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The Ironmasters and New Nunthorpe

by Eric Bailey 

The Industrial Revolution came to Nunthorpe in the early 1850’s with the opening of the Middlesbrough/Guisborough Railway in 1853 (which was built to carry ironstone from Joseph Pease’s mine at Cod Hill, Hutton Lowcross to the works of Gilkes, Wilson and Leatham) and the arrival at Nunthorpe Hall in 1850 of Isaac Wilson who was possibly Cleveland’s greatest entrepreneur.

 Isaac Wilson was related to the Pease family and had come to Middlesbrough in 1841 to manage the pottery in Commercial Street. Shortly afterwards he joined Edward Gilkes in partnership to form the Tees Engine Works. The works carried on until 1865 when they were merged into a larger concern known as Hopkins, Gilkes & Co. Later he was interested in the blast furnace operated by Wilson, Pease & Co at Cargo Fleet.

 Some five years after his arrival Mr. Wilson built the first school in Nunthorpe at the north-west end of the village and was largely responsible for its upkeep. 

In 1854 he became Mayor of Middlesbrough and Member of Parliament for the town after the death in 1878 of H.W.F. Bolckow.

 Hopkins, one of his partners in Hopkins, Gilkes & Co., became his neighbour when he built ‘Grey Towers’ on the opposite side of the village in 1865. Bradshaw’s Railway Guide for 1869 shows that both Wilson and Hopkins were also among the Directors of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. 

After the death of Isaac Wilson in 1859 the Hall was occupied by Joseph Albert Pease M.P.  Although he and his family remained in residence for only a short period the family crest was carved and inset in the porches above the main and south entrances where they can still be seen today. Up until 1939 the Hall had passed through various hands and at one time even stood empty. After the war it was used as a Maternity Home for a period and at the present time it is in use as a residential home for senior citizens.

 William Randolph Innes Hopkins had come to Middlesbrough in 1850 to manage a patent fuel works, then in 1853 with a Mr Snowden he had started the Teesside Ironworks which formed the other half of Hopkins, Gilkes & Co.

 A member of the Tees Conservancy and Middlesbrough Town Council from 1863 to 1874, he was elected Mayor in 1867 for two years running and in 1868 had the honour of being the chief civic dignitary to receive Prince Arthur at the opening of the Albert Park. 

Mr. Hopkins carried his political career further by standing as Conservative candidate in the Parliamentary election of 1874. However he received only 996 votes. His opponents were Henry Bolckow who polled 3,719 and John Kane who polled 1,541 votes. 

William Hopkins was married twice. First to a sister of Henry Bolckow and secondly to Miss Everald Catherine Elizabeth Hustler of Acklam Hall. The marriage to Miss Hustler took place on 21st July 1864, at St Mary’s Church Acklam. It was a lavish affair with an archway of Sweet William flowers from the church to the Hall garden wall and the Hopkins, Gilkes & Co. brass band played on the lawn. The bells of St. Hilda’s Church, Middlesbrough, were rung and the ringers were given a celebration dinner at the Baltic Tavern in Commercial Street. Flags were flown on the public buildings and on Hopkins Iron Works where miniature cannons were fired throughout the day. On the wedding afternoon the Mayor and the whole Corporation had wine and dessert at the Town Hall. 

Among the wedding gifts was a candelabra of solid silver given by the tenantry of Acklam Hall Estate. This was about three feet high, contained six branches and was surmounted by a vase. 

But by 1879 Hopkin’s life of luxury seemed to subside. He had evidently fallen on hard times and at one stage he offered ‘Grey Towers’ with 390 acres for sale by auction at the King’s Head Hotel, Darlington. The ‘Sale’ however, never took place, the lot being withdrawn at £30,000. 

His company had supplied the ironwork for the Tay Bridge and following the disastrous collapse of the Bridge in 1879 and the accompanying inquiry, they went into liquidation in the early part of 1880. 

The mortgage was eventually taken up by his brother-in-law Hustler of Acklam, who let the property to Sir Raylton Dixon for a time, and later sold it to Mr. A.J. Dorman. 

Arthur Dorman was born in Ashford, Kent. He was educated at Christ’s College and was sent to work at a small ironworks in Thornaby, in which a distant relative was a partner. He worked at first on the puddling furnaces and his early duties included fetching beer for the puddlers. At 27 he went into partnership with Albert de Lange Long and they purchased the West Marsh Works from Sir Bernard Samuelson, for the manufacture of iron bars and angles. Requiring further production they leased Samuelson’s Brittania Works in 1879, purchased them in 1882 and later, in 1886 commenced the manufacture of steel. In 1890 they commenced the fabrication of simple fabricated steelwork and it was from this beginning that the name of Dorman Long spread across the world. In 1902 Bell Brothers (whose offices in Zetland Road, Middlesbrough, are at the present time the subject of a preservation order) and Dorman Long merged in 1929 they absorbed Bolckow, Vaughan & Co. together with their structural subsiduary, Redpath, Brown & Co. 

Arthur Dorman was a member of Middlesbrough Council from 1880 to 1882. He had three sons and three daughters. One of his sons, Lt.G.L. Dorman was killed in the Boer War, while serving with the Green Howards and in 1901 as  a memorial to his he offered to provide a Natural History Museum. The museum was opened in 1904 and later in that year he was honoured with the Freedom of the City. 

Arthur Dorman provided Nunthorpe in 1903 with a new school and schoolhouse, in what is now known as Church Lane, the old school in the village built some 50 years previously having become inadequate to meet the needs of the expanding population in the area around the station. This new school continued in use until 1960 when it was replaced by The Avenue school. 

Dorman had strong views on the visual aspect of Nunthorpe and would not allow any shops of a conventional appearance, which meant that such shops as there were had no display windows or external fascias, and as such were reduced to being little more than the front rooms of private houses, adapted for such purposes. 

He even specified that only slate was to be used on the roofs of newly built properties, as opposed to tiles.

 Arthur Dorman was knighted in 1918 and became a Baronet in 1923. 

He was a keen Churchman and it was largely as a result of his efforts that the Church of St, Mary’s was built. Sir Arthur died on the 14th February, 1931. 

In October, 1931, in the midst of the world depression in trade, his home ”Grey Towers”, together with 77 acres  of parkland was purchased by a syndicate of buyers for only £4,500. 

In December, 1931, Alderman T.G.Poole, a Middlesbrough jeweller, purchased the house and land for £7,000, presenting them to Middlesbrough for use as a Sanatorium for Tuberculosis sufferers. 

The house was converted for use as a hospital and it was opened by Mrs. Poole on the 22nd June, 1932, with accomodation for 35 adults and 15 children. In 1934 the hospital was visited by Princess Mary. 

As a result of discussions between Middlesbrough, Darlington, Gateshead, South Shields, Sunderland and West Hartlepool to consider the joint use of the hospital, a committee called “The Poole Joint Sanatorium Committee” was set up and following the success of the negotiations the Poole Joint Sanatorium Board was formed in 1936. Grey Towers was used as an administrative office and new buildings were to be built. The foundation stones for the new buildings were laid on the 19th October, 1938, one by Lady Poole and the other by Alderman J. Cohen. The hospital was closed for a time and the first patients admitted to the new hospital on the 1st may, 1942.

The official opening was delayed, due to the war and was carried out by H.R.H. The Duchess of Kent on the 6th October, 1945. The children’s block was opened on the 6th May, 1947. 

New Nunthorpe

By the outbreak of war in 1939 Nunthorpe had grown from a small agricultural village to an established dormitory suburb of Middlesbrough, and it was in this capacity that Nunthorpe was to see its subsequent development in the post-war years. 

Houses were built to the east side of the railway for the first time and development continued on the west side to such an extent that the villages of Marton and Nunthorpe have become almost one. 

The first ‘unofficial’ shops in the area around the station were Fosters at 17, Marton Road and Prince’s at 12, Rookwood Road. Access to these ‘shops’ being through their back doors in accordance with Sir Arthur Dorman’s stipulation. 

The shop in Rookwood Road at present occupied by Mr Paul Nugent was opened by Wilsons in 1932 and taken over by the Ward family in 1933 who served Nunthorpe for forty years until 1973 when it was taken over Mills Newsagency and then by Mr Nugent. 

A Post Office and Grocery shop was opened on the site of the present Spar shop in 1932 with a Chemist shop next door which later became a Greengrocer’s in 1935. 

The first Post Office had been opened in the old village in 1879, prior to that one had to go to Great Ayton to post a letter, and for many years had been run by Mrs. Helm. This business however was transferred to the Parade office after having run concurrently until the mid-sixties.

 The garage opposite the Parade was first opened in 1926 and many photographs of its transformation hung on the wall inside the front office.

 The magnificent Church Hall of St. Mary’s in Morton Carr Lane was built in 1967 and inside the front porch are dedicating plaques to the Brunton family and Terence Medd. The Hall performs a wide variety of functions for parishioners including a day nursery and as a well attended base for the Nunthorpe Players. 

No story of Nunthorpe would be complete without reference to “The Institute” in Connaught Road which had started life as an army hut in the First World War in what is now Stewart Park. Re-erected in Nunthorpe in 1920 it has over the years been used for every kind of communal activity and at one time formed the very hub of the village social life.

June 1976


The Ironmasters of Nunthorpe

Isaac Wilson -  Ironmaster

                                Director of the Stockton and Darlington Railway

                                Born in Kendal into a Quaker family in 1822 

                                Bought Nunthorpe Hall in 1850.Died at Hall 1899.

                                Built first School in Nunthorpe.

                                Became Mayor of Middlesbrough .

                                Became Liberal MP 1878.

John George Swann  - Ironmaster.

                                Born in Longbenton ,Newcastle on Tyne in 1839.

                                Built Upsall Hall. 

                                Built Cargo Fleet Iron Works.


William Randolph Innes Hopkins – Ironmaster.

                    Director of Stockton and Darlington Railway

                                Born Scotland 1822

                                Mayor of Middlesbrough 1867 and 1869.

                                Built Grey Towers in 1865.

                                Bankrupted after the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879.


Sir Arthur Dorman - Co- founder of Dorman Long Steel Works.

                                                               Born Ashford Kent 1848

     Lived in Grey Towers 1895 -1931.

     Greatest influence on Nunthorpe of all Ironmasters.

      Built new school near to Vicarage

      Gave land and huge financial support for new St Mary’s  Church.

      Planned a new suburb near station to house his workforce.





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