AT the birth of the railways, Thomas Richardson was always there in the background, his bank account seemingly unquenchable as he invested in the Stockton & Darlington Railway, in the Newcastle factory that made the first locomotives, and in the riverside estate which would become known as “Middlesbrough”.

But now, this quietest of Quakers is thrust centre stage because his estate at Great Ayton is on the market for the first time since he created it 180 years ago. Cleveland Lodge, his Grade II 12-bedroom country residence, sits in 500 acres, which includes its own grouse moor, and has a price tag of £4.95m.

Not bad of a chap who was the son of a Darlington brushmaker and began his working life as an apprentice greengrocer in Sunderland.


The Northern Echo: Thomas Richardson, of Cleveland Lodge. Picture courtesy of the Darlington Centre for Local StudiesThomas Richardson, of Cleveland Lodge.
Picture courtesy of the Darlington Centre for Local Studies

Richardson was born in Darlington in 1771, and his mother was related to the Pease family which at the time were noted for owning the mills on which the town’s prosperity was based.

In the 1790s, Edward Pease, who was in charge of the woollen mill in Priestgate, gave Thomas money to travel from Sunderland, where he was trying out greengrocery, to London. Edward also gave him an introduction to a Quaker bank in Lombard Street, and he started as a messenger.

Thomas saw an opening in bill broking, and with the Gurney family of Quaker bankers from Norwich and a colleague, John Overend (also, of course, a Quaker), he established a financial business which grew to have an annual turnover of £8m (£751m in today’s values, according to the Bank of England Inflation Calculator) and which had £1.5m out on loan (£141m today) at any one time.

In 1830, he retired. His business was renamed Overend, Gurney & Company, and in 1866 it collapsed spectacularly owing £11m – nothing, of course, to do with our Thomas.

The Northern Echo: Great Ayton Friends' School founded by Thomas Richardson in 1841

Thomas and his wife Martha decided to settle in Great Ayton where his grandmother had had connections. He rented Ayton House, and he founded the Quaker school, on High Green. It was designed to cater for the children of Quaker parents who had “married out” – they had married someone not a Quaker and so had been ejected from the faith, and Thomas’s approach was seen as very modernising and inclusive.

He also came to Ayton to keep an eye on his exciting industrial investments. In 1823, he had accompanied cousin Edward Pease on his first visit to see George Stephenson’s colliery engines in action at Killingworth, near Newcastle. This visit convinced them that it was steampower, and not horsepower, that should pull Edward’s planned railway – this meant that Edward became known as “the Father of the Railways”.

The Northern Echo: Thomas Richardson's S&DR share certificateThomas Richardson's Stockton & Darlington Railway share certificate

Thomas was the biggest individual investor in the S&DR and, with Edward, had provided the capital to start up the Stephensons’ locomotive factory in Newcastle, where Locomotion No 1 was built.

And, on September 26, 1825, the day before the railway opened, Thomas had joined Edward on-board Locomotion for its first proper run.

Thomas had also been one of the first eight Owners of the Middlesbrough Estate, on which the docks and then the iron industry had been established, and wherever there was a Pease investing in a railway, there was Thomas usually, quietly, in the background opening his bank account.

But in Great Ayton, things were not so smooth. Thomas had a big bust-up with the owner of Ayton House over tree-felling and moved out. Needing a home in a hurry, he bought some land on the edge of the village and instructed a young Darlington architect, John Middleton, to build him a mansion.

The Northern Echo: Architect John MiddletonArchitect John Middleton

Middleton, 24, was an orphan from York whom the Quakers had taken under their wing, and this was his first major contract. Within a year, he had the first rooms of Cleveland Lodge habitable so in late 1844, Thomas could move in from his temporary accommodation. Then the rest of the mansion grew around him.

The Northern Echo: Cleveland Lodge, great Ayton - JessopsCleveland Lodge, Great Ayton, built by Thomas Richardson and designed by John Middleton, is on the market for the first time in 180 years for £4.95m. Picture courtesy of Jessops

Thomas must have been impressed with Middleton because in 1846 he had him extend Ayton School. Middleton then became the S&DR’s resident architect, designing stations up Weardale and out to Redcar; he designed St John’s Church at Darlington Bank Top station – “the railwaymen’s church”; he created the massive Central Hall in Darlington and he built the NatWest Bank on High Row.

The Northern Echo: Central Hall, designed by John Middleton, is the huge building on the left of this Edwardian postcard of Darlington Market PlaceCentral Hall, designed by John Middleton, is the huge building on the left of this Edwardian postcard of Darlington Market Place

Then he had something of a breakdown. He disappeared, spent five years touring Italy and re-emerged in Cheltenham, where he spent the rest of his days designing churches.

At Cleveland Lodge, Thomas was laying out the gardens. He poached William Mudd, who had been gardener for his cousin Joseph Pease in the Southend mansion in Darlington (Southend is now Duncan Bannatyne’s New Grange Hotel).

In Ayton, Mudd, who came from near Bedale, started studying at the Quaker school and was introduced to microscopes. This inspired him to become one of the foremost lichenologists in Europe – he’d chip lichens off rocks in Weardale and carry bagloads of samples back on the train to Ayton for study.

In 1864, he left the Lodge for the prestigious post of curator of the Cambridge University botanical gardens. The professors marvelled at his self-taught knowledge, but it came at great personal cost: all that peering down a microscope made him go blind, and he died in Cambridge, aged 49.

Thomas Richardson didn’t live long to enjoy Cleveland Lodge because he died, while on holiday in Redcar, in 1853. He didn’t have any children so his estate was inherited by his Pease cousins in Darlington. John, the eldest son of Edward “Father of the Railways” Pease, came to live in Ayton, bringing an ornamental fountain from the middle of Bondgate with him – it spurted so much water that, in those pre-tarmacadam days, it turned Bondgate into a muddy mess, so John turned it into a feature on his new estate.

The Northern Echo: John Pease (1797-1868) of East Mount, Darlington, and Cleveland Lodge, Great AytonJohn Pease (1797-1868) of East Mount, Darlington, and Cleveland Lodge, Great Ayton

John was known as “the Silver Trumpet of the North” as he liked to spread the Quaker word so much – he did two years missionary work touring America. He died at Ayton in 1868, having led what the D&S Times described as “a modest and unobtrusive life”.

His daughters, Mary Ann and Sophia, inherited. They lived with their husbands – Mary married a banker called Hodgkin and Sophia married Darlington’s second MP, Sir Theodore Fry, from the Quaker chocolate family – in matching mansions, Elm Ridge and Woodburn, in Darlington, and they seemed to have shared the Lodge as a country retreat.

Sir Theodore enlarged the estate, buying neighbouring Aireyholme Farm, the childhood home of Captain James Cook.

Sophia and Sir Theodore’s son, John Pease Fry, inherited the Lodge. When he died in 1957, it passed to his son, Sir Wilfrid Fry, whose wife’s maiden name was Anne Pease Cadbury. A marriage of Fry and Cadbury must have been a confectioner’s delight, especially with a little Pease in the mix as well.

Sir Wilfrid died in 1987 and Lady Anne, a devout Quaker, passed away at the Lodge in 2001. They had no children, so the Lodge was inherited by their niece, Caroline Ward.

Now, six generations down a convoluted family tree from Thomas Richardson, the home that he built in the 1840s is on the market for the first time.

The Northern Echo: Cleveland Lodge about 100 years agoCleveland Lodge about 100 years ago

  • Cleveland Lodge is on the market at a fixed price of £4.95m with Robin Jessop of Bedale on 01677 425950 or