The Saltburn Mortuary A hidden piece of Teesside history


Until 1881, the Ship Inn had the dubious distinction of also being used as the local mortuary for victims of drowning. Regular occurrences of bodies being washed up on the beach – which had to be accommodated at the Ship Inn whilst awaiting post mortem – prompted the need for a mortuary. This was eventually built for Brotton Local Board, the key being available at Mr Temple’s house! The Saltburn Local Board had apparently declined to contribute to the cost of building the mortuary.

The Mortuary was one of three buildings on the site, the nearest to the Ship Inn being the Lifeboat House and sandwiched between that and the Mortuary was the Rocket Brigade building.

Today only the Mortuary remains standing as the Lifeboat House and the Rocket Brigade house were demolished in a road widening scheme.

The Mortuary is a Grade II listed building. Internally many original features are intact. The building had been used in more recent years as a wood store and before that as a photographers studio. Tees Valley Wildlife trust had used the building since the mid eighties until recently. In September 2007 Tees Valley Wildlife Trust and English Heritage opened the Mortuary to the public for four days.

The tiny room, 12ft x 18ft, became a mini museum which received over 1000 visitors eager to visit the last resting place of dozens of individuals during its working lifetime. The future of the building is as yet uncertain but a friends group has been formed and is working closely with the local authority to try to ensure that the

Mortuary will remain standing as a sentinel for many years to come. It has been suggested having a glass door on the front of the Mortuary with a light inside (two small skylights provide the only lighting in the building) and appropriate signage until such time as a scheme for the whole area is agreed upon and is able to be carried out.

It would seem that the general impression about the Mortuary is that it was only used for bodies washed up on the beach and rocks. This was not so. Until the early 1970’s when Cleveland County was formed, all persons who died as a result of “sudden death” were taken to the Mortuary on the authority of the Cleveland Coroner who had an office in Guisborough.
“Sudden death” was in fact apart from accidental death, when a doctor could not state the cause of death or the person had not seen a doctor in the last fourteen days.

The body was then removed by the Coroner’s Officer, who was the local policeman on duty and the undertaker. The Coroner would then decide whether a post mortem was necessary or if the body could be returned to relatives for burial or cremation.
On this basis the Mortuary was used regularly on what we would today term 365/24.

Those days came to an end when Cleveland County was formed, and full time coroner’s officers were appointed within the whole of the County and bodies were removed straight to the pathology department at Middlesbrough General Hospital.

Project Middlesbrough is looking to try organise a tour of the Mortuary with a local historian , if this is something you would be interesting coming along to please send us an email to

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