Dave Barlow © Cleveland Naturalists’ Field Club. 7th April 2024


Welcome to Cleveland Naturalists’ Field Club

Wildlife of Saltburn Valley Gardens and Rifts Wood and Marske Mill

This document dates from the 1990s


The Flora

In recent years steps have been taken by Langbaurgh Borough Council and the residents of Saltburn to improve the local area.  As Saltburn was built during Victorian times attempts have been made to preserve that Victorian image.  These changed have certainly improved the town centre and with the introduction of a special Victorian Week many tourists have been attracted to the area.  The Valley Gardens were originally developed as Pleasure Grounds in early Victorian times and a scheme was recently put forward to build a new leisure area here.  This was to be called “Isambard’s Kingdom”. Owing to considerable public concern over this venture the scheme was eventually withdrawn.  As a result of this an Environmental Group was formed to try and preserve this area, or at least make sure that any new developments are not detrimental to the wildlife there.

As there are no recent records of the flora and fauna in this area, the Cleveland Naturalists’ Field Club recorders’ group has recently carried out a survey of the area with the help of other people who are concerned about its future.  This document is the result of this survey.  As considerable changes took place in this valley during the Victorian era, a history of this area has also been included.


Until 1850 Saltburn consisted of a small group of houses on the sea coast surrounding the Ship Inn.  Most of the local people were fishermen or worked on the land.

In 1615 a number of alum mines were opened in the area and for 150 years provided employment for some of the locals.  When the mines ceased working the local people had to find alternative employment and the area became notorious for its smuggling activities.

In 1850 Sir Henry Pease made his first visit to Saltburn.  He was staying with his brother, Sir Joseph Pease, the founder of Middlesbrough, at Cliffe House, Marske.  They walked along the coast to Saltburn and Henry Pease got his first view of this little hamlet.

With the discovery of ironstone in the local hills ironstone mining became a lucrative industry.  In order to transport the raw materials and final products of this industry the Stockton and Darlington Railway Company was formed and both Henry and Joseph Pease were on the board.

When Sir Henry Pease saw Saltburn he realised that the area above the hamlet of Saltburn had great potential as a holiday town for the ironstone workers and their families provided the railway could be brought to the area.  As a result of all this The Saltburn Improvement Company was formed and land was purchased from Lord Zetland.  The Pease family owned the Pease West Brickworks in County Durham so their fire-bricks were used to provide the facade of all the new buildings.  The railway was extended to Saltburn not only to bring holiday-makers to the area but to collect ironstone from the local mines.

So Saltburn was gradually established as a holiday town and Sir Henry Pease realised that all kinds of amenities must be provided for its visitors.  One major scheme was the development of Pleasure Gardens in the the natual wooded valley surrounding Holbeck, now known as Skelton Beck.

In 1861 a Mr Bowker was paid £70 to draw up a plan of the Pleasure Gardens.  This consisted of a series of zig-zag paths, Italian Gardens and ornamental gardens.  A Mr Everett was engaged as head Gardener and a lodge was built for him at Camp Bank.  Today a bungalow is on this site but the original garden wall still remains.

In 1864 £400 was put aside for the building of the gardens but it was hoped that eventually they would become self-financing.  Water samples were taken at the bottom on Camp Bank.  The water was considered as good as that at Harrogate, which gave the developers the idea of promoting Saltburn as a spa town.  A mineral spring was re-routed to a metal fountain where metal drinking cups were provided.  This fountain, although not still working, still exists in the area often referred to locally as Fairy Glen.

Entrance to the pleasure grounds was near the sea. Pay boxes were erected and visitors had to pay 2d to enter the grounds.  Greenhouses were put up and were open to viewing.  A croquet lawn and band stand were put in the grounds.  The croquet lawn was later turned into a bowling green.  Regular entertainment was provided in the form of band concerts, pierrot shows, etc.  The Italian Gardens were also lit up with hundereds of candles.

On the other side of the beck other activities were taking place.  In 1862 Rushpool Hall was built by the Ironmaster John Bell of Bell Brothers.  The dull red walls were made of main-seam ironstone.  Originally it had a staircase of Italian Marble and a magnificent ballroom with pillars and arches.  The grounds were laid out with exotic trees including giant redwoods and a Monkey Puzzle tree.  There was also a Monkey Puzzle tree in the Italian Gardens.  This was removed a few years ago but recently local residents have provided a new tree.

In 1868 Hopkins, Gilkes and Company were commissioned to build the Halfpenny Bridge across the Pleasure Grounds from Scot’s View to Glenside.  A Mr Willman was the engineer.  While it was being build three men were killed when a hydraulic jack failed to work and caused the centre column to collapse.  The bridge was 650ft long and 120ft high and had a weight limit of two tons.  A 1/2d toll was charged for each person crossing the bridge and sixpence for carriages drawn by four horses.  For a time motor vehicles used the bridge but when an accident nearly occurred between a horseman and a motor vehicle the bridge was closed to motorised traffic.

The pier was also built during this period. It was begun in 1868 and completed 17 months later.

In 1867 the Albert Memorial was placed in the Valley Gardens,  This was the portico of Barnard Castle Railwas Station and consisted of two pairs of Corinthian columns and an Aspidal recess. This was placed there as a memorial to Queen Victoria’s consort Prince Albert who died of typhoid in 1861.  It was erected by Shaftoe and Barry of York at a cost of £100 pounds.

The people of Glenside campaigned for their own entrance to the woods and this was allowed but they had to pay a guinea for an entrance ticket to cover their families and guests.

In 1881 Sir Hentry Pease died and a few months later the Saltburn Improvement Company went into decline.  Soon after his death the free use of the Valley Gardens was offered to the local board to see if they could make them pay but this offer was declined and not until this century did they become council property.

The Saltburn Improvement Company finally ceased its operations in 1882 and was taken over by the owners of the Middlesbrough Estate and was later referred to as the Owners of the Saltburn Estates.

In 1884 the building of the Assembly Rooms, now known as Philmores, was begun by T. D. Ridley of Coatham.  Philmores has recently ceased trading and is now up for sale.  When it was first built the building was used for concerts and plays which were performed by various visiting companies.

In 1887 electricity was brought to Saltburn and was used to illuminate the pier and Pleasure Grounds but it was 1899 before the town got its own electricity supply.

During the evening of 20th February 1904 a fire occurred at Rushpool Hall. It caused a considerable amount of damage.  The roof collapsed and parts of the interior were in ruins.  A number of local fire brigades were involved in puting the fire out.  It was thought to have been caused by a candle that had set some curtains alight.

In 1901 the gardens were opened free to the public but owing to vandalism entrance fees had to be reintroduced.  A gate by the gardener’s lodge led into Rifts Wood.  Parts of these woods were referred to as The Hanging Woods as the beck covered a passage between steep rock walls.  The woodland nearest Marske Mill Lane appears to have been coppiced and was probably used in early times to produce hazel rods.  These had a number of uses.  Some would be used for fencing, others as wattles for wattle and daub buildings, but in this district they were also used for making corves.  These were long baskets which were shipped out to Durham coal pits.  The brushwood was used for the weekly firing of bread ovens.

Hazel Grove was probably used for the same purpose.  In 1899 Lord Zetland offered eight acres of Hazel Grove to the local people of Saltburn because they had no free parkland of their own but after many arguments it was not until 1904 that this area was developed.


Skelton Beck and its tributaries were responsible for powering nine corn mills.  Saltburn Mill, sometimes known as Smith’s Mill, was located near to the Ship Inn and served the hamlet of Saltburn and Brotton.  Marske Mill which was located in the wooded valley above the present day Saltburn, served the people of Marske.

Before the establishment of Saltburn Parish in 1873 the beck formed the boundary between the Parish of Marske and the Chapelry of Brotton, which also included the houses around the Ship Inn, so Marske Mill was used for griding the corn of perople living in the Marske Parish.  Saltburn Mill was demolished in 1900.  Marske Mill was used as a water corn-mill until 1933.  The farm continued to be used for a time but fell into disuse and in the 1970’s the mill and farm buildings were demolished.

In 1903 there was a boundary change between Marske and Saltburn and part of Marske Parish including Marske Mill were incorporated in the township of Saltburn.  As a result of this the name of Marske Mill was changed to Rifts Wood Glen Mill but over recent years its original name seems to have been adopted.

The last corn mill on this site was probably built at the beginning of the seventeenth century but there were probably mills on this site from Medieval times.  The first written record of a mill here dates from 1649.  In 1981 Langbaurgh Borough Council allowed an excavation and survey of the mill site.  This was organised by Cleveland Industrial Archaeology Society and the Cleveland County Archaeological Section, which had previously investigated a water mill site at Norton.  When completed, a trail around the site was waymarked.

The last miller was listed as John Joseph Wood in 1925.  This was not a very healthy place to live, it takes mists a long time to clear in this valley compared with the rest of Saltburn.  In 1885 the water in the beck was contaminated by sewage from Skelton and caused an outbreak of typhoid.

In recent years a scheme was put forward to build 24 executive houses on the site but local people strongly opposed this and the plan was finally abandoned.  Sewage in the beck still poses a problem although steps are being taken to improve the situation.

Despite early records of the beck being contaminated at the beginning of the century, salmon and otters were still to be found in the beck.  Also at Marske Mill is the Saltburn Viaduct.  This consisted of several arches used to span the valley.  As an increasing amount of iron ore was mined in Cleveland it was considered necessary to build a new railway line to Brotton that would provide a more direct route to the ironstone mines.  Previously trains had to go to Middlesbrough via Guisborough.  The new line was opened in 1872 and the Upleatham and Hob Hill mines were connected to the new railway, three years later the line was opened to passengers.  The victorian house that stood at the side of Marske Mill is believed to have been used by the foreman who was in charge of building the viaduct.  Today the line has been restored to carry potash from the Boulby Potash mines but except for very special occasions it is not used to carry passengers.

In 1974 the Skelton and Gilling Estates, who owned the Halfpenny Bridge, found they could no longer afford to maintain it.  The cost of repair would have been £131,000 so on the 17th December at a cost of £50,000 the bridge was blown up.  During the lifetime of the bridge 19 people committed suicide from it.  There was just one survivor, a lady whose dress acted as a parachute.  Parts of the original bridge were used to build a small footbridge across the beck and to fence off the two ends.

The bandstand in the Valley gardens was demolished by a stray bomb in 1941.  At the present moment steps are being made to raise enough money to purchase a new bandstand.

The main path through the Valley Gardens and Rifts Wood is today part of the Cleveland Way.


In an attempt to attract touristm to the area over the past few years a serious attempt has been made by Langbaurgh Borough Council and its local residents to improve Saltburn and try to revive some of its Victorian Image.

Many of the Victorian buildings have recently been renovated with grants from the council.  A special Victorian Week during the past few years has attracted large numbers of people to the area.  Saltburn Valley Gardens have provided venues for certain of the events taking place.  Over the past two years two highly successful plays have been enacted in the gardens.  If Saltburn is to prosper it must obviously attract people to invest in the area as Sir Henry Pease did in the past.

Over the years the woods and gardens have become a unique site for all forms of wild life.  Many different species of birds have been recorded here.  The flora of this area is one of the richest in Cleveland.  At the same time the Italian Gardens and ornamental flower beds provide pleasure to all who visit the area.

Unfortunately plans were put forward for the development of the woods and gardens which would have destroyed the beauty of this area.  Only after rigorous campaigns by the local residents were these withdrawn.

Sir Henry Pease developed the valley as Pleasure Gardens for visitors to Saltburn and local residents.  Time does not stand still.  In this modern age the requirements of people today are not the same as those in Victorian Times but any developments that do take place must not destroy the beauty of this valley, which had been preserved only by years of careful management.


The History of Saltburn by Chris Scott Wilson

 Published by Seaside Books, Saltburn by Sea, Cleveland.

Saltburn By The Sea In Old Picture Postcards, by Norman Bainbridge

 Published by European Library, Zaltbommel, Netherlands.

Excavation and Survey at Marske Mill, Saltburn. by Stephen J. Sherlock.

 Published by Cleveland County Archaeology Section.

The Ship Inn, Old Saltburn. by J. Fairfax Blakeborough.

Sketch Map of Saltburn Valley Gardens Area 1

Flower list of the Saltburn Valley Gardens, Rifts Wood and Marske Mill

Geology of the Saltburn Valley Gardens

Flora of Rifts Wood