Local History Month

When Middlesbrough Free Library ran out of money to buy books!

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.

Would it?

Paul Menzies

Local History Month

Middlesbrough Rock Garden 1976 – 1981

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.

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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.

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The Sex Pistols

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,

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The Adverts

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.

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PIcs – Matey (No Way), Acne Rabble (aka Sex Pistols) and Paul Callan from No Way

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.