TAS & HOM Campaign to protect Middlesbrough’s Heritage




Teesside Archaeological Society and Hands on Middlesbrough have been working hard to raise awareness about heritage at risk in Middlesbrough.

The Urban Park proposed at Middlehaven is on the site of what was once Middlesbrough Pottery. Middlesbrough Pottery Company was founded in 1834 and produced until 1857. This pre-dates the more famous Linthorpe Art Pottery which was launched in 1879.

After considerable lobbying by TAS members, Middlesbrough council has agreed to a watching brief, with an archaeologist present at the Urban Park site.

Hands on Middlesbrough recently requested an FOI for information about the land to the North of Acklam Hall (the site of a medieval moat medieval manor and possible priests house) when work was carried out in breach of planning conditions and without an archaeologist present.


Work was stopped, but we have yet to discover how the council plans to enforce protection of the historic environment. Middlesbrough Borough Council opted out of using Tees Archaeology to screen planning applications in 2009 so it is essential they put a programme in place to ensure the Historic environment Record for Middlesbrough is being updated and heritage is protected.


HOM apply to List The Avenue of Trees with English Heritage


The Avenue of Trees was originally an avenue of Lime Trees, planted near the end of the 17th century as part of the formal gardens of Acklam Hall (circa 1683). In the storm of 1829 most of the trees came down but were quickly replaced.

It is a beautiful place much loved by the local community. The stunning view from the Hall Drive entrance draws the eye towards Acklam Hall.

The Avenue of Trees is not protected. It forms part of the Acklam Hall conservation area but does not have Listed Status or any Tree Preservation Orders placed on ancient trees.

AcklamHallCW3 AckHallCW5

In October (2014), Hands on Middlesbrough applied to English Heritage for the site to be designated but the application was unsuccessful. Maps were provided to prove historic significance including this map from 1716.

Acklam Area 1716 a

Unfortunately, the current circumstances of The Avenue of Trees, Acklam, do not fall into any of the three categories used by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to prioritise designation resources on those sites that are most in need of protection. Those categories are:

  1. Threat: any candidate for designation demonstrably under serious threat of demolition or major alteration. In this case, the Historic Landscape Assessment submitted with the planning application for the development at Acklam Hall makes it clear that the Avenue of Trees falls outside the development area. The Avenue is therefore not directly affected by the development.
  2. Strategic Priority: any candidate for designation of a type that is a strategic designation priority under the National Heritage Protection Plan, English Heritage’s programme of strategic work. You can find a list of this year’s projects on our website.
  3. Evident Significance: any building or site that possesses evident significance that makes it obviously worthy of inclusion on the National Heritage List for England. The evidence provided in your application and the Historic Landscape Assessment suggest that the Avenue of Trees is the only surviving substantially intact feature of the original designed landscape associated with Acklam Hall and is therefore not a strong candidate for designation.

English Heritage advised that: “there are other approaches to the protection of this site that you can take. Your local authority can advise you on the local designation options available, such as applying for a Tree Preservation Order, and you may wish to speak to your local Historic Environment Records Officer or conservation group for advice on such matters”.

Hands on Middlesbrough did apply to Middlesbrough Council for advise on tree preservation orders for The Avenue of Trees but was advised by a planning officer that:

The Avenue of Trees to Acklam Hall is afforded protection by way of the Acklam Hall Conservation Area and its existence on Council-owned land. A further layer of protection is brought to bear by its undoubted contribution to the setting of Acklam Hall and is this regard English Heritage would no doubt resist any removal of trees or speculative proposal for development on the area. The survey and preparation of a Tree Preservation Order on these trees would be a costly and timely exercise for the Council and ultimately a wholly unnecessary effort.

As the Acklam Hall grounds were also a conservation area, with some tree protection orders in place, and clearly a contribution to the setting of the hall itself, this response did not inspire confidence that The Avenue of Trees would be protected for future generations to enjoy.

We looked into other options, such as registering it as a Village Green, but the forms are extremely difficult for members of the community to complete.

Here is the link from the Open Spaces Society for anyone who may be interested in registering a piece of land as a village green.

OSS Village Greens

NB English Heritage is now known as Historic England



Victorian Cities Revisited: Heritage and History Conference (Day 1)


It was a big coup for Middlesbrough to stage this conference and to get speakers and visitors from all over the country and, indeed, the world. A number of the talks were about Middlesbrough and even those that weren’t, I found myself relating to my own thoughts on this town and its history.

The first day of the conference got off to a flying start with Mayor Mallon, in the very Council Chamber itself no less, waving the flag for Middlesbrough and our industrial heritage. He started by saying that “this particular topic [Victorian heritage], to me, to this town is more important than what people realise… too many people have forgotten where they come from and who they are. We should never forget who we are and where we came from. This conference is important to me because I want to get the subject of the past on everybody’s mind in Middlesbrough, because if not, we will lose our way.”

Barry Doyle, now with the University of Huddersfield, but formerly at Teesside University and once my tutor on the Local History MA course, gave a talk on the health of Middlesbrough’s population in the late nineteenth century. This showed that although most comparable towns and cities in the industrialised north were making improvements in public health, with significant falls in death rates and increasing life expectancy, Middlesbrough went against the norm by actually having worsening health. This was mainly due to poor sanitation and drainage, with people living in overcrowded conditions and in close proximity to heavy industry and the pollution it produced.

Although Middlesbrough did make improvements in the health of its population, this was not until much later, in the first half of the twentieth century. Even now, the health of people in Middlesbrough is generally worse than the England average. For example, life expectancy for males is 76.3, compared to the average for England of 79.2 and for females life expectancy is 80.2, compared with an England average of 83.0. What is even worse is that in the poorer parts of Middlesbrough, life expectancy for males is about 68 and for women it is around 75. Deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer are also significantly higher than the England average.

After that fun-packed lecture, I made my way to the Mandela Room, where Helen Frisby was giving a talk about “magic and modernity in the English urban funeral.” This examined superstitious beliefs about death and funerals that were transferred from rural to urban settings with industrialisation, as agrarian workers moved to the expanding towns and cities. The stories of overcrowded cemeteries, with bits of decaying bodies poking through the soil were gruesome, but it made me wonder what the graveyard at St Hilda’s looked like. This graveyard was small, enclosed by the urban development of Middlesbrough and had to cater for a large and fast growing population, which was also unhealthy and had a high death rate! Last Saturday I had been at the old Holy Cross Church at Whorlton, near Swainby, and photographed the overcrowded gravestones there. Would St Hilda’s have looked something like this in the late 1800s?


Shane Ewen, editor of Urban History magazine gave a talk on the great flood of Sheffield which occurred in 1864. This looked at how disasters have a “major impact on a place’s political, social and economic makeup.” This was followed by Charlotte Mallinson dissecting (ouch!) the misplaced sensationalist values of Jack the Ripper tours. Thankfully, Middlesbrough has largely avoided major disasters and sensationalist crimes, but does that make us culturally the poorer, is our identity lacking in some way because of this?

After lunch, some of us embarked on a guided tour of old Middlesbrough, led by Tosh Warwick. This took in the statue of Henry Bolckow in Exchange Square:


The New Exchange buildings and the Tees Port building (now PD Ports):


The homes of Henry Bolckow and John Vaughan:


The National Provincial Bank of England:


The Captain Cook pub:


Before arriving at the Transporter Bridge, with a very informative talk by former Bridge Master Alan Murray (I never knew it was made from Scottish steel!).


Back in the Council Chamber, I opted for the mental health strand, with Rob Ellis explaining how London County Council, in the late nineteenth century, was influenced by European and American ideas in its design of asylums and Carolyn Gibbeson discussing how the now defunct large county asylums of England are being utilised by developers for residential use. Again, having a one-track mind, I could not help wondering about the fate of Middlesbrough’s asylum, St Luke’s. Should this have been closed down and its red brick buildings reutilised by developers to create aspirational homes to attract middle class families into the town? Or should it be obliterated to make way for a cash-generating, modern secure mental health facility? I guess that’s the trouble with hosting such an event in a place of multiple deprivation and chronic long term health conditions, it cannot help but throw up a lot of very uncomfortable questions.

The closing speech for the day was by Professor Robert (Bob) Morris, from the University of Edinburgh. I had spoken to Bob earlier in the day, on the way to the Transporter Bridge, and explained how the recent development at Acklam Hall had removed the ugly school buildings that were added in the twentieth century, but also threatened the medieval archaeology that still exists, for the time being at least, across the site. I did not know that Bob had been taught at Acklam Hall in the early 1960s, before studying at Keble College Oxford, the Nuffield College and then spending most of his academic career at the Department of Economic History in the Social Science Faculty of Edinburgh University. He even included in his presentation a slide of the quadrangle at Acklam Hall, with huge mature horse chestnut trees growing in the middle, a sight he remembered from his chemistry classes. Now, of course, it is all gone.

I think Bob’s talk was probably the most successful of the day. He spoke of how other post-industrial areas, such as Bradford and the Calder Valley, had managed to regenerate themselves by adapting former factories to business and niche marketing uses. He explained how Germany had even managed to turn its old steel making blast furnace sites into nature parks and industrial heritage trails.

Bob also talked about the internet, about specialist local history sites, their interactive nature and how they collected information outside the normal academic rigours. I must say I was taken aback by his remark to the audience that “most of you will know someone who has done their family history research.” I, like many people who have since gone on to “proper” academic research at university or wherever, have spent many years studying my family history and this has led to an appreciation and interest in local history. However, Bob obviously loves the amateur research produced by the internet and spoke with a deep conviction when he said that the loss of some community websites was akin to book burning.

I found Bob’s concluding remarks most affecting. He said that the way to attract a well informed and educated public to an area, was to provide them with an interesting historic environment in which to live. It is not enough to just provide aspirational houses, you need to provide an environment in which people feel engaged, in which they feel at home and in which they belong. Mere bricks and mortar do not provide this. You need a cultural identity and without that, in the words of Ray Mallon, “We will lose our way.”

Written by Richard Pink