|A perambulation in Ironopolis
||[Mar. 15th, 2015|10:14 pm]
We celebrated durham_rambler's birthday on Thursday by going out for the day. Usually this would mean a lot of dithering and "No, what would you like to do?" but for once durham_rambler was decisive: he wanted lunch at the Vane Arms in Thorpe Thewles, but before that, he wanted to go to Middlesbrough, crossing the Tees on the newly reopened Transporter Bridge, and follow the 'perambulation' described in his (late '60s) copy of Pevsner.
The drive down was enlivened by finding ourselves in the middle of what looked like a police operation: not far ahead of us, two police cars, lights flashing, were driving slowly side by side, forming a mobile road block. After a while, durham_rambler spotted another set of lights behind us, and pulled over to let the vehicle through - but what whizzed past us was a grey car, with the police car whose lights we had seen in hot pursuit. All four cars moved off together, and at first we thought the grey car had been stopped, and we were in for a long delay while an offender was charged and removed, but they vanished without a trace. Later we began to think what we had seen was not a genuine police chase but a practice run, a training exercise (especially when, on our way home, we saw what looked very like that grey car, lights flashing, parked on the slip road).
We crossed on the Transporter Bridge ("Without any doubt the most impressive building in Middlesbrough", Pevsner) and parked by the Customs House: from one side, dignified 1840s classical, with Doric columns framing a massive doorway; from the other a glass box containing "a World Class Youth Facility" which is myplace Middlesbrough. Across the road from it, this:
We set off in the other direction. We had a map, a nineteenth century plan of the town which durham_rambler had printed off from the internet: it showed a neat square of streets radiating from the Town Hall in the Market Place, where our perambulation started. All gone: the Town Hall stands alone and boarded up, in a paved square surrounded by wide grassy spaces. It made me think of those building blocks you used to see, simple shapes but painted with enough architectural detail that you could combine them into your own townscape. Here was a rectangular block, or perhaps two, for the body of the building, and a tall one for the cloch tower:
On the fringes of the grass are the houses that were just being built when Pevsner wrote his description, but they, too, are now boarded up and abandoned. Far ahead of us were new offices, with their colourful panelling. I had anticipated that much of the old town would be gone, but I had thought we'd be walking between modern office blocks, not through these empty spaces.
Eventually we reached a building: it looked like an office block, but it claimed to be the Python Gallery, open to the public, so we went in. And it was indeed an office block, but to one side of the reception area was a gallery space (and within it, a café, very closed) currently showing the work of Karen Walland. For a one-person show it was curiously disparate: some interesting cast and fused glass, some assemblages of driftwood with pebbles and glass, some photographs screen-printed onto table linen, found objects and so forth.
Once we left the gallery, I began to recognise things - specifically, I recognised the National Provincial Bank building, now 'Boho Four' whatever that may be (desirable office space to let in a regeneration scheme):
This was where we had walked on our visit to Middlesbrough for Heritage Open Weekend in (good grief!) 2008. But we took a side street to admire some fancy brickwork, past a brightly coloured hoarding behind which something is being torn down and regenerated, and found ourselves in a wide roadway running alongside the embankment od the railway line. On the retaining wall, large white lettering: Where alchemists were born, below Cleveland's hills... What? And there's a credit to poet Ian Horn, which makes it easy to search out this story. It didn't necessarily turn out exactly as planned (or maybe hasn't yet) but here's the poem in full:
Where alchemists I like it better than most redevelopment poetry.
Below Cleveland’s hills
A giant blue dragonfly
Across the Tees
Reminds us every night
We built the world,
Back to where the older buildings survive, I liked this square:
Pity that it's sliced through by the flyover. Better still is the building opposite the station car park (closed for 'necessary repair'), built by Philip Webb, once the offices of Dorman Long. I couldn't get far enough away to take a picture that satisfied me, so here's someone else's picture. And. speaking of other people's photos, there's a great collection here. And just one more from me, my farewell to Middlesbrough: