Stockton-on-Tees (known locally as Stockton) is a market town in North East England. It is the major settlement in the unitary authority and borough of Stockton-on-Tees. For ceremonial purposes, the borough is split between County Durham and North Yorkshire as it also incorporates a number of smaller towns and villages including Billingham, Yarm, Thornaby and Norton, though the town of Stockton itself is within County Durham. Historically part of County Durham, the wider borough has a population of 191,000 in 2011 estimates.
Stockton is an Anglo-Saxon name with the typical Anglo-Saxon place name ending 'ton' meaning farm, or homestead.
The name is thought by some to derive from the Anglo-Saxon word Stocc meaning log, tree trunk or wooden post. 'Stockton' could therefore mean a farm built of logs. This is disputed, because when the word Stocc forms the first part of a place name it usually indicates a derivation from the similar word Stoc, meaning cell, monastery or place. 'Stoc' names along with places called Stoke or Stow, usually indicate farms which belonged to a manor or religious house. It is thought that Stockton fell into this category and perhaps the name is an indication that Stockton was an outpost of Durham or Norton which were both important Anglo-Saxon centres. This is a matter of dispute but Stockton was only a part of Norton until the eighteenth century when it became an independent parish in its own right. Today the roles have been reversed and Norton has been demoted to a part of Stockton.
Stockton began as an Anglo-Saxon settlement on high ground close to the northern bank of the River Tees.
The manor of Stockton was created around 1138 and was purchased by Bishop Pudsey of Durham in 1189. During the 13th century, the bishop turned the village of Stockton into a borough. When the bishop freed the serfs of Stockton, craftsmen came to live in the new town. The bishop had a residence in Stockton Castle, which was just a fortified manor house. The first recorded reference to the castle was in 1376.
Stockton's market can trace its history to 1310, when Bishop Bek of Durham granted a market charter – to our town of Stockton a market upon every Wednesday for ever. The town grew into a busy little port, exporting wool and importing wine which was demanded by the upper class. However even by the standards of the time, medieval Stockton-on-Tees was a small town with a population of only around 1,000, and did not grow any larger for centuries.
The Scots captured Stockton Castle in 1644 and occupied it until 1646. It was destroyed at the order of Oliver Cromwell at the end of the Civil War. A shopping centre, the Castlegate Centre, now occupies the castle area. No known accurate depictions of the castle exist.
The Town House was built in 1735 and the first theatre in Stockton opened in 1766. In 1771 a five arch stone bridge was built replacing the nearby Bishop's Ferry. Until the opening of the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge in 1911, this was the lowest bridging point on the Tees. From the end of the 18th century the Industrial Revolution changed Stockton from a small and quiet market town into a flourishing centre of heavy industry.
Shipbuilding in Stockton, which had began in the 15th century, prospered in the 17th and 18th centuries. Smaller-scale industries began developing around this time, such as brick, sail and rope making, the latter reflected in road names such as Ropery Street in the town centre. Stockton became the major port for County Durham, the North Riding of Yorkshire and Westmorland during this period, exporting mainly rope made in the town, agricultural produce and lead from the Yorkshire Dales.
The town grew rapidly as the Industrial Revolution progressed, with iron making and engineering beginning in the town in the 18th century. The town's population grew from 10,000 in 1851 to over 50,000 in 1901 as workers moved in. The discovery of iron ore in the Eston Hills resulted in blast furnaces lining the River Tees from Stockton to the river's mouth. In 1820 an Act set up the Commissioners, a body with responsibility for lighting and cleaning the streets. From 1822 Stockton-on-Tees was lit by gas.
In 1822, Stockton witnessed an event which changed the face of the world forever and heralded the dawn of a new era in trade, industry and travel. The first rail of George Stephenson's Stockton and Darlington Railway was laid near St. John's crossing on Bridge Road. Hauled by Locomotion No 1, the great engineer himself manned the engine on its first journey on 27 September 1825. Fellow engineer and friend, Timothy Hackworth acted as guard. This was the world's first passenger railway, connecting Stockton with Shildon. The opening of the railway greatly boosted Stockton, making it easier to bring coal to the factories; however the port declined as business had moved down river to Middlesbrough.
Stockton witnessed another discovery in 1827. Local chemist John Walker invented the friction match in his shop at 59 High Street. The first sale of the matches was recorded in his sales-book on 7 April 1827, to a Mr. Hixon, a solicitor in the town. Since he did not obtain a patent, Walker received neither fame nor wealth for his invention, but he was able to retire some years before his death. He died in 1859 at the age of 78 and is buried in the parish churchyard in Norton village.
The first bell for Big Ben was cast by John Warner and Sons in Norton on 6 August 1856, but became damaged beyond repair while being tested on site and had to be replaced by a foundry more local to Westminster. A hospital opened in Stockton in 1862 and a public library opened in 1877.
Steam trams began running in the streets in 1881 and were replaced by electric trams in 1897. Buses replaced the trams in 1931. In the 1930s slums were cleared and the first council houses were built. At this time, Stockton was still dominated by the engineering industry and there was also a chemicals industry in the town. However in the late 20th century the manufacturing industry severely declined, although the service industries grew, which today are the towns main employers.