Timeline of key events

1801 - CLEVELAND aka ' Lande of Cliffes' as named in Viking days, is an obscure, largely uninhabited corner of North East England. The marshy banks of the Tees are dotted with isolated farms and hamlets. Middlesbrough itself is little more than a farm and has a population of just 25. From Eston to East Cleveland there are small farming villages dating back to the Domesday Book. Along the coast, alum is mined and more importantly, ironstone is collected from the beaches for furnaces on Tyneside.

1825 - The Stockton & Darlington Railway' is built by a group of Darlington quakers led by Edward Pease. Its purpose is to carry coal from West Durham to the small port of Stockton and also carry the paying public, making it the world's first passenger railway!

1830 - Joseph Pease, son of Edward, extends the S & D R down river and builds a new coal export terminal called 'Port Darlington'. The new town of Middlesbrough is built next to it.

1831 - Middlesbrough's population is now 154.

1840 - Prospective iron-makers, Henry Bolckow and John Vaughan take up Joseph Pease's offer of a green field site at Middlesbrough and build their first rolling mill and foundry.

1841 - The population of Middlesbrough is now 5,463.

1846 - The rising cost of importing Scottish pig iron to Middlesbrough prompts B & V to build a blast furnace plant close to supplies of ironstone, limestone and coal at Witton Park in County Durham. The ironstone however soon proves to be inadequate in quality and quantity.     

1847 - B & V begin buying ironstone from Grosmont near Whitby. This ore is good quality but supplies are also inadequate and transporting it is a logistical nightmare. It has to be taken by sea, river and rail to Witton Park for smelting and the pig iron is then taken back by rail to Middlesbrough for finishing.

1847 - Also this year, the 'Cleveland Main Seam' is discovered at Skinningrove by local landowner, Anthony Lax Maynard and Tyneside beach ore collector, Samuel Okey.

1848 - B & V begin shipping ironstone from Skinningrove. This ore is good quality and there is plenty of it but transportation remains the problem.

1850 - (June 8th) John Vaughan and mining engineer John Marley (above) strike 'rusty gold' in the Eston hills. This saves both the company and Middlesbrough's economy from disaster and sets Cleveland on course to become the greatest iron-producing centre that the world had ever seen. The Great Iron Rush begins!

1850 - (August) 'Bold Venture' is the name given to the first trial quarry at Eston. Between August and December, 4,000 tons is sent by horse'n'cart to Cargo Fleet and then by rail to the Witton Park furnaces.

1851 - (January 6th) The Opening Ceremony of the Mine and Eston Branch Railway brings crowds of villagers to greet B&V and their invited guests arriving on a first class train at Eston. A brass band leads them all up the incline (later known as 'Old Bank') to witness the first 6 tubs of ore rolling down.

1851 - (Oct 23rd) Ironstone miner Thomas Smith, 26, becomes the first recorded fatality at Eston mine.

1852 - New blast furnaces open at B&V's Ironworks at Vulcan Street as output rockets from Eston.

1853 - The new settlement of California is fast developing. A second incline called 'New Bank' is serving drifts and quarries being extended to the East. At the North end of the branch line, B & V's 'Eston Ironworks' have been established and the small hamlet of Eston Junction aka 'Branch End' is built close by.

1854 - B&V open blast furnaces at their Eston Ironworks amid frantic scenes of empire building by other ironmasters setting up along the Tees. Pilgrim workers continue arriving in their thousands for jobs at the mines and works. More and more company streets are hurriedly built to keep pace with insatiable demands. 

1862 - Chancellor Gladstone arrives at Eston Ironworks and then sails up the Tees, describing the booming new town of Middlesbrough an 'infant Hercules!'

1865 - 'Upsall Pit' is completed at Barnaby Moor. The small community of 'Pit Top' soon appears close by.

1868 - Founding father John Vaughan dies at 69 as iron-making peaks on the Tees. There are now around 100 furnaces lining the river between Stockton and Redcar. Middlesbrough is the most famous iron-making town on the planet and is known as 'Ironopolis' (the Great City of Iron!).

1872 - 'Chaloner Pit' opens on the south side of Eston hills near Guisborough. Within 7 years it will become part of the Eston workings, creating, almost certainly, the
largest ironstone mine in the world.

1872 - The trade union 'The Cleveland Miners & Quarrymen's Association' is founded in Brotton. Eston's 'Onward Lodge' walks over the hills with the New Marske miners to join in the first 'Demonstration' at Skelton.

1877 - Cleveland is in crisis, as its ironstone is rich in phosphorous and unsuitable for making the new Bessemer steel. B.V. open the 'Eston Steelworks' the largest and most advanced steel making plant in the world and begin mining suitable ore in Spain. They also employ 2 chemists, Gilchrist and Thomas, to find a way of making steel with Cleveland ironstone.

1878 - Henry Bolckow dies at 72 and is buried beside John Vaughan at Marton.

1879 - Gilchrist and Thomas pioneer a world first at Eston Steelworks. Their process of making steel with phosphoric ironstone saves Cleveland and revolutionises steel-making throughout the world.

1885 - The Cleveland Ironstone industry peaks with 40 pits and 10,000 miners yielding over 6 millions tons of ironstone a year. A workforce of 1,600 men and boys produces over a million tons at Eston alone.

1901 - In a 100 years, the population of Middlesbrough has risen from 25 to 91,302!

- The Eston quarries and drifts along the Eastern escarpment are all but worked out. The underground link from Eston to Chaloner is severed as the far reaches of Upsall Pit are extensively worked. Chaloner stone is now hauled on a surface tramway across Wilton Bank top, past the Guibal fan aka 'SS Castle' and down New Bank. Also around this time, the entire mining operation is electrified. Steam-powered hauling engines, water pumps and fans such as 'SS Castle' are phased out.

1918 - The Cleveland ore-field has been producing a third of the nation's ironstone for 40 years but the economic downturn that follows WW1 has devastating effects upon the industry and communities.

1928 - The closure of the original Old Bank marks the beginning of the end for mining at Eston.

1929 - The depression bites and the famous name of Bolckow-Vaughan passes into history merging with neighbour Dorman-Long & Co. who become Britain's biggest iron and steel maker employing 33,000 men. Dorman-Long's new Tyne Bridge (made on Teesside!) is also unveiled.

1932 - Dorman Long's greatest moment and darkest hour, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is unveiled with the company almost bankrupt.

1939 - Chaloner Pit is worked out and New Bank incline grinds to a halt.

1940 - The Upsall shaft stops running and pillar removal begins at pit-bottom.

1949 (May 10th) - Randall Brighton of South Lackenby is tragically killed by a fall of stone in Trustee Drift. He is the last of 375-recorded fatalities at Eston.

1949 (Sept 16th) - With the 99-year lease set to expire, the pit almost exhausted and superior ore being imported, mining at Eston comes to an end. More than 63 million tons have been mined with bare hands and primitive tools. 100,000 tons are left behind.

1954 - The post-war boom sees Britain's premier steel-making centre remaining on the Tees as Dorman-Long builds a state of the art steelworks at Lackenby and then new blast furnaces at Clay Lane.

1964 (Jan 17th) - The closure of North Skelton Pit marks the final act in the Cleveland Ironstone story. Only superior foreign ores are now used.

1967 - Dorman-Long becomes part of the nationalised British Steel Corporation as production booms in Britain.

1979 - The largest blast furnace in Europe is erected at BSC's new Redcar plant. But trouble ahead looms larger...

1980's & 90's - Mrs. Thatcher's Conservative government presides over the most profound changes to Teesside society and landscape since 'the iron rush' that started it all. Traditional industries and communities are decimated. 64,000 manufacturing jobs are lost in Cleveland and long-term unemployment returns to the levels of the 1930's. BSC is privatised.

- The Cleveland furnaces are blown out, ending 140 years of iron smelting at 'Eston Junction'. Only South Bank Coke Ovens remain operating at the site.

2000...British Steel plc now part of Anglo-Dutch consortium 'CORUS' announces more closures and job cuts. The Teesside works, one of Corus' most efficient and productive assets makes 3.5 million tons of steel a year. For the last 3,000 workers,the fight goes on, for the industry's survival after more than 160 years on the River Tees...

2007 - CORUS is bought by Indian Steel giant TATA.

2009 - TATA announces its consortium of international steel buyers have reneged illegally on a binding 10 year deal. A spirited campaign is launched by the unions and local community to save the Teesside Steel industry.

2010 - On Feb 19th, the blast furnace is mothballed. The last post is performed at the Dormanstown gate. 1,700 direct jobs are lost.

2011 - On Feb 24th February, one year on almost to the day, the plant is bought by Sahaviriya Steel Industries (SSI) of Thailand. The mountainous task of bringing the plant back into use begins.

2012 - 18th April - The first steel slab rolls off the production line heralding the rebirth of an industrial legend.

2015 - September 18th - SSI announces a pause in production after growing fears for the future of the industry following a slump in demand for steel in China and Russia. The South Bank Coke Ovens closed with immediate effect. This marked the end of all operations close to the Eston Junction site where Bolckow & Vaughan built their railway to the Eston Ironstone Mines and opened their Eston Ironworks in the early 1850s

Monday 12th October 2015:

The grave announcement was made as no buyers had came forward. The Redcar Blast Furnace and Coke Ovens will now be blown out. 2,200 direct jobs will be lost with upwards of 8,000 including contractors and supply chain. This final act comes exactly 175 years after Bolckow & Vaughan were building their first plant on the Tees at Vulcan Street in Middlesbrough in 1840.




Further Reading:

BBC feature on Middlesbrough and the iron rush

Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum

Durham Mining Museum (Info on Eston & Clevleand)

© Craig Hornby 2005-2015

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