The original name of this area was “Samphire Batts”. The word “batt” can be defined as “low-lying land by a river or by a shore subject to flooding”. Samphire is an edible plant that grows in such conditions. The port on Samphire Batts was begun in 1828 by the Clarence Railway Company, which took its name in commemoration of the Duke of Clarence, who became King William IV in 1830.
See “A Dictionary of County Durham Place-Names” Victor Watts (2002)
Port Clarence was built on what had once been an island in the River Tees known as Samphire Batts. This land and nearby Saltholme were part of the parish of Billingham. The monks of Durham Priory were granted Billingham before the Norman Conquest and they continued to hold it until the Reformation. In the 16th century, the priory’s property passed to the Dean and Chapter of Durham.
See the Victoria History of the County of Durham vol.3 (ed.) William Page (1928)
On the Billingham tithe award map of 1838, Samphire Batts is no longer an island, although a short stretch of the old course of the River Tees can be seen near Haverton Hill. The main part of Samphire Batts is named as “Old Island” while the eastern end is named as “New Island”. The Ship Inn, and the coal staithes on New Island are the only identifiable buildings at Port Clarence.
From “The Whitby Repository or Album of Local Literature” vol. 1 (1867)
“Up to the end of 1830 the Durham shore was one uninterrupted and waste blank, known by the name of the Samphire Batts. During that year, however, coal had been shipped from the Middlesbrough staithes, and incited by this the West Harbour and Railway Company extended their line to the Batts, and in so doing gave rise to Port Clarence. Simply at first a coal station, the rise of this district was extremely slow, and in 1836, with the exception of a single public-house, the trimmers’ cabins in connection with the staithes formed the nucleus of the present busy village . . . Excepting as a coaling station, and a convenient ground ballast heaps, the railway company failed to see the benefit of the position, and it was left for Messrs. Bell Brothers, in 1852, to take the initiative. These gentlemen purchased of the railway company the waste ground, and in 1853 their ironworks were opened, and from the accessibility of the position to the coal field of South Durham flourished to an almost unprecedented degree. Furnace was added to furnace, and at the present time four are in full blast, two re-building, and around the works has arisen a village which has little to be ashamed of in comparison with similar works’ communities. The population has been taken within the last fortnight, and the result is the discovery that “the one house” has, more than phoenix-like, arisen from its ruins, and become a village of 717 souls, 454 Catholics and 263 Protestants. In place of the one public-house there are now a public-house and beer-house. A policeman is stationed there, but it speaks well for the quiet character of the inhabitants that he describes his post as almost a sinecural one.”
The Transporter Bridge (1911)
War Memorial (1922) The memorial was given grade II listed status in 2016.
A Few Lost Buildings
St. Thomas’ School demolished c.1975.
St. Thomas of Canterbury (1900) demolished in 1978.
Wesleyan Methodist Chapel (1902) demolished in 1970.
Some People of Note
Isaac Lowthian Bell (1816-1904) An Ironmaster from Washington, County Durham. He founded Bell Brothers and built the Clarence Ironworks.
Keith Lamb (1946- ) Chief executive of Middlesbrough Football Club.
Joe Tasker (1948-1982) A climber who became the first person to climb Kangchenjunga without oxygen. He died while climbing Mount Everest.
Claire Hamill (1954- ) A singer and songwriter with a recording career spanning more than four decades.
The Hearth Tax of 1666
There is no mention of Samphire Batts or Saltholme in the 1666 Hearth Tax, and of course, no mention of Port Clarence.
1801 Not recorded. Samphire Batts may have been completely uninhabited.
Kelly’s Directory of 1914 listed the Anderston Foundry, Bell Brothers Ironworks, the Coal Distillation Company, Dorman Long and Company, Ridley’s slag paving company, and two saltworks, run by the Salt Union and the United Alkali Company. Also on the list were the Station Hotel and the Royal Hotel, two refreshment rooms, the Co-op grocery, a post office, a couple of shopkeepers, a fried fish dealer, a grocer and a newsagent, Ward’s Directory of 1936 added two more general dealers, a butcher and a second newsagent.
A Selection of Dates:
1303-5 There was a timber jetty near Saltholme that was used by the monks of Durham Priory.
1416-17 The monks of Durham Priory had over 1,000 sheep on their land at Saltholme, near where Port Clarence now stands.
1828 An Act of Parliament authorizing the building of the Clarence Railway to Haverton Hill was passed.
1829 Following a new survey by George Leather, an Act was passed for the Clarence Railway to continue to Samphire Batts.
1834 Coal was shipped from the new staithes at Port Clarence for the first time.
1853 Production began at the Clarence Ironworks, built by Bell Brothers.
1854 The historian Longstaffe called it “Port Clarence, or more popularly and antiquely “Samphire Batts”.
1858 Reclamation of silted up foreshore between Haverton Hill and Port Clarence began. Within five years 160 acres was reclaimed.
1862 The parish of Haverton Hill was created. Port Clarence was part of it.
1863 Bell Brothers discovered salt deposits at Port Clarence.
1874 The Anderston Foundry was set up by Houldsworth and Sons of Glasgow.
1876 Bell Brothers built a school for up to 100 girls, boys and infants
1879 The National School for 200 children was opened. An infants department for 176 children was added in the following year. St. Thomas of Canterbury Roman Catholic Church was consecrated in the same year. The church was used as a catholic school until St. Thomas’s school was built.
1909 High Clarence School opened.
1911 The Transporter Bridge across the Tees came into use.
1919 The road to Seaton Carew was completed. A bus service between the two began running in 1921.
1927 The High Clarence housing estate was built.
1930 Iron making at Bell Brothers works came to an end.
1939 Port Clarence station was closed to passengers.
1940 A wartime bombing raid caused considerable damage. There were air raids in 1941 and 1942 as well.
1953 Many coastal areas of Britain were devastated by floods. Port Clarence was badly affected.
1962 The Anderston Foundry closed.
1988 Many houses in Port Clarence were refurbished.
2009 The fire station was demolished and rebuilt.
2011 A post office opened in the Clarences Community Resource Centre.
2013 More than 300 homes were evacuated when the River Tees burst its banks.
2015 Work began on the Port Clarence Renewable Energy Plant (the Biomass plant)
2016 The Land Trust acquired reclaimed land at Port Clarence to develop natural diversity.
This list of dates was compiled using the Port Clarence Changes website and other secondary sources.
Suggested Further Reading:
“Billingham, Haverton Hill and Port Clarence” C.Gilbert (2000 )
“ Haverton Hill: Port Clarence to Billingham” C.Hatton (2002)
“A Colony of Workmen: The Socio-Economic Development of Port Clarence 1851-1881” A.Appleton
“Mission From Below” J.Hodgson (2018)