‘Thormothr’s village or farm’.  Turmoz-  Thormozbi, Tormozbi(a) 1086;  Thormodebi –by 1202 – 16th century;  -mot(h)ebi  –by 13th cent., -motby 1301, 1369;  Thornaby 1665.  Old Norse personal name Thormothr, genitive singular. Thormoths + by. A purely Old Norse compound as the Domesday Book spellings show, with Anglo Norman z = [ts]< Thormoths, not the Middle English secondary genitival form Thormotes.


Information about this place-name was supplied by Victor Watts by personal communication.


Domesday Book

Under the heading “Land of the King” it says:

“In Tormozbi, Ulchil (has) 1 carucate and a half for geld. Land for 1 plough. (A carucate was roughly 100 acres, geld was a tax that had to be paid.)

Under the heading “Land of Earl Hugh” it says that Acklam has the jurisdiction of various lands in the  neighbourhood. This included 3 carucates of land in Tormozbi.

Under the heading “Land of Robert Malet” it says:

“In Tormozbi, Edmund had 1½ carucates of land for geld. Robert Malet has these, and they are waste.”

Based on William Farrer’s translation in “The Victoria History of the County of York” vol.2 (ed.) W.Page (1912)


Early Landowners

The canons of Guisborough Priory held land in Thornaby from 1208 but the 13th century lords of the manor were the Boyvill family. Late in the 13th century William de Boyvill granted the manor of Thornaby to the canons. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII granted the manor to Thomas, Lord Wharton, and it remained in his family until it was purchased by the Lascelles family in 1612.

See “The Victoria History of the Counties of England: Yorkshire North Riding” vol.2 (ed.) W.Page (1923)


An Early Mention

Calendar of State Papers July 18th 1643

“Petition of the of the inhabitants of Thornaby, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, to the Commissioners of both kingdoms. Petitioners live nigh Stockton Castle in the Bishopric of Durham, whereof Captain James Levingstone is now Governor, and have had their meadows eaten up with his horses betwixt Lady Day and May Day last, which amounted formerly to 60l. per annum, and is petitioners’ chief maintenance in winter; the captain saying further he would take the meadow grass of the said ground when ready and carry it over to the castle, as in part he hath done.”


An early mention in literature is in “The History of Cleveland in the County of York” J. Graves (1808)  “The village of Thornaby, which is small and irregularly built, stands on the southern banks of the river Tees, and about two miles distant from the market town of Stockton; the road to which leads over a handsome stone bridge of five arches, built by Act of Parliament, and finished in the year 1771.

There is a chapel here, dependent on the church of Stainton, with which it was given to the priory of Guisbrough . . . .The chapel, which does not enjoy parochial rights of baptisms, &c. is small, and stands near the centre of the village; but the dedication thereof is not known.”


An early mention of South Stockton, which later became the town centre of Thornaby, appears in Whellan’s Directory of 1859. “South Stockton. This is a suburb of the town of Stockton, with which it is connected by an elegant stone bridge, which was widened in 1858. This rapidly rising place is indebted for its foundation to the extension to Middlesborough of the Stockton and Darlington Railway (which is here carried across the Tees by a stone bridge) and the consequent stimulus given thereby to manufactures.”


The Lay Subsidy of 1301

This tax on movable goods provides evidence of the relative size of villages. In most places, roughly one third of properties attracted taxation. In Thornaby, this figure was 22, suggesting that the village may have had at least 60 houses. Those householders who were liable for tax paid a total of just over 57 shillings. Guisborough Priory had a manor here, so it’s not surprising that the Prior of Guisborough was the principal taxpayer in Thornaby, assessed at 15 shillings and one penny.

Derived from “Yorkshire Lay Subsidy” edited by W.Brown (Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series) (1897)


Selected Buildings

The church of St. Peter ad Vincula (12th century with 15th century buttresses)

St. Paul’s church (1858)

Town Hall (1892)

Public Library (1892)

Police Station (1903)

St. Luke’s church (1904)

New Town Centre (1968)


A Few Lost Buildings

Thornaby Station buildings (1882) demolished in 1981.

“Clevo” flour mill (1889) demolished in 1970.

Central Hall Cinema (c.1900) demolished in 1962.

British Rail’s Traction Maintenance Depot (1957) demolished in 2011.


Some People of Note

Joseph Richardson (1829-1902) A shipbuilder from Sunderland who took over the South Stockton Shipbuilding Company’s yard on the Tees in partnership with George Nixon Duck.

Thomas Whitwell (1837-1878) An engineer and inventor with Messrs William Whitwell and Company who operated an ironworks at South Stockton from 1859 onwards.

Charles Arthur Head (c.1839-1924) Chairman of Head, Wrightson and Company who specialised in making boilers and steel bridges and other engineering work.

Thomas Wrightson (1839-1921)  Chairman of Head Wrightson and Company.

George Butt Craig (1848-1906) A Scots-born shipbuilder. In 1884 in partnershp with Thomas Herbert Taylor he took over the Irving, Lane shipyard in Thornaby. He was  three times mayor of Thornaby.

Gilbert O. Spence (1879-1925) Mayor of Thornaby and a war hero who painted scenes at the Western Front.

Percy Mills (1890-1968) A politician from Thornaby who became a Cabinet Minister and Privy Councillor in 1957. He was knighted in 1942 and was made a Viscount in 1962.

Pat Barker (1943-) A novelist and Booker Prize winner. (“The Ghost Road” 1995).

Richard Griffiths (1947-2013) An actor, best known for “The History Boys”, and “Pie in the Sky”.

David Mills (1951-) A professional footballer with Middlesbrough F.C. He was Britain’s first half a million pound player.

Paul Curran (1961-) An Olympic cyclist (1984 and 1988) who won the Amateur National Road Race Championship in 1987.


The Hearth Tax of 1673

The returns for this government tax give us an idea of the size of Thornaby in the 17th century. 20 houses in Thornaby had 1 or 2 hearths. There were only two more substantial houses, one of 3 hearths and one of 5 hearths. A further 14 single hearth properties were exempt from the tax, having been discharged by legal certificate.

Based on “The Hearth Tax List for the North Riding of Yorkshire, Michaelmas 1673″, Ripon Historical Society (2011)



1801     167

1851     1,759

1901     16,054

1951     23,416

2011     24,741



 Whellan’s Directory of 1859 gives a picture of Thornaby as a small country village. Under South Stockton, the 1859 directory mentions an “extensive” earthenware pottery, a “large” glass bottle works, an “extensive” cotton factory, a general foundry, “extensive” timber yards and some “large” ship and boat building yards.

Ward’s Directory of 1936 shows the old town centre around George Street teeming with shops, including 30 grocers, 13 butchers, 13 confectioners, 9 fruiterers, 5 bakers, 3 fishmongers, 2 dairymen, 8 general dealers, 8 newsagents, 6 tobacconists, 10 drapers, 8 bootmakers, 2 milliners, 2 tailors, 2 dressmakers, 3 hardware shops, 2 furniture dealers, 3 watchmakers, 3 pawnbrokers and a chemist.


A Selection of Dates

1208     The canons of Guisborough Priory acquired land in Thornaby.

1252     Henry III confirmed a charter by which William Brito had granted a fishery in the River Tees at Thornaby to the monks of Rievaulx Abbey. Byland Abbey also had a fishery at Thornaby in the 13th century.

1275     William de Boyville granted the canons of Guisborough Priory a manor at Thornaby. At that time, there were two distinct manors in Thornaby.

1280     The Prior of Guisborough and the Abbot of Byland had a dispute about their rights to fish in the River Tees at Thornaby.

1612     Francis Lascelles purchased the manor of Thornaby that had belonged to Guisborough Priory.

1617     Lawrence Meynell purchased the other manor of Thornaby. The enclosure of the open fields of Thornaby took place between Francis Lascelles’ purchase of the former Priory lands and the death of Lawrence Meynell.

1630     Thornaby parish registers began.

1685     A windmill was recorded at Thornaby.

1724     Horse racing began at Thornaby Carrs. Races were held here until 1816, then there was a gap until 1855.

1771     The bridge across the River Tees to Stockton was completed.

1825     William Smith began production at his “Stafford Pottery” in South Stockton.

1836     Irving, Lane and Co. opened a shipyard at South Stockton.

1844     Thornaby became a separate parish, after being part of Stainton parish for centuries.

1846     The National School was built.

1848     The Bon Lea Foundry was established.

1852     The South Stockton Iron Ship Building Company established their yard at South Stockton.

1854     South Stockton Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was dedicated.

1855     Richardson, Duck and Co. took over the South Stockton shipyard. Stockton Races began on Mandale Marsh.

1856     Thomas Head began the Teesdale Iron Works, which later became Head, Wrightson and Co.

1858     St. Paul’s church was consecrated.

1859     William Whitwell established Thornaby Iron Works with three blast furnaces. The company also built rolling mills at the works

1866     A Mechanics’ Institute was opened.

1869     Fire destroyed the original Cleveland Flour Mill in Stockton. A new mill was built on the banks of the Tees at Thornaby.

1871     South Stockton Local Board was created.

1874     The famous “five lamps” standard was installed.

1877     Thornaby sugar mill was established.

1882     South Stockton station was built. In 1892 it was re-named Thornaby Station.

1884     Craig, Taylor and Co. took over the Irving, Lane shipyard at South Stockton.

1886     Walter and Martin Pumphrey took over the sugar mill. They rebuilt their premises in the Art Deco style in the 1920s.

1892     Thornaby became a Municipal Borough. The town hall was built.

1898     Electric trams began running through Thornaby on the route from Norton to North Ormesby.

1908     The Arthur Head School was opened.

1910     The Stafford Pottery closed.

1914     The Royal Flying Corps used land at Thornaby as a staging post.

1924     The last ship built at Richardson, Duck’s yard was launched.

1925     Thornaby rolling mills closed.

1929     The “Portregis”, the last ship built at Thornaby was launched from Craig, Taylor’s shipyard.

1929     Thornaby Aerodrome was officially opened. It was occupied by 608 Squadron in the following year.

1930     Littleboy Park was opened.

1931     The last tram ran through Thornaby.

1938     Thornaby swimming baths were opened.

1940     Enemy aircraft bombed Thornaby aerodrome. This was the first of several air raids over the town.

1943     Thornaby won the North Yorkshire and South Durham Cricket Championship for the first time.

1958     R.A.F. Thornaby was closed to flying.

1962     Thornaby aerodrome was purchased by the council for a new town centre to be laid out.

1969     Thornaby Pavilion Leisure Centre was opened.

1981     The new A66 road was opened. It was built in a long artificial cutting through the original centre of South Stockton, south of George Street and north of Queen Street.

Stockton Racecourse was closed. It was replaced by Teesside Park Retail Centre.

1987     The Teesside Development Corporation began to regenerate the former Teesdale site.

1992     Durham University developed its Queen’s Campus at Thornaby.

1995     The Tees Barrage was opened.

2003     The former Stockton and Billingham College of Further Education opened on a new site in Thornaby under the name of Stockton Riverside College.

2009     The Infinity Bridge, a footbridge between Thornaby and Stockton’s North Shore was opened.


This list of dates was compiled from “The History of Thornaby” by L.P.Ottaway (1968) and other secondary sources.


Suggested Further Reading

“The History of Stockton and Thornaby in Maps” (Cleveland and Teesside Local History Society (1982)

“Beneath the Lamps” Remembering Thornaby Group (1985)

“Shipbuilding in Stockton and Thornaby”  A.Betteney (2003)

“Thornaby-on-Tees in the Past” S.McLaurin (2005)

“The Thornaby School Board Elections” R.W.McManus, C.T.L.H.S. Bulletin 15 (1971)

“Old Thornaby” C.McCabe, C.F.H.S. Journal vol.3 no.3 (1987)

The Remembering Thornaby website