ON Sunday, a private garden created by one of Teesside’s pioneering Victorian industrialists is open to the public to raise money for the British Red Cross and the people of Ukraine.

It is Southlands, a remarkable villa at Eaglescliffe near Yarm, which was built in 1876 for Sir Samuel Sadler, the man who started Teesside’s chemical industry. He made his fortune by manufacturing all manner of noxious-sounding substances: Benzole, Tulole, Xylol, plus naphtha, carbolic acid, caustic soda, sulphuric acid and coal-gas. He was thrice mayor of Middlesbrough and the Boro’s first Conservative MP.

Southlands is a pioneering place because it is one of the first buildings to be made from “slag concrete”. Slag from the bottom of one of Middlesbrough’s blast furnaces was ground down to produce slag cement and then transported to the building site along the Tees by barge. It was mixed with aggregate to form slag concrete.

Unfortunately, it very quickly absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and loses its stickiness. Therefore, it can only be used very close to the blast furnace – the only other construction we are aware of in our area that is made from slag concrete is the jetty at Skinningrove, which was built immediately beneath the ironworks.


Southlands, the home of Sir Samuel Sadler, is built of slag concrete

Southlands, the home of Sir Samuel Sadler, is built of "slag concrete"


The largest concentration of slag concrete buildings in the world is in Mariupol, a Ukrainian city we’ve all recently learned has a huge iron and steelworks. They were built in the 1950s, when building materials were short in the Soviet Union, but Russia has recently obliterated them.


Sir Samuel Sadler, chemist, of Southlands

Sir Samuel Sadler, chemist, of Southlands


Sir Samuel and his second wife, Mary, laid out the grounds of Southlands, utilising the slope towards the river for the lawns and borders. One of their original features was a fountain which hasn’t worked since Lady Sadler died in 1937, but the current owner, Ian Waller, has spent lockdown restoring it so on Sunday, its dolphins will be spouting once more.


Sir Samuels newly restored fountain in the grounds of Southlands

Sir Samuel's newly restored fountain in the grounds of Southlands


He bought Southlands in 1980 from Friedelind Wagner, the grand-daughter of the composer Richard Wagner and great-grand-daughter of Franz Liszt.

She had been born in 1918 in Bavaria where her family were close friends of Adolf Hitler, who admired the stirring, Teutonic nature of Wagner’s operas. Her mother, Winifred, an Englishwoman, was a great admirer of Hitler who regularly dropped in for tea.

Friedelind, though, turned against Nazism and was forced to flee in 1937. She made it to England and wrote for the Daily Sketch newspaper lampooning Hitler. The family of any other writer of anti-Nazi articles would probably have been taken in by the Gestapo, but Hitler protected the Wagners because of their music.

Friedelind’s mother is believed to have said that Friedelind deserved “eradication and extermination” for her views.

Unable to return to Germany, Friedelind, a musician, lived a nomadic life, teaching music from Buenos Aires in Argentina to New York until in the mid-1970s she was enticed to settle in Teesside to open a music school and to take charge of a 2,000 seater theatre which Middlesbrough was planning.

At Southlands, she used the sweeping lawns for orchestral concerts.

However, the Middlesbrough theatre project collapsed, partly because her mother’s close Nazi sympathies were exposed, and she returned to Germany, where she died in 1991.

The Southlands gardens in The Avenue, Eaglescliffe, TS16 9AS, are open 2pm to 5.30pm on Sunday, June 12. Admission: adult £5, under 16s free. Parking in the grounds. Dogs on leads welcome. Homemade refreshments available. Proceeds, which Mr Waller will double, to the British Red Cross and the Ukraine Crisis appeal.