A colony of workmen
“A Colony of Workmen”.
The Socio-Economic Development of Port Clarence 1851-1881.
A Dissertation Submitted for the Master of Arts Degree
Local History (C.N.A.A.)
At Teesside Polytechnic
“It has long been my opinion that the special attraction which history holds, does not lie in the splendid achievements of nations, nor in mighty battles lost or won, nor in the founding of world empires, nor in the dry terms of parliamentary acts, but in the daily living of people in past times. For me the real substance of history lies in unveiling how people, to whatsoever stratum of society they belonged, lived their daily lives, how they made a livelihood, what houses they dwelt in, what food they ate and what clothes they wore, how they related to their fellow men and coped with everyday life in their nation, as it then was. With such views foremost in my mind, my interest grew in the settlement which sprang up on the north bank of the Tees, in the region once named Samphire Batts and later Port Clarence and that interest was deeply personal.”
My links with the place are of long standing. My parents were Irish immigrants who settled in Port Clarence. My maternal grandmother came from Ireland as a young child with her parents. The family is listed in the 1871 Census. I myself was born in Port Clarence, attending grammar school from there and later teaching in the school there, until the building was condemned. It was during my first year at grammar school, during a lesson on local geography, that I first heard the name of “slum” given to the place in which I lived. At that time, I, in the company of some half- a- dozen Port Clarence girls walked twice daily, to and from grammar school, along Durham Street and past Dockland in Middlesbrough. This route seemed to us young girls, to be along the most squalid and filthy of streets. The way was flanked by communal lodging houses, interspersed with pubs. The dirt of the exterior and interior of the doss houses beggared all description. Groups of seamen, Lascars, Chinese coolies, mulattoes stood outside talking in foreign tongues. In the afternoons, drunken men and women brawled outside of the pubs. Dirty yards and slimy courts led off the main street. In those years, this was what the word “slum” portrayed to me. Compared with Durham Street and Dockland, Port Clarence appeared as a green and pleasant land.”
“My own forebears were labourers at the ironworks of Isaac Lowthian Bell. Aspects of life, which appeared grim and forbidding to Lady Bell, would not necessarily appears so to the ironworkers, for all things are relative. It seems that Florence Bell’s own gracious background coloured her view of Port Clarence. I strive to guard against this in my own study.”
The Demographic Pattern and Occupational Structure of Port Clarence
“Port Clarence is shown by the 1851 Census to have been in a state of abeyance. Five families dwelt there and the total population numbered 22, 10 being male and 12 female. These early settlers came chiefly from the North East. A few came from further afield, from Kent, London and Berwick. One came from Scotland. At this point there were no Irish among the population. The regional origins of the workforce seems to indicate that they were workers who followed the coming of the railway when the Clarence Railway Company was recruiting men to work the coal wagons and man the staithes exporting coal.”
“By the time of the 1861 census, the population had risen to 103, 45 males and 58 females. As in 1851, the settlers originated mainly from the North East with an occasional person from further away. The striking difference is the number of Irish immigrants who have now settled in Port Clarence. They outnumber any other group, their number (including second generation Irish) being 22 out of 103.” It was in 1854 when Isaac Lowthian Bell was recruiting a workforce for his ironworks that the Irish began to come to Port Clarence, some directly from Ireland to friends and relatives already on Teesside, others in stages across England from Liverpool and other ports on the Irish Sea, like Maryport and Whitehaven.”
“The 1871 census shows the population as 853, 507 males and 346 females. The Irish now formed 55.9% of the population if you include children of Irish parents.”
“The 1881 census gives the population of Port Clarence as 1,231. The males number 705 and females 526.”
“Port Clarence, static for some years, was given impetus by the enterprise of one man, Isaac Lowthian Bell, who erected on that site his Clarence Ironworks and so provided to the community a means of earning a livelihood.”
“The works opened in 1854, had admirable frontage on the river and vast spaces over which to dispose of the slag. Every ton of slag was used to make firmer foundations on which to develop the ironworks.”
“Prior to 1854, all household heads in Port Clarence were either employed by the Clarence Railway Company or worked as seamen. By 1861, the railway had been replaced by the ironworks as the key employer.
“In the decade 1861-1871, Bell Brothers erected their workers’ dwellings, in close proximity to the blast furnaces.”
“It is noticeable from the 1871 census that all the Irish in the settlement are employed by the ironworks and none by the railway.” The number of trades people had grown with the services of a barman at the inn, a dressmaker and a milliner being added to the innkeeper, grocer and butcher of the 1861 census. The settlement had by 1871 acquired one policeman.”
“In 1874, a further employer of labour entered the locality, the Anderston Foundry Company. This firm set up on the North bank of the Tees, to the West of the ferry landing, where the Middlesbrough- Clarence ferry discharged and took passengers. The foundry manufactured all kinds of railway equipment. It would appear that the bulk of Anderston’s workforce came from Middlesbrough on the ferry.”
“The Durham sheet of the Ordnance Survey map. 1st Edition 1857 shows nothing of the workers’ cottages at the Clarence Ironworks, for in that year they had not been erected. The 1857 map shows clearly that there were very few habitations in Port Clarence. The house appear to be in two rows, one row being the railwaymens’ cottages provided by the Clarence Railway and the other a block of houses near to the Clarence Ironworks on the land known as Ichaboe Point. Local people knew this block of dwellings as Short Row. Apart from these rows, there are two marked single dwellings, the Ship Inn which is located to the West of the Stell and the Halfway House, standing about halfway between the hamlet of Port Clarence and the next village of Haverton Hill. “
“On the 1899 Second Edition of the Ordnance Survey map, the Ship Inn is no longer there. The land on which it stood was bought by Bell Brothers for the development of their salt works. In Close proximity to the blast furnaces, on the land known as Ichaboe Point, the 1899 map shows the rows of terraced housing known as Clarence Old Cottages, five rows in all. These were the houses built by Bell Brothers to house the influx of labour, which swelled the population of the small hamlet, seeking work in the blast furnaces. The map also shows a post office, a mission church, a school and a public library/reading room.” This was the settlement of which Florence Bell was speaking of when she wrote, “A colony of workmen lives here, actually in the middle of the works.”
“By 1899, the settlement had extended westward of the Middlesbrough-Clarence ferry. The North-Eastern Railway Company had built its Port Clarence Railway Station with a house for the Station Master and adjacent to it, a row of houses for railway workers called “Station Cottages”. Across the railway, with its frontage on the main road stood the Station Hotel. To the West of the station and at the entrance to the foundry, Anderstons Foundry Company had erected an impressive Victorian office block. Across the railway line and flanking the Haverton Hill road was a further huddle of dwelling houses. There were four rows of houses. Two rows were built on the Haverton Hill road, Saltholme Terrace and Lowthian Terrace. The latter was a better type of housing and was referred to by local people as “Gaffers’ Row”. Behind these two rows stood a wide, two-sided street, Bell Street. To the back of Bell Street lay an area of allotment gardens, which helps to supplement the meagre diet of many families. To the West of this group of dwellings stood the Roman Catholic School which also served as a church for the Irish of the community. These houses were known as Bell’s New Cottages to distinguish them from the Old Cottages erected at the ironworks.
By 1899, an opening had been cut in the railway embankment and through it a road led to the saltworks of Christian Alhusen, who although his boreholes were on Cowpen Marsh, had built his saltworks in the 1880’s at Port Clarence where he could use the river wharves for export. He had brought from Cheshire men skilled in the manufacture of salt but these Cheshire men did not swell the population of Port Clarence but resided in the neighbouring village of Haverton Hill.”
“I have interviewed people who lived as young children, in the houses at the Clarence Ironworks.”
“Of six blocks of houses, five blocks were back-to-backs and one row comprised of through house. The back-to-back houses were one-up-one-down. You stepped from the street straight into the kitchen. A steep narrow staircase led up from the kitchen to the floor above and a tiny scullery was off the side of the kitchen. At the top of the stairs was a landing and one bedroom. A bed could just fit on the landing. The houses had a heavy wooden door and a sash window with sixteen small panes of glass in four rows of four. There was an open coal fire in the kitchen. A cold water tap and an ash privy were outside at the front of the house. In winter the house was warm and free from draughts but unbearably hot in summer, when the door had to be opened wide to admit the fume laden air from the works.”
“At Port Clarence, despite the fact that the site was far from salubrious, the inhabitants had the vast expanse of the River Tees at their doors and the vista of the Cleveland Hills in the background. The river then was not polluted and the breezes blowing in from the estuary were fresh and invigorating. When the wind was in the right quarter, it could dispel the pitch fumes. One can accept that those ironworkers who lived at Port Clarence fared better healthwise than those who dwelt in the squalid courts of Middlesbrough.”
“……..many of the dwellers in the place have as deeply rooted an attachment to it, as though it were a beautiful village. There are people living in these hard-looking, shabby, ugly streets who have been there for many years and more than one who has left it has actually pined to be back again…………..for many of the dwellers in these cottages as those know who have frequented them, have a veritable keen zest in existence, a fund of human sympathy, and a spirit of enterprise as applied to mental as well as physical toil.”
(Florence Bell, “At the Works” )
“Port Clarence life was rendered less harsh by the small extent of the settlement. The inhabitants, undoubtedly, faced those problems, which beset all urban industrial areas, yet on account of their lesser scale, settlements like Port Clarence cannot have been as problematic as larger complexes. In some ways, they retained elements, which characterised rural communities. Port Clarence tended to provide the best of two worlds, for its small extent meant that an urban way of life, with industry providing a more or less steady income, could be followed, without the loss of close relationships, which living in a larger industrial complex would not have been allowed. Thus, the countrymen who formed the body of the early Port Clarence settlers, and especially the Irish countrymen, were provided with a taste of industrial life, without being too far removed from the rural culture, which had been their previous lot.