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Southern Quaker who helped to shape North
4:49pm Monday 16th June 2008 in Stockton & Darlington
Buy this photo » Francis Gibson (1803 - 1859) of Saffron Walden and Teesdale who was a Quaker banker.
Went by railway from Darlington to Stockton by steam - 56 minutes - then down to Middlesbro'; inspected the clay as to a scheme for the establishment of a pottery, then walked thro' the town, much increased in two years.
Those words were written by Francis Gibson in his diary on November 2, 1833.
"A magnificent project planned for an immense harbour off Redcar."
Although the "magnificent project" never left the drawing board, Gibson was entitled to be proud of much else that he saw - for much of it was being built with his money.
He came from a brewing and banking family from Saffron Walden, in Essex. His connections to the great industrial enterprises taking place in Durham and Cleveland in the 1820s and 1830s were religion and marriage.
He was, of course, a Quaker, and, on May 7, 1829, he married Elizabeth, the youngest daughter of Edward "father of the railways" Pease.
He called it the "dies beatissima" - the most beautiful day - but to the Peases, it must also have been a most attractive arrangement. Gibson was quickly inducted as a director of the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) and a little later, in the same year, he was one of four Quakers that Joseph Pease - Edward's son and so Elizabeth's brother - asked to contribute to the £30,000 cost of buying 520 acres of salt marsh. Francis agreed, and so became one of the founders of Middlesbrough.
It was his money rather than his expertise that the Peases seem to have wanted. Even in 1847 - a time of deep economic recession throughout Europe - Francis was providing "financial assistance" to Joseph and Henry Pease, who found themselves on the brink of bankruptcy.
Gibson appears to have been quite happy with being a sleeping partner.
On December 21, 1833, he wrote in his diary: "Received a letter from Mr Coates requesting an answer to my becoming a shareholder in Middlesbro' pottery, a scheme of theirs. If the other proprietors join, I will not desert them, if not I decline, but at the same time should not object to advance £100 or £200 to any responsible persons to enable them to become subscribers."
Middlesbrough Pottery was formed the following year, the first business to open in the new town. Its head was Richard Otley, the S&DR's surveyor and secretary (it was he, incidentally, who drew the plan of Port Darlington that appeared in Echo Memories a fortnight ago).
The Pottery bought a site worth £300 from Middlesbrough Owners - so Gibson was effectively buying from himself - and started making earthenware in 1835.
Francis and Elizabeth spent most of their time in Saffron Walden, but holidayed in Durham for a couple of months every late summer. In fact, Francis was very taken with the area.
"To Barnard Castle," he wrote on April 15, 1834. "Walked by Lartington to Cotherstone. Luxuriant pastures. Tees banks majestic. Fine distances up and down the bends of the Tees at Fairy Cupboards. As fine a river scene as I remember. Thro' Romaldkirk to Middleton-in-Teesdale to lodge."
He liked it so much that he bought a place there - Balder Grange - in 1843. Set high above the Tees near its confluence with the Balder, he enlarged an existing house to make a country mansion, indulging in his hobby of landscaping to lay out the gardens.
"None can visit his Balder Grange without appreciating the judgement that selected its site or admire its perfect whole," said his obituary in the Darlington and Stockton Times.
Francis was never very healthy. He suffered from asthma most of his life and died, aged 53, on December 19, 1858, in Saffron Walden. "Prostrated by successive attacks of paralysis, he was aware that the 'undeniable messenger on the pale horse' was before the door and he died as he had lived in the full confession and comfort of his Christian faith," said the Darlington and Stockton Times. Two years later, his only son, also Francis, died at the age of 30 of apoplexy in Florence, Italy. His daughter, Elizabeth Pease Gibson, made it to her 40th birthday, dying in Bristol in 1870.
In 1865, his wife, Elizabeth, made her last trip to Balder Grange before she died in 1866. She wrote tenderly in her diary: "Once more in this lovely spot, the beloved of those inexpressively dear to me. Perhaps never more than here have I longed to have my departed ones by side and that my precious husband's eyes would once more dwell on the scenes he so admired and on the works of his own uncommon taste, which time has perfected. Dearest Frank! How I think of him in the lovely hours he must have spent here."
Balder Grange is still a lovely spot and is currently owned by the Boothroyd family of Bishop Auckland. It was bought in 1958 by Trevor Boothroyd whose father, Alfred, had been a clockmaker in Reeth but who moved to Bishop Auckland in 1907 to set up as an optician.
In 1925, Alfred moved to 107 Newgate, where his grandson, Richard still practises. Many thanks to Richard for his help with this article.