When Joseph Pease first looked at the place called ‘Middlesbrugh’ (sic) on the banks of the River Tees, there stood only a farmhouse with a few outbuildings. Seven years earlier, the 1821 census had recorded five families comprising 40 persons living in four houses. The site had previously supported a small monastery attached to St. Hilda’s abbey at Whitby, because between 1094 - 1141, Robert de Brus II of Skelton Castle who controlled all the land between Yarm and Runswick Bay had given a ‘considerable’ amount of land for a church with a grant of 50/- (£2-50) to be distributed among the poor of ‘Midlesburg’.
In 1828 when Joseph Pease saw the land, he recorded in his diary he was ‘much pleased with the place altogether’. Joseph was a man who made things happen. A Quaker, born on 22 June 1799 into a wealthy family, he was educated at Tatum’s School in Leeds, then under the tutelage of Josiah Forster in Southgate, London. Still in his teens, his initiation into business was working up from the bottom in the wool factories at Darlington owned by his father, Edward Pease who also partnered George Stephenson in his engine factory at Walker, Newcastle, and was a board member of the Stockton & Darlington Railway where he earned himself the title ‘Father of the Railways’.
Given a stiff example to emulate, Joseph’s achievements would equal, if not surpass those of his father. At the age of 25 he became treasurer of the Stockton & Darlington Railway. He quickly acquired a reputation for giving sound advice, and under his scrutiny the dividends of 5% rose to 7% and more.
With the railway in need of expansion and a more convenient port necessary to export the harvest of the Durham coalfields, the company sought a site for a terminus on the lower Tees. Further up, the river was treacherous and almost unnavigable, only small craft of shallow draught capable of reaching Stockton and Yarm. The new port was to be called Port Darlington. In the face of heavy opposition from Stockton and Yarm industrialists, who knew a new port lower down the river would steal much of their business, it was Joseph Pease who became prime mover in lobbying parliament to grant the necessary Act for the Middlesbrough Railway Extension. He enlisted the aid of several peers, two of which he later named Middlesbrough streets after; Lords Dacre and Suffield.
Joseph saw all too well what the railway and Port Darlington would do for Middlesbrough and the coal industry. With his five sons and his brother Henry, he formed a company called Pease & Partners. They began to invest heavily in the Durham coalfields, beginning with St. Helens at Bishop Auckland, expanding rapidly until the company was the country’s largest coal owner. Several of Joseph’s friends had been watching progress at Middlesbrough with interest and when Joseph was offered Mr Chiltern’s estate for £30,000 they persuaded him to form The Owners of The Middlesbrough Estate, based on the purchase of 488 acres. Such was Joseph’s faith, he borrowed his share of the capital from his father-in-law, Joseph Gurney. Perhaps it was an indication of Gurney’s faith that he agreed to the loan.
The Owners laid out a 32 acre site, providing roads and drains, drawing up a building code to which purchasers of the plot had to adhere. In effect, The Owners acted much as the Council today, even to creating bye-laws for the inhabitants of the original town, north of the railway station, nowadays referred to as ‘over the border’.
Joseph Pease always kept his finger on Teesside’s pulse. By 1840 when Middlesbrough showed signs of stagnating, it was clearly in his interest as one of The Owners and as a director of Pease & Partners to attract alternative industry. The move he made was to offer Henry Bolckow and John Vaughan land on easy terms and give them letters of introduction when they started their iron business. Little did he know how productive that gesture would be.
It would boost Teesside’s population beyond comprehension.
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