Tosh Warwick – Cities Revisited: Heritage, History and Regeneration of the ‘Infant Hercules’

Tosh Warwick (Tees Transporter Bridge / University of Huddersfield)

Middlesbrough 1860 showing the ironworks that gained the town the 'Ironopolis' nickname

In 1862 Middlesbrough was heralded by future Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone as a ‘remarkable place, the youngest child of England’s enterprise…an infant Hercules’.[i]  In under a century the town expanded from a tiny hamlet of only 25 inhabitants in 1801 to one exceeding 90,000 by 1901 and approaching 140,000 thirty years later, becoming one of the manufacturing centres of Britain and dubbed ‘Ironopolis’.   Such is Middlesbrough’s importance in Victorian urban history that Asa Briggs included ’Middlesbrough: The Growth of a New Community’ in his landmark Victorian Cities ‘not only on the grounds of its distinctiveness but also because the story of its rise and the economic and social vicissitudes that it underwent then and subsequently is interesting in itself’.[ii] In doing so Briggs chartered the Victorian ideals and progress embodied in the evolution of Middlesbrough, the centrality of the ironmasters in facilitating its boom and the changes in the late Victorian period that brought a decline in their influence, the rise of steel manufacture, limited liability companies, the abandonment of the early Quaker founders grid-pattern vision amidst the advancement of intricate and complex economic, political and social maturity.

Given the vital place of Middlesbrough in Briggs’ collection, it is fitting that the town plays host to the forthcoming conference Victorian Cities Revisited: Heritage and History in October. A joint initiative between the £2.6m Heritage Lottery Fund supported Tees Transporter Bridge Visitor Experience Project and the University of Huddersfield (winner of the Times Higher Education University of the Year accolade), the conference brings together a host of leading academics, heritage professionals, early career historians and postgraduates to provide a forum revisiting debates surrounding Victorian cities in the past, present and future.

Keynotes include Professor Barry Doyle reassessing health in Victorian Middlesbrough, Professor Bob Morris considering the role of place and memory in the industrial city, and Professor Sir Rick Trainor revisiting debates on nineteenth century urban elites, together with the Victorian Society’s Saving a Century exhibition which will be displayed in Teesside for the first time.  Other topics to be explored cover a wide range of historic debates ranging from studies of mapping urban space, emulation of aspects of a Victorian city in Dadaocheng, mental health in London to the child in nineteenth century Melbourne – all alongside papers considering Middlesbrough’s Victorian history.  The heritage agenda and portrayals of the Victorian period too is very much addressed with papers on the contentions of preserving the Saltaire UNESCO World Heritage site, the heritage-led CU@Swansea regeneration project and Bradford’s Victorian legacy through the television camera’s lens.

Victorian Cities Revisited provides delegates with the opportunity to explore not only the history of urban developments in the nineteenth century, but also the continued role they play in education, learning, heritage and regeneration of the ‘Infant Hercules’ in the twenty-first century. The place of Victorian Middlesbrough in recent, large scale heritage and regeneration programmes, including several multi-million schemes, make this conference timely and relevant in informing future developments in the town and elsewhere.

The conference lead organising body, the HLFsupported Tees Transporter Bridge Visitor Experience Project, is at the very heart of the

Tees Transporter Bridge was opened in 1911 but was first discussed in 1870s as a way of linking the town of Middlesbrough with Port Clarence. The ongoing HLF project is lead organiser of the conference.

extensive regeneration of Middlehaven – the name given to the ‘old town’ and early industrial area where the first houses, institutions and works emerged along the south bank of the ‘steel river’. It is now the key area of focus for regeneration in the town.  Although the Transporter Bridge was only completed in 1911, the concept and initial proposals were developed in the midst of the area’s industrial boom in the early 1870s.  The Bridge was an elaborate solution to transporting workers by a suspended gondola across the Tees to the factories, foundries and furnaces along the river without hindering the shipments of local iron and steel to be used across the globe.  As well as extensive work to improvement work to the structure, the HLF project will see the development of new heritage interpretation and education resources, including the new Tees Transporter Trail marking and contextualising the surviving buildings and sites dating back to the Victorian period.

The wider Middlehaven development has seen the dilapidated Custom House, situated in close proximity to the landmark structure, transformed into a £4.3m state-of-the-art youth facility. In recent months moves have commenced exploring how the neighbouring Old Town Hall – made famous by Lowry’s 1959 depiction – might form part of this Victorian centred regeneration. Middlesbrough’s Albert Park – donated by Victorian ironmaster Henry Bolckow – and Stewart Park (site of the ironmaster’s country house) too have benefited from Lottery support since the turn of the century.  Similarly, Middlesbrough Dock, dating back to 1842, has been transformed from a derelict industrial complex by the construction of Middlesbrough College. The £2.7m Temenos modern art installation by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond and the Manhattan Gate development will be a fitting venue for the Conference Dinner by showcasing Middlesbrough’s past and future.

Middlesbrough Town Hall, seen here in 1889 at its official opening will be the host venue for the Victorian Cities Revisited Conference.

The Middlesbrough Town Hall Grade II* listed conference venue, opened in 1899, is also seeking support from the Heritage Lottery Fund to embark on extensive improvements and outreach activities.  Such funding would help ensure that the iconic building maximises its links to the ‘boom town’ whilst reinventing itself as a twenty first century entertainment, education and visitor hub.

In addition the conference’s field trip venues of Teesside Archives and the Dorman Museum have recently benefited from a renewed zeal for the area’s Victorian heritage. The British Steel Archive Project at the Archives has explored the iron and steel history of the town, whilst Christopher Dresser Collection has brought the creations of the ‘father of modern design’ to the town’s museum in the form of the world’s largest exhibition of Dresser work.

Victorian Cities Revisited thus provides not only an opportunity to consider at the legacy of Briggs on understandings of the nineteenth century, but also looks to the Victorian period’s lasting influence on towns and cities across the globe both today and in future developments.


Bookings for the conference can be made until 30 September 2014 by visiting  For those unable to book online before the closing date please email

For more information on the £2.6m Heritage Lottery Fund supported Tees Transporter Bridge Visitor Experience Project visit, ‘Like’ the Bridge on Facebook at or follow us on Twitter @teestransporter.


About the Author:

Tosh Warwick  is currently completing a PhD on ‘Middlesbrough’s Steel Magnates: Culture, Politics and Participation, 1880-1934’, has written several articles on Middlesbrough’s industrial history and is author of ‘Central Middlesbrough Through Time’ (Amberley: 2013). He is currently the Tees Transporter Bridge Education & Education Officer having previously worked as part-time History Lecturer and Research Assistant at the University of Huddersfield, and as Editorial Assistant on the North American Journal of Welsh Studies.  He is currently a Convenor of the ‘Spaces and Places’ strand of the Social History Society Annual Conference and part of the Urban History Group’s New Researchers Committee.

[i] Daily News (Middlesbrough), 11 October 1862

[ii] William Lillie, The History of Middlesbrough: An Illustration of the Evolution of English Industry (Middlesbrough:,1968), p.473-474’; Asa Briggs, Victorian Cities (London: 1963), pp.241-276; Briggs, ‘Foreword’ in A.J. Pollard, Middlesbrough: Town and Community 1830-1950 (Stroud: 1996), p.ix

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