When your inner person tells you and yours that you have to simply get out of the house and away from the telly for a day, but don’t want to hit crowds and Covid threats, how about a festive tramp over the tussocky hummocks of what were once living breathing communities that were, but are no more? In this two parter for North East Bylines, here’s a couple of tips from a Teessider about some lost communities in our region. The first deals with the south of the river. The second one takes us to Hartlepool.
Way back in 1873. when iron works had sprung up like so many mushrooms all along the South bank of the Tees, two local ironmasters, Messrs Downey and Company and Messrs Walker Maynard decided to set up blast furnaces near Redcar, a site where ironstone from their mines in Skinningrove and Carlin How could be smelted with Durham coal trucked in by the new railway, and with deep water jetties which could send the finished steel off to distant markets.
The new workforce needed somewhere to live. In those days, when working hours were long and the only way to get to work was on foot, the nearer you lived to your place of employment, the better for all concerned.
But there wasn’t much accommodation near the new works, only a row of broken down cottages known as ‘West Coatham’ and a temporary settlement of huts at Tod Point, where the new breakwater was under construction. There was, however, a stretch of land between Tod Point Road and the coast, part of the Kirkleatham estate. The only inhabitants of that were rabbits, living in hundreds of warrens. The ironmasters obtained a lease of the land, fancifully tried to evict the rabbits and built rows of neat little cottages
Thus, Downey Street came into being, likewise Coney Street, one named after the ironmaster, the other after the rabbits who, undaunted, stayed on. This new village was, at first, known as ‘Warrentown’ after the floppy-eared original inhabitants, but was soon rechristened Warrenby so that it was more in keeping with Lackenby. and Lazenby. which got their names from ancient Danish settlements in that area.
Warrenby grew rapidly. A station was opened, nicknamed for some reason “Teacake Halt”. More streets were added, named after the wild fowl that inhabited the marshy land — Plover. Teal, Snipe and Widgeon. By 1881 the village had a population of over 700.The Warrenby Hotel was in business, with a Geordie landlord, Antony Lover. William Waugh came over from Wilton and opened a butcher’s shop, though I am told that Warrenby scarcely needed a butcher what with the rabbits and wildfowl being so plentiful. A school was built in 1883. St Andrew’s Mission Church was built in 1883 and a Wesleyan chapel opened shortly afterwards. Warrenby was now a self-contained unit, independent of Redcar for most of its needs.
Left very much to its own devices, Warrenby continued as a happy, if inward looking, little community of extended families. But dark clouds were gathering. Warrenby hadn’t even reached its 100th birthday before a North Riding of Yorkshire Planning Officer was shaking his head over the condition of its houses saying that perhaps residents would prefer to be rehoused in Redcar where there were more amenities. Most didn’t agree and maintained that they were perfectly happy in their own village. I was friends of one of the old Warrenby families, the Mundy’s. The son Billy and I worked on the same shift together at the Lackenby steel making plant, whilst his kid sister Paula became a senior officer at the then local council. I remember going for a drink with them at the Warrenby Hotel in his final week. A sad ending. One last attempt was made to redevelop the area but it was abandoned in the 1970s. Little is left now. The houses and the village facilities are gone, leaving the place to be abandoned to car breakers, scrappers and, oddly, a thriving business potting shrimps. The most numerous inhabitants are, of course, the rabbits who have now reclaimed their own Warrenby Watership Down.
A brisker walk along the top of the ridge that is the Eston Hills will also take you to the site of Barnaby. This was once a substantial settlement, and one once seen as a rival to Guisborough. This moorside village vanished without explanation in the 1300s, possibly a victim of the Black Death. Yet, despite this, Barnaby re-appeared for a fleeting instance nearly five centuries on. This came about with the sinking of one of the many ironstone mines that once dotted the East Cleveland landscape.
Many of these pits were isolated, but perhaps none more so that Upsall pit, sited on Barnaby Moor midway between Eston and the A171 Guisborough Road. The remains of Upsall Pit are now heavily covered in undergrowth, although the outline of the reservoir and spoil heap can still be identified. The pit was 564 feet deep and sunk in the 1850s and 1860s, it was the lowest point of the Eston Mines complex so was used to pump water from the mine and for ventilation as well as providing access for men and tubs. It had two large headstocks used for lifting men, and a big fan house used for ventilation.
The row of houses known as Barnaby Moor or, more popularly “Pit Top” or “Stoney Brow” were still in existence but deserted in the late 1930s after the mine had closed in 1927. The one map that I know of this ghost town shows two rows of houses, a “Methodist Chapel” and a schoolhouse, so I guess it was for some time, a settled community, albeit one almost inaccessible from the outside. Legend has it that supplies of food for the village were conveyed up from shops in Eston, by way of the mine, which had its own link into the large Eston Drift Mine, and thus to the township of Eston. Certainly, there was no road in or out, and the nearest railway was the mineral line serving the Normanby brickworks, so I can well suspect that the story of a town whose food came from the depths of the earth was a well-founded one. Now it is a beautiful, but utterly lonely, area of open countryside.
The slow death of Cleveland mining left many other relics of communities in its path. I’ll conclude with a strange little Sunday walk I once took in the 1980s with a couple of friends and a local Skelton Green character – a rabbit and game bird catcher (a ‘lamper’ as they are locally known), and a dedicated poacher. He wanted to go on a pilgrimage and wanted familiar faces with him when doing this.
Slowly, we climbed up the gentle slope through dense, deep and dark (and in theory only, strictly private) woodland (After all, we knew the local gamekeeper for the Gisborough Estate, and, as in the old song, ‘of him we had no fear’ as he was simply, despite his badge, “one of the lads’). Eventually along a straight path that was once the mineral line from the old Skelton Park Pit to the main line at Guisborough, we came to a long row of low moss and lichen covered red bricks forming the remains of a long row of terraced houses – once the home of railway lengthsman and the deputies for the pit. It was also the early childhood home in the war years of our poacher pal. He was very quiet. Then I saw him, a ‘well hard’ man in the neighbourhood, silently crying. So, these walks over lost settlements are more than historical; these communities were as much once flesh and blood as bricks and mortar.
To be continued
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