Middlesbrough is full of architecture that hints at its rich history, and this is certainly true of  Zetland Road. Near the town’s train station and a stone’s throw from Exchange Square, the street sees both newcomers to the town and old timers spill out of the station into Middlesbrough.

Zetland Road marks the divide between the old town centre at St Hilda’s and the newer hub, which now stretches down through the shopping centres, university, bars and restaurants as far as Linthorpe village. Taking a closer look at its historic buildings gives a glimpse into the lives of those living and working in the area during the Industrial Revolution.

Through the Zetland Road Residency from Celebrating Historic Middlesbrough, led by Navigator North and working in partnership with Middlesbrough Cultural Partnership, Middlesbrough Council and Historic England, artist Amy Davies has been able to uncover the stories of these impressive buildings and gain insight into the lives of those living, working and spending time on Zetland Road.

Amy Davies talking to visitors at The Masham during the opening event for the Zetland Exhibition.


A large part of Amy’s research looks at the stories of the people behind the businesses and establishments on Zetland Road, looking specifically at five buildings. She said: “I’m interested in how these buildings were used from their inception, and how they’ve been repurposed over that time to come in line with how we live now.

“I have focused particularly on the class structures that would have existed within the people working in the buildings back when they were built in the late 1800s, and comparing that with how the buildings have been repurposed and how those class structures still exist.

Amy, who works as a cook alongside her career as an artist, was inspired by her own experiences of being in the hospitality industry and how that highlights class divisions: “I work in hospitality and have done for a long time, and those kinds of class structures are still very much present in the modern world.

“I thought it would be interesting to transfer my own experiences across into my work, combining them with the stories of the workers of Zetland Road from over a century ago.”

Detail of drawing by Amy Davies, created with ‘Zetland Ink’.


To bring the history of this area to life, Amy developed an unusual material to create her artwork. She explained: “I work primarily with drawings, and as part of this project, I managed to develop an ink based on a chemical reaction which is used to make cheaper, paler wood look like ebony. By replacing the tannins in the wood with tannins from tea, I could create an ink with which to draw onto paper.”

The ink was made by dissolving steel wool in vinegar, resulting in ferric acetate. The use of steel in the ink acknowledges the industrial past of the town, while the use of Yorkshire Tea pays homage to the town’s proximity to the sprawling North Yorkshire Moors – as well as a lesser-known part of Middlesbrough’s history which Amy is keen to highlight.

Zetland Ink.

“I used the tea to give a wry nod to the Temperance Movement in Middlesbrough, which wasn’t all that effective I’m led to believe…It was very much a middle-class idea being put onto the working class, as they were seen as intemperate and rowdy.”

Amy Davies
Amy explains some of the research methods which inform her drawing.


Like much of the town, the area around Zetland Road is undergoing transformation and being given a new lease of life while maintaining a strong connection to its heritage.

Some of the buildings are still used for their intended purpose – the railway station runs direct trains to cities across the UK and the Zetland Hotels showcases its beautiful original tiles in situ as dinner is served by Christie’s Brasserie.

In contrast, other buildings have been reinvented. The Backhouse Bank is now Spensley’s bar and Stereo nightclub and the Bell Brothers’ Webb House now provides housing.

Amy hopes that the exhibition will give people an insight into the history of the street in a way that sparks curiosity: “I really hope this exhibition will give visitors and the local people of Middlesbrough a trip down Memory Lane.”

“Hopefully, I’ve shone a spotlight on the hidden nature of some of the interesting elements I’ve uncovered through my research of this historic part of the town. Doing this research has been absolutely fascinating, and has definitely opened up more questions which I’d really like to pursue now that the residency is over.”

Amy Davies

The Zetland exhibition is free to enter at The Masham every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11am to 4pm until 25th September.

Image Credits – Rachel Deakin