Building bridges

Stephen Croft – TEL Programme Manager

I think of This Exploited Land (TEL) in terms of bridge building – both literally and metaphorically.

An original bridge on the 1836 Whitby to Pickering Railway

From here to Australia

If you stick with me for a minute, you can follow all the connections, step-by-step, to trace the origins of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia – one of the most instantly recognised iconic images in the world – back to the chance discovery of a commercial seam of ironstone in Grosmont in the early 1830s during the building of the Whitby to Pickering Railway.

The abundance of the ironstone found around Grosmont went to supply the needs of the Losh, Wilson and Bell Ironworks on Tyneside. Thomas Bell’s son, Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, went on to be one of the most successful ironmasters in England and played a significant role in the development of Middlesbrough.

At the peak of iron and steel making in Middlesbrough in the 1870s the partnership between Arthur Dorman and Albert de Lande Long began the gradual takeover of iron and steelmaking companies, including Bell Brothers, to form Dorman Long. During the 1920s, Dorman Long branched out and developed into an engineering company and began to gain an expertise in bridge building.

In 1924, Dorman Long won the international tender to engineer and construct the Sydney Harbour Bridge. When it opened in 1932, the bridge was the widest (at 48.8m) single span bridge in the world, with a clear span of 504m.

bridge5Sydney Harbour Bridge formed a backdrop to the celebrations of the start of the new millennium with its fantastic firework display now repeated annually. The natural harbour was discovered by Captain James Cook who was born on the fringes of the North York Moors at Marton and grew up in Great Ayton; he had his first apprenticeship in Staithes on the North Yorkshire coast and learned his seamanship in Whitby. His most famous ship, Endeavour, was based on the traditional Whitby Collier. These colliers would later transport the newly discovered ironstone from Grosmont up to the Tyne. With yet another connection – Endeavour gave its name to one of the Space Shuttles – the local influence can be stretched even further.

Iron making

Ironstone is sedimentary rock containing iron sediment from which iron can be extracted. The early ironstone mining in the North York Moors gradually yielded to the cheaper and larger iron deposits found around Eston to the north and ultimately to even cheaper iron ore imported from around the world. The centre of gravity in iron making in the second half of the 19th century moved from Grosmont and Beck Hole to the quickly developing Middlesbrough on the banks of the River Tees as this new area became a world centre for iron, steel and heavy engineering. Prime Minister Gladstone called Middlesbrough an ‘Infant Hercules’ because of the apparent potential of the booming town.

In all, there was 100 years of mining in the North York Moors area and 130 years in the wider Cleveland area. The last ironstone mine (North Skelton) closed in 1964, so within living memory, so making a bridge is still possible between the new post-industrial generation and their industrial and industrious forebears. We need to value that bridge whilst the memories still survive. This is our history.

Railway remnants

The 1820s and 1830s were a time of huge innovation. Imagine the leap of faith it must have been for the ship owners in Whitby to bring George Stephenson to town to get him to build them one of those new railways. Huge cost, huge risk and no certainty of a financial reward. In the end those first investors lost money, but the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, continues to run today, almost entirely along its original route, making a tangible bridge back to the early 1830s. The first cargo for the new railway in the 1830s was local building stone, exported out of Whitby down the coast as far as London to build bridge abutments and harbour works, it being a stone that was resilient in seawater.

If you follow the current Rail Trail walk from Goathland to Grosmont, and I recommend you to do just that, take the opportunity to wander down one of the side paths near Beck Hole and look back across at the original railway embankments. Here you will see a number of beautiful stone bridges, built like Renaissance structures with fine stonework, rusticated plinths and skew arches. Works of art and craftsmanship but at the same time utility constructions to enable the railway to work. These hidden bridges link the pre-industrial Georgian age of neo-classical design and the new age of iron and steam and practical engineering.

Along the Rail Trail - stone work features Along the Rail Trail - stone work features Along the Rail Trail - stone work featuresAlong the Rail Trail - stone work features Along the Rail Trail - stone work features Along the Rail Trail - stone work featuresAlong the Rail Trail - stone work features Warren Moor Mine Chimney close up Along the Rail Trail - stone work features







This Exploited Land is more than just some interesting stone monuments in the
landscape – a mysterious set of redundant arches, contrasting with a green background: tranquil, quiet, almost forgotten. It is a bridge to the past, to lives lived and a pioneeringVictoria Falls Bridge - Rainbows and bridges by Shaun D Metcalfe is licenced under CC by 2.0 (from spirit; it is a bridge reaching further back to a pre-industrial rural past. It bridges across the continents of the globe to Australia, to Istanbul (Bosphorus Bridge), to Southern Africa (Victoria Falls Bridge) and many other places where Teesside engineers have stretched the bounds of structural engineering. It forms a bridge from the now peaceful dales of the North York Moors to its noisier offspring, the conurbation of Teesside.

This Exploited Land is an exercise in bridge building!



2 thoughts on “Building bridges

  1. Pingback: Dispatches from various Esk Valleys | The official blog for the North York Moors National Park

  2. Pingback: Last year’s top 5 posts … and what happens next with TEL | The official blog for the North York Moors National Park

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.