top of page

John Vaughan


Gunnergate Hall

between Tollesby and Marton.

John Vaughan's later residence


High Lodge on Tollesby Lane

A reminder of Gunnergate Hall


Marton Hall in what is now Stewart Park.  Front elevation. The conservatory today is on the site of the original conservatory (at right)


Marton Hall - rear elevation.

By the 1950s, only one room was open,

a cafe on the left of the picture

Chris Scott Wilson                   Writer                                             

Almost impossible to separate, Henry Bolckow and John Vaughan were partners in business, married sisters, lived next door to each other, both served as mayor of Middlesbrough, both were magistrates, both sat on the Tees Conservancy Board, and were eventually buried side by side in Marton Churchyard. Yet, for men who worked so well together, they were complete opposites. Henry Bolckow's dexterity lay in the management of money while John Vaughan's skill was in his hands and handling men.

     Their backgrounds could not have been farther apart. Henry William Ferdinand Bolckow was born 8th December 1806, the son of a country gentleman in Sulten, a town in Mecklenburg, Germany at the same time as Napoleon was rampaging through Europe. At the age of 15 Henry worked for a corn merchant in Rostock. When his friend went to join a brother's firm, C. Allhusen & Co. in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Henry accepted their offer of a job and emigrated. After 12 years in England he had made a personal fortune of £50,000 on corn speculations.

     John Vaughan was born 21st December 1799 in Worcester, the son of an ironworker. He began his working life as a boy in a scrap mill observing all the processes of iron making, moving up until he was a ‘roller’ at the Dowlais works in South Wales. His promotion line exhausted, he left in 1825 to become manager at Carlisle ironworks where he met his first wife, Eleanor Downing. In 1832 he became manager at the newly opened Walker ironworks of Losh, Wilson & Bell. Eleanor died after bearing him 4 children, and while courting his second wife he became firm friends with her sister's suitor, Henry Bolckow.

     John Vaughan's knowledge of iron making must have been impressive, for totally ignorant of the subject, Henry Bolckow decided to invest his capital in a joint venture. Vaughan became acquainted with Joseph Pease in 1839 and he introduced Henry Bolckow at a meeting in Pilgrim Street, Newcastle. Representing the Owners of The Middlesbrough Estate, Joseph offered them six acres by the River Tees on easy terms. They visited the new town, Vaughan choosing a site close by deep water. After finalising the deal, he watched the piles driven, fear constantly nagging that they were making a costly mistake.

     Coal exporting and a small pottery were Middlesbrough's only industries when Bolckow & Vaughan's Vulcan Street Works opened in 1841. Consisting of a puddling furnace, a bar mill and a wagon-making shed, the works used Scottish pig iron to produce finished articles which slowly built them a reputation for craftsmanship. The first years were by no means easy. While Henry tackled the book-keeping, John took off his coat and laboured alongside his workmen who came to affectionately call him 'Jacky'. In later years when the company had swollen to a giant, their first customers were still given the same attention as more important clients.

     As the price of Scottish pig iron rose, Bolckow & Vaughan decided in 1846 to erect four blast furnaces. Vaughan's one big mistake was choosing Witton Park near Bishop Auckland for the site. The idea was to use ironstone which was a by-product of the ‘spoil’ i.e, the waste heaps from the Durham collieries. The lesson was that you get what you pay for – the ore proved inferior, necessitating the purchase of iron ore from Grosmont near Whitby. After transportation by sea to the Tees, rail to Witton Park for smelting, then rail back to Middlesbrough for finishing, production was costly.

     1847 was a particularly bleak year. Bolckow & Vaughan were sustained only by orders from the Stockton & Darlington Railway and by financial aid from Joseph Pease. Destiny had yet to show its hand. Only three years later John Vaughan was to make the discovery  that would make him and his partner millionaires.

     It was also to make Middlesbrough famous the world over.



Before John Vaughan's discovery, Cleveland ironstone had never been fully exploited. From 1745 J. Cookson's Whitehill blast furnace at Chester-le-Street had been using ironstone from Robin Hood's Bay, and the Tyne Iron Co. from 1800 used stone from the beaches between Saltburn and Whitby. The ironmasters regarded Cleveland ore as dubious, but welcome when available.

     In 1811 William Ward Jackson of Normanby Hall sent six cartloads of stone from Upsall for testing at Lemington and was told it was worthless, then a year later nobody would look at a seam opened by Thomas Jackson at Lackenby Bank. Later cheap Scottish 'Black Band' pig iron precluded the need for a local source until the Witton Park furnaces needed supplies close to home. Bolckow & Vaughan's first move was to buy Skinningrove mines which gave a better yield per ton than Whitby ore.

     Still seeking a cheaper alternative, Vaughan ordered trial drifts in Upleatham Hills but his mining engineer, John Marley, uncovered only the irregular top seam. Vaughan accepted Marley's advice that Eston Hills would be a better prospect. After a refusal by George Jackson for permission to survey his land, the two men walked the hills on 8 June 1850, starting on Lady Hewley's property. To the east on Sir J. H. Lowther's estate they found a naked wall of ironstone sixteen feet thick which could easily be followed. Vaughan wasted no time. On 13 August a trial drift was begun, then three weeks later the first seven tons of ore were run down a temporary tramway to the roadside, carted to Cargo Fleet then sent by rail to Witton Park. When the quality was proved he immediately negotiated royalty agreements with the landowners at 2d (0.8p) per ton, a hard bargain.

     The final solution to Bolckow & Vaughan's problems was building three the first three blast furnaces at Middlesbrough in 1832, quickly followed by six at Eston the next year, only two miles from the mines which were estimated to hold more ironstone than could ever be used. The company's subsequent growth was miraculous. They eventually owned Cleveland, Eston and Middlesbrough ironworks plus a steelworks at Manchester, hematite mines in Spain, Africa and Portugal plus a steamer line to ferry the ore, collieries as well as ironstone mines, farmed several thousand acres of land, made engines, wagons, firebricks and gas, even selling salt hit upon when boring for water at their Middlesbrough works. The fifteen years following the ironstone discovery saw the company's capital rise to £2½  million.

     Bolckow & Vaughan's example was not ignored. Within a year of Eston mines opening, other companies flooded the area, quickly buying up mineral rights and erecting blast furnaces until stacks bristled along both banks of the Tees. By 1865 there were 48 and by 1875 numbered 94. Using open tops, the sky over Teesside glowed red 24 hours a day.

     Middlesbrough expanded to house the incoming workers and their families, builders buying land from the Owners Of The Middlesbrough Estate who continued acquiring acreage further south, ready for future demand.

     In 1853 the town became incorporated, Henry Bolckow becoming first mayor and first president of the Chamber of Commerce. John Vaughan followed his footsteps into the mayor's chair in 1855 and later accepted the Deputy Lieutenancy of Yorkshire. Both men gave time to sit in the courts as magistrates and both were responsible for improvements made to the Tees as members of the Conservancy.

     When acting as mayor, John Vaughan said, “I think it will be allowed that I and my partner have contributed in some measure the welfare of the town and neighbourhood by the establishment of our works.”

     An understatement, but Bolckow and Vaughan were to give much more.



Since the early days, Henry Bolckow and John Vaughan had lived next door to each other in Cleveland Street, now part of Queens Square in the heart of Middlesbrough. But the ironstone discovery paid handsome dividends. Wealthy, they both moved out into the countryside at Marton, still next door to each other. When Albert Leatham died in 1858, Vaughan bought Gunnergate Hall just off Tollesby Lane, almost where the Parkway runs today, south of Tollesby Hall. The house was demolished shortly after World War II but High Lodge still remains at the Marton end of the lane.

    Earlier in 1853, Henry Bolckow bought Marton Hall from the Rev. J. A. Park. Originally built by Bartholomew Rudd of Marske after he bought the estate in 1786, the hall had been destroyed by fire in 1832. Bolckow took on the three year task of rebuilding it, his craftsmen paid 6d (2½ p)  per hour, Minnie Horton the Stockton historian tells us. Carrera marble was used for columns, balconies and staircases, while the hall's park was enlarged and landscaped, deer introduced to graze beneath the rare trees imported from all over the world.

     Where John Vaughan appreciated simple things, deriving most pleasure from his work, Henry Bolckow had finer taste. His art collection in the hall's gallery fetched £71,387 at Sotheby's after his death, a record for a one day sale. He also owned a large library. During cataloguing for auction in 1923, some of Captain Cook's original journals were found among the rare books, their discovery a relief to historians who feared them lost. He was also responsible for marking Cook's birthplace cottage site with a granite urn in 1867.

     Naturalised in 1868 Henry Bolckow seemed determined to repay the welcome given him by his adopted country. He established the miners' hospital at Eston and donated two thirds of the cost of the North Riding Infirmary which stood on Newport Road until recently. Appalled at the lack of education in the spreading town he gave £6,583 for St. Hilda's school to be built and also enlarged Captain Cook's Memorial School on the green at Marton. He also gave support to the Mechanic's Institute, often donating money and books before the advent of free libraries.

     His largest single gift to Middlesbrough was Albert Park, provided at a personal cost of £30,000. Named after Prince Albert who had died in 1861, the park was opened by Prince Arthur on 11th August 1868, the royal party later staying at Marton Hall. Indirectly, Henry Bolckow also provided Middlesbrough's other main park, although not the donor. In 1923 Councillor T. Dormand Stewart bought the 134 acre site at Marton for £25,000 and presented it to the town, naming it Stewart Park. The hall itself, after indecision as to its best use, fell into disrepair and after a fire in 1960 was demolished, a conservatory replacing it.

     In 1861 John Vaughan retired from the business to Skutterskelfe Hall near Stokesley, but his main pleasure had always been work. After being ordered to London in 1867 by his doctor, he died there on 16th September 1868, making a final journey north for burial at St. Cuthbert's church, Marton. His partner gone, Henry Bolckow still served the community. After his term as mayor in 1853 he remained a councillor until 1856, then as a Liberal was elected Middlesbrough's first Member of Parliament in 1868. Ten years later while in Ramsgate he died on 18th  June. He too came back to Marton for burial beside his business partner.

     Together they had spearheaded the risk business on Teesside. Henry Bolckow had plunged all his capital into an infant iron industry of which he knew nothing, while John Vaughan had used his muscles and skill in man-management. Together they had made it work.

     The legend of Bolckow & Vaughan lives on after them.


                                                         - o 0 o –



Jeans, J.S.                    Pioneers of the Iron Trade                     Private 1875

Evening Gazette  30/8/1870, 22/2/1946, 6/6/1960

Burnett, W.H.          Old Cleveland, Writers & Worthies

                                                                                                               Private 1886

North, G.A.           Teesside’s Industrial Heritage   

                                                                       Cleveland County Council 1985

Horton. Minnie C.   The Story Of Cleveland

                                                                      Cleveland County Council 1979

Lillie, William    The History Of Middlesbrough   

                                                                                                  M’boro Corp 1968

Ord, John W.  Histories & Antiquities of Cleveland 

                                                                                        Patrick & Shotton 1846

Whellan  History & Topography of the North Riding Vol II        1856

Graves, Rev John   History Of Cleveland                 

                                                                                        Patrick & Shotton 1808

Gott, R.         Henry Bolckow – Founder Of Teesside                       1968








Henry Bolckow

©2010 C.J.S.Wilson

bottom of page