“Our bridge building heritage is one underpinned by helping connect people rather than divide them…”

On behalf of The Tees Online I was delighted to chat recently with Heritage Unlocked’s Dr Tosh Warwick about all things related to Teesside’s steel and bridge building heritage, and of course why it’s important to our future…

It is immediately clear this ‘South Bank boy’ is passionate about Middlesbrough and its rich history. He genuinely loves Teesside.  

As a Boro season ticket holder, Tosh is keen to tell me that Boro legend Wilf Mannion attended St Peter’s, his former school. Since his time at school, Tosh has had an interest in Teesside history and he feels lucky to have turned his passion into an occupation.  

A former Heritage Development Officer and Education, Learning and Events Officer at Middlesbrough Council, he led community engagement, heritage development, interpretation and research activities. This included curating the ‘Bridging the World’ exhibition and developing an interactive touchscreen experience as part of the Tees Transporter Bridge Visitor Experience.  

As well as bridges, Tosh has a keen interest in our steel making history. His PhD was on Dorman Long steel magnates in collaboration with Teesside Archives and the British Steel Archive Project. Tosh was also part of the team which saved a WW1 war memorial with the names of former Newport Ironworks workers which is now displayed at TWI at Tees Advanced Manufacturing Park (TeesAMP) so future generations can learn about the men who worked at Samuelson’s former works.

Tosh is currently Research Associate (History Research Centre Impact) at Manchester Metropolitan University and also the founder of Heritage Unlocked (www.heritageunlocked.com). His expertise is being utilised on the Teesworks Steel Heritage Task Force where plans for the regeneration of the former Teesside Steelworks (Teesworks) will be created. Tosh humbly expresses to me how honoured he feels to be sitting alongside mayors, the Arts Council and local MPs in order to help shape the future of our steel manufacturing past.

As a historian, Tosh is familiar with many libraries throughout the world but he clearly has a soft spot for Teesside Archives (www.middlesbrough.gov.uk/leisure-events-libraries-and-hubs/teesside-archives). He speaks very highly of the staff and incredible collections related to our past and future history including the British Steel Collection and newly added Cleveland Bridge material.

Tosh believes the Bridging the World book will be a great opportunity to share material with new audiences and also dispel some myths around Teesside’s bridge building heritage. Ultimately, Tosh clearly wants this book to inspire and create pride in the Tees Valley by showing the value of our industrial heritage.

Bridging the World Sydney Harbour Bridge promo (Teesside Archives, British Steel Collection & Ben Higgins Design)

Tosh wants this project to go further than standard history books so it shall look beyond the bridges and put focus on workers’ stories. This not only includes Teessiders past and present but also those around the world. Tosh is keen to give a voice to people overlooked in traditional historical narratives.  

Interestingly, this book is expected to be supplemented by recorded oral histories, an exhibition and educational resources.  

The whole project shall be a platform for developing a new way for people to connect to their own personal family histories. Tosh remarks that many amongst us have some kind of ancestry linked to the area’s bridge building heritage.

Those interested in sharing their memories and bridge stories, or anyone who has ideas on supplementary resources, can email info@heritageunlocked.com visit www.heritageunlocked.com/news/bridging-the-world or call 07591 093136. 

So when shall we expect this book to be available? In true author style, Tosh squirms at the thought of a deadline! He admits this has been on the back burner for some time.  However, recent inspirations from Teesside Archives, and heightened interest in the area’s steel history has pushed this up the priority list. Plans are to have this published in 2021.
Also look out for other on-going works including books on the Tees Transporter Bridge and the one and only Parmo.

I simply cannot resist asking Tosh what his favourite bridge is and this causes some pondering. His great love for the Tees Transporter Bridge is apparent however Tosh has fond memories of bus journeys into Stockton with his mam over the Newport Bridge, despite the structure striking fear into the historian! As a child as he thought the bridge was like a Transformer and every journey brought worries that it would transform whilst he was mid span.

“Teesside Steel and engineering has not only helped shape the world but it has brought people together,” Tosh says as we finish up. “Had it not been for the rapid boom of the iron industry in the 1850s Middlesbrough as we know it would not exist. It was by the industries and industrialists engaging on a global scale beyond the boundaries of Teesside and UK borders that helped put Middlesbrough on the map.  Our bridge building heritage is one underpinned by helping connect people rather than divide them and we should take inspiration from this heritage as we shape our area in the modern day.”

I sincerely thank Tosh for an engaging and enlightening interview. I very much look forward to his work which no doubt will embody his passion and pride in our area. Tosh thanks the Teesside Archives for their support and willingness to make accessible their globally unique material.

cover image: Sydney Harbour Bridge construction workers (Credit: Teesside Archives, British Steel Collection).

Paula McMahon is the Institution of Civil Engineers Teesside Branch Chair and Founding Chair of www.engineeringtogether.com

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