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SOUTH MIDDLESBROUGH 1895:
A number of country houses – most of which are now gone forever
Looking back even just to the mid-19th century, we find a very different world – a society dominated by the social elite from the houses they lived in across the southern edge of the area, with views of Middlesbrough, in the words of Gladstone, the ‘infant Hercules’, to the north.
The Teesside region we live in today is essentially an urban area populated by a community which interacts (in normal times) both socially and economically. As the countryside has retreated the country houses and estates, have essentially disappeared not just from view but largely from memory too. The names may live on as place names or housing estates but with some searching it is possible to bring to light some features of this ‘lost world.’
ACKLAM HALL 1680 – present day
The Acklam Estate was bought by William Hustler of Bridlington in 1637. His grandson, also William Hustler, built Acklam Hall between 1680 and 1683. Originally a very formal building surrounded by elaborate formal gardens, the Hall underwent alterations in 1845 during which restoration formality was replaced by a new ‘Gothic’ architectural style featuring gables and turrets. Attic rooms and a new porch were added, decorated with Gothic gables. The gardens were altered, with large lawns laid and woods planted close to the Hall.
Further alterations in 1912 restored some formality. The estate, including the Hall, was sold in 1928 becoming a school in 1935. The Hustler family owned a large part of the land up to the river and were responsible for the building of the granaries and several other buildings at Newport.
Perhaps the most elegant and indeed magnificent example of Victorian opulence in this area was Marton Hall. The north front of Marton Hall is shown here in around 1907. Constructed for Henry Bolckow, who bought the estate in 1853 as a private residence, he moved here in 1856. He continued to improve the grandeur of the Hall (exemplified by its Carrara marble columns and staircase and many other decorative features) and the grounds of the estate where he planted many fine rare trees. He also amassed a fine art collection, which along with the Hall passed to his nephew Carl on Henry’s death in 1878, but due to the industrial recession of 1888 the art collection sold in London on 5 May of that year.
The twentieth century would bring increasing financial pressures for owners of fine buildings and as a result many had to be sold. Marton Hall had already been closed in 1892 due to Carl Bolckow having financial problems and remained unoccupied for many years; much of the furniture and many of the books were sold in 1907.
As also happened at Gunnergate Hall, troops were stationed at Marton Hall during the First World War. The rest of the contents were sold in 1923 and it was then bought by Councillor T. Dormand Stewart and presented to the town in 1928 for use as a public park – the Stewart Park we know so well today.
Gunnergate Hall, was a magnificent brick house in Gothic style, built in 1857 in parkland near Marton for the Quaker banker Charles Leatham. After his death in 1858 at the age of only 33, it was purchased by John Vaughan, a leading figure in Middlesbrough’s iron industry along with Henry Bolckow (then living in neighbouring Marton Hall).
Gunnergate Hall was described in 1860 by contemporary reports as a ‘salubrious residence with a fine prospect’. When Vaughan died in 1868, his son Thomas took over the house and proceeded to considerably enlarge it even further.
Local newspapers reported it had ‘magnificent dining, drawing and billiard rooms … including pillars of polished Aberdeen granite.’ The billiard room alone was rumoured to have cost £40,000. Events at the Hall such as family weddings were lavish affairs, with crowds of villagers turning out to watch.
When Vaughan’s company crashed in 1879 all work ceased, leaving a banqueting hall and ballroom unfinished. The house and contents are thought to have been sold in 1881 to Henry Bolckow’s nephew, Carl. The final resident of the Hall, shipbuilder Sir Raylton Dixon, purchased it in 1885 and he lived here until his death in 1901.
After the death of Raylton Dixon however, the Hall became empty as his widow went to live in Great Ayton. The Hall was never occupied again other than by troops during the First World War. The Hall was demolished in April 1946, a gesture of glorious extravagance was now extinguished, gone forever.
TOLLESBY HALL 1803-1982
Many people will remember Tollesby Hall …. it was clearly visible from anyone travelling along Ladgate Lane close to Slip Inn Bank. Access to the Hall was from a driveway reached off Tollesby Lane to the east of the Hall whilst Gunnergate Hall was located to the south.
Bartholomew Rudd bought Tollesby Estate in 1803 and replaced the seventeenth century Hall with a new ‘more modern mansion’ built between 1803 and 1808.
The new building was described as ‘two-storied with five bays with pediment, balustrade parapets, a colonnaded entrance and lower two-bay wings’. There were several alterations throughout the nineteenth century as new owners moved in.
It was eventually bought from the Rudd family by James Emerson of Easby Hall in 1886. It later passed to his son Eleazer Biggins Emerson. In May 1930, the contents of Tollesby Hall were ‘sold on the instructions of the late Mr E.B. Emerson’.
By 1937, Tollesby Hall and its 3 acres of ground was ‘for let at £200 per year’, described as ‘being in good repair … (with) four reception rooms, ten bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, garage and water and electric light both available.’
After later becoming a builder’s yard the Hall was eventually demolished in 1982. Another part of the region’s history was gone forever.
Today most of the Tollesby Hall estate is residential housing with few visible signs left of its unique history…
PARK END HOUSE 1860 -1961
How many people can remember Park End House?
This substantial property stood for 100 years having been built for James Stovin Pennyman, on a plot of land immediately to the west of Ormesby Road (or Ormesby Lane or White House Lane as it was then known) and the junction with Ladgate Lane.
The house was designed by Darlington architects, Pritchett & Sons, with building beginning in the autumn of 1860. Although Pennyman had sent his mother and wife to live in the property in early 1861 it was September of that year before the family fully moved in.
Accessed by a driveway from Ormesby Road the main entrance opened to a moderate sized hall, main staircase and cloakroom with toilet. Inside there were three large rooms on the ground floor together with a large kitchen with a stone floor, scullery, larder, pantry and storeroom. Upstairs there were six bedrooms (one of which was linked directly with the kitchen by a small staircase), a dressing room, three bathrooms and toilets, as well as two attic rooms.
Outside there were several outbuildings – a wash house, five storerooms, a coach house and harnessed rooms. The four acres of land (1.619 hectares) included a large kitchen garden, ornamental gardens, two small paddocks and other buildings such as stables and potting sheds.
The total cost of the house was £2280.34p; several successful shopping trips to London resulted in various pieces of furniture being delivered by steamship from London to Middlesbrough and then by cart to the new home at Park End. Other furniture was bought locally including some pieces from the J.I. Hopkins sale of furniture at Newlands. With servants employed and men from Ormesby Hall brought in to begin the landscaping of the grounds the family settled down to enjoy their new home.
When Park End House was built it stood some distance from the new town of Middlesbrough and enjoyed a completely rural location. However, throughout the years of its existence the house witnessed, at a quickening pace, the encroachment of urban development. After World War Two major new housing estates planned by Middlesbrough County Borough Council began to emerge close by – including a major development at the adjacent Berwick Hills Farm.
Although Park End House exists no more the name Park End lives on after the Park End development plan, approved in 1951, initiated large scale housing development throughout the area close to the house. Today there is little to remind us that this once grand house ever existed – a supermarket stands on the site….. only an occasional tree reminds us of the property that once stood on the country lane from Middlesbrough to Ormesby….
ORMESBY HALL 1754 – present day
A great deal has been written about Ormesby Hall – a Grade I listed building, which is a mainly 18th-century mansion house built in the Palladian style and completed in 1754. The Hall still stands today together with its immediate grounds It’s survival is largely through the National Trust taking over the building after Ruth Pennyman, when the last member of the Pennyman family to live there, died in 1983.
NORMANBY HALL 1815 – present day
Normanby Hall built in 1820 for William Ward Jackson is shown here c1905. It replaced the previous family home ‘Old Hall’ where his father Ralph Ward Jackson lived from May 1770 until his death in 1790.
William moved out of the ‘Old Hall’ on 30 March 1815, a move which he pondered on for some time and one which he noted annually in his journal seemingly with a sense of poignancy.
A lot of the plants and trees were brought to the new property from the grounds of the old hall over the next few years. The Hall and the Ward-Jackson family remained the patrons of the village of Normanby until eventually it was sold. More recently, it was a residential home but was sold since when in a time of an uncertain future it has suffered at the hands of vandals– a sad fate for this once imposing country house.
Today we all Take it almost for granted that we can go to a library and borrow a book of our choice. But this was not always the case – indeed there was not a great deal of provision made for cultural activities in the early days of the new town of Middlesbrough. It was almost ten years before the founding by William Taylor in 1840, of the `Mechanics Institute, one of the first institutions to act as an agency for ‘instruction, improvement and amusement of the workers.’ The initial meetings were held in a room in East Street with the guidance of first president, Isaac Wilson. By 1844 a library committee was overseeing the provision of reading facilities – though the number of books available were few.
In 1859 the foundation stone was laid for a permanent building in Durham Street and with a Polytechnic Exhibition, held in that year, helping to raise £2000 towards costs, the Mechanics Institute in its new location, opened to the public on 18 January 1860. The new building soon helped to make the institute the centre of Middlesbrough’s cultural life.
During the 1860’s, helped by the Public Libraries Act 1855 and 1866, Free Libraries opened in many towns and cities throughout the country. Middlesbrough followed suit after R.L. Kirby called a public meeting in the Oddfellows Hall 23 November 1870 to adopt the Public Libraries Act. This allowed the town to take over the Mechanics Institute library of 1,740 volumes on 2 February 1871 and establish a Free Library. A reading room was opened on 3 April and Middlesbrough’s first Free Library opened to the public on 24 July 1871 with William Sterzil as the first librarian – a post he would hold for almost twenty years.
At a time with growing emphasis on literacy for all, the importance of the Free Library services cannot be overstated. Many families struggled to cope financially and buying books or other reading materials was not a priority. Thus, the library service proved to be very popular and was rapidly expanding; a branch reading room open seven days a week was started in February 1872 at Granville Terrace, Newport Road on the corner of Newport Crescent. The Durham Street premises were soon outgrown, and the Free Library Committee recommended at a council meeting 13 February 1877 that the whole library be moved to a new location in Newport Road, at a rent of £120 per annum, with the reading room at Granville Terrace closing – though a reading room remained open in Durham Street.
The new facilities were a great improvement on the previous premises. The reading room was much larger measuring 17m by 12m, well-lit and well ventilated. The principal newspapers were placed on a stand running down the centre of the room with desk tables placed around the sides containing periodicals, reviews etc and reference books. The library too was much improved in size being 8m by 8m and could be reached by borrowers without having to disturb those using the reading rooms. Most important though the increased accessibility to those using the service – seventy-five per cent of borrowers lived south of the railway where the new facility was located. Expenditure in 1877 was approximately £800 with 7,140 books in total and 65,701 issues made that year.
On 10 October 1887, fifteen months before the new Town Hall was officially opened, the library moved again, this time to rooms in the new municipal buildings, on the corner of Russell Street and Albert Road. However, some troubled times lay ahead. In October 1889 there was a special meeting of the Free Library Committee to examine an alleged discrepancy over the number of books declared in stocktaking as well as the general condition of the books, general disorder and untidiness found in an inspection of the library. This resulted in the immediate dismissal of the librarian William Sterzil. In his defence it has to be said that he was very ill and he died 10 December aged 55.
The Free Library received 444 applications for the post of librarian – which carried an annual salary of £104. Mr Baker Hudson was appointed, but he faced immediate problems. A report prepared in early November 1889, found that a considerable number of books were beyond repair and unfit for use. Furthermore, they couldn’t be replaced because of a lack of funds – a situation which had apparently existed for two years. The report stated that the responsibility for this lay with the Town Council and not the Free Library Committee.
The relocation to the municipal buildings had been disastrous too. There were problems with the rooms being used – there were ventilation issues in the reading room both during the day and after the gas lights had been lit. The financial position too was very precarious. The income for 1888 was £907.14 but the outgoings were £1365.92 – a debt of £458.78 and clearly there wasn’t enough money to justify the buying of any books. The expenditure on books had been decreasing in any case; the £382 which had been spent on the buying and upkeep of books in 1885, was reduced to £158 in 1888 and now in 1888 to only £93.
A library without new books?
Public opinion towards the library was positive. The Daily Gazette stated on 27 November 1890 that it was hoped the library would not have to restrict in any way, the ‘diffusion of knowledge…. they have made with advantage to the community’. But clearly things had to change; among several modifications was the closure of the Durham Street Reading Room and the money available from the Council was increased. With an eye to the future, it was decided that from January 1891 the Library Minutes would be submitted monthly and confirmed or otherwise by the Town Council.
Undoubtedly the library service in Middlesbrough prospered from this point onwards culminating in the opening of the Carnegie Library in 1912.
A Free Library with no money to buy books would never happen again.
Hi, my name is Kingsley and I design t-shirts for Tourism Teesside. I was born in Stockton-on-Tees sometime between the invention of the railway and the construction of Wellington Square shopping centre. From the dark distant days of my childhood in Teesside I remember my mum once lost me in Marks and Spencers, numerous trips to Leslie Browns and going to the Cannon cinema to watch a Star Wars double bill. I studied Fine Art at Cleveland College of Art and Design in Hartlepool, University College Salford and Sheffield Hallam University before embarking on a career as front man in art rock bands THE CHAPMAN FAMILY (2006-2013) and KINGSLEY CHAPMAN AND THE MURDER (2014-2017), a venture which allowed me to perform in places as far flung as Texas and Tokyo, as well as feature in publications like NME and Artrocker, and be lucky enough to appear on MTV and BBC national radio stations. I’m currently in a band called BENEFITS. Don’t let any of that put you off though, it’s nothing to do with my t shirts. However, here’s a pic of me doing rock star stuff ages ago which is pretty cool.
Tourism Teesside came about from an art exhibition I did at the House of Blah Blah in Middlesbrough in 2017 called Trashterpiece. The centrepiece of the show was an altar (made of wooden pallets) where visitors to the show were invited to bring mementos and symbols of Teesside that they’d like to get rid of – a bit like the TV show Room 101. The exhibition was supposed to culminate in a ceremonial burning of all the objects on the altar, a fiery process to cleanse the good people of Teesside of their unwanted memories and hopefully to symbolically allow the region to move on and grow, to stop looking at the past with rose tinted spectacles.
However, as the show went on, the whole concept of the show flipped on its head. I found myself having conversations with visitors about the objects on display and instead of being embarrassed by them we talked honestly instead. A bit of rose-tinted specs, a bit of blood and guts. It became apparent from talking to people across a variety of age ranges that there were huge gaps from what older people knew about the cultural history of Teesside to what younger people did. If I mentioned the Terry Scott Transporter Incident to people of a certain age, they knew immediately what I was on about but anyone under 40 (or folk who didn’t have an interest in old Carry On stars) would look at me blankly. They seemed to know a lot about Juninho and could hum the tune to Pig Bag but were blissfully unaware that the Sex Pistols had played near Cannon Park in 1977 or that Middlesbrough once had a national title winning speedway team.
I set about doing some t shirt designs that tried to celebrate Teesside. However, the intention was to not do so in a stony faced historical manner that simply regurgitated the same old things that people had seen a million times before, but to try and create things that celebrated the underappreciated aspects of the region, or to reimagine old ideas in a contemporary (and maybe tongue in cheek) way.
My first ever design was a pastiche of the famous Ramones t-shirt (that’s already been pastiched to death by everyone from One Direction to the Wiggles) and it was an attempt to celebrate as much as I could about Teesside onto one tee. There’s lemon tops with UTB written on them; an ICI emblem; Phil Stamp’s “Yer jokin arn yer” quote written on a scarf; the Bottle of Notes opposite John Walker’s match; railway tracks; cooling towers; the span of the Transporter bridge taking the place of eagle wings from the original tee; and the names of six parmo restaurants in the centre piled up like pizza boxes. Surrounding everything are the names of four relatively modern Teessiders: Chris Rea, Jet from Gladiators, Bob Mortimer and finally (honorary Teessider) Juninho. It would have been more appropriate to use the names of the historic icons of Teesside: Bolckow, Vaughan, Pease, Ropner etc but nowhere near as much fun. Plus, the intention back then (as it still is now) was to try and connect with a generation that are a little historically disconnected from the regions past. The idea is to reel people in with the jokes and contemporary famous folk but then try and provide them with a snippet of cool information that they maybe didn’t necessarily know.
So, in short, Tourism Teesside is intended to reimagine and celebrate the forgotten histories of Teesside. By redesigning achievements, brands, and iconography I hope to reinvigorate a sense of pride in our region. It’s as simple as that.
There seems to be a feeling that nothing ever happens here. Teesside doesn’t get “the big names” coming up to perform; we’ve never won anything apart from the Carling Cup and all that we’re really known for is the bridge in Auf Wiedersehen Pet and a flat piece of deep-fried pork or chicken covered in orange cheese. Because people believe, rightly or wrongly, that nothing happens, there’s also a new generation that believes it’s always been that way. At a push they probably know that the Beatles famously played in Teesside the night JFK got shot but they maybe don’t know that Jerry Lee Lewis played in Stockton … as did Stevie Wonder … and Diana Ross … and Smokey Robinson … and Tom Jones … and Bowie in Boro … and Iron Maiden in the Rock Garden … and Take That in The Mall … and Killing Joke in Gaskins … and Ella Fitzgerald in Ayresome Park … and Iggy Pop in Redcar … and the list goes on.
We had cool nightclubs with awesome names like “The Electric Onion,” “Superstars” and “Mandys” too – it wasn’t always brilliant micropubs, megaclubs and Wetherspoons. There was an amazing looking sports stadium in Middlesbrough with a velodrome; a national championship winning speedway team in 1981; and a Nissan car garage on the trunk road that used Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best” to awesome effect in a radio advert. It’s these pieces of relatively recent history that I want to research and promote and to get the message across in the simplest possible way that because brilliant things have happened here in the past they can happen again.
The Redcar Bowl which once graced Ozzy Osbourne on Majuba Road has been levelled; The Mall is an empty gap in Stockton High Street; the old Radio Tees studios on Dovecot Street have been divided into flats; the old speedway is now five a side football pitches; and Ayresome Park is a housing estate. There are no blue plaques in Stockton to tell people that Tony Hancock did a set at Titos on Brunswick Street or that the Arctic Monkeys played in Ku Bar but maybe there should be. Maybe we should shout about this stuff more. The Tourism Teesside tees are my way of keeping these memories alive and an attempt to kick people into action because I fear if we stop talking about them – if we stop celebrating them – then they’ll disappear just like the buildings that housed them.
The Coming of the Railway to Middlesbrough
Railways were very much a key part of the birth of Middlesbrough and it’s quite possible that the industrial town may have remained an isolated farmhouse for some years if the Stockton and Darlington Railway Company had not extended the railway along the southern banks of the Tees from Stockton to Middlesbrough in 1830.
Eighteen months before Joseph Pease and business partners bought the 500-acre (202 hectares) site. The Stockton and Darlington Railway Company because of the navigation issues along the Tees between Newport and Stockton, had petitioned Parliament to extend their line to Middlesbrough, where coal shipping staithes would be built to facilitate the export of coal. It would never have occurred to the business consortium that the railway would be anything other than a transport medium for the conveying of goods traffic thus facilities for carrying passengers in the early days were very few indeed.
In the early years when there was no direct road, a coach drawn by a horse along the railway and driven by coachman Jim Brown linked Middlesbrough to Stockton. It is recorded that Jim would walk along Stockton Street blowing his horn when departure time approached, any passenger who looked as if they were going to travel would be encouraged to board the coach. Often the journey to Stockton would be made behind a fleet of empty coal wagons whilst it wasn’t unknown for passengers simply to walk along the railway line on foot!
In 1834 the Railway Company announced that horses would largely be replaced by locomotives with a wooden hut close to Watson’s Wharf (later Dent’s Wharf) becoming the first railway station in the town. As passenger numbers grew the shed was removed and a new site found. The second railway station was located opposite the Custom House building and was used for 10 years.
Why did William Taylor organise a petition?
In 1847, a year after the new railway to Redcar was completed it was decided to move the station for a third time to a new location south of the town at a site close to Sussex St. There was great amazement amongst the people living in Middlesbrough that anyone could consider placing the new station so far away. Led by local businessman William Taylor, inhabitants signed a petition to the railway company asking them not to place the new station out of town where it would be most inconvenient for businesses. At that time only fields and farmhouses such as Dairy Knoll and The Grange, lay beyond the railway line. There was also a feeling that the new station was too large a concern for a small place like Middlesbrough.
10 August 1868; Prince Albert’s carriage leaves Middlesbrough Station for Marton Hall
Not another railway station!
3 December 1877; the fourth and still remaining railway station opens in Middlesbrough
When Middlesbrough experienced increasing economic growth after 1850 through the iron and steel industry it soon became necessary to consider a new railway station for Middlesbrough – one that would reflect the growing status of the town.
The third station to be built in the town (and the one which still remains today) opened in 1877 on the site of the 1847 building and this time there were no protests as this magnificent new building took its place in the business centre of the town. With its long arch and glass roof and imposing entrance it was indeed a great improvement on the wind-swept location of wooden hut which was Middlesbrough’s first railway station.
Today it still serves passengers travelling by rail to destinations within the region as well as further afield.
In 1933 steel erectors were working on the construction of the Newport Bridge, Bill Canwell from North Ormesby, became the first person to cross the new Tees Bridge when he walked along a 9-inch-wide (23cm) girder ….180 feet (55 metres) above the River Tees as if he was walking calmly along Linthorpe Road.
“Heavens above, what nerve! But what on earth is he doing that for?” exclaimed a spectator, craning his neck at the human fly high up above the murky river.
Make no mistake this was an amazing feat as he walked along the narrow girder between the tops of the towers! It must have been very scary for him as he walked along that narrow girder with the wind buffeted by the strong wind and the River Tees far below! But Bill showed no nerves as he made his crossing. A workmate joked that he had gone to borrow a light for his cigarette from a fellow worker on the Durham side on the north bank!
The gathering crowd soon nicknamed Bill the ‘Teesside Blondin’ after Charles Blondin the world-famous 19th century French tightrope walker and acrobat, best known for crossing the 1,100 ft Niagara Gorge on a tightrope.
Why was Bill up there?
Work had begun on building the new bridge at Newport back in 1931. Good progress was made so by early 1933 the two lifting towers on either side of the river were ready to be joined.
In order to take the strain from the two towers during the construction of the main span in position, two false spans had to be flung across the river joining the tops of the towers.
The first was put into position on 25 January 1933 – it was a lattice girder span weighing about 30 tons (27 tonnes) and measuring 250 feet (76m) in length. Good weather helped as not a breath of wind ruffled the water enabling the lift to be carried out without any complications of a span blown out of position.
Floated on a barge, the span was towed to a position directly under the bridge and river traffic at the bridge was suspended for six hours to enable the work to be carried out. the lifting gear was already in position and when the huge steel girder work was manoeuvred into place and attached to the lifting cables the actual hoist did not take very long.
There was apparently a slight hesitation at the beginning, when it was noticed that a plank gangway on the span was incorrectly balanced, making the lift hang unevenly. However, this was quickly rectified and slowly and carefully the sun began to ascend watched anxiously by engineers from Dorman Long & Co., who were the contractors for the bridge, and also engineers on the job, from Mott, Hay & Anderson.
Many cameramen clicked their shutters recording the various stages of the lift and cinema newsreel photographers rushed around to get unusual views of what was a unique bridge. They got a ‘human touch’ when Bill Canwell did his tight-rope act. As the metal girder approached its position at the top of the 180 feet high towers, erecters swarmed like ants over the girder work to secure the span. Someone dropped a wrench which felt with a splash into the River Tees far below bringing the comment from one spectator ‘That’s christened the bridge!’
The second false spun was erected in a similar fashion one week later and Bill made his walk again!
IT’S the back end of 1976 and the owners of a failing Bierkellar situated on the outskirts of a provincial north east town based on Teesside contemplate turning it into a music venue. They were keen to explore the possibilities of this new music that was gripping the country. The Sex Pistols had garnered most of the tabloid headlines and punk rock was all over the news. It’s unlikely looking back with hindsight that the owners would ever have imagined 45 years later that people who attended the venue, played in bands and published their own fanzines would form their own page on social media dedicated to Middlesbrough Rock Garden. Like many small businesses working in the entertainment sector they probably had an idea it would make them money very quickly without any real timescale for longevity.
The Rock Garden would go on to champion the latest in punk rock, post punk, heavy metal, ska, reggae and various other genres that remained outside the mainstream. It was probably just as well it was situated in an area of town that had seen the wide scale demolition of hundreds of back to back street houses in the Cannon Street area a few years earlier to be replaced by a grim industrial estate and eventually a dual carriageway.
A veritable A – Z featuring Acne Rabble (aka Sex Pistols), Adam and the Ants, The Adverts, The Clash, The Cramps, The Damned, Dire Straits, Girlschool, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, New Order, OMD, The Police, The Pretenders, Psychedelic Furs, The Selecter, Simple Minds, The Stranglers, Squeeze, Tom Robinson Band, The Tourists, UB40, Ultravox and The Undertones would play. Or obscure bands that featuring the likes of Mick Hucknall (The Frantic Elevators), Martin Fry (Vice Versa) or Roland Gift (Akrylyx). Local heroes included Basczax, Blitzkreig Bop, Discharge, The Filth, No Way and The Vultures plus many more. Bands forming and then splitting up in their dozens. Fanzines would include Gabba Gabba Hey, Protesting Children Minus The Bondage, Street Level, Strictly Rockers, Teesside Public Address (TPA) and Teesside Smells,
A brief period followed when the venue featured regularly in the tour itineraries of bands and published in the established music press of the day: Melody Maker, NME and SOUNDS. Being a punk on Teesside came with consequences mainly hyped up by the daily tabloids who rejoiced in any negative press they could find.
In 1977 we had ‘No More Heroes’ by The Stranglers and The Clash singing, ‘No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones’ on their self-titled debut released in April. The Stranglers had already made their sole Rock Garden appearance in February though they played Middlesbrough Town Hall not long after. The Clash turned up in May on a nationwide UK tour just six weeks after releasing their debut. It was to be a monumental evening at the Rock Garden. Even lights failure for several minutes couldn’t deter them. Bands were forming locally after this appearance as punk rock spread into the provinces and created its own local scenes. Even in places like Middlesbrough & Stockton, usually they would take place in run down pubs like The Albert, The Teessider and The Wellington that struggled for business during the week but punk rock found a place to grow and an eager new audience to experience everything it offered. Of course there were people who jumped on the bandwagon wanting their own taste of the action but the Rock Garden managed to last from the back end of 1976 through to August 1981. Music seemed to be moving so fast in those days. My own experiences provided opportunities to witness people changing from punk to skinhead to mod in a matter of months.
It would be easy to think of the Rock Garden just as a venue that held punk bands but it also ran heavy metal & rock evenings that featured the likes of Def Leppard, Dire Straits, Girlschool, Motorhead, Saxon and The Scorpions. Yes, for a brief time you couldn’t pick up a music paper without some band being announced as playing the Rock Garden as part of their tours. Whilst it would be easy to single out the Rock Garden other local venues like Middlesbrough Town Hall, the Coatham Bowl in Redcar and Teesside Poly also played a part too. The Rock Garden originally had an agreement in place that would see Teesside Poly hosting events there which was the best of both worlds as the Poly also used the Town Hall to stage bigger events too.
One of those artistes that made a huge impression was locally educated Tom Robinson from Stokesley who had several top 30 hits and for around 18 months was courted by all the major music press. When Tom brought his band to the venue nobody batted an eyelid when they all joined in the chorus for ‘Glad To Be Gay,’ which in an industrial town like Middlesbrough was quite an achievement.
I would be lying if I said I was there at the beginning. I simply wasn’t but I have friends who were. My Rock Garden baptism didn’t actually take place until the night The Skids were due in town in March 1979. I had heard stories and rumours about the Rock Garden’s reputation which had all been based on hearsay and no actual experience of it. It was enough to put me off for at least six months but then I thought I would throw caution to the wind. What could possibly go wrong?
In those far off days a trip to Middlesbrough was seen as something exotic. I had no experience of any other nightlife. Nobody where I lived in Stockton was into punk rock except a guy called Stephen Jennings who liked Eddie & The Hot Rods and lent me their second album ‘Life On The Line’ with a 12” single by The Ramones accidentally wedged between its gatefold sleeve. ‘Rockaway Beach’ it was called but the b-side caught my attention on my Mono record player. ‘Beat On The Brat with a baseball bat, oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah oh huh’ sang Joey Ramone. It was so dumb yet so catchy. If this was punk rock then count me in!
At the time I worked with a colleague who was a huge Skids fan his name was Neville King and The Skids from Dunfermline were due at the Rock Garden on Satuday, 24th March,1979, just as ‘The Saints Are Coming’ crashed into the top 30 charts. They had previously had ‘Sweet Surburbia’ out as a single and their debut album ‘Scared To Dance’ was being promoted on the tour and unbeknown to me at the time the band were doing a ‘Matinee Show’ for kids under 16 and then a later show for 18 and over. The problem was that the venue was tiny and at a push probably held around 300. I’ve read from various sources that the capacity was 250 but another one said they had 450.
On the night there was a large queue forming round the side of the venue and where The Acklam pub across the road was situated. Unfortunately it hardly moved and on the night like dozens of others we ended up taking in a Rock Against Racism event at Teesside Poly featuring a reggae band called the Barrie Ford Band; a local band called The Barbarians who had such a profound effect on the local scene and two other bands from further afield in the Leyton Buzzards and The Piranhas. The experience only made me want to explore more so when it was a reformed Damned appearing at the Rock Garden the following week I was determined not to miss out this time by arriving earlier.
The Damned I knew from their early singles ‘New Rose’, ‘Neat Neat Neat’ and ‘Problem Child’. They were the first major punk band I ever saw at the Rock Garden and though they have changed line-ups periodically I still hold some genuine affection for them though their main songwriter Brian James had gone from their line-up and they had signed to Ted Carroll and Roger Armstrong Chiswick independent record label. They both ran a record shop in London at the time. Other notable bands on Chiswick included a very early version of Motorhead and the Radio Stars. With The Damned, Captain Sensible moved from bass to guitar and Algy Ward was brought in on bass duties from a latter day version of Aussie punks The Saints. Dave Vanian and Rat Scabies were still there too. Ward would later feature in a rock band called Tank.
It wasn’t long before they experienced commercial success with ‘Love Song’, ‘Smash it Up’ (which was banned by BBC Radio 1 for inciting violence) and ‘I Just Can’t Be Happy Today’. On the night Dave Vanian just looked so unique and although the night remains a blur the reformed The Damned made such an impression on me, I started going to the Rock Garden regularly. 1979 would prove to be a successful year for The Damned as they returned in December to a full house promoting their third album ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’ which for me has stood the test of time. The Damned were never seen in the same light as punk heavyweights like The Clash, the Sex Pistols or The Stranglers, more the jokers in the pack but they actually could play their instruments. When they played live Captain Sensible was always good for a wind – up. ‘The Captain is a wanker’ repeat ad infinitum was a regular chant at the live shows I caught them at.
Life would never be quite the same for me again. Live music became a staple diet of my obsession. Some weeks a decision had to be made, should I buy two albums for £3.99 or go to the Rock Garden instead? Money was tight and sadly choices had to be made but the weekly music press kept me going. I had a regular order for SOUNDS music paper. I couldn’t afford to buy Melody Maker and the NME too, though sometimes I would read the latter.
AUTHOR – STEVE HARLAND
Boro v Blackburn Rovers – podcast
All aboard the podcast – Boro v Blackburn Rovers and that means another Boro old boys return, Stewart Downing and of course Tony Mowbray. Let’s hope it is less successful than it was for George Friend, Adam Clayton and Aitor Karanka.
But we put all that behind us with a terrific performance and win against Forest in midweek – in this 25 minute podcast we talk about momentum and just what building on that midweek run and going on a run would do for our play off chances.
Please grab a listen to our podcast ahead of our Sunday service game.
Boro v Brum Friends Reunited Podcast
Boro v Birmingham City – High Noon showdown tomorrow as Aitor Karanka and George Friend are back in town with Adam Clayton riding shotgun. Can Warnock’s Boro send them packing back over the horizon?
Sadly we cannot give applause for our former captain fantastic and our warrior midfielder. As for Aitor, the last time we applauded him at the Riverside it was a very happy return for the former Boro boss as his Forest side won 2-0.
This podcast discusses that and so much more, from Maradona RIP tribute poem to Colin Bell memories.
Talking of memories we also recount a Boro postcard mystery and unravel the fan experience from over 100 years ago and send it on a postcard home to Darlington.
All this and much, much more besides – in 25 minutes of chat between Alex Lewczuk and myself.
As a build up to the 3rd round FA Cup tie at Brentford’s new Community Stadium – we put the call out to our good friend Billy The Bee to come and talk the talk about the Bees and we brought in Chris Bartley, stalwart of Fly Me To The Moon, the longest serving fifth columnist in the fanzine, to talk up Boro’s prospects.
Alex Lewczuk sat in the neutral (Man City) corner and brought us all to order.
Hope you enjoy the half hour cup tie podcast. #UTB