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!

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Local History: Tees-side Battalion at Marton Hall

Today marks one hundred years since the first batch of soldiers from the Teesside Battalion arrived at Marton Hall.

By the end of 1914, it was suggested that Middlesbrough had many advantages that would make raising a local battalion successful. It was believed that a ‘Tees-side Battalion’, although not strictly a Pal’s Battalion, would be met with enthusiasm, as those who joined would still do so amongst family, friends and colleagues.

The battalion would consist of 1200-1300 men, billeted at Marton Hall, leased from Carl Ferdinand Bolckow.

Marton Hall had been built in 1853, and was the home of Henry Bolckow. It stood in what is now Stewart Park, and was recommended as the ideal location for billeting based on its location and size. Alterations such as the provision of heating meant that it would comfortably hold over 1,000 men.

The hall proved to be the perfect choice, with the soldiers finding their time in the training unit to be both comfortable and enjoyable. 550 men and officers would sleep inside the hall, whilst the rest, ordinary soldiers, would stay in the specially-altered stables. They were allocated four blankets each and given beds, rather than sleeping on floorboards. Each evening, the men would attend a thirty-minute lecture, and would afterwards enjoy free time. Saturday afternoons and Sundays were also free after church parade.

Anxious to ensure the soldiers were comfortable, The North-Eastern Daily Gazette reported on the conditions of the hall. The newspaper described how the battalion had ‘made an excellent start’ with ‘good officers, fine quarters, healthy surroundings …splendid equipment, plain well cooked food and every provision for the comfort of the troops.’ They noted how the location of the hall was also beneficial, providing ‘a gratifying change for the soldiers, as most come from industrial areas.’

The battalion saw out their time at the Hall with very few issues. However, one trainee from South Bank died, following a short illness, with a Coroner ruling no negligence or fault in the medical care available to the soldiers.

The battalion was scheduled to leave the hall in April 1915, although this was pushed back until the conclusion of a recruitment rally at the end of the month, meaning the 1,040 soldiers remained in the training unit until their move to Gosforth on 10 May. Having completed their training by the middle of May 1916, they set off from Southampton for the Western Front on 1 June. In 1958, after much deliberation, it was decided that the hall would be demolished. However, in 1960 the hall was burned down, and Captain Cook Birthplace Museum now stands on the site.

This and other stories about wartime Middlesbrough can be found in the ‘Middlesbrough and The Great War’ exhibition until 6 April 2015, Dorman Museum. Admission is free. Also in Middlesbrough: Remembering 1914-18, by Paul Menzies, published by The History Press and available from the Museum Shop, £12.99.

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Going Park to Park – Stewart Park to Ormesby Hall

The rain clouds kept at a discreet distance as we gathered at the Visitor Centre in Stewart Park for a walk to the other side of the tracks. We would be stepping out to where in bygone days one of the best connected families in the whole kingdom called their home. Or one of their homes. But more of the Pennyman’s of Ormesby Hall later.

We were in the capable hands of trusty guides Nicky Morgan and Francine Marshall as we embarked on a potted history of Stewart Park. I chose the word carefully for through Nicky Morgan’s eyes we could look again at the results of a couple of centuries of planting in the park.

Looking out on what once would have been the back lawn of Bolckow’s Marton Hall mansion, Nicky pointed out the many trees planted both by the industrialist and his predecessor who had a real passion for trees. That predecessor was Bartholomew Rudd the man who removed the unsightly hovel from view that one Captain James Cook had been born in. He also removed the whole of East Marton from his improved landscape.

But he wasn’t all bad and in some ways Mr Rudd was a man ahead of his time, an agriculturalist throwing himself into ornamental farming. With wildflowers in his hedgerows, it is an ideology that would be received with open arms today. Rudd was also into recycling, using nutrients from the local alum mines to fertilise his lands and no doubt getting impressive yields.

It is amazing looking at the photos displayed by Francine to think so little trace of Bolckow’s rebuilt Marton Hall now remains. A magnificent mansion in the French style, in some ways reminiscent of Bowes museum, with a dome on top from which Bolckow could get a panoramic view. He would even have been able to see ships coming to and fro along the river serving his works. If the smoke wasn’t too thick from the furnaces that lined the Tees.

Amazing to think that one of Bolckow’s successors became so hard up that he had to leave his hall to go to rack and ruin as he was forced to hunt rabbits for food and live in the lodge.

The walk was a great day for autumn colours. Mild days and cold nights make for the richest colours Nicky told us. There were all shades of reds, rusts and golds around the lawn on a mild morning.

There was no time to hang about though as we had to make our way to another, neighbouring park. We cut across to The Grove past the spot where several cottages were demolished as recently as the 1970s. Only to be excavated again about 5 years ago.  Along the Grove we marched, a quiet haven since it became a cul-de-sac and the location of some fantastic houses as well as trees.

About half way round the corner we snuck off down a cutting marked by a footpath sign. The path opened up to fields with a pond and a beck to cross. Goods wagons were rattling overhead as we tunnelled under the Whitby railway line. We then made for a path close to the main A174 parkway. The cars were rattling by in a cutting to our right but on the left hand side was open countryside. Soon Ormesby Grange farm came into view, a delightful red brick farmhouse that once helped supply the food needs of Ormesby Hall, our destination.

Via pigs and piglets as well as horses for courses we arrived at the back lawn of the beautifully symmetrical Georgian house. So pleasing on the eye no wonder The Fast Show enjoyed filming here. Arriving from this direction you can appreciate just how close the hall is to the elegant church. The memorials near the lychgate are the graves of the Pennyman family.

House manager Garry Savage joined us at the front door and regaled us with a history of the Pennyman family. Not so much rags to riches as riches to race horses. There were Civil War skirmishes at Marske and a propensity to always pick the wrong side in the Elizabethan reformation and the Civil War but the family kept their heads to eventually reap the rewards with the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy. At which point the Pennyman stock was about as high as you could get in the land. Their property reflected their position.

The rest of the story included the race horses for which the wonderful stable block was built, now home to Cleveland Police Dogs. And the last Lady Pennyman’s liking for theatre, especially of the left wing variety.

We returned to our starting point by taking the bridleway around the front of the land, under the railway line and passing the former Ladle pub, once Brackenhoe and a bolt hole for the Bolckow family when they could no longer afford 50 indoor servants to maintain life at Marton Hall.

You can take this walk yourself it is signposted from Ormesby Hall and just take the footpath near Roseland Drive on The Grove.

Ormesby Hall needs your support – Father Christmas will be there the first two weekends in December and it is recommended as the best place to buy Christmas trees. There will also be candlelit tours available in December so keep a look out on the National Trust website for more information.

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The North East Film Archive is back with Middlesbrough on Film – Take 2

The North East Film Archive (NEFA) have teamed up with the Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation to bring to the Town Hall big screen another evening celebrating Middlesbrough’s rich film heritage.

Middlesbrough on Film Take 2 is a completely new screening of archive film from the NEFA collections and will be the opening event of the Discover Middlesbrough Festival 2014 on Thursday 16th October at 7pm.

The archive clips have been specially selected and curated to give a window onto Middlesbrough and Teesside of old, reflecting the town and its people from the 1930s through to the 1970s. The new screening will feature an early local Cleveland Cine Club production, 1935 Silver Jubilee celebrations, 1960s Tyne Tees News items, and a number of films exploring the local industries of Smith’s Dock and the Lackenby works of Dorman Long, plus the social activities of the ICI Billingham employees. Throw in some 1950s holidays at Redcar and Saltburn, footage of the river Tees and the iconic Transporter Bridge and its set to be another nostalgic evening at Middlesbrough Town Hall.

NEFA Manager Graham Relton said “We’d love to emulate last year’s event which packed out the Town Hall and if you came to that screening I’m pleased to say the content this time round is very different. In contrast to the river and industrial focus of the 2013 show this time we have unearthed previously unseen material that will bring to life not only the working life of the area but also reflect how people lived, went to school and spent their much earned leisure time.”

The audience will see many new unseen films including an 8mm amateur film donated to the North East Film Archive by a lady who came to the 2013 Middlesbrough on Film screening. The film, found in drawer at home, was made in 1964 by teacher training students and shows everything from dilapidated streets still supporting thriving communities to unique footage ‘over the border’ with the then recently built flats near the old town hall.

The film archive, based at Teesside University, have also partnered up with the Teesmouth Field Centre, who have recently donated their cine film collection. Extracts from a 1966 ‘Birds of Teesmouth’ film produced by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Film Unit, shot by local filmmaker James Monro will show the wealth of bird life and other wildlife living in close proximity to some of the largest chemical and heavy engineering industrial sites in Europe around the mouth of the River Tees.

NEFA are also delighted to present some classic Jack Clarke Tyne Tees News reports including a School Strike in May 1964 at St Anthony’s Catholic School, where pupils, led by tearaway Jimmy Dover, go on strike over harsh discipline and strict rules.

Thanks to support from Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation the North East Film Archive have digitised rare footage of Marton Hall in Stewart Park. Once a monument to Middlesbrough’s industrial revolution, the film shows the poignant footage as Marton Hall is demolished in 1960. To coincide with the screening the Marton Hall Demolition film will be available on NEFA’s website at www.northeastfilmarchive.com

Nigel Willis, managing director of Redcar’s First Choice Labels, who are patrons of the Philanthropic Foundation, said: “The North East Film Archive is bringing our history back to life through their brilliant work – and it’s fantastic that they are then sharing the footage with the public in this way.

“I’m sure I can speak for all the patrons when I say that the Foundation is proud to be involved in such a wonderful project.”

Middlesbrough on Film Take 2 takes place on Thursday 16th October at 7pm and will last approximately 2 hours including an interval. Tickets are available from Middlesbrough Town Hall at £2.50 plus booking fee, to book call 01642 729 729 or visit the Middlesbrough Town Hall website.

A trailer of the screening can be seen on the North East Film Archive website at www.northeastfilmarchive.com/news/middlesbrough-on-film-take-2/

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From Stewart Park to ORMESBY HALL

In October there will be a guided park to park walk between Stewart Park and Ormesby Hall park. The event will be run as part of Discover Middlesbrough and will no doubt show the contrast between the 18th century landscaping on the Ormesby side of the beck and the Victorian and more recent planting in Stewart Park. I find the contrasts each side of the railway tracks to be fascinating.

I enjoyed a visit to Ormesby Hall over the Bank Holiday Weekend. It costs a little under £6 to visit the only National Trust property in our area. Bequeathed to the trust by Ruth Pennyman in the closing decades of the twentieth century the Trust have chosen to freeze the Georgian manor house in time to how the last owner left it. Therefore there are family portraits and lots of homely elements in rooms as well as the more ornate plasterwork of the ceilings and cornices.

You can go upstairs and downstairs in Ormesby Hall and wander through the servants work stations in the Victorian kitchen and laundry where the windows had shutters so that any underwear drying would not offend the eyes of passers by.

Upstairs there are a couple of superb working miniature railway layouts and even a reconstruction of the Ormesby Station. A much reduced halt still serves the public at the end of Marton Grove, once Station Road.

Ruth Pennyman was a remarkable lady in so many ways. She visited the Spanish Civil War and brought back war orphans to be looked after. The Pennyman’s did their bit to help in the Great Depression, establishing woodworking industries in East Cleveland to get the unemployed steel workers and ironstone miners back into work. There are many examples of the utilitarian furniture through the house alongside the historic chairs carrying the Pennyman coat of arms.

Upstairs, the guest bedrooms are in the colder north facing part of the great house. Ruth Pennyman placed little troughs of books that she assembled individually to what she reckoned were the tastes of the guests. Guests that included wartime Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain.

Looking out of the window of the top guest bedroom, directly over the front door as was the custom, you can just make out the Transporter Bridge. This is a reminder that much of the new industrial revolutionary town of Middlesbrough was built on land bought from the Pennyman estate. While the furnaces spring up and the migrant population poured in to work them Ormesby Hall remained in many ways rooted to the past. A nineteenth century map hanging up in the Map Room captures the explosion in developments on the former lands of the Pennyman estate while life continued as always in the south along winding back lanes.

Ormesby Hall was old money, bedrooms without running water, just commodes. No electricity, no heating, no real lighting. Next door in Marton Hall William Bolckow had refitted his mansion with all the mod cons. This was flashy new money. A showpiece house lit up like a Christmas tree – which no doubt a few green trees  brought with over from Bolckow’s native Germany. Marton Hall was filled with art treasures from all over Europe. It was built by a German architect. It like a mini Cragside, at the very cutting edge. Yet which of the two halls survives?

Park to Park walk – Stewart Park to Ormesby Hall – Thurs 30 Oct – 10.30am – 12.30pm • FREE Meet at Stewart Park Visitor Centre.

Ormesby Hall and the beautiful gardens are open on weekends through to the end of September 1.30-5pm. Admission to the National Trust house is £5.80. There is a very nice tea room for food and refreshments.

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