Hands down one of my favourite parts of last year (apart from being a Love Middlesbrough Lass obviously! ❤️) was working on the My Town, My Future website. It’s an amazing project digitising the huge number of old photos belonging to Middlesbrough’s Libraries service, so obviously my inner history geek was doing alllll the fangirling!
And since I love old photos and postcards so much, I wanted to share some of my own favourites, and the stories behind them.
Built in the 1850s when local industrialist Henry Bolckow decided his growing fortune should be reflected in a suitably grand home, Marton Hall sat in 300 acres of land on the outskirts of Middlesbrough, in Marton.
The building fell into disrepair after Bolckow’s death and eventually passed to his great-nephew, also Henry Bolckow, who tried to sell it to the local council. After negotiations, the council bought a portion of the land, with Thomas Dormand Stewart, Esq., J.P., stepping forward with an offer to purchase the remaining land (including the hall) to present it to the town of Middlesbrough as a gift, to be permanently kept as an open space or park.
Unfortunately, the hall was judged to be beyond repair and was condemned, and in the event (thought to be due to a carelessly discarded cigarette butt) actually burned down during the demolition period.
An old view but oddly not an old postcard (relatively speaking anyway); the inscription on the back, which quotes population figures for 1908, dates it to that year or even later.
Between 1831 and 1841 the population of ‘Middlesbrough’ grew from 154 to 5,463, so this view was taken at around the midpoint of that period.
The Ship Inn, just five years old at the time of the painting, is depicted just left of centre, with the branded gable end facing the artist. Built in 1831, it was the oldest pub in Middlesbrough when it was gutted by fire in April 2012.
The small building just right of centre, also with the gable end facing the artist, is thought to be Middlesbrough’s first ‘lock-up’ – possibly necessitated by the opening of the Ship Inn!
Iron works were once a common feature of Middlesbrough’s landscape.
In 1841, Bolckow and Vaughan opened the first ironworks in the town. By 1875, the number of blast furnaces in the area had increased to 100, and the town was producing two million tons of iron per year. Such was Middlesbrough’s ironmaking prowess that the town was nicknamed ‘Ironopolis’.
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. 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 locally-produced Linthorpe Art Pottery in the world, and a large, highly impressive collection of items designed by the visionary Victorian industrial designer, Dr. Christopher Dresser.
Middlesbrough’s Grand Opera House opened in 1903, making it quite a bit later than venues like Theatre Royal (1866), Oxford Palace of Varieties (1867), and the Prince of Wales Theatre (1875), which are all now lost too.
Other later venues in the town, like the Empire Palace of Varieties (1897) and the Hippodrome (1908), have managed to survive, albeit in a different form to their original purpose (the Empire is now a nightclub, and the Hippodrome is now a wedding venue). Unfortunately, the Grand Opera House wasn’t so lucky and was demolished in 1971.
And there you have it, five of my favourite views of Middlesbrough in old postcards. Obviously this list isn’t a full list, as the astute among you will notice that a certain large, blue bridge (interestingly, in times gone by, it was actually a red bridge) is missing. Maybe I’ll do a part two! In the meantime, check out the My Town, My Future website – it’s just amazing!