Fairy Dell was originally the gardens and grounds belonging to Gunnergate Hall which was built in 1857 for the Quaker banker, Charles Leatham. After his death it was bought by John Vaughan, the business partner of Mr HWF Bolckow from Marton Hall. John Vaughan died in 1868 when Gunnergate Hall passed to his son, Thomas, who spent a fortune on it, which included building a banqueting hall, ballroom and billiard room. It was a magnificent building, with sweeping lawns, well wooded grounds, a lake with a boat house, tennis courts and greenhouses and an impressive driveway. However, all work stopped in 1879, because his company collapsed and in 1881 Gunnergate Hall was bought by another Bolckow, Carl, the nephew of the earlier Mr Bolckow. In 1885 it was sold again – to Sir Railton Dixon, a ship builder and Mayor of Middlesbrough. The Dixons had six daughters and two sons – their weddings were lavish affairs with the villagers turned out in force to join in the celebrations. When Sir Railton died in 1901, his widow, Lady Dixon went to live at Great Ayton, where she died fourteen years later, leaving the Hall empty. It was requisitioned by the army during the First World War, but was finally demolished in 1946 and the land acquired by Middlesbrough Council. It can be seen from early Ordnance Survey maps that the lake in the Dell was built at some time between 1857 and 1895. However, in 1895 the lake was parallel to Marton West Beck, and was only later enlarged to include the beck. The ‘top lake’ was part of the early gardens and would have been used as a boating lake. Much of the Victorian garden and its plants are still visible – especially the large rockery near to the waterfall. All that remains of Gunnergate Hall now is two lodges. High Lodge in Tollesby Road and Hunters’ Lodge in Gunnergate Lane, which was so named because it was the entrance used by the Hunt. Originally there were three entrances to the Hall. The main one was beside High Lodge, then along the line of what is now Adelaide Road, Marton, with gates opposite Captain Cook School.
The present Fairy Dell Park was developed and planted by Middlesbrough Council around 1990, but the Dell remained in the naturalised state into which it had fallen over the intervening years. People remembered fishing and swimming in the lake, plus riding bikes and walking on the paths, but gradually it became too overgrown.
The major turning point for Fairy Dell was brought about by the thousands of Middlesbrough people who voted for the ‘Transforming Fairy Dell’ Project (put together by Middlesbrough Council) in the Big Lottery’s Peoples’ Millions competition in late 2005, which was screened on Tyne Tees TV. Winning the award of fifty thousand pounds, plus the further contribution of almost fifty thousand from Middlesbrough Council, was the beginning of putting Fairy Dell back on the map as a local beauty spot for people of all ages to enjoy. Woodsmen and foresters started work to selectively thin trees and lift crowns in order to open up footpaths and improve the Dell.
Since then several other lottery applications have been successful, enabling many other projects to be carried out – all with the same aim – to improve Fairy Dell:
2) Big Lottery Breathing Places: 4th October 2006 > 2007 -
3) Awards for All Lottery Grant: 27th April 2009-
4) Breathing Places (Phase 4) Lottery Grant: 21st April 2009 > 31st December 2009 -
5) Community Council Grants have been successfully applied for from both Marton West and Coulby Newham.
6) A further lottery grant application has reached Stage 2 in its preparation. It is to improve the footpath in the ‘Gunnergate Wetland’ section of the Dell, include more seating and involve the Primary Schools in more art activities.
All these monies have enabled the introduction of many wood carvings, carved ‘story telling’ seats, the bird hide plus play area and much planting of native wild flowers into the Dell.
There are currently around 15 people who might attend the regular monthly meetings on the second Wednesday of each month. The mailing list of ‘interested’ families stands at 250, some of whom live some distance away. Some of these regularly attend the various functions, while others may have been to only one or two more specialised events, for example the ‘bat night’ or ‘wildflower identification’. Young children enjoy their own events, such as the annual ‘teddy bear’s picnics’ and ‘minibeast hunts’.
In general, it is a much used area, especially by dog walkers, although it was the recent venue for runners and we understand that more road races are scheduled.