Albert Park and Owld ‘Enry by Victor Wood

 Environment and Heritage

There has to be more to a town than just houses, retail outlets and their concomitant carparks. Each preserved green space within the town is an oasis a place of relief in what, otherwise, would be a homogenised urban landscape

Also for a town to be a community, to have a sense of self identity, it has to cherish its heritage and honour the people and be aware of historical events which have shaped its character.

Without these green spaces and a sense of heritage a town is, indeed, just a ‘desert with windows’

In Middlesbrough we have a beautiful green space which has so many pleasant associations for so many people and that is Albert Park. In addition, this park is closely associated with a man who possibly played the most important part in making Middlesbrough what it is.


Four generations in Albert Park

My daughter, My two Grandsons, My Mother, Myself

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Albert Park will always have a special place in my heart as, no doubt, it has in the hearts of many other Middlesbroughians. It was a place to go. A place we never got tired of. It had a recreation ground, a roller skating rink, a boating lake. For me, a kid from the garden-less, flagstoned terraces at the Newport end of Cannon Street, it had , above all, ‘proper green grass’. Not the coarse stringy stuff which we knew on “Cooper Common “or the even courser dull coloured variety where Billingham Beck joined the River  Tees   but, proper soft, green grass, the sort you could nestle your face in.

Although I live a little way out of Middlesbrough now I still visit the Park a few times each year. It’s almost a ‘pilgrimage’. Having taken my own children. I now take my grandchildren. It has such happy childhood memories for me that, half a century on, a stroll through Albert Park on a sunny afternoon can still chase away the blues.

I was delighted to read recently my daughter posting on FaceBook about her run in Albert Park

“Achieved my dream of taking 10mins off my first ever Parkrun time!! Especially lovely to be in Albert Park a place of many happy memories with several generations of the Fox Wood family”

I would add she drives all the way from Easington, County Durham to take her exercise in Albert park

 A Place of Happy Associations

Mention Albert Park and, more often than not, a happy association will be recounted. This is the sort of place it was, and, hopefully still is.

Ralph Davison

Ralph Davison was the Chief Constable of Middlesbrough from 1956 and then led the Teesside Constabulary which took over from 1968. In 1974 this force too was subsumed into the larger Cleveland Constabulary headed by Ralph Davison until his retirement in 1976. (Thus he was the last Chief Constable of Middlesbrough, the only Chief Constable of Teesside and the first Chief Constable of Cleveland.)

When he was serving with the Liverpool Police Force he regularly came home to visit his mother who was in North Ormesby Hospital and was greatly taken by Joyce Smith. who was nursing her. A stroll through Albert Park was the ideal opportunity to proffer the engagement ring to Joyce, which was accepted.

Clare Rymer

Clare’s story is typical of the warm memories associated with this veritable oasis of greenery.

My grandfather, Henry Rymer, was born in the house at the front of Albert Park as his father, also Henry, was Park Curator. I loved as a child listening to all the stories granddad told me about how really it was his back garden. He met my grandmother there whilst she was out walking one day. He took her to the greenhouses and presented her with an orchid they were growing. She must have been impressed as she married him!

Terry Greenberg

Terry grew up in Midlesbrough in the 1920s and 30s

Albert Park was a wonderful place for us. There was the playground, with its slides and swings, plenty of grass for rounders and meeting kids from other schools. You could watch tennis, bowls and putting. Early Sunday morning, my father would call me to go for a walk with him to the Park, he swinging his fancy walking stick (which I used later, with less style, when I was wounded in the leg). On Sunday afternoons, those of the age would parade in their Sunday best to those sitting on the benches near the main entrance.

Fishing for tiddlers in the Park lake was a favourite pastime. Sometimes, we stretched too far out and fell in the water. Some were lucky enough to have good toy yachts and toy motor boats. My yacht was always flopping on its side, so I had difficulty in retrieving it.

Those who could afford it would take a ride on the rowing boats at the back of Albert Park across from Park Vale Road. There was a huge, open area with plenty of goalposts. Every patch was free for the taking by whoever got there first. Of course, there were a few tiffs here and there. On Saturdays, we would watch the big local lads. I remember one star called Bozomato. On Sundays, a group of us, all shapes and sizes, would arrive with a full size football. The big local lads would turn up in their best Sunday suits and caps and kick a ball around, as if they weren’t supposed to be doing it.

Near the main entrance was the Dorman Museum. I liked the exhibits of flies, with warnings of the sickness they could bring. The stuffed animals were awesome.

On the wall near the Park entrance were the names of those who fell during World War I. We found there, the name of my mother’s cousin, David Smollan.

Dorman Memorial Museum

Terry’s mention of the Dorman Museum also resonates because, for many of us, the museum and the park went together. You never visited one without visiting the other. In the main foyer there was a stuffed lion forever eating a zebra . Also, like Terry, many of us would find the name of a family member lost in the First World War in my case my great uncle, Thomas William Fox.

The third attraction forever associated with a trip to the park for me was Forbes Bakery on the corner of Parliament Road and Linthorpe Road. Part of the ritual, when returning home along Parliament Road , was smelling the bread being baked wafting out the ventilators.

Old Pals Reunited in the Only Appropriate Place

So when two of us who grew up in adjoining streets off Cannon Street in the 1940s and 50s decided to meet up again where could the venue be? It could not be in our home area. It is long gone. The A66 runs over the top of it. Of course it had to be in the Dorman Museum followed by a stroll through the Park to talk over old times.

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‘Owld ‘Enry

In May 2005, taking photos in the park I was somewhat disconcerted to hear a youngish man say to his child, ”Eeh, looka that fella’s ‘ead in a cage.” I was a bit more gratified to hear a later older passerby comment affectionately, ”Ah…There’s owld ‘Enry”.

Indeed it is ‘owld ‘Enry or, to be more exact, a bust of Henry William Ferdinand Bolckow placed now behind a protective wire grid. It is close to the main entrance of the Park because it was Bolckow who gave the Park to Middlesbrough.

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 Henry Bolckow

Henry Bolckow was a born on December 6th, 1806 in Sulten a small town in North Germany. not far from Rostock, a port on the Baltic coast. At the age of fifteen he went to work in a shipping office in Rostock where he made friends with a colleague, Christian Allhusen. Christian had a brother in the corn business in Newcastle-U-Tyne and he left Rostock to work there. He sent a letter back to Henry Bolckow along the lines of ‘this is the place to be if you want to earn a bob or two.’

So Henry went off to Newcastle where he did indeed make a bob or two having risen to the position of junior partner in the Allhusen Company. In Newcastle he met John Vaughan manager of the Walker Iron Works . They became firm friends and married sisters. It may have been this connection which brought them together

Bolckow had the capital and Vaughan had the expertise and together the two decided to venture into the iron trade. The place they chose for their new business was Middlesbrough which was ideally placed on a river with a railway connection close to the Durham coalfield and limestone deposits in Cleveland. So in 1840 a small iron works was built in Vulcan Street. Although they would not have realised it at the time, Bolckow and Vaughan were probably the saviours of the new town of Middlesbrough which was a mere decade old.

The Birth of Industrial Teesside

If Teesside were to celebrate a collective ‘birthday’ then it would have to be September 27th because it was on this date in 1825 that the Stockton and Darlington Railway opened. This was the beginning of industrial Teesside. Originally the railway had been built to transport coal from the mines of South West Durham to sell in Darlington, Stockton and North Yorkshire. The export potential of the Tees was soon exploited and coal was shipped out to further destinations.

The Vision of Joseph Pease

A Darlington Quaker, Joseph Pease, realised that extending the railway further down-river, where the water was deeper, would enable bigger ships to be used. The place selected was Middlesbrough probably the least significant hamlet on the River Tees. There seems to be some disagreement as to whether the Stockton-Darlington was the world’s first railway. It all seems to depend on the wording used…first railway or first public railway. However it is indisputable that Middlesbrough was the world’s first ever ‘railway town’ i.e. a town built specifically because of a new railway. The extension of the line to Middlesbrough was completed on 27th December 1830 and the first coals were loaded at the staithes on the 31st January 1831

At first the new town of Middlesbrough prospered. However, its economic success was short lived. Middlesbrough had captured the coal trade from Stockton because of better port facilities but, within a decade, was now losing it by the same logic as a rival company had constructed a railway to Hartlepool on the coast. In 1841 the Stockton & Darlington carried 460,000 tons of coal but the Hartlepool Dock and Railway Company carried 615,000 tons. Joseph Pease could foresee the town he had founded had a bleak future unless it diversified into new industries. He played an influential role in bringing Bolckow and Vaughan to the town.

Eston Ore

I took this photo (May 2005) looking south from the centre of what was the original town of Middlesbrough built in the 1830s. As you can see, sadly, nothing of it is left. (The ‘town centre’ of Middlesbrough shifted about mile south more than a century ago.)

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Initially Bolckow & Vaughan did not produce iron . They imported pig iron from Scotland and, when they did decide to build their own blast furnace, it was at Witton Park in Durham not at Middlesbrough. The intention was to use the iron deposits found in the coal seams of the local mines. When these proved inadequate ore from Grosmont near Whitby was used. Transporting this ore via Whitby up the coast and the Tees to Middlesbrough, then by railway to Witton Park and then back to Middlesbrough as pig iron. proved costly. So Bolckow and Vaughan commissioned geologist John Marley to look for ore in the hills nearer Middlesbrough. John Marley and John Vaughan discovered a solid rock of bare ironstone 16 feet thick in the Eston Hills. Thereafter the growth of Middlesbrough and indeed Teesside was phenomenal .and Henry Bolckow was the major figure in the new town. He was the first mayor and the first M.P.

Henry Bolckow’s   Gift to the People of Middlesbrough

Albert Park was bought by Henry Bolckow for the people of Middlesbrough. Legal considerations required it to be purchased in the name of Middlesbrough Corporation in its capacity as the Board of Health for the town but it was Bolckow who paid for the land and the cost of the construction and landscaping. The Park was officially opened on August 11th, 1869 by H.R.H. Prince Arthur, the youngest son of Queen Victoria. It had been suggested that the Park be named ‘Bolckow Park’ but he declined the honour and, instead,it was decided to name it for Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband. (It was noted that Albert was a ‘fellow Prussian’ )

Commemorating Henry Bolckow

Perhaps it would have been better if Albert Park it had been named Bolckow Park because then, at least, the name would have had some familiarity for the people of Middlesbrough. As it is, there is precious little commemoration to bring him to the modern citizen’s attention. A statue was commissioned. This was erected by the Royal Exchange where, at that time Marton Road met Wilson Street creating a triangular area. In 1925 this triangular area became the station for Middlesbrough Corporation buses and the statue was removed to Albert Park. In 1985 the bus station was closed and the Royal Exchange building demolished. The A66 required part of the area. Exchange Square was constructed out of what had been left. The Council decided to move the statue back to Exchange Square diagonally opposite the railway station.

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Posted in Middlesbrough Parks, Uncategorized.

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