After a lovely morning in Stockton-on-Tees, we got the train on to Middlesbrough, to see what else we could discover in the area…
Status: Middlesbrough Unitary District, North Yorkshire, England
Travel: Northern Rail (Carlisle – Newcastle), Northern Rail (Newcastle – Middlesbrough, Via Stockton-on-Tees)
Eating & Sleeping: Costa Coffee
Attractions: Transporter Bridge, Town Hall, Town Hall Square, Statues, River Tees, Clock Tower, Temenos Sculpture, Riverside Stadium, Dorman Museum, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art etc
We arrived at the local train station, and leaving the building we immediately caught sight of our 1st listed building in the town, in the form of the “New Exchange Building” in the form of the intricate brick structure at the far right of this picture, located on the edge of an area called Queens Square. The building was completed in 1874 to designs by W.H. Blessley, an architect from the town, who also designed a number of other buildings in Middlesbrough. Today it is an office block, which I think it also originally opened as.
Turning right from our current position, we walked underneath the Albert Bridge, which bears the initials “NER” between the worlds Albert and Bridge. This stands for North Eastern Railway, whose chief architect, called William Peachey, designed it in 1877. As the name suggests, the NER used to run rail services in this area, and whilst their lines have now been incorporated into other train operating companies, many of their stations remain in use, and trains still run over the Albert Bridge on their way through Middlesbrough towards the town of Redcar.
The bridge is a stunning construction, and stands out as a great piece of Victorian architecture.
On the far side of the bridge we entered Exchange Square, a pleasant open area which contains a number of interesting features. The main one is the building to the far right of the picture, called “Commerce House”. Another brainchild of W.H. Blessley, the building was completed in 1872, and originally operated as a bank called the North Eastern Banking Co., although they have long since vacated the offices. It is now known as the Chamber of Commerce Offices.
Elsewhere in the square you will find a statue of Henry Bolckow (1806 – 1878) who made history as both the first mayor Middlesbrough, and later the first MP for the town. A local company he owned called Bolckow Vaughan also helped to provide jobs and helped the economy around the town, and for this he is recognised as one of the key players in the modern version of Middlesbrough.
The second thing we saw was a rather odd piece of modern art, which features three large stone faces, although at the moment I am unsure exactly what they represent.
From Exchange Square we headed West up a road that runs outside the station, which is itself Grade Listed. This stunning Victorian building is one of many impressive NER stations which includes Newcastle Central and York. Exchange Square itself is visible in the background of the picture.
Officially the station is registered as Numbers 5, 6 and 7 Exchange Place, and the listing takes in both the Station and the nearby Albert Bridge. Slate from both the Lake District and Wales lines the roof, finishing off this stunning building which was also designed by Peachey. The building replaces the former station of 1947. Sadly it isn’t all original, as the Blitz during World War II saw bombs being dropped on the station, badly damaging it.
We left the area around the Station and Exchange Square, and moved off towards the River Tees, and Middlesbrough’s most famous landmark, taking us back under the Albert Bridge. En route, we passed a building called the “Cleveland Club”, which was built for the National Provincial Bank in the 1870s by a man called John Gibson, from London. Roman Numerals giving the date of construction are located above the main entrance, along with the Banks title, although this is now decorative as in 1936 the building became a club, which it remains today.
It’s a stunning little building, with ornate statues across the top, and long slender pillars on either side of the main entrance. Middlesbrough is full of intricately designed buildings and this is one of the best examples.
As I said, we were heading to a very notable landmark in the town, and it soon loomed into view. The Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge has to be the most famous structure associated with the town, and it is used by vehicles to cross the River Tees to Port Clarence on the far side. The Tees has a total length of 85 miles, which begins out in the Pennines, before it runs through the towns of Stockton-on-Tees and Thornaby-on-Tees, through Middlesbrough and out to sea near Redcar.
Transporter Bridges were once very common around Britain, however only a handful now remain, such as this one, one in Newport, South Wales, and one in Warrington, Lancashire. This model was completed in 1911, and built by a company called Sir William Arrol & Co, based in Glasgow, Scotland, who also worked on both the Forth Bridge in Edinburgh and Tower Bridge in London. The top sections of the bridge stand an impressive 160 ft high, and tours up there are actually available, but not for the faint hearted!
The operation of the bridge is quite simple. A car drives onto a platform known as a “Gondola” which is then moved across the river on wires attached to rails at the top of the bridge. A winch is used to move the rail platform across, and as it does so the Gondola is transported to the far side of the river where cars can disembark. Travel is both ways so you can either drive to Middlesbrough or Port Clarence, for a modest fee. Both car and foot passengers are allowed to travel, and the journey takes around 2 and a half minutes.
On our way back towards the Station, and from there the town centre, we spotted a number of famous Middlesbrough buildings in the distance, down near another section of the river:
1) Dock Clock Tower
This beautifully designed Clock Tower sits down in the dock area of the town, which opened in 1842. There have been two clocks here, the original of 1847 created by John Middleton, and the present version, designed by William Bell in 1903. It was the basis for a similar tower built at the docks in Kingston-upon-Hull, although sadly this one no longer stands due to demolition after World War II.
The Middlesbrough tower allowed for offices in the lower portion, whilst the top was taken up by the clock.
2) Middlesbrough Riverside Stadium
This extensive stadium is the home of Middlesbrough local football team, Middlesbrough F.C. a team that was founded in 1876, and later helped to create the Premier League in the 1990’s . Completed in 1995, the stadium became the new home of the team who had previously taken up residence in Ayresome Park, which was demolished 2 years after they left. Riverside’s capacity is currently 34,742 however they are plans to expand and increase this to around 40,000.
3) Temenos Sculpture
The final landmark we could see is the large sculpture made up of two giant hoops, connected together by a mesh of steel wire. This is the newest feature of the area, and was unveiled in 2010, after it was designed by an artist called Anish Kapoor. Altogether it stands 164 ft tall and 306 ft long, which makes it a staggeringly large piece of public art. It is the 1st of 5 planned pieces of art, and the other 4 will be located in Stockton, Hartlepool, Redcar and Darlington.
Passing back underneath the Albert Bridge for the 3rd time today, we finally arrived in the main town centre, and the imposing Victorian facade of Middlesbrough Town Hall.
The Victorians have a great reputation for the Town Halls they built all over the UK, with those in Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool and Leeds being particularly impressive examples. Middlesbrough is no exception, and dates back to 1889 when its opening brought to an end 7 years of construction. Designed by George Gordon Hoskins (1837 – 1911, English Architect) from nearby Darlington, it is my favourite building in the town, and certainly the grandest.
Middlesbrough Borough Council, who are in charge of the Unitary Authority that covers Middlesbrough town separate from North Yorkshire County Council, use the building as their headquarters, and a Tourist Information Office can also be found in the building.
Aside from Council operations, the building is also home to a large Theatre which can see over 1000 people, which sits alongside the 600 seater Concert Hall underneath it. There are regular performances from stand up to concerts at the Hall, and its worth a visit if you are in the area.
The Town Hall is located on Albert Road, but turning left from the Town Hall onto Corporation Road you will see the above building, called the “Middlesbrough Empire” which was originally opened in 1899 as the “Middlesbrough Empire Theatre of Varieties”. 2 years earlier, in 1897, the then Mayor of Middlesbrough, called Colonel Samuel Alexander Sadler (1842 – 1911) laid the foundation stone for the building, accompanied by the buildings architected, Ernest Runtz.
It is well known as 1 of 3 Theatres designed by Runtz to still survive, with the Hippodrome in Hastings, Sussex, and the New Theatre in Cardiff, Wales, being the other 2. Today the building is occupied by a nightclub, after spending time as a Bingo Hall since the 1980’s.
On this picture you can see the Empire in the distance on Corporation Street, whilst this picture was taken from the West end of the road, in the centre of Middlesbrough’s extensive network of pedestrianised shopping streets, which includes the Hill Street and Cleveland Shopping Centres. There is a variety of different sculptures located on the various streets, so if you ever visit the town see what you can find.
On the right, the tall form of the Civic Centre can be seen, sat looking directly over towards the Town Hall. The Council own both buildings and different departments are located in both.
Heading further into the town, when you reach the far end of the Town Hall, you will reach a large square, called Victoria Square. You get a great view of the Town Hall from this angle, and it reminds me of the view available from the Peace Gardens in Sheffield, which has a similarly designed Town Hall.
In the square there are a number of statues, including these two in particular:
1) Samuel Sadler
The first statue, atop a large plinth in the centre of the gardens is that of Samuel Sadler, who I previously mentioned was once the mayor of Middlesbrough, when he laid the foundation stone for the Empire Theatre. More impressive is the fact that he served 3 separate terms as mayor, between the 1870’s and 1910. The statue was erected in 1913, and features him wearing the mayoral office robes.
Behind him lies the Central Public Library, which was completed a year before the statue. The library was partially funded by Andrew Carnegie (1835 – 1919) a Scottish Businessman from Dunfermline in Scotland, who financed various public libraries around the country, many of which are still in use today.
2) John Vaughan
John was born in the city of Worcester in 1799, and became an important figure in the steel industry. He partnered up with Henry Bolckow who I mentioned before, which was the basis for the creation of Bockow Vaughan as a company. Thanks to Vaughan’s help the landscape of Middlesbrough was changed forever, bringing wealth and prosperity. He also served a term as Mayor in 1855, and eventually passed away in London in 1868. A statue was erected here in his honour by G. A. Lawson (1832 – 1904, Sculptor from Edinburgh) who also contributed various other statues around the country, and abroad.
At the Eastern end of the square are a number of things of interest, as well as a great view of a nearby Church called the Church of St John the Evangelist. It dates back to 1865 when it was completed by John Norton (1823 – 1904), however at that time the tower was significantly shorter, not gaining its present height until 1883, at which point the Steeple was also added. Interestingly, the building is now the oldest religious building in the whole of Middlesbrough, which makes sense actually as thinking about it we hardly saw any Churches as we explored the town, they seemed quite few and far between. It’s a stunning building, and it looks rather good at the end of the corridor of trees which serenade a path to it.
The view of St John’s is visible from this area at the very southern tip of the square. The Clock Tower/Main Body of the Town Hall is visible in the near distance, along with the Civic Centre behind it.
On the left stands MIMA, the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, a brand new gallery space opened in 2007. Prior to this, MIMA had its home at the former Cleveland Crafts Centre which closed in 2003. MIMA has a fascinating collection inside, and we took some time out to explore the various exhibits, with paintings and artwork from various well known, and new, artists. MIMA is open every day of the week except Monday, providing plenty of opportunity to go in and sample its collections. You can find out more about MIMA on their official website here.
In front of MIMA on this photo lies a small lake, a pleasant area to relax and gather your thoughts. To the right of that is another piece of artwork, called “Bottle of Notes” which was erected in 1993 to its full height of 35 ft. It was created by Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen, famous international artists, and was 7 years in the planning. It has all been deliberately designed, from the outer steel which represents steels important part in Middlesbrough’s heritage, to the image of another famous son of Middlesbrough that some of you may have heard of, called Captain Cook.
Captain James Cook (1728 – 1799) was a famous Royal Naval captain and explorer who became the first european to sail all the way around New Zealand, reach Hawaii and Australias East Coast. He was technically born in an area called Marton, which at that time was a village until it was incorporated into the town of Middlesbrough. The maps he produced of the areas he explored were fantastically detailed and better than any that already exists, heralding him as a great explorer.
After enjoying the surroundings of the square, we made our way back towards the train station, to make the 3 hour train journey back to Carlisle, via Newcastle. Middlesbrough is a lovely and friendly town, with interesting architecture at every turn, some fantastic buildings in the shape of the Town Hall and the Empire Theatre, and it is also one of the largest towns in the North East along with Darlington and the cities of Newcastle/Sunderland.
Transport links to the town are very good, with regular trains to Newcastle, where passengers can use Newcastle International Airport to transit around the UK and abroad, or you could use the nearer Durham Tees Valley International Airport, depending where you are flying from.
New direct trains from Middlesbrough to London have also been announced, although you will have to wait until 2020 for them to start. In the meantime, Sunderland, Darlington and Newcastle all have direct trains to London as well as Middlesbrough, and Darlington/Newcastle also provide services heading North into Scotland around Glasgow/Edinburgh. There is at least one direct service from Middlesbrough to Carlisle a day, as we caught this to get home and it travels around the coast past Hartlepool towards Newcastle and then down the Tyne Valley Line to Carlisle. Local buses also run between all the major towns and villages.
Middlesbrough is a pleasant town and one I am sure we shall visit again sometime. We headed home, after a day well spent exploring!