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North Riding
Thornaby Town Hall - - 323998.jpg
Thornaby Town Hall
Grid reference: NZ450180
Location: 54°33’20"N, 1°18’18"W
Population: 22,620
Post town: Stockton-on-Tees
Postcode: TS17
Dialling code: 01642
Local Government
Council: Stockton-on-Tees
Stockton South

Thornaby-on-Tees is a town in the North Riding of Yorkshire, on the south bank of the River Tees which marks the border with County Durham. Thornaby is three miles south-east of Stockton-on-Tees, and four miles south-west of Middlesbrough town centre.

Parish church

The parish church stands on the village green, bearing the unusual dedication to St Peter ad Vincula ("St Peter in chains"), which is derived from the ancient Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome. The church is of 12th-century origin but a church existed at the time of the Domesday Book of 1086.

The building, with a simple nave and a bell turret with two bells, was originally dedicated to St Mary Magdalene. Grace Pace, the mother of Captain James Cook, was baptised at St Peter's in 1702.

Story of the Five Lamps

It is said that Robert de Thormodbi, wounded in the Crusades at Acre, swore to raise a shrine to the Virgin Mary if he survived his wounds. He did, and as part of his wish a shrine niche to the Virgin Mary, lit by five sanctuary lamps, was placed in St Peter's Church.


There are other signs of ancient settlement where Thornaby now stands. Traces of prehistoric man have been found, the earliest being a stone axe, 8 inches long, dating back to the Middle Stone Age (about 3000 BC). In 1926 a dugout canoe said to date from about 1600 – 1400 BC was found in the mud under 8 feet of water opposite Thornaby High Wood. A Stone Age arrowhead was found in a garden on Thornaby Village Green.

Early days

The name of Thornaby tells of a Norse origin, though nothing is known of this time.

After the Battle of Hastings (1066), one of William the Conqueror's men, Robert I de Brus, marched north with a garrison of men and secured the banks of the Tees. William gave him those lands to control including Thornaby and Middlesbrough.

In the Domesday Book Thornaby is mentioned five times, The first mention in the Domesday Book states:

"Robert Malet has these lands and they are waste."

The wasted villages of Yorkshire are attributed to William the Bastard's brutal campaign in the northern shires; the Harrying of the North. Though the town recovered and throve, perhaps a memory is preserved in "Thurnaby waaste" of Tennyson's poem The Northern Farmer.

Over the centuries there have been a number of different spellings of the name Thornaby including Turmozbi, Tormozbi, Tormozbia and Thurmozbi. The form 'Thornaby' first appears in 1665 and refers to old Thornaby village near the River Tees. In 1825, Thornaby was centred on St Peter's Church and the old village green, but this village was gradually overshadowed by the burgeoning newly named town of South Stockton which was two miles away. South Stockton was on the Yorkshire side of the river Tees opposite Stockton-on-Tees, in an area originally known as Mandale, which was noted as a separate village from Thornaby. In 1825 William Smith's pottery opened in South Stockton and the area quickly grew with the establishment of shipbuilding and engineering. On 6 October 1892 South Stockton and Old Thornaby merged administratively into a municipal borough named Thornaby-on-Tees, and the reality on the ground was clear; the two had physically become one town.

Royal Air Force

The earliest known flying in Thornaby took place in 1912 when Matthew Young of the Vale Farm was paid 100 Gold Sovereigns for the use of a field for an airshow. Taking place on a Saturday afternoon in June or July, one of the main events was flying by Gustav Hamel, an early flying pioneer. The next known use was by the Royal Flying Corps who used the same fields between 1914 and 1918 as a staging post between Catterick and Marske aerodromes.

In about 1925 negotiations began on the opening of a full-time aerodrome and in the late 1920s the Air Ministry built an airfield to the south of the town and the station which was opened on 29 September 1929; the first permanent aerodrome to be built in Yorkshire after Catterick.[1] During the Second World War, Thornaby came under the control of 18 group, Coastal Command, before this however it had come under Flying Training, Fighter and Bomber Commands, and post-war under Reserve and Fighter Commands, at this time (post-war) it was also used by the Royal Air Force Regiment. During the war a variety of tasks were carried out from RAF Thornaby, such as, attacks on targets in Europe, anti submarine patrols, operational training, strikes against enemy shipping, leaflet dropping and air sea rescue operations.

The last aircraft to leave RAF Thornaby (Hawker Hunter F6s) left on 1 October 1958 and hope faded for the further use of Thornaby as a regional airport on 23 February 1962 when all but 60 acres of land was purchased from the Air Ministry by the council; work began at once to transform the airfield and throughout the 1960s and 1970s it was extensively redeveloped with modern housing, a shopping centre, sports centre and an industrial estate (the first in the region).

The Spitfire on Thornaby Road

Today many symbols of Thornaby's aeronautical past remain with streets, buildings and pubs using names of RAF aircraft, stations and personnel. The Bader School (built on the former airfield) on Kintyre Drive was named after and opened by Sir Douglas Bader on 10 November 1971. In 1976 a stained glass window in St Paul's Church on Thornaby Road was dedicated to the RAF at Thornaby. In 1997 a statue was erected on Thornaby Road, it is dedicated to all who served at RAF Thornaby. In 2007 a full-size replica Spitfire aircraft was erected on the roundabout at the junction of Thornaby Road, Bader Avenue and Trenchard Avenue. Hidden beneath the roundabout is part of one of the three runways which used to run east to west.

On 10 November 2011 an RAF Search and Rescue Sea King Helicopter paid a three-hour visit to Bader primary to help celebrate the 40th anniversary of Sir Douglas Bader opening the school. The day of activities included a visit by representatives from RAF Leeming, the Commanding Officer at Catterick Garrison, Middlesbrough Armed Forces Careers Office and the Cleveland Mountain Rescue Team.


The heavy-engineering firm Head Wrightson was formerly a major employer in Thornaby-on-Tees.

The town today

The town has a good range of shops and other facilities, and there is a small market on Thursdays. Thornaby railway station serves the town.

Change is constant as the old Mandale Estate is demolished now housing built. The Pavilion shopping centre was redeveloped and reopened in 2009. Teesside Park in Thornaby was formerly a racecourse and is now a shopping park.

The town is home to Durham University's Queen's Campus; the one part of that university not in County Durham, if within sight of it.

In 2012 the Town Council bought Thornaby Town Hall from the Borough Council. The Hall (which dates from 1890-2) is a prominent landmark, but has been largely unoccupied since the reorganisation of local government in 1968.


Thornaby celebrates Yorkshire Day each year, in August.

The Thornaby Show takes place each year at the beginning of September, it is estimated that more than 10,000 people turn up over the course of the day.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Thornaby-on-Tees)


  1. Yorkshire Air Museum