Widening of Church Row c1934

t492Extracts from Council Minutes – Church Row Sub Commitee 1934-1935…

’Commencement of work on Church Row. Work was commenced on Monday the 10th instance and proceeding at present in the Churchyard. The footpath is being moved and material excavated to the New Road level. Any remains met with will be removed to Durham Cemetery with proper care and reverence. The arrangements are to be made for the work being commenced upon the Potrack side of the Road on the land known as Robsons Land as soon as possible, notice being given to any tenant of any part thereof terminating the tenancy. The shrubs in the cattle market are being moved preparatory to commence work there in the New Year. Arrangements are also being made to commence work at the other end of The Scheme early in the New Year so that proper entry can be made to the Railway Land. There were 8 tenders submitted for approx 2000 tons of cement. The tender from Industrial Chemicals Industry Ltd of Billingham to supply 2000 tons of Rapid Hardening Portland Cement for the sum of £4387 10s 0d being at the rate of £2 5s 0d per ton less 2% discount. Subject to a contract being entered into in terms to the satisfaction of the council. The number of men employed at present apart form the Foreman and Timekeeper is 17. It is proposed to treat the labour on the Church Row Scheme as nearly as possible the same as the Unemployment Relief Schemes carried out in the past. Whenever possible men will be changed every eight weeks and apart from Christmas Day and Sundays they will be given the opportunity of working at ordinary rates (by ballot) on all other holidays.’

6 thoughts on “Widening of Church Row c1934

  1. Much appreciate the information about the mill near where Portrack Lane crossed the North Shore Branch Line. I think it was David Gibson who pointed out that although the Clarence Railway was a financial failure, the existence of the North Shore Branch led to a large number of companies being set up along its length. These would have included the mill.

    On the OS maps there seems to have been a complex of buildings around the mill and there was actually a Mill Street coming off Browns Street.

    But this gives rise to an important question. What was powering the mill? It might have been horse driven, but steam was coming in for the driving of mills in the 19th century. I tend to discount a windmill as the shape was wrong and the mills position at the bottom of a slope is wrong.

    The problems with steam is that there appears to be no natural supply of water nearby. This would have been, however, a problem shared by the other factories nearby, notably the iron works. Even if they were just remelting iron in a cupula for making castings out of cast iron, a steam engine would have been needed for blowing air into the cupula.

    I find it a bit difficult to believe that the mill or ironworks was using what was called a gas engine, but it would not be wise to rule this out completely. Power Gas at Bowesfield was one of the most important manufactures of such engines and any company that could make a steam engine could make a gas engine. The gas was supplied by blowing air through a small coke filled gasifier. They were ideal for companies that needed power only occasionally..

    Robson’s land might, originally have taken the area where the Malleable stood, effectively all the way down from Portrack Lane to the river..


  2. Ben Brown asked about the use of puddlers clay to stop a leak. This is clay which has been dampened with water, which then after being worked, often by men treading the mass, starts to resemble something like brown plastercine. In this condition it becomes impervious to the flow of water and is therefore used to line the inside of canals or to form the core of embankments surrounding water reservoirs.

    However it doesn’t have any strength and cannot be used structurally. If it cracks the water will just flow through the crack gradually eroding the clay, until , in the case of a reservoir, there would be a disaster.

    I would guess to deal with a water leakage in Church Road, the men would dig down to find the source of the leak, and if it was just seepage try to plug it with puddlers clay. This would then need to be covered with hard core and concrete. If it was a real flow, pumps would be brought in to drain the leak.


  3. I never knew it by this name, but Robson’s land was probably the area between the extension of the granite-set path at the back of Hill Street East, and the Malleable Steelworks and Fred Kidd and Sons factory. This section of the Hill Street East was just a cinder track and was on the south side of the old Portrack Workhouse and ran down to the North Shore branch line, joining up with Clarence Row.
    The area can be clearly seen in the Britain from Above Series in a picture taken in 1932. Image Reference EPW038901
    I remember it in the years just after WWII when the Church Road extension had been built. At that time it was an almost perfectly flat meadow, which I would guess was periodically cropped for hay. There were fairly steep banks down to the Church Road pavements. The road itself was even deeper to give headway under the tunnel.
    On the other side of Church Road, just before the bend, towards the Malleable, there was a row of quite modern, 1930s houses. It appears from old OS maps, that part of this area had been dug out for clay. As did many other spots in Stockton.
    One of my first recollections, of Robson’s Land, when I was about seven, around 1949, was that of a young man who had built quite an impressive rubber motor powered model biplane, which he attempted to fly over the field. It wasn’t very successful and his efforts were thwarted by the inevitable group of kids who were running round him and the aircraft. He was terrified that we would crash into the model and wreck it.


    • Fred! Many thanks for your information about the whereabouts of “Robson’s Land” in Portrack, it is very much appreciated! Last year my wife’s Uncle, Dennis Robson, came over from Australia, where he had emigrated to in the mid nineteen sixties. He was born in Hume Street 85 years ago. One day whilst reminiscing, he told us that his Fathers Brother, James Robson, had owned land and a mill in Portrack and a wharf or jetty on the river. After failing to find any information about this on the Internet I came to the conclusion that the Mill may well have been the old building that is still standing near to where the rail crossing used to be on Maritime Road, now used as a car dealership and other businesses. I recall that in my youth this building used to trade in the sale of farm and animal food stuffs?
      I took Dennis to visit this building, but I believe he was not convinced that this was the Mill building he had expected to find. I think he had expected to see proof that the building had once had sails or some other sort of flour grinding device? As for “Robson’s Land” he presumed this would have adjoined the Mill building at some earlier date. Dennis states that when he was doing his National Service in 1953/54, he recalls seeing a notice in a newspaper from a firm of Stockton solicitors seeking the descendants of “Robson’s Land” but didn’t do anything about it as he was not next of kin. If Uncle James family did not respond to the solicitors notice it is assumed that the land may have been relinquished to the government? It is known that the Robson brothers were known salmon fishermen, who owned a boat and who sold their catch on a stall on Stockton market. I have been able to copy a number of pictures from the Britain from Above Series and have sent them, along with your information about the land, to Dennis Robson in Australia and can assure you he will be thrilled to receive it!
      Thank you once again for your input into this subject.


  4. I remember my father telling me that he worked on this project and that they had had trouble with water seeping into the concrete and stopping the cement from drying out, and that he had suggested to his Foreman that Puddlers Clay may help with this problem, I am not sure how this would work but maybe we have a Concrete expert out there who could enlighten us. Looking at the photograph it is obvious that the lower part of the road where the overpass would be is a low point and maybe this was the problem.


  5. I know it’s asking a lot but is there anyone out there that’s familiar with the land referred to in the text to this picture as Robson’s Land? Can anyone describe to me exactly where it was? I ask this question because I am told that my wife’s relatives used to own a jetty on the river many many years ago and wonder if it was adjoining, or was entered from, this particular plot of land?


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