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Thursday, 13 October 2011

"...And the Quiet, Unfrequented Glen Turned into a Lovely Garden.” Or: Saltburn-by-the-Sea: Victorian Seaside Town:

Recently I traveled to a little town not too far from Middlesborough in order to attend a birthday party.  My father was born in nearby Saltburn-by-the-Sea, and I’m sure I was taken there as a child by my Grandparents, who live in the little town I visited, but I can’t remember all that much other than a museum dedicated to smuggling (which Saltburn saw a lot of in the 1700’s).
I know that as a child my Grandmother also took me to Whitby, where Bram Stoker wrote ‘Dracula’ in 1897, and to York, the ancient town transformed by the railways in 1839. I was, at the age of twelve, also taken to Beamish open air museum – where the Victorian and Edwardian era’s prevail, and you can visit shops, farms and businesses preserved as they would have been in days gone by.

Was the seed of Victoriana planted in my young self during these visits? Who knows?

My most recent visit required a stay in a hotel, and in the foyer was a large display of brochures and pamphlets for various local attractions. The Sea-Life Centre, York Museum, Beamish, of course, but the one that most caught my eye was the brochure for Saltburn-by-the-Sea. I wondered what was there, in the seaside town where my father was born, so I picked it up and put it in my bag to read later.

Back at home the following day the brochure dropped out of my bag, and I thumbed through it. I discovered that the town of Saltburn-by-the-Sea was an almost entirely Victorian creation.

With that in mind, and also the fact that I have a link to the seaside town, I decided to write about it here, but, where to start?

I spoke with Laine of which is a terrific website, crammed with photographs old and new, Victorian and Edwardian newspaper articles and a whole host of Saltburn related information, and I was allowed to use the website’s article on Victorian Saltburn, which saved me an awful lot of research and time.

The history of Saltburn is not that dissimilar to some other British coastal towns that grew up in the Victorian era. The belief that sea air was good for the constitution and would benefit those with ailments, lead to many Victorians taking their holidays on the coast. The world, of course, was much smaller then. A trip to, say, Spain, would take forever compared to the travel technology at our disposal today, and so places like Blackpool, Brighton, Eastbourne, Margate and – a favourite of Dickens – Broadstairs, capitalized. Entertainments were thrown up; parks, hotels, restaurants, bathing machines and piers and much more were all built to accommodate the seasonal influx of city-dwellers looking to ‘take the air’ by the sea.

The Founding of Saltburn-by-the-Sea
Before 1860 only ‘old’ Saltburn existed. Where Saltburn by the Sea was eventually to be developed, farms grew oats, beans, turnips, clover or lay fallow. The discovery and exploitation of iron ore in the mid 1800’s was to make the most dramatic change in the fortunes of the Saltburn area.

In the industrial history of the 19th century the Pease family held a foremost position. For several generations in succession the name of Pease retained great pre-eminence in the industrial world of the North. Great commercial ability combined with a strong gift of foresight and an indomitable enterprise characterised both Edward Pease and his immediate descendants.

The family held several firms. These included the firm of Joseph Pease & Partners, coal-owners. J. W. Pease & Co. dealt in ironstone and limestone, the banking business was carried on under the style of J & J. W. Pease, and the extensive woollen mills were carried on under the name of Henry Pease & Co. The head-quarters of all these firms was to be found in Northgate, Darlington, some thirty miles away.

The Pease family’s two most important undertakings were the coal mines in South Durham, and the ironstone mines in Cleveland. In the development of the Cleveland ironstone industry they took a leading part, and the first royalty taken in their name was dated in March 1852, from which time they stood at the forefront of Cleveland mine owners.

Henry Pease, the youngest son of Edward Pease, began his apprenticeship in a family tanning establishment in Darlington. In 1881, at the time of his death, there were still three woollen mills in Darlington belonging to the firm of Henry Pease & Co. In an article published in the 'London Society' in November 1881, Henry was described as having been;
 'a man of such energy of character' that he was 'not likely to escape being caught by the railway fever which raged around him' and 'no sooner had he attained his majority than he ... entered heart and soul into the work of railway promotion.'

Henry Pease's name came to be connected with nearly all the lines of importance that were projected in the North of England, some of which were originated by him. From 1830-35 he was mentioned in the minute books of the S & D Railway as a troubleshooter, resolving technical difficulties. For over forty years he was unremitting in his attendance in the board room of one Railway Company or another, his latter years being engaged principally on behalf of the North Eastern Railway Company. It is, therefore, possible to state that perhaps no man of his time had a longer or more distinguished career as a railway director.
Henry Pease

Henry was associated with his brother, Joseph, in the founding of the Middlesbrough & Guisborough line, and was the lines first chairman. He also played an active role in the establishment of a line between Darlington and Barnard Castle and subsequently the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway. After the establishment of the latter, several amalgamations were effected - at the suggestion of Henry Pease. The South Durham and Lancashire was amalgamated with the Stockton & Darlington, which, together with its tributary lines, was itself absorbed into the North Eastern system.

His wider influence was felt in a number of directions. As well as being a board member of Pease & Partners in their many enterprises, eventually becoming a senior partner of the firm, he also became an MP for South Durham between 1859 and 1865, and took an active part in the Sunday Closing Bill. He owned the building firm that erected the Darlington Iron Co. and owned the brickworks that provided the white firebricks used extensively on the first buildings erected in Saltburn by the Sea. He was chairman of the Stockton & Middlesbrough Water Company and the Weardale & Shildon Water Co. He also became the first Mayor of Darlington.

Henry Pease, like his father, was also a member of the Quaker Society of Friends and of the Peace Society. As a Quaker, he traveled to Russia in an attempt to stem the outbreak of war with England in 1853. As a member of the Peace Society, he visited the French Emperor, Napoleon III, in 1867. Henry also visited America for three months in 1856.

Mary Pease, writing in retrospect of her husband’s life, says that in 1859 Henry Pease was staying with his brother at Marske when one evening he returned late for dinner. He explained that he had walked to Saltburn, and that seated on the hillside he had seen, in a sort of prophetic vision, on the edge of the cliff before him, “a town arise and the quiet unfrequented glen turned into a lovely garden.”
The decision on developing Saltburn met with opposition from the S & D board - Mr George Morley of Guisborough stating that he thought it was 'a very bad speculation.' for having lived in the area he thought it 'a nasty bleak cold place, and the sand is horrid'. Opposition was also encountered from others who felt that Lord Zetland should promote the development of Redcar and Marske rather than Saltburn.

The Hoist

Whatever objections were raised, plans went ahead and, having secured the support of the railway company, Henry Pease formed the Saltburn Improvement Company in 1859. As Lord Zetland owned the land on the cliff top, the SIC approached him in 1860 offering to buy 10 acres of Penn Pasture, which formed part of Rifts Farm, whose farmhouse stood where the west side of Hilda Place is now. It was to be the first of 11 lots the company would buy over the next 16 years, totaling nearly 135 acres.

Whilst the offer of £120 per acre was being considered, Henry Pease and Thomas McNay visited Scarborough, ostensibly to inspect the towns sewage disposal system. During this visit Henry's attention was engaged by the pleasure grounds which were being developed there, and thus began his own personal passion for the development of similar grounds at Saltburn.
George Dickinson of Darlington was employed to lay out a plan of the town. The buildings had to have uniform roof lines, slate roofs, frontages of white firebricks (from the Pease’s own brickworks) and no fences.

Within twenty years the main form of the town had been created, including the Station Complex by 1862, Valley Gardens by 1861/62, Zetland Hotel by 1863 (reputed to be one of the world’s first purpose built railway hotels to have its own private platform), Wesleyan Chapel built by 1863, the Pier by 1869, and the Cliff Hoist was finished by 1870.

With the death of Henry Pease in 1881 the town’s driving force was lost and soon after, the Saltburn Improvement Company was disbanded.
Over the years no substantial new features were added to the resort and it became encapsulated in time as one of the finest early Victorian seaside towns surviving almost completely in its original form.

Many thanks to Laine of – whom you can find on Twitter @Saltburnbysea – for letting me use the above article.

The Victorians certainly appeared to love the seaside, but, as ever, it is dangerous to generalize all Victorians as having a liking for the salty sea air and the sand in their boots. There were – and still are – two types of trip to the seaside; the day-trip, which is the kind I have mostly been on, and the ‘proper’ seaside holiday, which involves staying in a hotel on the coast for a week or two.

In his 1883 compendium of articles, ‘Odd People in Odd Places’, the great James Greenwood offers a distinction between the two:

“There are tens of thousands of their more fortunate fellow-creatures who have enjoyed the high privilege of visiting the domain of Neptune - of perambulating the shingly beach, and taking a header from a bathing-machine - of going fairly out to sea, probably in a shilling yacht, and braving the perils of sea-sickness - and all within the space of a dozen hours, four of which were consumed in the journey to and from London. They have, however, never enjoyed a longer holiday than eight hours by the seaside. They may be, and probably are, immensely gratified and delighted, but there is a mingling of sadness with their satisfaction.
It is, of course, very enjoyable, and a privilege to be grateful for, this single day at Margate or Brighton, but it is, at the same time, tremendously hard work, just as hard, indeed, as regards the preparation for the start, the early rising, the hurry-skurry of reaching the railway station, &c. as though the visit was to be of a fortnight's duration.

And if the eight hours' excursionist is of this opinion, with the day's delights before him, and while he is fresh and strong to bear fatigue, and his wife is in high spirits, and the children ready to clap their hands for joy, what must he think when the station bell reminds him that he has now reached the termination of his tether, and his holiday is at an end? His "eight hours" have expired, and the railway authorities, stern sticklers for the terms of contract, will start the return train within twenty minutes, and all those who are not there in time will be left behind.

It is at this point when the one day excursionist, who, as well as his wife, has an olive-branch or two with him, finds his fortitude suddenly collapse. With the youngest but one (his good lady, of course, carries the baby) bestriding his shoulder, he puts his best foot foremost from the beach to the town so as to be in good time at the station. He is hot and fagged, and his temper is not improved by the knowledge that the cherub to whom he is giving a "flying angel" is smearing his Sunday hat with the seaweed with which its little fists are full.
It is at such a time that the reflection comes home to him with fullest force - if he was possessed of means like other folk! He sees the enviable beings all about him. While he is pushing and elbowing with the crowd of his fellow-excursionists, with his back to the sea, the favourites of fortune, with perhaps a fair fortnight still before them, are sauntering beachward - not in a perspiration as he is, and with his face aglow and his neckerchief disarranged, but unruffled and tranquil, heeding that confounded bell no more than though it hung round the neck of a sheep on the adjoining downs, or was being swung by the town crier - with nothing on earth, or sea either for that matter, but pass the time in delightful idleness until dusk or bed-time, and then to retire to snowy sheets, and with the fragrant breath of the ocean sweetening the air of the bed-room, to be up again next morning bright and early, for a jolly ramble across the cliffs, or to take a pull in a little boat, and so get up a tremendous appetite for a breakfast, the staple of which is fish that, in a manner of speaking, has made but a single leap from the fishing-net into the fryingpan.

It is, I say, not very much to be wondered at should the individual, the space of whose seaside happiness is actually measured by mere hours, feel a pang of envy at the better luck of his fellow - mortals, and that he should silently register a vow that, if ever his time does come, he will make up for all his previous holiday shortcomings.”


  1. In my book research about Lewis Carroll I uncovered the fact that he visited Saltburn in 1865 with a brother and two of his sisters, and noted that "it consisted chiefly of a magnificent hotel." And his earliest extant letter was written to his nursemaid from Marke, when he was 4, (with help) offering her a "kitt" (kiss) from "Charlie with the horn of hair." He often visited the coast as his family lived near Darlington.

  2. Fantastic, so he would have visited whilst there was still work being carried out. I'm certain i went as a child - what footsteps I followed in!

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Lewis Carroll is far from being a strong point of mine, but little glimpses of people's lives like that, and the thinnest threads that connect these people to us can often spark an affinity of sorts, and encourage more appreciation.

    I'll have a read about him now, I think.

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