Photographs: Richard Clayton and Catherine McPartland
On May 31st the group walked the route of the proposed St Hilda’s Digital Walk and what a walk it was. In some ways, it was sad to see the passing of a once thriving area and community as some of the sites are quite derelict.
It was great, though, to hear of the ambitious plans for the area which, hopefully, should help keep its historical significance whilst encouraging new initiatives to revitalise the area.
We met at the Customs House, a Grade II listed building on North Street. This was originally built in 1836 as a Coal Exchange and hotel and later extended and used as a Customs House from 1881 to about 1960. The building was renovated and reopened as 'My Place' in 2012. There is a beautiful garden space near the building which we learned could be developed as a memory garden where voices from St Hilda’s past can be heard through digital recordings.
This really excited the group and as we walked individuals discussed their memories of living in the area; with lively discussions about its name, some knowing it as ‘Down the Marsh’, others remembering it as ‘Over the Border’. It will be fascinating to hear all these memories at the planned Border Voices Workshops.
As we continued onto the site of St Hilda's church we could see the Port of Middlesbrough Buildings in the distance, these will also be part of the walk.
St Hilda’s Church was built in 1840 and demolished in 1969 to make way for housing which has since been demolished. Some argue knocking this church down was one of the biggest crimes of Middlesbrough’s planners. Just to think I nearly bought a house there- so glad I didn't!
All that remains on the site is a brick block marking the position of the altar.
The area is surrounded by flattened gravestones covered in grass, some of the lettering just about visible, it would be really good to discover more about this site. One of the memories was of the ‘Gray Lady’ who was supposed to haunt the site, a bit spooky!
We followed the footpath up to the Old Town Hall, another Grade II listed building on East Street. We learned it was replaced by the new larger Town Hall in 1889, reflecting Middlesbrough’s rapid growth. Later it became a public library and community centre, with several of the group remembering this. It’s currently disused and a shame to see its present state. It was here that Gladstone first referred to Middlesbrough as an ‘Infant Hercules’. The building is immortalised in a painting by L.S. Lowry, commissioned to paint it for the price of £50.00
We were lucky enough to be allowed to go inside and although it was in a sorry state it wasn’t too difficult to imagine how splendid some of the rooms, especially the Council Chamber, must have been. Council staff there told us about the big plans for the building and, hopefully, it can be restored and enjoyed by future generations. The walk was a great success, really sparking our interest and making us even keener to research the area and share our work with others.