The Gustav Martens Dilemma

Before I talk about Gustav Martens, firstly I would like to introduce myself. My name is Vincent Graham and I am a Teesside University graduate, now employed by Askham Bryan College on their project to develop the Central Lodge buildings at Stewart Park. We are very fortunate to be working alongside Dr Joan Heggie, Research Fellow at Teesside University. Joan is a consultant to the Askham Bryan at Stewart Park project, offering her expertise from research she has carried out on local 19th century iron and steel industrialists and on John Ross, Architect of Feethams, Darlington.

The Central Lodge buildings are situated in an area which is microcosm of local history, being both the birthplace of James Cook as well as the site of the seat of power of one of Middlesbrough’s founding fathers, Henry Bolckow. It is then, extremely exciting for me to have been given the chance to be involved with this project. The estate buildings themselves and what remains of their original features, despite years of disrespect, are microcosms of history in and of themselves, incredible survivors of Middlesbrough’s past.

However there are many questions that need to be answered and just as many assertions that have been made about these buildings that need to be proven. Even down to what we know about who built them.

Durham County Advertiser (15 April, 1864)

I came across the article above soon after beginning some initial research on the internet; it was featured in many different local papers. As far as I know it is currently the only piece of evidence which irrefutably ties Darlington architect John Ross (who a year later built the gothically styled Grey Towers in Nunthorpe for Henry Bolckow’s brother in law and fellow ironmaster William Hopkins),  to the Central Lodge buildings.

But there is another architect who is continuously linked to these buildings, the German Gustav Ludolf Martens who was a cousin of Bolckow. Nevertheless as things stand, his involvement is currently little more than a commonly repeated assumption, perhaps founded simply around this family link, or more optimistically, upon the perceived continental influences in the architecture of these buildings. On a side point, Martens is certainly attributed to having worked with John Ross on the buildings known as the East and West Lodges in a local list of sites of ‘local architectural and/or historic interest’ published by the council in 2016, but where is the proof of this? Both of these buildings are given the date c.1860 in this report, but are they the ‘Cottages, Lodge’ which are mentioned in the above article, which would prove that they were not built before May 1864?

I have seen artistic impressions, drawn by Martens, on the website of an architecture museum in Berlin, that are clearly labelled Middlesbrough, some even ‘Villa Bolckow’, but there are no drawings of the Central Lodge (or any buildings bar the Hall itself that can be instantly recognised if I am honest!). It is also said that Gustav Martens was present for the ceremony in which the foundation stone was laid, but is this enough to prove the involvement of Martens, or even just his vague influence?, Why was it John Ross alone who was advertising for builders in the article? And why indeed would Bolckow, a man striving for acceptance as a naturalised, English country gentleman, want to build a group of buildings that looked overtly Germanic in character?

(The Central Lodge as it looked in September 2016, it’s hard to deny the continental feel to these buildings, but are these features a result of the involvement of Martens, or are they simply reflective of the gothic revival style, popular during this period of Victorian architecture?)

I hope that during my time as part of this project to redevelop such a thought provoking building, I will eventually be able to answer such questions as the Gustav Martens dilemma and many more which surround it, and that by the time of the completion of the project we will be able to produce an accurate documentation of the history of this little piece of Victorian Middlesbrough.

4 Replies to “The Gustav Martens Dilemma”

  1. I am working on a doctoral thesis about Gustav Ludolf Martens since 2012. It is really hard to find any safe information about him, his life and his architecture. Most of his buildings havent survived time and therefore i am desperetley looking for any information concerning Martens ans his work.
    Maybe we can connect and share our knowledge about him? It would be gerat to hear from you soon!

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