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History of the River Tees

Posted on 1st July, 2019

How many of you cross the River Tees each day without giving a second thought to the history of this great river?   Stockton on Tees owes much of its development to the River Tees.

The source of the Tees lies in the North Pennies from where it flows eastwards for 85 miles to the North Sea. In the early part of the 13th Century, Yarm was the most prosperous port on the river. Sailing ships brought wine and goods to the town.

With the expansion of the coal trade in the 17th Century, Stockton became the major river port when coal was carried to the docks from the Durham coal fields by horse and cart to be shipped to London and overseas.  Stockton was originally a rural community, but with the Industrial Revolution came huge developments in heavy industry and massive expansion downstream to the estuary.  In the early part of the 19th Century the route of the river was altered between Stockton and Middlesbrough.  The altered section now runs roughly from the Tees Barrage to Victoria Bridge.  This created a sweeping curve which made it possible for the larger ships could berth at Stockton on Tees.

Those of you who travel north on the A19 might be aware that the section of carriageway between Mandale roundabout and the A66 stands adjacent to the old River Tees, yes, the small stream to the left of the carriageway is the old river.  The old river then passes beneath the A66 (at the Teesside Retail Park entrance) before it meets the Tees just a few hundred feet downstream from the Tees Barrage.

The River Tees is spanned by approximately 50 bridges.  The most unique bridge is the Grade II listed, Middlesbrough Teesside Transporter Bridge.  The Bridge is 851 foot long and 225 feet high, blue steel, canter levered gondola bridge built during 1911.  The river also has a vertical lift bridge, the first of its kind to be built in the UK when it opened during 1934, this is known as Newport Bridge.  The bridge has a span of 270 feet and links Middlesbrough to Stockton.  The vertical lift is no longer operational.  The Rivers newest bridge is the 131 foot high by 787 long, stainless steel cycle way and foot way bridge situated between Teesdale Business Park and Stockton known as the Infinity Bridge, it was built during 2009.  The Tees Flyover, a six lane dual carriageway carrying the A19 is just under 2 miles long, a concrete beam bridge it is the largest of its kind in the UK, and carries upwards of 70,000 vehicles every day.  The oldest recorded bridge is the stone bridge at Yarm believed to have been built during 1400 whilst the river is home to the country’s oldest vehicular carrying iron bridge, the Eggleston Abbey Bridge built during 1773.

Visitors to the Tees Barrage will frequently see grey seals and salmon are now travelling up stream and through the salmon run on the North side of the Barrage.  The river is a delightful place to visit, it has some splendid walks both in the industrial heartland, but also the more rural Durham end.  If you get chance pay it a visit, you won’t be disappointed.

Toby Joel, Partner and Head of Dispute Resolution and Debt Recovery

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