Place-name: Possibly ‘the middlemost fortification’. Mid(e)lesburc(h) –burgh [1114×40], Middelburg(h) 1273, c.1291, 1613, 1846, Middlesbrough from 1407. Old English midleste + burh. The significance of the name is not understood, but the older explanation ‘Midele’s fortification’ depends on a hypothetical Old English personal name not independently recorded.
Information about this place-name was provided by Victor Watts by personal communication.
The name Middlesbrough does not appear in the Domesday Book, although the nearby Acklam, Marton, Ormesby, Nunthorpe, Coulby, Hemlington and Stainsby are all mentioned. It is possible that some of the landholdings that were listed under Acklam were part of Middlesbrough, but these cannot be identified from the Domesday record.
Based on William Farrer’s translation in “The Victoria History of the County of York” vol.2 (ed.) W.Page (1912).
King Henry I granted Middlesbrough to Robert de Brus, along with extensive holdings across Cleveland. In 1119 Brus granted the church of Middlesbrough along with a carucate of land (roughly 100 acres or possibly more) to Whitby Abbey. In the thirteenth century the monks of Whitby were said to hold half of the township of Middlesbrough. When the monasteries were dissolved by Henry VIII, the lands of Middlesbrough changed hands several times until they came into the possession of the Robinson family in 1572. The Robinsons held the manor of Middlesbrough until the 18th century.
An Early Mention
In the inquisition that was held after the death of Peter de Brus in 1272 it was stated that “The Abbot of Wyteby has the church of Middelburg with a moiety of the same town in pure almoigne”. (A “moiety of the . . . .town” means half of the village property and “in pure almoigne” means with nothing to pay either in rent or in kind.)
See “The Victoria History of the Counties of England: Yorkshire North Riding” vol.2 (ed.) W.Page (1923).
Another early mention appeared in the returns of the Select Committee on the Education of the Poor in 1818. “Acklam: The children attend a school in the adjoining parish of Middlesbrough, but there are a few families without the means of instruction, and would be glad to possess them.” The school referred to may have been the village school in Linthorpe that William Fallows attended as a boy.
The Lay Subsidy of 1301:
Middlesbrough was lumped together with Newham for the purposes of this government tax. It is usually reckoned that only a third or a quarter of property holders were named in the lay subsidy returns. If these estimates are correct, there must have been 40 or 50 heads of families in Middlesbrough and Newham, since 13 are named in the tax records. Middlesbrough was not a wealthy place apparently, with only one taxpayer, William Orre, paying more than 4 shillings in tax, and the total for Middlesbrough and Newham amounting to just 23 shillings.
Derived from “Yorkshire Lay Subsidy” edited by W.Brown (Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series) (1897).
The Customs House (1836)
Cleveland Buildings (1841)
Old Town Hall (1846)
Church of St. John the Evangelist (1865)
Dock Clock Tower (c.1870)
Offices in Exchange Square (1872)
New Exchange Buildings (1874)
Railway Station (1877)
All Saints Church (1878)
New Town Hall (1889)
Bell Brothers’ Offices (1891)
Victoria Road School (1892)
Empire Theatre (1899)
Forbes’ Buildings (1900)
St. Cuthbert’s Church (1901)
St. Columba’s Church (1902)
Dorman Memorial Museum (1904)
Park Methodist Church (1905)
Nazareth House (1906)
The Transporter Bridge (1911)
The Central Library (1912)
Constantine Technical College (1929)
Newport Bridge (1934)
The Cleveland Centre (1972)
Middlesbrough College (2008)
A Few Lost Buildings
Middlesbrough Priory (1119) demolished in the 18th century.
The Ship Inn (1831) partially demolished in 2018.
St. Hilda (1838) demolished in 1969.
Centenary Methodist chapel (1838) demolished in 1959.
North Riding Infirmary (1859) demolished in 2006.
Wesley Chapel (1863) demolished in 1954.
The Oxford Palace of Varieties (1867) bombed in an air raid in 1941 and subsequently demolished.
The Royal Exchange (1868) demolished in 1985.
St. Paul’s church (1871) demolished in 1967.
West Lane Hospital (1875) demolished in 2000.
Trinity Presbyterian church (1875) demolished in 1988.
St. Mary’s R.C. cathedral (1878) demolished after a fire in 2000.
Zion Love Methodist New Connexion church (1883, later became the Cleveland Scientific Institute) demolished in 2006.
Hugh Bell School (1892) demolished in 1969.
St. George’s Congregational church (1894) demolished in 1980.
Grand Opera House (1903, later converted to a cinema) demolished in 1971.
Tower House Department Store (1910) demolished in 1987.
Public Swimming Baths (1933) demolished in 1998.
Odeon Cinema (1939) demolished in 1969.
Some People of Note
John Hexham ( ? -1555) A monk who became Prior of Middlesbrough Priory and then Abbot of Whitby. At the dissolution of the monasteries he retired to live in Middlesbrough where he was a considerable property holder.
George Robinson (fl. 1596-1619) A landowner who inherited the manor of Middlesbrough in 1596. He commissioned the first known map of Middlesbrough in 1619. He lived at the Middlesbrough Farm.
Richard Otley (1791-1849) A Darlington man who who was a key figure in the development of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. In 1830 he drew up the plan for the new town of Middlesbrough and in 1834 he began the Middlesbrough Pottery.
William Fallows (1797-1889) The man who became known as “the father of Middlesbrough and of the Tees” was born in Sleights. He played a prominent role in the early development of Middlesbrough and the conservancy work on the River Tees. He became mayor of Middlesbrough in 1859.
Joseph Pease (1799-1872) A Quaker businessman from Darlington who envisaged a new town at Middlesbrough. He was the principal member of the Owners of the Middlesbrough Estate and he served as M.P. for South Durham from 1832 to 1841.
John Vaughan (1799-1869) An ironmaster from Worcester who pioneered the successful exploitation of Eston ironstone. With Henry Bolckow he found Bolckow Vaughan and Company. He became Middlesbrough’s third mayor.
Henry Bolckow (1806-1878) An ironmaster from Mecklenburg. Bolckow Vaughan and Company operated a large ironworks along Vulcan Street in Middlesbrough. Bolckow became Middlesbrough’s first mayor and first M.P. He built Marton Hall.
Bernhard Samuelson (1820-1905) A German-born ironmaster who built the Newport Ironworks in 1863 and the Britannia Ironworks in 1870. He was knighted in 1884.
Edgar Gilkes (1821-1894) A Gloucestershire ironmaster who founded the Tees-side Iron and Engine Works in Middlesbrough. His career was blighted by the collapse of the Tay Railway Bridge in 1879. It had been built with iron supplied by Gilkes’ company.
Robert Lisle Kirby (1839-1915) The secretary of Bell Brothers who became a promoter of education in Middlesbrough and wrote Ancient Middlesbrough which was published in 1900. Kirby Grammar School for Girls was named in his honour.
Amos Hinton (1844-1919) A grocer from Hertfordshire who established a highly successful chain of grocery stores in Middlesbrough and several other Teesside towns. He became mayor of Middlesbrough in 1886.
Hugh Bell (1844-1931) An ironmaster from Walker-on-Tyne who ran Bell Brothers’ ironworks at Port Clarence. He became Chairman of Dorman Long and Company and Chairman of the London and North Eastern Railway. He was mayor of Middlesbrough three times.
Arthur Dorman (1848-1931) An ironmaster from Kent who formed Dorman Long and Company which became one of the largest steelmaking companies in the world. In 1914 the firm employed 20,000 men. They became famous as bridge builders. Arthur Dorman was knighted in 1918.
Florence Bell (1851-1930) A writer of more than forty works who was born in Paris. She published “At the Works”, a study of the working families of Middlesbrough in 1907 and she pioneered the Middlesbrough Winter Gardens.
John Burn (1853-1925) An Anglican priest from Sunderland who was Vicar of All Saints in Middlesbrough for 40 years. He worked tirelessly to support families suffering hardship during the trade depression of 1907-8. It was estimated that 25,000 people lined the streets for his funeral.
Frederick Hardisty (1855-1930) An accountant from Harrogate, Fred Hardisty is remembered as one of the founding fathers of Middlesbrough football club.
Sarah Anne Calvert (1858-1927) Annie Calvert was Middlesbrough’s longest serving mayoress. She was largely responsible for the establishment of the Maternity Home, and supported the local child welfare clinics. She was one of Middlesbrough’s first two women magistrates.
Minnie Levick (1871-1961) A Londoner who became well known as a Middlesbrough doctor and councillor. She opened several maternity clinics, culminating in the opening of the Middlesbrough Maternity Home in 1920. In 1944 she was made an M.B.E.
Edith Carter Owen (1872-1951) The daughter of Middlesbrough mayor Thomas Carter. In 1926 she fulfilled her father’s wish when she founded the Carter Bequest Hospital. She was made a Freeman of the Borough in 1934.
Alice Schofield Coates (1881-1975) A women’s suffrage activist, born in Lancashire, who became Middlesbrough’s first woman councillor. She was one of the campaigners who helped to set up the Parkside Maternity Hospital in Middlesbrough.
Frank Elgee (1880-1944) A North Ormesby-born educator, writer and museum curator. His researches and writings on the archaeology of the North York Moors inspired later generations. He was curator of the Dorman Memorial Museum from 1923 to 1933.
Naomi Jacob (1884-1964) A writer from Ripon who worked as a schoolteacher in Middlesbrough for several years. She wrote over seventy novels, including “The Beloved Physician” which is set in a fictionalised version of Middlesbrough.
Andrew Wilson (1896-1973) A Scottish footballer who began his professional career at Middlesbrough. After a transfer to Dunfermline he returned to play at Middlesbrough. In the 1921-22 season he was the top goalscorer in the then First Division, now known as the Premier League.
Marcus Langley (1903-1977) An aircraft engineer from Middlesbrough. In 1931 he published his first book Metal Aircraft Design. He supervised the design of the De Havilland T.K.1 and T.K.2 which flew in air races in the 1930s. He was later the technical director of Beagle-Auster aircraft.
Denis Hamilton (1918-1988) Sir Denis Hamilton was a journalist from South Shields who grew up in Middlesbrough. As editor of the Sunday Times he introduced the first colour supplement. He was knighted in 1976 and became chairman of Reuters three years later.
Donald Revie (1927-1989) Don Revie was a footballer and football manager from Middlesbrough. While playing for Manchester City he was picked for England six times. As manager of Leeds United in the late 60s and early 70s he enjoyed so much success that he was appointed as the England team manager.
Ann Jellicoe (1927- ) A playwright who was born in Middlesbrough. She wrote The Knack which later was made into a successful film.
Brian Clough (1935-2004) A Middlesbrough-born footballer who became a prolific goal-scorer for his hometown club. He had a successful career as a football manager.
Denis Neale (1944- ) A table tennis player from Middlesbrough who was English national champion six times and with Mary Wright won a bronze medal at the 1969 World Table Tennis Championships.
Alan Old (1944- ) A rugby player from Middlesbrough who played for England sixteen times. He played in two victories over the All Blacks, including one by the North of England at Otley in 1979. He also played cricket for Durham in 40 matches and once for Warwickshire.
Christopher Old (1948- ) A cricketer from Middlesbrough. As a bowler, Chris Old played for England 46 times. As a batsman, while playing for Yorkshire in 1977, he scored one of the fastest centuries ever in professional cricket, including fifty runs in 9 minutes.
Mackenzie Thorpe (1956- ) A Middlesbrough-born artist whose work has made him one of the most popular northern artists.
Carole Knight (1957- ) A table tennis player from Middlesbrough who was English national champion three times and represented England twice at the world championships.
William Athey (1957- ) A cricketer from Middlesbrough. Bill Athey played for Yorkshire, Gloucestershire and Sussex and played for England in 23 test matches. He scored more than 25,000 runs in his first class career.
Rory Underwood (1963- ) A Middlesbrough-born rugby player who scored 44 tries in 49 games for Middlesbrough. He was transferred to Leicester where his international career began. He played for England a record 85 times and scored a record 49 tries.
Chris Newton (1973- ) A Middlesbrough-born cyclist who represented the United Kingdom at four Olympic Games, winning a silver medal in the team pursuit and two bronze medals. In 2002 he became an individual world champion in the points race.
The Hearth Tax of 1673
These government tax returns show that Middlesbrough over 300 years ago was a village with 15 houses. Of these, 12 were small houses with just a single hearth, while 2 other houses had 2 hearths. By far the largest was the house of “Mr Geo Robinson” which had 8 hearths. This building may have been part of the conventual buildings of Middlesbrough’s medieval priory , converted to serve as a private dwelling.
See “The Hearth Tax List for the North Riding of Yorkshire, Michaelmas 1673, Ripon Historical Society (2011).
Slater’s Directory of 1855 listed, among others, 42 general shopkeepers, 30 butchers, 12 grocers, 9 greengrocers, 4 bakers, 4 confectioners, 4 millers, 3 flour dealers, 6 chemists and druggists, 4 newsagents, 25 boot and shoe makers, 6 drapers, 14 tailors and drapers, 4 milliners and dress makers, 3 straw bonnet makers, 7 hairdressers, 2 booksellers and stationers, 7 china and glass dealers, 2 watch and clock makers, 3 furniture dealers, 4 ironmongers, 2 plumbers and glaziers, 2 blackmiths, 5 whitesmiths, 2 cartwrights, 2 coopers, 2 marine store dealers, 5 ship chandlers, 4 sail makers, 10 joiners and builders and 4 stone masons. There were also 36 taverns and public houses and 9 beer retailers.
Ward’s Directory of 1936 listed, among others, more than 40 general shopkeepers, more than 70 butchers, more than 90 grocers and 40 greengrocers, 30 bakers, more than 40 confectioners, more than 20 chemists, more than 30 newsagents, more than 50 boot and shoe makers and 50 drapers, more than 40 tailors, more than 20 dressmakers, costumiers and milliners, a dozen booksellers and stationers, 7 china shops, 15 watchmakers, 13 furniture dealers, 5 jewellers, 19 tobacconists, 13 hardware dealers, 16 pawnbrokers and more than 20 coal merchants. There were also 8 wireless dealers. This is far from the complete list.
A Selection of Dates
686 Possible religious building at Middlesbrough.
1119 Foundation of Middlesbrough Priory by Robert de Brus.
1439 Middlesbrough’s oldest will dates from this year.
1537 Probable date for the dissolution of Middlesbrough Priory.
1539 John Hexham, former Abbot of Whitby leased Middlesbrough Priory and its land.
1619 The oldest surviving map of Middlesbrough bears this date.
1716 The Lordship of Acklam Plan was made. It includes the parish of Middlesbrough.
1828 Joseph Pease visited Middlesbrough to assess its suitability as a coaling port. A company known as the Owners of the Middlesbrough Estate was established in 1829 to develop the port.
1830 The Stockton and Darlington Railway reached Middlesbrough.
1833 James Laing began building ships at his Middlesbrough shipyard.
1834 The Middlesbrough Pottery was established.
1838 The foundation stone of St. Hilda’s church was laid..
1840 Bolckow and Vaughan established an ironworks in Middlesbrough.
1842 Middlesbrough Dock was opened.
1846 Middlesbrough town hall was built in the centre of the market place.
1849 The Society of Friends’ meeting house in Wilson Street came into use.
1851 Bolckow and Vaughan erected a blast furnace at South Bank to smelt Cleveland ironstone.
1853 Middlesbrough was granted a charter of incorporation and became a borough.
William Harkess established a shipyard at Middlesbrough.
1859 Sister Mary Jaques set up a cottage hospital.
1863 Bolckow, Vaughan and Company began extracting salt at Middlesbrough.
1864 Newport Ironworks was constructed.
1865 The church of St. John the Evangelist was consecrated.
1866 Newport wire works was established by Richard Hill.
1867 The Oxford Palace of Varieties opened.
1868 Albert Park was opened. Henry Bolckow became Middlesbrough’s first M.P.
Paradise Mission (United Methodist Free Church) in Milton Street was dedicated.
1870 John Gjers and John Mills founded the Ayresome Ironworks in the Ironmasters’ District.
1872 The first recorded match for Middlesbrough Rugby Club was played this year.
1873 Raylton Dixon established the Cleveland Dockyard which built 600 ships in 50 years.
1875 Arthur Dorman and Albert de Lande Long founded Dorman Long and Company at the West Marsh Ironworks in the Ironmasters’ District.
1876 Middlesbrough Football Club was formed.
1877 Middlesbrough’s new railway station came into service. Middlesbrough High School opened.
1878 The Roman Catholic Cathedral was opened to serve the new Diocese of Middlesbrough.
1879 The Gilchrist-Thomas process for steelmaking was demonstrated at Middlesbrough.
1889 A new town hall was built at the corner of Albert Road and Corporation Road.
1892 Durham Street Mission was opened. Newport Settlement was established in Cannon Street.
Cannon Street Salvation Army Barracks came into use.
1898 There was a smallpox epidemic in the town. Electric trams began running between North Ormesby and Norton via Middlesbrough. The Middlesbrough Asylum on Marton Road was opened.
1899 The Empire Theatre of Varieties was opened.
1901 The ornamental garden at Victoria Square was laid out as a public park.
1903 The first football match was played at the new Ayresome Park stadium.
The Grand Opera House opened. It was converted to the Gaumont Cinema in the 1920s.
1904 The Dorman Memorial Museum opened its doors to the public for the first time.
1908 The Hippodrome Theatre was opened. The Cleveland Hall began showing films.
1911 The Transporter Bridge began ferrying passengers and vehicles across the River Tees.
Kirby Grammar School for Girls was opened.
1912 The Central Library was opened.
1919 Middlesbrough cricket club won the North Yorkshire and South Durham Cricket League for the first time. They won the title eight times in the 20th century.
1923 Middlesbrough’s last remaining shipyards (Harkess’ and Dixon’s) closed.
1925 The town’s first annual Corpus Christi Procession took place. The last was in 1971.
1926 St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church was consecrated.
1930 The Prince of Wales opened the Constantine Technical College. The Holgate Infirmary was developed as Middlesbrough General Hospital.
1934 The Tees (Newport) Bridge was opened to traffic. St. Thomas’ Church was consecrated.
Middlesbrough’s last tram ran.
1937 The United bus station on Newport Road came into service.
1939 Middlesbrough fire brigade moved into a new purpose-built fire station.
1942 The railway station was severely damaged by enemy bombing during the Second World War.
1953 Steelmaking ended at Dorman Long’s Britannia Works.
1955 Stainsby School was opened. It was the first of more than a dozen secondary schools built in the suburbs of Middlesbrough during the 1950s and 1960s.
1958 The municipal art gallery was opened.
1959 Middlesbrough Market ceasing trading.
1963 The Duke of Edinburgh opened Clairville Stadium athletics ground. It was demolished in 2015.
1965 The last blast furnaces in the Ironmasters’ District ceased production.
1966 Ayresome Park football ground hosted some of the World Cup matches in this year.
1969 St. Hilda’s church was demolished.
1970 Teesside Polytechnic enrolled its first students. In 1992 the polytechnic became a university.
1973 Teesside Magistrate’s court came into use. The Cleveland Centre was completed.
1976 St. Michael’s Church closed and was re-opened as a Mosque. Middlesbrough Rugby club won the Yorkshire Cup.
1979 Teessaurus Park was laid out.
1980 Middlesbrough Dock was closed to cargo ships.
1981 South Cleveland Hospital was opened. The Hill Street Centre was completed.
1982 Middlesbrough won the Britain in Bloom contest for the second time.
1985 The Royal Exchange was demolished to make way for the A66 main road.
1990 The first Middlesbrough Mela was held in the town hall.
1991 The new County Court building on Russell Street came into use.
1993 The Bottle of Notes sculpture in the Central Gardens was unveiled.
1995 Middlesbrough Football Club moved to the Riverside Stadium.
1999 The Captain Cook Square shopping centre was opened.
2000 Middlesbrough Cathedral was demolished after an arson attack.
2004 Middlesbrough football club won the League Cup.
2007 The Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art was opened.
2008 Middlesbrough College moved into its new premises beside the dock.
2015 Middlesbrough Sports Village was opened.
This list of events was compiled using several works by Paul Stephenson, Norman Moorsom and other local historians.
Suggested Further Reading
“Ancient Middlesbrough” R.L.Kirby (1900)
“At the Works” Lady F.Bell (1907)
“The History of Middlesbrough” W.Lillie (1968)
“Middlesbrough’s History in Maps” Cleveland and Teesside Local History Society (1980)
“The Book of Middlesbrough” N.Moorsom (1986)
“Middlesbrough: Town and Community 1830-1950” (ed.) A.J.Pollard (1996)
“Central Middlesbrough” P.Stephenson (published in 3 parts 1999-2000)
“The Rise of a Victorian Ironopolis: Middlesbrough and Regional Industrialization” M.Yasumoto (2011)