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  Middlesbrough Dock Clocktower

Successive dock clocktowers have been prominent features of the Middlesbrough scene for most of the town's history. The town was originally developed by a small group of S&D investors, commonly known as the Middlesbrough Owners (a private partnership formally entitled Owners of the Middlesbrough Estate). At first, the S&D shipped coal from riverside drops but by 1840 they were keen to overcome the tidal restrictions of the Tees by building an enclosed dock. Due to limitations on the company's powers, this was carried out by the Middlesbrough Owners, and the dock opened in 1842. (formal opening 12 May) An Act of 1849 enabled the S&D to absorb its various satellite railway companies and also vested in them the ownership of Middlesbrough Dock.

The first dock clocktower was built near the entrance lock in about 1846-7. Designed by the S&D architect, John Middleton, it was a modest, tapering stone tower with an external gallery just below the clock stage. Nearby were a group of cottages and the dock offices.

The burgeoning coal trade and the increasing size of ships meant that Middlesbrough Dock underwent three remodelling and enlargement schemes during its first sixty years. The first (1869-74) entailed the demolition of the dock offices, the latter being replaced by a gothic two-storey building by William Peachey, the NER Darlington Section architect. The second (1878-86) left these buildings unscathed. The third (1897-1902) involved quite drastic changes, including a resiting of the dock entrance further east. A new clocktower and offices were therefore required. At the end of all this, the dock had grown from the 9 acres (3.6 hectares) of 1842 to 25½ (10.3h). No further expansion took place prior to its closure in 1980, when the entrance lock was opened and it became a tidal basin. Partially filled in on the west side, the dock now forms an attractive water feature, overlooked by the second clocktower and the town's football stadium.

The final phase in the expansion of the dock also included filling in an area of water on the north side to provide more siding accommodation for coal wagons, and the new clocktower was built adjacent to this on the northern corner of the former dock edge. One may question why the NER felt the need to engage in what seems like an expensive gesture, but in reality much of the tower was a functional building, housing a hydraulic accumulator to provide power for operating such things as the lock gates. This comprises a pair of vertical iron cylinders, into which water was pumped and maintained at a steady pressure by a weighted piston.

The tower was designed by the NER Architect's Department, under William Bell, and the building contract was let in October 1903. The costs divided into £805 for the accumulator house (excluding tanks and machinery) and £542 for the upper tower and clock. The building contractors were Thomas Dickinson & Son, of West Hartlepool, while the clock was provided by Potts of Leeds, the NER's usual suppliers. The lower part of the structure reads as an elegant but essentially functional design, while the clock stage of the upper tower can be thought of as a very simplified version of the one at Bell's Darlington Bank Top Station. (1887). The NER directors were evidently pleased with the effect created by the Middlesbrough tower for the idea was revisited in 1908, when a similar structure was built at the Riverside Quay alongside Hull's Albert Dock. As that was a passenger terminal (for steamers to the Continent) a more flamboyant design was employed, with a clock stage anticipating the tower at Whitley Bay Station (1911). Hull's tower was demolished during post-war reconstruction of the quay but Middlesbrough's remains a proud landmark.

Bell's replacement dock offices were built in 1901. They presented a four-storey frontage in red brick and terracotta to Dock Street, displaying an eclectic mix of motifs: the dormers and roof treatment gave a French flavour while the current fashion for the Jacobean revival showed through in features like the bulgy colonettes dividing the tripartite windows to either end of the ground floor. The plan was simple and functional, with offices along the front and spine corridors behind, well-lit through the rear wall. The extensive terra-cotta work came from the NER's usual suppliers, the Leeds Fireclay Company (Burmantofts), and at £950 accounted for about 10% of the total building cost. At nationalisation, the dock and railways were divorced and the office building was eventually demolished.






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© W. Fawcett, 2011