What used to be Marston Road, Portrack sketch

t14247This rough sketch gives a fairly good idea of what the area between Portrack Lane and the River Tees Looked like up to about 1965. The location is from the bottom of Stoney Road, which ran alongside the Billingham Branch Line. I am not certain how Marston Road coincides with Stoney Road.

Stoney Road was no more than a roughly cobbled lane that began just to the Portrack side of the bridge over the branch line. The road would have been built after the “Portrack Loop” of the River Tees was cut off in the 1820s. Filling in this bit of the loop would have helped it to silt up, although up to 1960 there was still a lake full of bullrushes on the Portrack side of the Road.

On reaching the gate, to the right there was a public footpath, raised above the surrounding farm land, curving its way down to the river. I have a feeling that it may have followed a dyke, built to protect the farm land from the original River Tees. This land, of course, would have once been on the Middlesbrough side of the river. The building beyond the farm gate, in the distance, is a dutch barn. The farming in this area, that is on the south side of the original River Tees loop, seemed to specialise in barley and wheat. The soil would have been more silty than most of the clay on which Stockton was built.

In my childhood this was a most delightful walk, that began by turning off an almost deserted Portrack Lane. In the late spring there was the scent of wild roses which grew on the high bank on the right hand side of Stoney Road. And on reaching the farm gate there were acres of barley and wheat stretching into the far distance. On the railway side of the fences there was the inevitable fire weed. If one was lucky there would be a steam engine on the branch. And if one was even more lucky, a railway siding fire from sparks from the locomotive

Sketch and details courtesy of Fred Starr.

3 thoughts on “What used to be Marston Road, Portrack sketch

  1. So interesting and well-written recollection of your memories Fred! Awesome sketch too, really enjoyed reading thank you. It’s nice to read something positive about it… I have bad memories of the Corporation bus accident I was involved in during construction at Portrack roundabout.


    • Carole, sorry to hear about your bus accident. Hope it was not serious. I think the roundabout was built in the early 80s, and was a surprise to me when I saw it. Maybe it surprised the bus driver, too!

      The sketch only gives an impression of what Stoney Road was like. It was drawn from memory and I don’t think it would be possible to see the towers of the Newport Bridge in this view. Stoney Road has been built over and is now part of a car park, as it was to the right hand side of the Billingham Branch line. Marston Road itself has been built on top of the railway, which went under a reinforced concrete bridge that carried the old Portrack Lane.

      What makes up the remainder of the car park, was once a large grassy field between the top of Stoney Road and the Malleable Works. It must have been used for the grazing of animals, not crops. I set fire to it once, by accident, when a camp fire we had built got out of control. I expect the steam locos got blamed. They were always causing trackside fires.

      The eastern section of the northern loop of the old River Tees had formed a sort of marsh, and just touched the bottom of the grassy field. The marsh seemed quite shallow and was reasonably safe to walk on. It was covered with tall yellow bull rushes, each with a huge thick brown head, nearly a foot long. But it smelt like a bad lavatory. The bull rushes may have been planted deliberately to purify sewage coming from the Malleable.

      This whole area has changed. Even what is called “Portrack Marsh” seems to be a recent man-made creation. In my time this was farm land, although much of it was in the bed of the old River Tees. But it is sad that this whole area, between Stockton, Thornaby, Billingham and Middlesbrough, which one formed “the lungs of Teesside” has disappeared.


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