Chris Scott Wilson                   Writer                                             

©2010 C.J.S.Wilson

The South Gare


The tip of the South Gare from the River Tees.

Much of the stone here is black, betraying

 its ironworks origins

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and the occasional stoat or weasel giving chase can be seen,  although foxes are far more common. It is interesting to note the area of Redcar Golf course and the site of the now mostly demolished Warrenby was originally known as the Rabbit Warren, then Warren town, hence the village's later name.

     While wildlife flourished at the river mouth, each year brought increased hazards to the mariners who sailed upriver to Portrick (Portrack), Stockton and Yarm. Although Stockton lay only thirteen miles inland, outward bound ships could often take the best part of a week to reach the open sea. In 1762 at low water, the depth at the bar (where the river meets the sea) was only seven feet. The main channel, only a few hundred feet wide, ran between treacherous shoals which the wind altered and which caused strong currents around the headlands. Once inside the river, captains were reliant on pilots' skill and a fair wind. Caught in the narrow channel, it was often difficult to tack and not unusual for vessels to drop anchor and wait for the wind to change.

     Above Portrack the Tees narrowed. Tight bends where silt built up were arduous to negotiate, men and horses frequently hired to tow ships upstream. This problem was aggravated by heavy winter rain causing flooding, or summer drought which narrowed channels impossibly. On one bend pilots had to drive the bows of the vessel into the soft mud of the river bank to enable the stern to be swung clear. Skippers on their first visit to the Tees viewed this manoeuvre with suspicion and in some cases absolute horror. As the river gradually worsened over the years, cargo bound for Stockton was often transferred to keel boats or pannier ponies for the remainder of the inland journey, especially produce that rotted quickly. Although merchants complained about the river's condition from an early date, even suggesting improvements, not until 1808 were positive steps taken. The Tees Navigation Company was formed and in 1809 began a programme of cuts and jetty building, but their progress was always hampered by lack of finance and difficulties of collecting dues.

     Stockton's hopes of becoming a major U.K. port diminished in 1828 when the board of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, encouraged by Joseph Pease, decided to extend their tracks to Middlesbrough Farm where they could build staithes to ship coal from the Durham collieries. Simultaneously, Joseph Pease formed a company called the Owners of The Middlesbrough Estate who bought an initial 488 acres on which to build a new town to house workers employed at the coal drops. The first decade of the new town's existence saw only a slow increase in population, but the opening of Bolckow & Vaughan's ironworks and the subsequent discovery of the Main Seam of Cleveland ironstone at Eston produced meteoric growth. This was reflected in the number of vessels using the River Tees.

     In 1851, dissatisfaction with the administration of the river led to the Stockton & Darlington Railway lobbying parliament to wrest control from the foundering Tees Navigation Company. This was achieved the following year and the new Tees Conservancy Commissioners made immediate plans for improvements. Within a year


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