Middlesbrough, on the south bank of the Tees estuary, was a small fishing village of 40 people before a group of Quakers, including Joseph Pease and Joseph Gurney, associated with the Stockton & Darlington Railway, decided to turn it into a town in 1829. The original purpose of the railway was to convey coal from Auckland to the River Tees at Stockton. However, the depth of water proved insufficient for large vessels so it was decided to find a site for a better port down the river. Pease and his friends paid £35,000 for the 520 acre site and the Stockton & Darlington opened a line to it in 1830. The census carried out in 1831 showed the population had reached 383 but ten years later this had risen to 5,709.
John Vaughan and a German entrepreneur, F. W. Bolckow, opened an ironworks in Middlesbrough in 1840. The discovery of workable ironstone in the nearby Eston Hills in 1851 helped their business expand. In 1879 the company became the first to make use of the new Bessemer steel-making method.
In 1856 the South Durham & Lancashire Railway opened. High grade ironstone from Furness was now brought across the Pennines to Middlesbrough. This was a profitable railway line and in 1877 a new impressive gothic station was built in the town.
The Stockton & Darlington Railway was taken over by the North Eastern Railway in 1849. They also purchased the dock area and an improvement in its facilities was finished in 1874. These developments stimulated economic growth and by 1881 the population of Middlesbrough had reached 56,000.