By Craig Hornby

1801 – CLEVELAND is an obscure, sparsely populated corner of North-East Yorkshire. 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 29. From Eston to East Cleveland there are small farming hamlets and villages and a few tiny fishing communities along the coast. Alum is also mined from the cliffs at Loftus and Boulby.

1825 – The Stockton & Darlington Railway is founded by a group of Darlington quaker businessmen led by Edward Pease. Its principal purpose is to carry coal from West Durham to the small port of Stockton. It also carries the paying public, making it the world’s first passenger railway.

1830 – Joseph Pease, son of Edward, extends the Stockton & Darlington Railway a few miles down river and builds a new coal export terminal called ‘Port Darlington’. The new township of Middlesbrough is built next to it.

1831 – Middlesbrough’s population is 154.

1836 – The Pecten ironstone seam (height: 4.5 ft) is discovered at Grosmont. The Whitby Stone Co. open the first ironstone mine in the district and begin exporting ore to North Durham and Tyneside.

1841 – Henry Bolckow and John Vaughan relocate from Tyneside to Teesside. They purchase a marshy six-acre site, close to the present Transporter Bridge, and found ‘Middlesbrough Ironworks’, in the appropriately christened Vulcan Street. This rolling mill and foundry make predominantly iron bars and rails for railways.

1841 – The population of Middlesbrough rises to 5,463.

1846 – The rising cost of pig iron from Scotland prompts B&V to build a blast furnace plant close to supplies of ironstone, limestone and coal at Witton Park in West Durham. The ironstone however soon proves to be inadequate in both quality and quantity.     

1847 – B&V begin buying ironstone from Grosmont near Whitby. This ore is good enough quality but the quantity is inadequate and transporting it is a logistical nightmare. It first has to be taken by sea and up the Tees to a small port at Cargo Fleet. From there it is taken by rail to Witton Park for smelting. The pig-iron is then taken back by rail to Middlesbrough for finishing.

1847 – A seam of ironstone is discovered at Skinningrove by local landowner, Anthony Lax-Maynard and Samuel Okey, who had been collecting pieces of ore from the beaches for furnaces on Tyneside.

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

1850 (June 8th) – John Vaughan and mining engineer John Marley discover the Skinningrove seam, which then becomes known as the Cleveland Main Seam, on Eston Hills. The seam at Eston has on average a higher iron content (33% compared to Skinningrove’s 29%), is twice as thick (14ft to 7ft) and there is plenty of it. It is also easy to access via quarries and drifts into the hillside and easy to transport being only a couple of miles from both rail and river. This incredible good fortune not only saves the company and Middlesbrough but sets both on course for a period of explosive growth and incredible prosperity. The iron rush begins!

1850 (Aug 17th) – B&V open their first quarry at Eston named ‘Bold Venture’ (spot the alliteration!) By the end of the year, 4,000 tons is sent by horse and cart to Cargo Fleet. There it is loaded onto rail trucks and taken to the blast furnaces at Witton Park.

1851 (Jan 6th) – The Opening Ceremony of Eston Mine and the Eston Branch Railway brings crowds of villagers to greet B&V and their guests arriving on a first class train at the Tip-Yard. A brass band leads them all up the incline to the quarries. Henry Bolckow gives a signal and the first six wagons of ore roll down to great cheer!

1851 – As ironstone output from Eston rockets, B&V expand Middlesbrough Ironworks to include 3 blast furnaces. They are first blast furnaces ever built on the Tees.

1851 (Oct 23rd) – Thomas Smith, 26, becomes the first recorded fatality at Eston mines.

1852 – At Eston, a second incline has been constructed branching off to the east to serve the quarries and drifts advancing along the escarpment. It becomes known as ‘New Bank’ and thus the original becomes ‘Old Bank’.

Later in the 1850s (exact date unknown) – a third incline branches off to serve workings to the West. It is called Trustee Incline as it extends onto land owned by The Trustees of The Lady Hewley Estate (Lady Hewley for the record was a 17th Century aristocrat from York)

1852 – On the foot of the hills beside the incline, B&V have begun establishing a new settlement to house their workers. The cottages are made from sandstone quarried from the Nab. A row of single storey back-to-back cottages is built first which later becomes known as Old Row. The new settlement is known initially as Eston Mines and Mines Cottages. At some point after, it acquires the more romantic name of California after the American state where gold was famously discovered in 1849, the year before the ironstone discovery at Eston. Around 150 cottages are eventually built by the company.

1852 – B&V acquire more land close to the junction of the Eston Mines Branch line and the M’bro to Redcar mainline. They open Eston Ironworks which includes 6 blast furnaces. A railway station and small settlement, predating both South Bank and Grangetown, is established close by. It is known as Eston Junction or Branch End.

Many firms follow suit frantically building their own works along the river and securing leases to begin mining in the hills beyond Eston. Workers continue arriving in their thousands from every corner of Britain for jobs at the mines and works. More and more company streets are hurriedly built to meet insatiable demands.

1862 (Oct 9th) – At the invitation of Henry Bolckow, Chancellor William Gladstone visits to witness the Victorian wonder of industrial Teesside. He arrives by train at Eston Junction to view the works and distant hills and then sails amid a flotilla of decorated ships back to Middlesbrough. At a grand banquet at the Station Hotel, Gladstone gives his now famous speech calling Middlesbrough “an infant Hercules”.

1865 – A mile south of Eston Nab, on Barnaby Moor, Upsall Pit is completed reaching the a depth of 564ft. The small community of ‘Pit-Top’ appears close by. It  comprises 22 cottages with the end cottage functioning as a schoolroom. A tin-hut extension was added in 1906 to form a second classroom. A small wooden Wesleyan Methodist chapel was also erected (date unknown). A couple of cottages ran backyard shops and in the 1920s/30s, one was also ran as a convalescent home for sufferers of TB from urban areas. Bulk food supplies were sent in ironstone wagons through Trustee, down to Pit-Bottom and hauled up the shaft to the awaiting community.

1868 – Founding father John Vaughan dies at 69 with his company the greatest iron-manufacturer in the world. Middlesbrough is known as the great ‘Ironopolis’. A million tons of pig iron a year is produced on the Tees. 

1869 – On the south side of Eston hills and to the North of Guisborough, Chaloner Pit opens on land belonging to Admiral Chaloner aka Lord Gisborough. Ironstone exits via a 40ft shaft to a branch line that connects to the Cleveland Railway about a mile South-West.

1870 – Trustee incline is re-routed into an important new entrance called Trustee Drift (exact date unknown). At around 200 yards in, the main wagonway is driven at a steep incline, known as Darby’s Incline, down to Upsall Pit-Bottom. All Upsall stone now exits via Trustee.

1872 – In Brotton, in the face of strong opposition from ironmasters and mineowners, the Cleveland miners, led by Joe Shepherd, form their own trade union ‘The Cleveland Miners & Quarrymen’s Association’.  The first demonstration day in Skelton sees miners and their bands marching from all over Cleveland to take part.

1873 – B&V build a row of miners cottages at Chaloner Pit called Chaloner Houses or Mount Pleasant. Today, they form the only visible remains of Chaloner Pit.

1875 – Iron-making peaks on the Tees. Between Stockton and Redcar, around 25 companies are operating around 100 blast furnaces and a 1000 puddling furnaces. 2m tons of iron a year are produced constituting a third of the nation’s output.

1876 – Arthur Dorman and Albert De Lande Long acquire the West Marsh Iron Works at Middlesbrough to manufacture iron bars and angles for the shipbuilding industry. The humble beginnings of a firm destined for greatness…

1877 – Cleveland is in crisis, as its ironstone is rich in phosphorous and unsuitable for making the new Bessemer steel. B&V opens the ‘Eston Steelworks’ the largest and most advanced steel making plant in the world and begin mining non-phosphoric Spanish ore to supply it. Meanwhile, they also employ 2 chemists, Gilchrist and Thomas, to devise a method of making high-quality Bessemer steel with phosphoric Cleveland ore.

1878 – Henry Bolckow, Ironmaster, Middlesbrough’s 1st Mayor & 1st MP dies at 72. He is buried beside John Vaughan at St. Cuthberts Marton, close to his palatial home of Marton Hall. The grounds of the hall incidentally became Stewart Park in 1928. The hall itself fell into disrepair and was eventually demolished in 1960.

1879 – Chaloner workings driving West and Upsall workings driving East connect underground. This effectively makes Eston the largest ironstone mine in the world.  All Chaloner stone also now exits via Trustee.

1879 – At Eston Steelworks, Gilchrist and Thomas pioneer a method of making high quality Bessemer steel with phosphoric ironstone. This saves the Cleveland ironstone industry and revolutionises steel-making throughout the world.

1881 The new town of Grangetown is laid out next to the Eston Steelworks (later renamed Cleveland Steelworks) to house the ever expanding workforce.

1885 – The steel boom sees the Cleveland ironstone industry peak with some 40 pits and 10,000 miners yielding over 6 million tons of ironstone a year. A workforce of 1,600 men and boys produces over a million tons at Eston alone.

1901 – In a century, the population of Middlesbrough has risen from 29 to 91,302 and Eston from 288 to 20,844.

1914 – The quarries and drifts on Eston hills, east of New Bank are all but worked out. The underground link from Chaloner to Upsall is severed as stone removal begins along the main wagonway. Chaloner stone is now hauled North on a new surface tramway around to New Bank. Also at this time, the entire mining operation at Eston is electrified. Steam-powered hauling engines, water pumps and ventilating fans such as the Guibal Fan aka ‘SS Castle’ built 1876 on Lazenby Bank (above) are phased out.

1917 – Dorman-Long opens Redcar Steelworks to meet insatiable demand for steel due to WW1.

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 devastates the industry and communities across Cleveland.

1919 – Dorman-Long builds a garden village of steel-framed houses for their Redcar workforce. It is named Dormanstown.

1928 – The closure of 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. Despite also struggling, DL become Britain’s biggest iron and steel maker employing 33,000 men. DL’s new Tyne Bridge is also unveiled.

1932 – Dorman-Long’s greatest moment and darkest hour sees the epic Sydney Harbour Bridge unveiled with the company almost bankrupt and making a loss on the bridge.

1939 – Just weeks before the outbreak of WW2, Chaloner Pit is worked out and the surface tramway and New Bank grind to a halt.

1940 – Upsall shaft stops running as ironstone removal begins at Pit-Bottom. After 75 years, Pit-Top gradually becomes deserted as families relocate to Guisborough and Eston. The houses also begin to suffer the effects of subsidence with doors and windows no longer fitting.

1949 (May 10th)William Randall Brighton, 49, of High Lackenby, is tragically killed by a fall of stone in Trustee. He is the last of 375 recorded fatalities at Eston. His death comes as a bitter blow to the community as it was known that the mining operation was nearing the end.

1949 (Sept 16th) – The last set of wagons leaves Trustee and mining at Eston comes to an end. The 99-year lease is expired and the pit almost exhausted save 100,000 tons. In a century of blood, sweat and sacrifice, more than 63 million tons have been mined with black powder, bare hands and manual tools. Only a handful of Cleveland pits now remain.

1949 (Sept 16th) – The Last Shift at Eston collect their paypackets from the Mines Office at the Tip-Yard. (L-R): Alf Dale, Harry ‘Midge’ Parker, Ozzy Barker, Tom Kerrison, Art Bell, Fred Wallace, Carl Mortlock, Matty White, Tom Seymour, George Jemmerson, Dick Roper, Jack ‘Honest John’ Steveson, Jack Honeywell, Harry Lyons, Dick Lyons, Jack ‘Bodger’ Lewis and Stan ‘Ston’ Elderfield.

1956/57 – 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 new blast furnaces at Clay Lane, South Bank (above).

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

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

1979 – The largest blast furnace in UK and second largest in Europe is erected at BSC’s new Redcar plant. But trouble ahead looms even larger…

1980’s – Margaret 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. Some 64,000 manufacturing jobs are lost in Cleveland and long-term unemployment returns to the levels of the 1930’s. BSC is privatised to form British Steel plc.

1993 – The old Cleveland furnaces are blown out, ending 140 years of iron-smelting in the vicinity of what was ‘Eston Junction’. Only South Bank Coke Ovens remain operating in this area.

1999 – A worldwide slump in the steel market forces British Steel to merge with Dutch steel giant Hoogovens to create the Corus group.

– Teesside steel is no longer needed by the Corus Group. Teesside’s steelmaking operation now has to sell it’s steel on the open market under the name of Corus Teesside Cast Products.

2007 – Corus Group is purchased by the world’s largest steelmaker TATA of India.

2009 – Parent company, TATA, announces plans to mothball operations at Corus TCP unless a buyer can be found. The unions launch a Save Our Steel campaign with marches in Redcar, Durham and London.

2010 (Feb 19th) – Corus TCP is mothballed with the loss of 1,700 jobs and many thousands more in the supply chain.

2011 – Thai Steelmaker SSI purchases Corus TCP for £469m to supply steel for the Thai market.

2012 – SSI welcomes back 700 of the old workforce and creates 800 new jobs. The Redcar blast furnace is re-lit and the first steel slab rolls off the production line in April. 

2015 (18th Sept) – Steel production is paused due to a chronic deterioration in steel trading conditions caused by cheap Chinese steel flooding the global market.

Trivia! The steelworker image above is a still from the last scene in ‘A Century in Stone’ filmed at Redcar Blast in 2003. It was an honour to have it swiped from this very page by The Save Our Steel campaign for its posters and banners!  (See pic below by Ian Forsyth)

12th OCT 2015:


SSI pulls the plug on Teesside and goes into liquidation. The workers protest but some 1700 jobs are lost. The last blast furnace on the Tees is blown out, 164 years after Bolckow & Vaughan lit the first at Middlesbrough in 1851.

Only TATA’s beam mill at Lackenby and Special Profiles at Skinningrove, which both utilise Scunthorpe steel, remain operating on Teesside.

24th Oct 2015: The Friends Of Eston Hills march to Eston Nab for a synchronised torchlit salute of solidarity and remembrance. There were speeches from MPs Anna Turley & Tom Blenkinsop. I recited a verse that I wrote (as featured on the above poster) and David Mackin sounded the last post. I also got The Guardian to come up to the Nab and this feature resulted: Life After Steel

2016: TATA UK is bought by Greybull Capital who resurrect British Steel as it’s trade name.

2020: British Steel is purchased by the Jingye Group of China but continues trading under the British Steel name.

2021: The Redcar Steelworks, The Lackenby BOS plant and South Bank Coke Ovens begin being demolished. The Dorman Long Tower is controversially so. Historic England had listed the building the day before but this was overruled by Central Govt. and backed by elected Tory Mayor of Tees Valley Ben Houchen. They claimed the building was structurally unsound and the land was needed for Houchen’s Teesworks project that claims to be bringing new industries and 18,000 jobs to Teesside.



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