Back in February, I led a guided walk downstream from the Tees Barrage, crossing the river on the Newport Bridge and returning on the opposite side. We paused by the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust’s Portrack Marsh Nature Reserve to talk about the impact people had along this stretch of the Tees, with the two new sections of channel cut in the 19th century to straighten the river's meandering course and shorten sailing times to Stockton.

A small community had grown up along the banks of the Portrack meander, part of which was the Queen's Head Tavern (also known as the Blazing Stump), frequented by ships' captains and allegedly involved in smuggling. It was apparently one of the earliest brick built buildings in the Stockton area, dating from the 17th century though the real surprise was found inside.  The pub, which became a farm after the Portrack Cut removed its riverside trade, housed a so-called Angel Room. Decorated with a wonderful plaster frieze of cherubs in a variety of poses and thought to date from the early to mid 18th century, no other building in Stockton had such a room and it lasted for over 200 years prior to its demolition in the late 1950’s.

 Thankfully, photos of the room still exist and were sent over to me by the brilliant librarians Adele, Laura and Hannah, at Stockton Reference Library; there is a treasure trove of old Stockton images and information at https://picturestocktonarchive.wordpress.com/

 It set me thinking; we've done quite a bit of research on lost communities in the lower Tees area, the Greatham Creek and Seaton Snook houseboat communities, Haverton Hill and Warrenby spring to mind. All had their time and thrived until conditions changed. Portrack lost its close association with the river when the old loop was left high and dry and the Queen's Head Tavern could no longer function as a pub. What stories those walls could've told and why did a fairly modest building have such an ornate and special room inside? There are similar friezes in more stately homes around Yorkshire; why decorate a room inside a fairly modest brick building in an isolated riverside location? Was it really so isolated with ships coming up to that point on the river on a daily basis, offloading their cargos on to smaller boats to be taken upstream? I guess we'll never know for sure but it's intriguing sifting through the evidence, tracking down the clues and bringing a long forgotten corner of the Tees back to life.