A Tale of Two Dwellings

The 1864 Central Lodge stable block was described by one contemporary, in the only direct description we have of the building from the Victorian era, as “stables second to none in the North of England”. This was the opinion of Hugh Gilzean Reid, founder of what was then the Middlesbrough Daily Gazette, when visiting in 1868.

However, as well as being a working part of Bolckow’s estate, the Central Lodge was also where the workers employed on this part of the estate would have lived. It was common in Victorian Britain for workers to live above their place of work. The garden block which is today home to Henry’s Café once housed a large boiler room. This was used to provide heat for an array of exotic fruit plants, including oranges and pineapples, which were grown in an extensive set of greenhouses. Upstairs, however, was where the gardeners who made all this possible actually lived.

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The stable block looking south from the air. The easternmost dwelling and dairy are to the back left and the westernmost dwelling to the back right. So much of the extent of this building is hidden to the passer-by.

The stable block itself has two former dwelling houses on each end of its quadrangle. Both have their own interesting stories to tell, which have only grown more in colour as the current refurbishment work has progressed.

The easternmost, which has the foundation stone set into its southern gable as well as the beautiful Gothic bell tower above, was not strictly just a dwelling. The downstairs was where the rooms for washing and drying laundry for the big house were as well as an impressive dairy, again described directly by Reid as lacking in “neither money nor thought” in its construction.

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The Victorian dairy with surviving marble side-surfaces, tiles and isometric patterned floor tiles.

These were roles occupied by female workers and, especially in the case of the dairymaids, were relatively high status jobs as they required a higher element of skill that that of the average farm labourer. The female workers would have lived upstairs and would have been the only women in this area of the estate. The bell tower, a principle device for keeping track of time, is above their former dwellings. This seems to suggest that these workers would also have been in charge of timekeeping.

During the ongoing building work, in which the Central Lodge is being renovated for Askham Bryan College, one of the builders discovered graffiti dating back to November 1st 1865 on the back of a chimney breast in the attic space. We are still trying to decipher the names which were signed, but it is certainly the single oldest piece of graffiti that has been found to date. Were they some of the builders signing off on the job, or were they mischievous maids who had climbed up inside the attic space?

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The 1865 graffiti on the back of the chimney stack where it has been for almost 152 years.

The westernmost dwelling has Henry Bolckow’s initials in its southern gable and was strictly used as a dwelling, presumably for the coachmen employed in the immediately adjoining coach house section of the stable block. During the 1930s we know that two families lived in this end of the Central Lodge and that it was divided into two L-shaped houses. One of these families ran a furniture business out of the stable block. This was a role for the building which was continued into the Second World War when the building was used to store furniture from houses which had been bombed out.

In the upstairs of this former dwelling there are a number of large dormer windows which do not fit with the rest of the building; these are likely to have been added by at least one of the two families.

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Builders in the process of installing a new valley beam. The original style dormer window is to the left and the later 20th century addition is to the right.

Early on during the research into these buildings we came across an OS map held by Teesside Archives. The map had annotations drawn in pen which indicated fire damage to this end of the building. After liaising with the contractors, it emerged that they had found evidence of considerable fire damage that had at some point been inadequately repaired. On top of this, it was noticed that the tiling on the outside roof in the exact corresponding locations to the fire damage was lacking the distinctive fish-scale pattern seen elsewhere.

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The heavily fire damaged roof timbers with a historical, half-cooked attempt at a repair, precariously fixed to ends of the surviving stumps. It’s amazing that the roof stayed on!

When it was found that the valley beam was also rotten through, the contractors decided that they would have to replace this entire section of roof. This major undertaking was performed throughout the end of May and into June.

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The rotten valley beam prior to its removal.

I located a newspaper report which suggests that an earlier fire had occurred at “Marton Hall” in September 1920. At this stage of history, the buildings were not in use by the Bolckow family as they could no longer afford to run Marton Hall. They were living in the Brackenhoe, a building perhaps better known locally as the Ladle, and were in a protracted process of negotiating a sale of the estate to the council. The article was not specific as to where the fire occurred, though considering just how flammable the hall proved to be in 1960, I have my doubts that it occurred at Marton Hall itself. Whether this is the fire in question we do not yet know, but it would certainly fit in with the age of the OS map as it would have been the most recently produced survey at that time. I would also expect that such a poor attempt at a repair would never have been allowed if the fire had happened under the watch of Henry Bolckow.

The valley beam and roof has now been replaced and the fire damage has been given the adequate repairs it badly needed. It’s amazing how two parts of the same building can have had such different histories and also have hidden so many secrets from us for all these years.

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