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Town Hall Restoration

At a U3A meeting I attended in 2016 we heard a talk by the Town Hall Manager Rob Guest with Liz Haywood from the My Town Hall team. They explained that the Town Hall was closed to the public for major restoration and redevelopment works. The HLF, Middlesbrough Council and Arts Council England funded £8 million project will see historic parts of the building opened up, including the Victorian courtroom, cells and fire station. Visitor access will be vastly improved, offering greater insight into the history of the building, while plans also include the restoration of the carriage driveway with original glass roof and the creation of new café and bar facilities.

Volunteers were being sought for four roles, Local Research Assistants, Oral History Researchers, Documentation Assistants and MTH Events Assistants. With a keen interest in family history, an inherent pride in my home town and over 20 years working for Middlesbrough Council, I had found myself looking for something to focus on outside of the usual voluntary sector in my retirement. I joined as a Local Research Assistant, under the direction of the Heritage Officer, Tosh Warwick with a primary focus on bridges and associated stories that may be used as a resource when the Town Hall reopens.



The romance in steel

Mr Ennis spoke of the very earliest mention of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and how at first all idea of tendering was scouted. One day in August 1923 however, just before leaving home for golf, Sir Arthur Dorman telephoned him and said, “Do you consider that one tender from Gt Britain is sufficient representation of the British Empire for one of the largest contracts in the Empire open for world competition?” “No” replied Ennis and he went to Grey Towers, and over the teacups with Sir Arthur, Sir Hugh Bell and Mr Ralph Freeman.

Within three weeks he and his family were on their way to Australia and for three weeks there was great tension and excitement while tenders, including Dorman Long, were being considered. Out of six tenders the Teesside firm was awarded the contract by the State Government of New South Wales

Mr Ennis held an audience of over 2000 in the Town Hall spellbound for over 2½ hours with his graphic description of the struggle he, his staff and workmen had with the unknown forces in the erection of the building of this the then world’s biggest span. It was a tale of something more personal than the British triumph, it was a striking testimony of the wonderful part Teesside craft and materials and local engineering skill had played in the erection of this bridge.

I found it inspiring that The Romance of the Sydney Harbour Bridge Lecture was repeated to 3000 Middlesbrough boys from Constantine Technical College, Middlesbrough High School and boys aged over 11 from other elementary schools in the town at Middlesbrough Hippodrome. The Mayor at that time, Councillor H D Levick said the building of the bridge had been an adventure which required great risks. The boys had to remember that the courage to take risks like Mr Ennis and his assistants was the spirit that was needed. It could still be said today that it is of no use being afraid to take risks because of the fear of making mistakes.

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The Lawrence Ennis Memorial Scholarship

In terms of social history I found it interesting and inspiring that Dorman Long established a Trust to provide an educational scholarship in memory of Lawrence Ennis after his death in 1938. The scholarship served to encourage young men who were receiving training in the Company’s works.

14591595_1054362358017371_6854010225973414891_nOther areas I have looked at are the luncheon held in the Town Hall after the opening of the Tees (Newport) Bridge in 1934 by the Duke and Duchess of York. The Town Hall was highly decorated and the royal party and dignitaries enjoyed a luncheon provided by local caterers R Spark and Sons Limited. The food was suitably sumptuous, the menu included Sole a la Mornay, Saddle of Mutton and Redcurrant Jelly, Roast Chicken and Forcemeat with a toast proposed by Alderman and Lieut Colonel T Gibson-Poole V.D. J.P. Music throughout was provided by the Borough Organist Felix Corbett J.P. The Mayor is pictured accompanied by the town’s Mace Bearer, William Mayhew, now there lies another story, the next stage of my placement with the project and one I am looking forward to!

Written by Pauline Weatherley


Photographic Images

Reference Description
CB/M/C/4/1914 Middlesbrough County Secretary’s Correspondence Files – Sydney Harbour Bridge; lecture by Mr Lawrence Ennis JP at the Town Hall on 10 Sept 1931
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