Acklam Hall Archaeology


After speaking with a number of local historians and archaeologists, I have found out a lot of information about the archaeology at Acklam Hall. The land was cited in the Domesday Book and was the location of a medieval hall (likely to have been made from wood), a chapel and a medieval village (located on what was the Swedish Mission Field).

The broad ditch running from the North East corner of the moat field (near the electricity substation) down to Walton Avenue is a medieval fishpond, known locally as “the arty”.

All the years I have lived in Acklam, I never knew that “the arty” was a scheduled monument and a medieval fishpond. The fishpond is presumed to have been fed by water from the moat. The moat is located on the land to the North of Acklam Hall (the field next to St Mary’s Church).


The moat field was excavated in 1967 by Mr Zealand, then curator of the Dorman Museum. This wasn’t a professional excavation. There were a number of finds but it wasn’t properly written up. At the end of 2 weeks Mr. Zealand said it needed a professional assessment but this wasn’t followed up.It was then reported that the finds had been stolen.

It is very likely that the medieval manorial hall of Acklam would have stood on the moat field surrounded by the moat.


Middlesbrough Council gave permission for houses to be built on the Swedish Playing Field in the 1990s, despite strong opposition from residents and historians. Around the time Tees Archaeology became interested in the Acklam Hall site, based on the new light shed on the effigy and stones kept in the boiler house of St. Mary’s Church.

While they were examining these remains, the gentleman who lived at the bungalow on the Swedish playing field brought a large piece of pot that he had dug up whilst excavating his pond. This proved to be part of a 14th century vessel for carrying water.

Tees Archaeology commissioned a geophysical survey in 2000 of the moat field because it was felt to be at risk.

geophys 2010 geophys

In 2010, an application was accepted for 31 new homes to be built on the Swedish Mission Field. Middlesbrough Council stopped funding Tees Archaeology in 2010, despite being told that the Service carried out statutory investigations and held the Sites and Monuments Records that every local authority is required to keep and update. The records are still accessible on a database, yet the records do not get updated.

Imagine how many planning applications get passed every day. Middlesbrough’s local plan for 6,970 homes to be built within the next 15 years, surely it is essential that archaeology is protected and applications screened for possible archaeological significance.

This doesn’t mean the development will not go ahead it just ensures that checks are being carried out and our heritage is being protected and recorded as it should be.

The Swedish Mission Field Development Brief (2010) states:


To the south of the site the surrounding area is characterised by its green open nature, being laid out as sports pitches. The land to the east is characterised by the dense tree belt, West Wood, which separates the development site visually from the Grade I listed building, Acklam Hall. A requirement of any development of the Swedish Mission Field is that the setting of the listed building is preserved. As West Wood forms a visual barrier between the two sites it is considered unlikely that development of the Swedish Mission Field will impact upon the setting of Acklam Hall.

Regarding the importance of the conservation area:

The open area along the sites’s Church Lane frontage allows views of St Mary’s Church spire from the west which provide a positive contribution to the character and appearance of the Acklam Hall Conservation Area.

Protecting Views and Character of the Conservation Area:

once the view of church accross west wood

The building line will also need to be set back sufficiently to maintain and protect views of St Mary’s Church along Church Lane from the west

The Developer Miller Homes, allocated £30,000 towards:

enhancement and maintenance of The Avenue of Trees Neighbourhood Park. Provision of public open space is not being sought within the development site itself. The occupiers of the housing will, however, increase the use made of the neighbourhood park. The developer contribution will assist in ensuring that Middlesbrough has a network of high quality open space.

I have spoken with some residents of the houses on the Swedish Mission Field, who bought their new home because it overlooked a dense wood. They bought their house because of the green open space, ideal to bring up their families. With the felling of over 200 mature trees at West Wood and the selling off of land at Acklam Hall for 56 executive homes, the high quality of open green space has been drastically reduced.

The Development Brief also identifies that the Swedish Mission Field is of moderate archaeological significance and work would need an archaeological investigation and work done should be accompanied by a watching brief, including substantial topsoil removal. Because of this the Council required the builders to employ an archaeologist before they developed the site. The builders employed an archaeologist from outside the area. The line of the medieval village was found to lie some distance back from Church Lane.

However, because this was a private excavation the results are not in the public domain.

It is interesting to see that this brief was written in 2010, and the council had already given preferred developer status to Acklam Hall Ltd in 2009, knowing that the Acklam Hall “conservation area” was to be sold off for house and a health village. The Acklam hall development is not mentioned in this development brief, but in reference to one objection raised by a member of the public suggesting that “contributions from the Swedish Mission Field developments should go towards the maintenance of West Wood, which is in a bad state of repair”

MBC comments that “future maintenance of trees in West Wood will be considered as part of development proposals for Acklam Hall”.

How sad it is that all this talk about protecting the conservation area, protecting views of the church, the importance of the trees of West Wood and archaeological significance does not actually offer any protection when all is said and done.

The second moat on the corner of Church Lane and St. Mary’s Walk is likely to have been discovered as part of the investigations of 1998 and the compilation of the Acklam CD in 2004.

The geophysical carried out by Tees Archaeology in 2000, shows a number of anomalies that would need further investigation, including what could possibly be a priests house located next to St Mary’s Church. No further work is to be carried out on the land to the North of Acklam Hall without being overseen by an archaeologist and a freedom of information request has been made by Hands on Middlesbrough for all archaeological findings to be made public.

conservation and management plan 2006

This is taken from the Acklam Hall Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan, April 2006. The areas in red show moderate archaeological significance. The areas in green show high archaeological significance.

Tees Archaeology noted that he development included a number of features of interest which can be described as ‘Heritage Assets’ as they have archaeological, historical and architectural interest:

  • Part of the medieval settlement of Acklam
  • The Moat of the medieval manorial settlement
  • The site of the medieval manorial settlement (within the area defined by the moat)
  • The kitchen garden to the north-west of Acklam Hall
  • The formal gardens to the east and west of Acklam Hall
  • The burial ground at St. Mary’ Church


The application requires a scheme of archaeological mitigation which may consist of a mixture of preservation in situ (e.g. rafted foundations that do not penetrate the moat) and archaeological recording in the areas identified above.  The archaeological mitigation should seek to involve the local community.

A)No demolition/development shall take place/commenceuntil a programme of archaeological work including a Written Scheme of Investigation has been submitted to and approved by the local planning authority in writing.  The scheme shall include an assessment of significance and research questions; and a programme and methodology of site investigation, recording and community engagement

  • The programme for post investigation assessment
  • Provision to be made for analysis of the site investigation and recording
  • Provision to be made for publication and dissemination of the analysis and records of the site investigation
  • Provision to be made for archive deposition of the analysis and records of the site investigation
  • Nomination of a competent person or persons/organisation to undertake the works set out within the Written Scheme of Investigation.

B) No demolition/development shall take place other than in accordance with the Written Scheme of Investigation approved under condition (A).

C) The development shall not be occupied until the site investigation and post investigation assessment has been completed in accordance with the programme set out in the Written Scheme of Investigation approved under condition (A) and the provision made for analysis,publication and dissemination of results and archive deposition has been secured’.

After putting in a FOI I found that the land to the North had removed large quantities of topsoil without a written scheme (as set out in planning conditions 28 & 29) and also it is my understanding that the site will be in future overseen by an archaeologist but no further investigations will be carried out unless anything is found. It is a shame as in the original excavations in the 1960s archaeology was found 15 inches below the surface.

Acklam Hall Timeline

Postcard of Acklam Hall (circa 1913)

Postcard of Acklam Hall (circa 1913)

Acklam Hall Timeline

  • 1066-Manor was held by Siward, Earl of Northumberland (character in Macbeth)
  • 1086-5 entries in Domesday Book. Manor held by Hugh, Earl of Chester Later overlords-De Brus family; and descendants. Manor in hands of de Acklams
  • C 1230-Joan Boynton, daughter of Roger de Acklam, wife of Ingram de Boynton  inherited the hall. (The Boyntons were M.P.s High Sheriffs of Yorks; Estates in East Riding
  • 1637-Sir Matthew Boynton sold Acklam Grange to William Hustler, a wealthy Bridlington draper
  • C 1680-Sir William Hustler (grandson; knighted 1678; M.P.) built the present house; formal gardens; avenue of lime and fir trees (many of which blew down in 1829)
  • 1845-Attic storey and other additions by Thomas Hustler; rebuilt Acklam (St Mary’s) Church
  • 1912-Altered; new dining room and kitchens built
  • 1928-Sold to Middlesbrough Corporation for £11,500
  • 1935-Opened as Acklam Hall Boys’ Grammar School
  • 1951-Became a Grade I Listed Building
  • 1967-Acklam High School (Acklam Hall Boys’ Grammar School merged with Kirby Girls’ School to become the 13-18 non-selective, co-educational school)
  • C 1971-Flower Beds removed and modern annexes added to the front and either side of the hall
  • 1974-Acklam High School split to form Kings Manor (11-16 year olds) and Acklam Sixth Form College. The Kings Manor building was destroyed in a fire and was finally demolished in 1997 leaving the college as the sole occupant of the site
  • 1995-The hall and grounds remained in council ownership until 1995 when the hall and open spaces to the West and South were transferred to Middlesbrough College. Middlesbrough Council retained considerable ownership interest in the Acklam Hall complex including eastern courtyard buildings; walled garden; sports hall and playing field to the north; and woodland to the east.
  • 2007-Acklam Hall put up for open tender by Middlesbrough College and Middlesbrough Council
  • 2008-Middlesbrough college vacated the site and moved to Middlehaven
  • 2009-Acklam Hall LTD chosen as preferred developer
  • 2010-Acklam Hall ends up on the English Heritage at Risk List
  • 2014-Sale complete. Acklam Hall LTD owner of Hall and Grounds Building begins for 56 executive homes on the grounds of Acklam Hall.


Acklam Hall History

Photograph Taken by Clive Winwood

Photograph Taken by Clive Winwood


 Acklam Hall

Acklam Hall (circa 1683) is Middlesbrough’s only Grade I listed building. It was built in a Dutch Palladian style for Sir William Hustler (c.1658-1730) and has a number of beautiful architectural features. The hall is particularly noted for its heavily ornamented ceilings (similar to Holyrood Palace) which may have been done by the same craftsmen Halbert and/or Dunserfield as they came from south Edinburgh (c.1680), original painted pine open well staircase with ball & artichoke finials. Acklam Hall was given listed building status in 1951.

Politically William Hustler was a Whig, who in 1702 was elected to sit for Ripon.  He was responsible for establishing a number of charity schools in Wakefield and is regarded as one of the great patrons of such schools during this period. William Hustler died at Acklam on 20 August 1730, leaving Acklam Hall and the magnificent grounds to his wife. He was described in the Daily Post as ‘a gentleman of an unblemished character, and whose loss is extremely lamented by his county, to which he had retired some years before his death’.

The land surrounding the hall is of historical significance and interest. Not only is the Avenue of Trees part of the original 17th century formal gardens of Acklam Hall, the land to the North of the hall is where evidence of a medieval moat (10 meters deep) and a medieval village are located. The land on which the manor was built and its surrounding grounds are also mentioned in the Domesday Book. The monks of Whitby Abbey had maintained a property there, which after the Dissolution, had fallen into disrepair.

It is often hard to imagine that anything came before Bolckow & Vaughan discovered Iron Ore in Eston Hills. Middlesbrough became a product of Victorian enterprise, “an infant Hercules” and began to thrive and develop rapidly as a town. Its population growing from 25 people in 1801 to 90,000 by 1901. Acklam Hall and its grounds offer a rare glimpse into what it may have been like to live in Middlesbrough before industrialisation of the town. For the community of Acklam, the hall and its grounds have always been a little piece of calm in an otherwise hectic world.



Hands on Middlesbrough make National News

Hands on Middlesbrough were recently interviewed by The Independent about the plans for houses on the grounds of Acklam Hall, Middlesbrough’s only Grade I listed building.

The story also focused on Middlesbrough residents standing up against the “smoggie” stereotype to protect what makes Middlesbrough a special and desirable place to live.

According to dialectologist Vic Wood, the word “smoggy” or “smoggie” originated on the football terraces as a term of abuse towards Middlesbrough supporters from Sunderland fans. It is also in reference to Middlesbrough’s dominant petrochemical industry and pollution. Sociolinguists argue that the word “smoggie” has been reclaimed as an acceptable, even desirable slang label connected with a sense of regional identity. By embracing the word apparently it can bind a community together. My own personal view is that the word does nothing but promote a negative representation of Middlesbrough and its residents. The constant “smoggie” and “it’s grim up north” references about a town full of “chavs”-obese, lazy, alcoholic criminals who would sell their own mother for a chicken parmo and statistics that are quite frankly made-up (95% of the population don’t exercise!) just reinforces ignorance and prejudice towards a town on the “rust belt” which has its fair share of social and economic problems. Just like the word “Chav” as investigated by Owen Jones in his book Chavs: The demonization of the working class, “smoggie” is similar in how it is used to insult and ridicule people from Middlesbrough and allows a justification for widening inequality.

It is about time the residents of Middlesbrough stood up for themselves and rejected this rubbish.

Sometimes, even local media reinforce this stereotype. With articles about parmo hotdogs or some such thing making headlines. Its a shame to think that the things that make Middlesbrough a great place to live often go unnoticed. As residents of this town we perhaps need to say enough is enough with the derogatory comments about why we are “inferior” to the rest of the country and promote what is good about our town.

Enough with accepting that houses on every available green space is “the only game in town” or the “only option” to raise funds to restore a listed building. Middlesbrough Town Hall, which is only a Grade II* listed building recently applied for Heritage Lottery funding-would the decision makers in Middlesbrough council consider building 56 executive homes on the green space next to that to fund its restoration?

Places like Acklam Hall (circa 1683) left to fall into disrepair for years, so much so that in 2010 it ended up on the English Heritage At Risk List. That whole surrounding area of Devils Bridge, Avenue of Trees, Acklam Hall pond is beautiful green space, treasured by the local community. Sadly, Acklam Hall was regarded as a liability and not an asset, by Middlesbrough Council and Middlesbrough College, it would seem. Despite the hall’s historical significance and medieval archaeology, the high restoration costs meant that the council & college decided development of the site would be the best option.

If like me, you chose to stay in Middlesbrough, rather than “escaping” to pastures new (which most of my friends have done) then we need to make sure we don’t go along with the view that to live in Middlesbrough is to somehow underachieve. We need to be proud of our town and work together to protect what we have, while we still have it and create our own opportunities here. Forget attracting the wealthy in with executive homes. Let them stay in Ingleby Barwick or Great Ayton if they are happy there, think about what the people who live in Middlesbrough want. Seems to me a real issue for people is a continual disrespect or disregard for the towns heritage and green space.

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