Complex birth of first railway town

Complex birth of first railway town

Joseph Pease pictured in 1832, two years after the founding of Middlesbrough as a 31-year-old.

The 1830 suspension bridge over the River Tees at Stockton, which carried the railway to Port Darlington - the bridge, though, was not strong enough to carry a train as long as the picture suggests, and had to be replaced 14 years later.

First published in Stockton & Darlington

Chapter 16

Early in 1828, Joseph Pease sailed up the River Tees towards what he was calling Port Darlington. His brain was working overtime. In front of him were 520 acres of bleak salt marsh spotted with a handful of houses occupied by no more than 40 people.

That evening, in his diary Joseph wrote: "Imagination here has very ample scope in fancying a coming day when the bare fields...will be covered with a busy multitude and numerous vessels crowding to these banks."

He was not wrong. Less than 20 years later, Cleveland's first historian, JW Ord, wrote that to a visiting stranger "this proud array of ships, docks, warehouses, churches, foundries, wharves etc would seem like some enchanted spectacle, some Arabian Nights' vision". Middlesbrough was born.

Ever since the Stockton and Darlington Railway had opened on September 27, 1825, it had been creating little branch lines in an effort to make itself financially stable. The first, to Yarm, opened on October 11, 1825, allowing horses to pull coal from Allens West into the Hole of Paradise at the top of Yarm Bank.

The second, the Black Boy branch, opened on July 10, 1827, and the collieries of the Dene Valley were connected to Shildon and the rest of the line.

The third was the Croft branch, opened on October 27, 1829 with a ceremonial "cold collation" at the Croft Spa Hotel. Now the coal could branch off the main line at Albert Hill, and travel to Croft, where it was met by pack-horses to carry it into North Yorkshire.

Finally came the Haggerleazes branch. It opened on October 1, 1830, running 43/4 miles from St Helen Auckland over Cockfield Fell, over the River Gaunless with the world's first railway skewbridge (a bridge built at an angle over a river rather than at right angles, known in this part of the world as a 'swin-bridge') and on to Haggerleazes Lane in Butterknowle.

This branch was part of the railway pioneers' initial plans in the early 1820s, but as they were short of money, they conveniently forgot about it.

But in 1828, the Reverend William Prattman complained to Parliament that the S&DR was not fulfilling its legal obligation. Parliament ordered the line to start work on the branch within three months and complete it within three years. The Rev Prattman was the owner of collieries at Butterknowle and Copley Bent - and so became ever richer when the railway arrived to take his coal to market. But the most important branchline was the one to Port Darlington. Stockton was not deep enough nor close enough to the sea to operate as a port, and as early as 1827, the Darlington pioneers began planning an extension to the salt marshes of Middlesbrough.

In 1828, they asked Parliament for permission and had to fight hard to get it against opposition from the port owners on the Tyne and the Wear.

The S&DR's move, though, caused internal dissension. Leonard Raisbeck of Stockton, the solicitor who first mooted the railway in 1810, and Thomas Meynell of Yarm, chairman of the S&DR, resigned. They feared the Middlesbrough extension would take trade from the towns. This left the S&DR as a wholly Darlington concern, dominated by the Peases.

Even with Parliamentary permission, the route from Stockton to the new port was littered with opponents. The Bishop of Durham, for one, owned land near Stockton and wanted an exhorbitant price.

The principal opponent was the Tees Navigation Company, headed by Raisbeck. It was investing £20,000 in the Portrack Cut, which would remove the need for Stockton ships to navigate a large loop of river before reaching the sea. The Company did not want the railway to ride roughshod over its profits.

Arguments were batted back and forth for a year, and it was not until November 1829 that agreement was reached. The railway company's new bridge over the Tees would be a drawbridge allowing ships to sail unhindered beneath it.

Joseph Pease then concluded the deal of his life. With four other Quakers from London and Norwich, he purchased the Middlesbrough Estate of 520 acres of salt marsh for £30,000 from William Chilton of Billingham. These Quakers - Pease, Thomas Richardson, Henry Birbeck, Simon Martin and Francis Gibson - were called the Middlesbrough Owners, and Pease began planning a model town for his dock workers.

The railway pioneers had opted to throw a suspension bridge over the Tees at Stockton, and Joseph had signed a £2,300 contract with Captain Samuel Brown to build it. Yet in December 1830, when the first trains went over the bridge, it was clearly barely strong enough. It wobbled and shook, rose up in the middle and the pillars on the Yorkshire side cracked.

The only way to cross the bridge successfully was to chain batches of four wagons nine feet apart. This levelled out the load. The suspension bridge -412ft long, 16ft wide and 20ft above the water's surface - was replaced in 1844 by a Robert Stephenson construction.

Once the coal crossed the bridge it reached Port Darlington - a name which aggrieved Stockton greatly - where Timothy Hackworth's steam-powered staithes distributed it into boats. A steam engine hoisted a wagon full of coal off the line and 18ft into the air, where it landed on a gantry. A horse then pulled the wagon along the gantry and out over the water. At the end of the gantry, the wagon was strapped into a cradle and, with a man clinging to it, was swung in an arc on to the ship below. Here, the man unbolted the bottom of the wagon and the coal fell into the hold. Finally, the weight of the next full wagon swinging downwards caused the empty wagon and the man to swing upwards back to the gantry.

Hackworth's staithes were able to load six colliers at once, and the S&DR pioneers were so pleased with it they awarded the Shildon man a £150 bonus.

So, the first train bound for Port Darlington left Darlington at 10am on December 27, 1830, pulled by the Globe - Hackworth's new locomotive. All the passengers wore specially struck medals on blue ribbons around their necks, although the most precious cargo was a 31/2 ton lump of coal. Even this successfully traversed the dodgy bridge and, as Hackworth's staithes dropped the first coal into the collier Sunniside (the 31/2 ton lump left the following day aboard the Maria bound for London), Francis Mewburn, the railway solicitor, toasted the success of the enterprise, along with 600 banqueters on the wharfside.

Even though it was just two days after Christmas, away in the distance men were probably building houses for the dock workers to live in. Middlesbrough was born - the first railway town in the world.

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