Teachers notes

Exploring the history of their locality helps students develop a sense of identity and place in the world. Delving into the past can reveal fascinating stories of the people and events that shaped their area and their own lives, fostering pride in their roots and a sense of what they can achieve.

The story of mining in the Tees Valley is just one the region’s remarkable histories. In 1850, a rich mainseam of ironstone was found in the Eston hills in Cleveland. This discovery transformed the Tees Valley and the lives of the people who lived there, leaving a legacy that stretched around the world.

John Vaughan and his business partner and friend Henry Bolckow had been making iron in the area since 1840. In 1847, Samuel Frederick Okey discovered a seam of ironstone at Skinningrove. Convinced that there was a plentiful supply of ironstone to be found close to their works in Middlesbrough, Vaughan and mining engineer John Marley surveyed the area and discovered a rich mainseam of ironstone in the Eston hills.

Mines quickly opened across Cleveland. Men from all over Britain flocked to the area to work in them and build new lives for their families. This became known as the ‘iron rush’ (after the ‘gold rush’ in California, USA.) Tin miners from Cornwall j oined coal miners from Northumberland, Durham and Scotland, farm labourers from Norfolk and iron miners from South Wales and the Midlands.

As the ironstone mining industry developed, ironmasters built ironworks and blast furnaces to smelt the ironstone into iron, and later steel. New railway lines were built to transport the ironstone from the mines to the ironworks, and on to the docks for export around the world. These railways soon became passenger lines as well as freight lines.

By 1855, 30 blast furnaces were operating in and around Middlesbrough. By 1875, the number had increased to 100, producing two million tons of iron every year. Villages that previously had numbered their populations in handfuls counted them in thousands. Middlesbrough expanded from 7,600 inhabitants in 1851 to almost 40,000 in 1871 and over 90,000 in 1901 as a direct consequence of the expansion of the iron and steel industry, and became known as ‘Ironopolis’. Cleveland became the most important ironstone mining district in Victorian and Edwardian England supplying a third of the UK’s iron output.

Iron and steel structures all over the world have been made in the Tees Valley from ironstone found in the Eston Hills. From the iconic Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough, to the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the other side of the world in Australia, railway lines across Africa and Asia and the Wembley arch in London.

Use the objects and classroom activities in the resource to explore this remarkable history and make links with students’ lives today.

Loftus miners, Skinningrove

Group of Loftus miners with children, Skinningrove

Ironstone miner’s bait tin

Loftus Mine accident book

Flame safety lamp

Skinningrove from the cliffs

Skinningrove blast furnaces, 1874

Fillers with tub, Skinningrove

Joseph Pease

North Terrace, Loftus

Spar Arch, early 20th century