 May 1917, when he was aged just 24 years old and a Private with the 7th Yorkshire Howards Regiment.

His official VC citation gives more information:

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. Private Dresser, in spite of being twice wounded on the way, and suffering great pain, succeeded in conveying an important message from Battalion Headquarters to the front line of trenches, which he eventually reached in an exhausted condition. His fearlessness and determination to deliver this message at any cost, proved of the greatest value to his Battalion at a critical period.

Private Dresser was presented with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 21st July 1917.

A fun fact for you: Tom Dresser VC is distantly related to Christopher Dresser, the visionary Victorian designer, to whom a fantastic (and extensive) gallery in the Dorman Museum is dedicated.

These websites were super helpful while writing this post:


Discover Middlesbrough’s Rich History and Vibrant Present

Next weekend is lift off for the return of a popular festival that puts Middlesbrough’s history, heritage, arts and culture firmly in the spotlight.

And even if you think know Middlesbrough inside out, Discover Middlesbrough always has a few surprises in store.

The 2016 programme is officially launched this week, with a feast of events, shows and exhibitions getting under way on Friday, October 14.

It’s an annual open invitation to explore, experience and enjoy everything the town has to offer, and there really is something for everyone.

From the opening night until Monday, October 31, all are welcome to Discover Middlesbrough, from its well-known attractions to its hidden gems.

The festival will be launched in spectacular fashion with Nightfall in Centre Square, a family arts event commissioned by Middlesbrough Council and produced by Stellar Projects with support from Arts Council England.

Nightfall celebrates the theme of stars in the sky through installations, performances and workshops from 6pm on Friday, October 14.

Highlights of the fortnight include a talk by artist Ian Taylor on the final evening of his show at Pythongallery also on Friday, October 14, a walk around James Cook’s Marton (14th and 28th) and a Day School on life in the North East during the English Civil Wars the following day at the Dorman Museum.

Why not grab a breath of fresh air with historian-led walks with the Friends of Linthorpe Cemetery and Nature Reserve, or even join a 7km run to Larchfield Community on Thursday, October 20.

Treasures of the Town Hall will be the subject of a talk by the historic venue’s manager Rob Guest and heritage expert Tosh Warwick on October 21, and later the same day Streetwise Opera will give a lunchtime concert at Middlesbrough Central Library.

The ever-popular Magical History Bus Tour is back on Saturday, October 22 with a brand new route, and the following day there’s a rare chance for a ‘hard hat tour’ behind the scenes at Stewart Park’s Central Lodge.

Boro fans can find out all about their favourite fanzine from FMTTM editor Robert Nichols at Marton Library on Monday, October 24 and on October 27 there’s a walking tour linking the four grounds from the club’s early history.

There’s a 278th birthday celebration for Captain Cook on October 27, and the hugely popular Orange Pip Market returns to Baker and Bedford Streets on Saturday, October 29.

Discover Middlesbrough 2016 draws towards a close on Saturday, October 29 with a joint opening of poet and local historian PA Morbid’s first solo exhibition at the Pythongallery upstairs and downstairs the first ever Middlesbrough show of longterm Boro artist in residence, Dr Who illustrator and Hollywood collaborator, Richard Piers Rayner.

The festival finishes as it starts with a spectacular night time experience, a unique opportunity to experience Wilton industry at night on November 2nd.

Holiday Inn Express Sales Executive Tony Bainbridge said: “With our extension under way we are absolutely thrilled to see Middlesbrough developing and growing.

“We are very excited about the events surrounding Discover Middlesbrough, and cannot wait to kick the whole thing off with Nightfall!”

Councillor Lewis Young, Middlesbrough Council’s Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport, said: “Discover Middlesbrough is a celebration of Middlesbrough’s fantastic history and heritage, as well as its thriving contemporary cultural scene.

“The festival has become a popular fixture on the town’s calendar, with an array of fascinating events exploring Middlesbrough’s past, present and future.

“Once again visitors and local residents can look forward to an eclectic and inspiring mix of events, exhibitions, talks and walks.

“I hope everyone will take the opportunity to have a closer look at the things we treasure about the town, and perhaps along the way discover some gems that may have passed them by.”

  • Discover Middlesbrough is presented by Middlesbrough Council’s Festival and Events Team and co-ordinated by Tracy Hyman and Robert Nichols.

Discover Middlesbrough festival programmes are now available from venues across Middlesbrough, including libraries, community hubs, museums, Middlesbrough Town Hall, Middlesbrough FC and the Transporter Bridge Visitor Centre.

Digital versions can also be viewed at


Follow Discover Middlesbrough on Facebook at

https://www.facebook.com/Discovermiddlesbrough and on Twitter at @discovermbro

For more information, contact the Council’s Festivals and Events team on 01642 729085


Middlesbrough on Film Rescreening – Today

Join us at 2pm or 7pm for two re-screenings of the original North East Film Archive, Middlesbrough on Film archive film show at The Empire, £3.50.

First shown in 2013 and now back by overwhelming request North East Film Archive (NEFA) have opened their vaults again to present an evening of rare black and white colour footage sweeping back over the last century in Middlesbrough. There are two opportunities today to revel again in local nostalgia in the sumptuous surroundings of the late Victorian theatre, The Empire, Corporation Road, Middlesbrough.

It is a fantastic opportunity to view rare archive film footage on the big screen dating back to Edwardian times with the opening of the Transporter Bridge. Talking of bridges we don’t want the Newport Bridge to miss out, see it lifting one more time.

The whole area is still awash with celebrations of our Premier promotion heroes, you can watch Big Jack Charlton’s Champions in training on the moors and at Ayresome Park playing before the fans as they stormed to the old Second Division title in 1974.

The river is why we are here as a town in the first place in Tees-side. There is a lot of footage of the working river, with tug boats, ships, dock and most importantly of all the workers themselves. There are town centre street scenes from the era before the Cleveland Centre Middlesbrough. See f you recognise the old department stores. Then there is the scandal of the closure of the last Male Only bar in 1965. Controversial stuff!

The show lasts 90 minutes with a half time break for refreshments but it is divided up into lots of little films. Expert commentary is provided by NEFA’s Graham Relton as he sets the scene behind each short film clip.

This is part of Middlesbrough Local History Month, with walks, talks and all sorts of free and very affordable events running right through May at venues throughout Middlesbrough. Look out for our brochures or grab one online at www.historymiddlesbrough.com

facebook Discovermiddlesbrough

Ring to make sure of a seat – 01642 81 51 81

To discuss disabled access call Phil Douglas on 01642 729085



There’s a last chance to take a peek behind the scenes at one of the jewels in Middlesbrough’s crown before it undergoes a major makeover.

This late Victorian Grade II* listed gem is set to close to the public next month (April) for major restoration and redevelopment works.

The £8 million project – funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Middlesbrough Council and Arts Council England – will see historic parts of the building opened up, including the Victorian courtroom, cells and fire station.

Visitor access will be vastly improved, offering greater insight into the history of the building, while plans also include the restoration of the carriage driveway with original glass roof and the creation of new café and bar facilities.

This month’s tours – on March 16, 20 and 23 – will include the courtroom, carriage driveway, dressing rooms and the Victorian concert hall.
Going behind the scenes will be a chance to see where big hitters like The Clash and wrestler Big Daddy hung out before doing their thing on the main stage.
Talking of The Clash I recall that at the end of the night the crowd surged forward and ripped the main doors from their hinges. Ah the good old days!
People will have so many memories of this working building. I recall getting my weekly pay cheques in brown envelopes here before spending some of my £45 on a meal at the canteen in the old courtroom. This courtroom is itself a wonderful Victorian survivor that will become and arts venue and café when the building reopens.

Those joining these unique ‘last chance’ tours will also be offered the opportunity to be among the first to visit the building when it re-opens in 2017.

Cllr Lewis Young, Middlesbrough Council’s Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport, said: “The Town Hall is a truly iconic piece of Middlesbrough’s cultural heritage, and one that is rightly treasured by local people.

“These tours are a unique opportunity to have a look behind the scenes before this grand old building undergoes the biggest makeover in its history.”

There are some real surprises in store on the tours. How many knew that the town’s fire station once operated from this building? Or that gentlemen and ladies once pulled up at the hall under the cover of a carriageway. Both the carriageway and fire station sites still exist.

Under the courtroom prisoners waited to be called to the dock from prison cells still with their heavy doors and peep holes. You can stand in the dock yourself, beneath the ornately painted ceiling.

It will be a real boon for the town that the Victorian town hall can be opened up to more of the community and become a major attraction for the whole town. But soon it will be closing its big doors for sometime so do not miss out on a last chance to share the secrets of this grand old lady of Middlesbrough.

Tour Dates

Wednesday, March 16 2pm & 6pm
Sunday, March 20 11am & 2pm
Wednesday, March 23 2pm & 6pm

Tickets are £3 each or four for £10. Please note parts of the tour are not suitable for wheelchair users – contact the box office for further information.

Tours last approximately 90 minutes.

Book tickets via Middlesbrough Town Hall Box Office – 01642 729 729 or online via www.middlesbroughtownhallonline

last chance tour