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The area corresponds to the former Langbaurgh Wapentake. The North York Moors national park, established in 1952, covers part of it. A non-metropolitan county under the same name existed from 1974 to 1996 and there is ambiguity today between that county and the historic extent of the name.
Cleveland has a centuries-long association with the area from Middlesbrough to Pickering and Thirsk to Whitby, effectively the eastern half of Yorkshire's North Riding. Ralph, Archdeacon of Cleveland, was the area's first archdeacon recorded, before 1174. A Dukedom of Cleveland was first created in the 17th century.
The Cleveland Hills were key suppliers of the ironstone which was essential to running blast furnaces alongside the River Tees. Cleveland’s rich ore has created a significant industrial heritage arising from its central role in the 19th century iron boom that led to Middlesbrough growing from a hamlet into a major industrial town in only a matter of decades. Teesport is one of the United Kingdom's main ports, initially due to the iron boom, with other heavy industrial plants between Middlesbrough and Redcar.
Legislation creating the Cleveland Parliamentary constituency (1885–1974) was the first use of Cleveland referring narrowly to land around the River Tees. The county of Cleveland and Tees Valley have followed on the same boundaries. The constituency was created by the division of the North Riding constituency, and was succeeded in name by the Cleveland and Whitby for the February 1974 general election.
Cleveland is a common place name in the USA and Canada, but relatively few of these places are named directly after this region in England. Many of the towns, as well as two counties and a national forest, are named after US President Grover Cleveland. Other towns are named after the City of Cleveland, Ohio, which in turn was named in honor of Moses Cleaveland, a founder of the city.
The area is geographically varied:
- Greenaway, DianaE. (1999), Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300, vol. 6, pp. 36–40
- Royal Mail, Address Management Guide Edition 4, (2004)