ONE evening in 1859, Henry Pease arrived breathless and late for dinner back at his brother Joseph’s beachside house at Marske-by-the-Sea.

Henry had been out roaming the sands which, level and yellow, stretched several miles down the Cleveland coast to the old fishing and smuggling hamlet of Saltburn.

The Northern Echo: Cliff House in Marske-by-the-Sea, looking towards Huntcliff and Saltburn. Henry Pease was staying with his brother, Joseph, when he had the idea to create a railway resort at Saltburn

Cliff House in Marske-by-the-Sea, looking towards Huntcliff and Saltburn. Henry Pease was staying with his brother, Joseph, when he had the idea to create a railway resort at Saltburn

Apologising for his lateness, he explained that at Saltburn, where a beck caused a break in the towering cliff, he had spotted the future.

The Northern Echo: Henry Pease portrait

Henry Pease, the founder of Saltburn

"Seated on the hillside he had seen, in a sort of prophetic vision, on the edge of the cliff before him, a town arise and the quiet unfrequented glen turned into a lovely garden,” his wife, Mary, later wrote.

Henry’s vision showed a seaside resort flourishing on the bleak, empty clifftop high above the waves. It would be connected by his railway into the growing metropolis of Middlesbrough, from where trainloads of daytrippers and holidaymakers could come to stroll on the beach and even dip in the sea – if they were fit enough to manage the climb back up to the town.

The Northern Echo: The Zetland Hotel which the railway used as a station for hotel guests

Quickly, Henry formed the Saltburn Improvement Company to develop the resort, and he co-designed its landmark, the Zetland Hotel (above), into which his railway ran so no tourist would have the kerfuffle of transferring luggage from the station to the hotel.

Other railway entrepreneurs also saw the potential: Darlington engineer John Anderson opened the Alexandra Hotel on the most prominent corner of the cliff in 1867.

Then they started work on attractions for the tourists: the gardens, the spa and then the pier (below), which was opened in May 1869.

The Northern Echo:

But the pier needed a prom, which needed to be made of something sturdy to withstand the sea.

As we established a fortnight ago, obsolete stone sleepers from the earliest days of the Pease family’s Stockton & Darlington Railway were brought by the railway to be used as the seawall for this railway resort.

“This raises an interesting point,” says Peter Sotheran from up the coast in Redcar. “How to get them from the town centre station down to the beach?

“Saltburn Bank was too steep for horse-drawn carts, motor vehicles were still several decades in the future, and the more gradual slope down Hazelgrove, at the west end of Saltburn sea front, would lead them to a challenging pull across soft sand on the beach to the pier.”

Perhaps this explains why in 1868, Mr Anderson – the principal promoter of the pier – instructed a Mr Henderson of Middlesbrough to sink a shaft for a cliff lift: it wasn’t for the tourists but so the heavy sleepers could be dropped to the beach.

However, the shaft ran into impenetrable rock and Mr Anderson abandoned the idea, leading to him being sued by Mr Henderson.

The Northern Echo:

Saltburn pier and the vertical cliff hoist in 1869

Then Mr Anderson adopted a new concept: an incredibly wobbly-looking vertical hoist.

People on the clifftop walked out along a wooden gantry supported by slender, spidery legs until, 120ft in the air, they climbed into a circular cage, which could hold 20 people. Using waterpower, it plummeted them down to the prom.

“It is often surmised that the vertical hoist was installed to carry visitors down to the beach and back up again,” says Peter.

The Northern Echo: Peter Sotheran's picture of Saltburn from 1880 showing the vertical hoist that was built to drop the stone railway sleepers to the promenade. Holidaymakers were also able to use it, although it had the worrying habit of getting jammed halfway

“But look at this photograph of 1880 (above). It shows a civil engineering site, not a tourist feature! The structure is rather utilitarian in appearance and lacks the refinement of Victorian tourism facilities. The lower promenade is still under construction, hence it is unlikely to be a major tourism attraction. And there is a crane conveniently placed at the hoist's foot to swing the sleeper blocks away.

“This all gives credence to the argument that the vertical hoist was a piece of essential engineering to assist with building the lower promenade, rather than a later feature added for the benefit of visitors.”

So Saltburn’s first cliff lift was built not to stop the tourists from having to huff and puff their way back up the bank but so that the heavy sleepers, which the railway had donated for free, could be dropped down to the seawall.

The hoist opened in July 1870, but so much huffing and puffing did it prevent that some tourists were happy to use it – even though it developed the worrying habit of getting stuck halfway. The brave passengers paid 1d up from the beach and 1½d to go down.

Because it wasn’t built as a permanent tourist attraction, the wooden hoist, which was tethered to the side of the cliff by guyropes, soon began to rot. It was removed in 1884 and replaced by the country’s third water-balanced inclined tramway, which opened on June 28, 1884, and still runs.

The Northern Echo: The water balanced inclined tramway at Saltburn

The 1884 cliff lift with a new pier entrance

THE square stone sleepers were quarried at Brusselton, near Shildon, and were used to carry the rails on the eastern section of the Stockton & Darlington Railway when it opened on September 27, 1825.

The rails were held in place by metal “chairs” which were attached to the sleepers by nails. The nail holes were drilled by small boys in the quarry.

The earliest sleepers have two nail holes in them, but as the weight of the trains quickly increased, larger four nail chairs were used. Both two hole and four hole sleepers can be seen in the Saltburn seawall, along with some six holes.

The Northern Echo: Saltburn, by Rodney Wildsmith

The seawall at Saltburn showing a variety of stone slleper. Picture: Rodney Wildsmith

Colin Hurworth takes us to Phoenix Row, which is at the eastern end of the line. On opening day, coal was loaded into 12 wagons at the very start of the line at Witton Park and pulled by horses about a quarter-of-a-mile into Phoenix Row. Here, the horses were unhitched, the coal was weighed and the wagons were attached to the rope that was connected to the stationery engine at the top of Etherley Incline. The engine would then haul the wagons up the 1,100 yard incline before lowering them down the other side to West Auckland.

“My grandfather, WO Henderson, bought Phoenix House, Phoenix Row in the mid 1950s,” says Colin. “It was the house of the Phoenix pit manager, and the end of the garden was only about 50 yards from the track, and I have a sleeper which came from there.

“I have had it for about 45 years, and it has moved from garden to garden depending on where I live.”

There are quite a lot of two-hole sleepers knocking around Phoenix Row from 1825, but Colin’s is a three-holer – three holes in a row (below)!

The Northern Echo: Colin Hurworth's three hole sleeper from the Stockton & Darlington Railway

“Sorry,” he says, attaching a picture of this unique piece of railway history, “but I’ve been forbidden from pulling out the sempervivum which lives in the middle hole.

“I wonder if the lad doing the drilling got carried away and did a spare one!”

AND we still have more hot stone sleeper correspondence for another week… In the meantime, if you missed the earlier article about Saltburn's seawall and the sleepers of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, it is here