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.

Credits
These websites were super helpful while writing this post:

Tees Transporter Bridge Visitor Experience – Teesside University Boost Placement Blog

pn41XX Transporter volunteer Pic 2 (4)

During Summer 2015, Laura Forbes worked alongside Middlesbrough Council staff in the day-to-day running of Teesside’s iconic Tees Transporter Bridge as part of the Teesside University Summer BOOST Programme.  Here Laura recalls her time on the HLF-supported Tees Transporter Bridge Visitor Experience Project…

Throughout my time at the Tees Transporter Bridge Visitor Experience Project, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with local schools in promoting the Bridge’s heritage. This has included assisting with tours, creating presentations and worksheets. Having never worked specifically with schools before, I didn’t realise the importance of promoting heritage from a young age. I was surprised to find how in awe of the Bridge, and how eager visiting school groups were to learn more about it. Their enthusiasm was contagious and really brought home to me the importance of children in the role of heritage. I also found they had the most profound perceptions of the Bridge, particularly those who live in Port Clarence – they described the Bridge as something that made them feel ‘safe’ and like they could ‘never get lost’. It was very touching to see how important this landmark was in their day-to-day lives.

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Inspired by the project, I also developed a link-up with local writing company, Ek Zuban, in creating a wider heritage creative writing session.  This would come to fruition in the form of not only a performance of creative writing inspired by and in the shadow of the famous landmark, but also a musical performance too.

I realise the legacy of the Bridge’s heritage lies with these children and the importance of creating an unforgettable first experience of the Bridge, so as they grow older, they too can pass on these fond memories to others and keep the vision of the Transporter Bridge as an iconic landmark alive.

With the support of Teesside University, I have also utilised the camera loan system and captured unique parts of the project – there have been countless opportunities where having a camera has made a real difference. Many of the images I’ve taken onsite have been used for press releases, publications and social media – I’ve felt proud to be able to contribute towards the promotion of the Bridge in a visual way. I’m now even saving for a D-SLR camera of my own. I’ve always had an interest in photography, but have never gone as far as to purchase a camera. This placement has inspired me to pursue this hobby, and to be able to develop new skills in this has considerably increased my employability.c/o Teesside Archives

As I am a student studying English at Teesside University, I was given the opportunity to create blog posts and contribute to press releases. I felt I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the conventions of these formats of writing. Furthermore, simple daily writing tasks, such as emailing, have helped me develop a mature and formal tone when communicating with colleagues, whilst this better understanding of what is expected in press releases – invaluable should I wish to enter a role in PR.

During the course of the placement I particularly enjoyed working at the newly renovated Transporter Bride Visitor Centre, from greeting visitors to the Bridge to setting up the venue for special events.  This also provided a fantastic opportunity to share what I’ve learnt about the heritage of the Transporter Bridge with visitors. I have thoroughly enjoyed interacting with people who visit the site, and I have surprised myself with the amount of knowledge I’ve picked up just being around the Bridge and the people that are passionate about it. I did my best to make sure people’s experience at the Bridge was a positive one.

I feel very proud to say I have been involved in the Tees Transporter Bridge Visitor Experience, so much so that I have joined the Friends of the Tees Transporter Bridge and volunteered beyond my placement.  My time at the Transporter has increased my confidence in dealing with the public and helped create a sense of pride that I have added positively to their experience at the Bridge.  I would encourage anyone interested in volunteering at the Bridge or participating in a placement there to pursue this truly unique experience.

Are you interested in volunteering at the Tees Transporter Bridge? Visit www.teestransporterbridge.com for more information. 

Middlesbrough: A centre for design lovers

Guest post by Sarah Laurenson.

In October 2014, a group of historians and researchers visited Middlesbrough for a conference, titled ‘Victorian Cities Revisited’, to explore and share knowledge and ideas on place, space and industrial heritage. Sarah Laurenson, a doctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh with a background in design and craft practice, reflects on her experiences during the visit.
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When I stepped off the train from Edinburgh late at night, I knew very little about Middlesbrough. I was attending the conference as part of my research into nineteenth-century craft and design, which involves thinking about how industry and production shaped everyday life in Britain’s towns and cities. I was expecting to hear some interesting papers, and maybe meet a few like-minded folk.

© Sarah Laurenson

Over the next two days, I was utterly charmed by Middlesbrough itself. I discovered a fascinating town steeped in history, and packed with interesting examples of design. My first taste was seeing the Victorian architecture on my morning walk through the heart of the town to the Gothic Town Hall, where the conference was held. One of the first things I learned was how Middlesbrough rose from almost nothing to become a major industrial centre in a very short period of time. In 1801 there were four houses and about 25 people living in the area; just 90 years later, the population had grown to around 90,000 as a result of the rise of the iron industry. The whole town is a product of nineteenth-century industry.

c/o Teesside Archives. CB/M/E 24In the afternoon we took a walk to the Tees Transporter Bridge – one of several trips organised as part of the conference, including tours of Teesside Archives – and learned about its design and construction. The landmark is one of the longest of its kind, and is still fully operational more than a century after it opened in 1911. It carries vehicles and passengers across the River Tees on a gondola suspended on steel wires from a rail system 160 feet above the water. We also came to understand how the Transporter has become iconic of Middlesbrough and the surrounding area as a great blue steel monument to a rich history of industry. Currently undergoing major renovations as part of a Heritage Lottery Fund supported project, the Bridge will reopen with a newly renovated Visitor Centre in the near future.

On the second day of the conference, I took a walk to the Dorman Museum to see the Christopher Dresser Collection. Often named’ the father of modern design’, Scottish-born Dresser (1834-1904) is considered to be the first independent industrial designer and was a household name in his lifetime. Dresser is known for embracing the machine, in-keeping with his ideas that good design should be simple, functional and affordable, at a time when other important designers looked to the past and ancient hand techniques. The exhibits of Dresser’s own designs – wallpapers, textiles, ceramics, glass, metalware and furniture – along with objects that inspired him during his travels to Japan, document Dresser’s life, work and travels.

Dresser © Sarah Laurenson Dresser © Sarah Laurenson

Baker Street  © Sarah Laurenson

Arriving back at Centre Square (but not before I had a look in a few of the lovely independent shops on Baker Street), I headed into mima to discover one of the finest collections of contemporary jewellery in the UK. The newly-opened jewellery gallery has 200 pieces on display by designers including Wendy Ramshaw, Felieke van der Leest and Gijs Bakker. An exhibition charts the growth of a movement known as ‘New Jewellery’, which began in the 1970s through collaborative working and exchange between artists and designers from Britain, Holland and Germany. The movement was centred on the use of new and old materials and techniques to challenge the very concept of jewellery. The gallery is an absolute must-see for any budding jewellery designer. In fact, I think it will become a place of pilgrimage and an important learning resource for designers and makers of all sorts of things. It blew my mind.

mima © Sarah Laurenson mima © Sarah Laurenson

The keynote lecture of ‘Victorian Cities Revisited’ was delivered by Professor Robert J. Morris, Professor Emeritus at the University of Edinburgh’s School of History. Titled ‘Place and memory in the industrial city’, Morris’s talk gave insights into his own experience of Middlesbrough (including his first job as a pay clerk in the very Town Hall in which we were sat). He spoke of how this ‘town without a history’ invented an identity based on a sense of its huge achievements. Over the next hour, we considered the ways in which other industrial centres have transformed unused plant and mills to create new spaces for hotels, design studios and museums, and the exciting possibilities for Middlesbrough to continue redefining itself through its many assets: the bridge, old coke furnaces and the water front.

I spent my last hour in Middlesbrough back in mima’s jewellery gallery before returning to Edinburgh feeling more than just a little bit fond of this unassuming gem of a town. It is a centre for design-lovers of all kinds – students, researchers, designer-makers, craft workers, fabricators, engineers. I’m certain that my first time in Middlesbrough certainly won’t be my last.
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Sarah Laurenson visited Middlesbrough as part of her PhD research on the Leverhulme funded project, ‘Artisans and the Craft Economy in Scotland, c.1780-1914’ led by Professor Stana Nenadic at the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh.

Victorian Cities Revisited: Heritage and History Conference’ was a two-day conference organised by Tosh Warwick of the Heritage Lottery Fund supported Tees Transporter Bridge Visitor Experience Project and the University of Huddersfield. The conference was funded with support from the Economic History Society and Middlesbrough Council.

All images © Sarah Laurenson, except Tees Transporter Bridge, which is courtesy of Teesside Archives (ref:  CB/M/E 24).

Acklam Hall Tour – Local History Month 2014

On Sunday May 4th, Acklam Hall in Middlesbrough threw open its doors to the public as part of Local History Month 2014. Modest expectations for the visitor numbers were spectacularly shattered when over 1000 people arrived to view the 17th Century building which for generations was the home of the eminent Hustler family, passing down through the generations in one of the longest periods of continuous ownership in history.

The building, which was sold to Middlesbrough Council in 1928 and has since offered its awe-inspiring surroundings for use as various schools and colleges, still retains all of its beautiful period features, including an ornately carved pine staircase. The building is Grade 1 listed – only 2.5% of all listed buildings can claim this status, and puts Acklam Hall in an enviable position alongside Westminster Abbey and York Minster.

Perhaps unusually for a tour, a large amount of time was spent looking up, rather than around, as some of the most spectacular features of the building were the beautiful ceilings.

Acklam Hall Ceiling

Another of the features which gives Acklam Hall its Grade I status (as well as the staircase), is the magnificent ceiling above the staircase.

Acklam Hall Ceiling

The ceiling bears the date 1683 and is another of the original features of the house. During the Victorian era, when another floor was added to house servants’ quarters, the entire ceiling was lifted from its original position to make way for the building work, before being installed in its new position, a floor higher, where it hangs to this day, supported by unseen hessian straps.

Acklam Hall Ceiling

At this time, the staircase was also extended to serve the new floor, and it is possible to see subtle differences between the two parts of the staircase, including that the posts (or balusters) are only a single twist in the newer part, as opposed to the higher quality double twists in the original part.

Acklam Hall Staircase (original)

With the project to restore the hall having just begun, it is reassuring to know that this jewel of Middlesbrough’s history, which bore witness not only to a family’s history, but also the growing up of Middlesbrough during the Victorian era, will be preserved for future generations to appreciate.

Acklam Hall Stairs