The geology of the Tees Valley, as well as by-products from its former industries, have both provided construction materials used locally and elsewhere. Building stone, clay for brick making, and road-stone have all been exploited at one time or another.
The earliest constructions using locally derived stone are the estimated 10,000 burial mounds erected by the area’s Neolithic inhabitants from around 4,000 years ago. These ancient builders appear not to have quarried, but rather gathered up the many boulders of Middle Jurassic and Quaternary age that are scattered across high ground. Quarrying for building material allegedly arrived in Britain with the Romans, though no workings of this age exist in the Tees Valley.
The buff coloured, fine grained Lower and Middle Magnesian Limestones provide the only viable building material from the Permian Period. Medieval masons used it because it was easy to carve intricately. It was used in the construction of many Abbeys and Minsters, including York Minster.
Perhaps the best locally available building material is the massively bedded deltaic sandstones of the Middle Jurassic. Disused quarries in the Saltwick Formation can be found on hills around Eston, Upleatham, and Skelton in addition to the escarpment of the Cleveland Hills and North York Moors. Prestigious buildings, like Guisborough Priory, as well as alum works, mine buildings, cottages, railway bridges, stations and field walls have all, in the past, been constructed using this stone. Quarries at Galley Hill, near Aislaby (N. Yorks.), provided large blocks for Whitby’s East Pier, not to mention foundations for the original London and Waterloo Bridges. Blocks of Dogger Formation sandstone from near Whitby were used to construct breakwaters and loading ramps at Saltwick alum works.
The Lower Jurassic strata are not renowned for their building materials, though they have occasionally been used for this purpose. Flags from the finely laminated Staithes Formation provide paving slabs for several coastal villages including Staithes and Runswick. In 1861, local ironmaster John Bell built Rushpool Hall near Saltburn using ironstone mined from Cleveland’s first shaft mine at Skelton. A wide range of fossils can be seen in its slowly weathering walls.
Whinstone setts were occasionally used for building. They can be seen forming a decorative base on the town clock at Redcar.
Brick and tile making is perhaps more commonly practiced in regions without a viable source of good building stone. These are, by definition, districts generally underlain by fine-grained deposits suitable for the manufacture of bricks. Despite the ready availability of building stone in the Tees Valley, the area’s rapid expansion in the mid-1800s was primarily achieved using brick, which is cheaper and more convenient than quarried stone. Triassic and Jurassic shales and mudstones, in addition to superficial drift deposits, have all been exploited for this.
- At Commondale, mudstones from the Saltwick Formation were extensively quarried and milled into clay to produce brick and tile.
- Brickworks on the Tees floodplain used the glacial lake clays to produce bricks and tiles.
- A brickworks existed at Skinningrove to produce building materials from the glacial clay. The bricks were used to line drifts in the mine.
- Lingdale Ironstone Mine produced bricks with the waste shale from ore extraction.
- Slag from iron and steel making was cast into grey-blue bricks used to construct many miles of training walls to tame the River Tees, and which commonly line gutters in towns and villages across the area.
An ironstone quarry on Eston Hills provided road stone until 1850, when it was found that the stone was actually Cleveland Ironstone. This provided the catalyst which facilitated the launch of the iron and steel industry on Teesside. Another, more durable, source of road stone (known as whinstone or dolerite) can be obtained from the Cleveland Dyke. Many quarries and mines were opened to extract it for use in highways across the north of England. Perhaps the best remains are to be found at Cliff Rigg, near Great Ayton, where quarrying and mining occurred between 1869 and the 1930s. Others can be found at Preston Park, Ingleby Barwick, and numerous sites across the North York Moors.