These appeared in Around and About from Spring 2007 spread over a number of parts. They were written by Edith Lumley for Croft Women’s Institute.
About three and a half miles south of Darlington situated pleasantly on both banks of the River Tees stands our village CROFT SPA. It is a picturesque little village of about 350 souls whose lives are centred round Croft’s beautiful ancient church St Peter’s or round the Methodist Church & Village Hall. The two sections of the village are joined by the Tees Bridge, a majestic bridge which in May 1926 was listed as a National monument and is now under the nation’s wing.
Croft residents are proud of this `grand old bridge’, one of the oldest & finest in the North of England dating from 1356. It has seven beautiful Gothic arches which gradually increase in height in the centre of the curve. The earliest structure was no doubt formed of the same red sandstone from the river bed from which the church is built. As well as uniting both parts of the village it unites the counties of Durham and Yorkshire. The Duke of Cumberland must have passed over it on his way to Culloden for he left a record that the marshes of Oxen-le-Fields were the worst he had ever travelled. The North Riding of Yorkshire keeps 95 yards two inches of the bridge in repair; Durham repairs 53 yards 2 inches. A sign, County Durham & North Riding each displaying its Coat of Arms, shows the boundary. The blue stone on the third arch on the Durham side marks the boundary line and has this inscription: `Let Durham contribute with the North Riding and the County of Durham in the upkeep in proportion. A.D.1673.’ At one time this stone formed part of the pavement. On the opposite side a little further along is a brown granite slab which people at Croft erected in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.Strange things have happened on Croft Bridge. In the 16th Century the Sheriffs of Durham and York met here to deliver prisoners.
The reigning Master of Sockburn Manor about five miles away, used to greet each newly appointed Bishop on this spot. This quaint ceremony should have been performed at Neasham Ford but unfortunately river floods often prevented it. The custom was for the Lord of Sockburn to hand a sword to the Bishop saying “With this Falchion the Champion Conyers slew the worm, dragon or fiery serpent which destroyed man, woman and child.” In memory of this the reigning King gave him the Manor of Sockburn on condition that the sword should be offered to each new Bishop when he entered the county.On receiving the sword he immediately handed it back to the owner wishing him health and long life at Sockburn Manor. In 1826 this ceremony took place for the last time when the falchion was presented to the Bishop Van Mildert the last of the Prince Bishops. (hasn’t this ceremony been revived and if so when did this happen? Does the modern ceremony follow the same procedure?)Croft Bridge also holds the story of the time when Jonathan Backhouse went by post chaise to London to bring gold to meet a run that had been planned on his bank in Darlington. On the way back a wheel came off the coach on Croft Bridge and the banker completed the journey with the gold heaped up in one corner to balance the coach. Mrs Lloyd Pease (deceased) was the owner of a print of this incident.
St. Peter’s Church
At the South end of the bridge stands the ancient Church, a Crown Living dedicated to Saint Peter dating from 1090. Here we find relics of the past which show that Croft has its roots deeply embedded in antiquity. Romans, Britons, Saxons, Normans, Tudors all leave traces of their connections with the Church. Many restorations have taken place down the centuries. the last being in the 19th Century. Like the bridge it was built of red sandstone from the river bed. The main entrance is a fine semi-circular archway with stone seats picturesque with roses in summer, adding beauty to the low battlemented tower. The interior of the Church is full of interest. The Chaytor Chapel on the right as the Church is entered, has a very fine screen and a massive tomb in memory of Richard Clervaux 1490. Close to the entrance to the Chapel is the grotesque figure of the `River God’ carved in the stone on the wall. In the North aisle a carved oak staircase leads to the raised canopied unique pew once occupied by the Milbankes of Halnaby Hall. The hourglass on the wall next to the pulpit was introduced in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1. Close to the pulpit is a Squint Window with one directly opposite from which alms were received. The pulpit replacing one of the 18th century was the gift of the Revd. J. M. Marshall M.A. Rector, and his sisters, in 1897 in memory of their mother.
The Rectory and the Dodgsons
Close to the Church is Croft rectory with old world garden. In this garden Lewis Carroll played as a boy. He came to the Rectory as a boy of 11 when his father, the Revd. Charles Dodgson was appointed Rector in 1834. Under the now gnarled acacia tree he wrote his famous `Alice in Wonderland.’ The original Alice was the daughter of Henry George Liddell, Dean of Christchurch whose father had livings in County Durham, one of which was at Bishop Auckland. Alice Liddell never visited Croft but Alice Raikes, a young cousin of Lewis Carroll, did. She was one of the inspirers of `Through the Looking Glass.’
Croft Rectory has been converted into flats and its gardens into allotments. (When?) During conversion the floor boards of Lewis Carroll’s room were removed and treasures were discovered illustrating his many poems; an embroidered hanky, a glove, a small well-worn shoe, remnants of a child’s china tea service and a thimble. Lewis Carroll was educated at Richmond, Rugby and Christ Church, Oxford. His resting place is at Guildford.
An old resident, Grannie Pickersgill who died in 1933 aged 90, told of the wonderful puppet and conjuring shows in his miniature theatre and the weird games he invented and played under the acacia tree on the lawn. Grannie who lived in Lilac Cottage, was a great favourite with Lewis who loved to visit her and enjoy a cup of tea with her famous girdle cakes. The late Miss Elizabeth Joblin, a friend of Grannie had vivid memories of the Dodgsons. She described the quaint sisters of Lewis Carroll, wearing long full skirts like umbrellas. Miss Elizabeth Dodgson was her Sunday school teacher. Everybody loved Archdeacon and Mrs Dodgson who are buried on the North side of the Church. On the centenary of Lewis Carroll – January 1932, a lantern lecture on `Alice in Wonderland’ was given by the Rector Revd. H. Tompkins.
Croft Spa Hotel
On the main road between the Church and Richmond Road stands the Croft Spa Hotel, once a posting house. It was built in 1808 to accommodate visitors from as far afield as London who came to take the `waters.’ About 1714 in the time of Sir William Chaytor, it was discovered that horses suffering from swollen legs and other troubles were cured after drinking from the spring and paddling in the pond. Humans drank the water and found similar relief. On investigation it was found that waters of remarkable healing properties underlay the Spa woods. Sulphur, magnesia and iron water equal to those at Harrogate and the Continent were soon in constant demand. A pump room was built, baths were installed but alas! today the Spa and Baths are closed for want of funds. Now we can only name several wells: Old Well, Sweet Well, Canny Well and Iron Well, the latter still running, its healing waters free to all.
The opening of the Railway was a death blow to the coaching days when Croft was proud of two `Posting Houses’. When the Mail Coach galloped in the guard’s shrill horn was heard.. This was a warning to clear the track. Then there was a change of horses and `refreshers’ for all post boys and helpers before the `Wellington’ and `Tally Ho’ again went on their mad gallop of eight to ten miles per hour. In those good old days Croft was a stirring little place. At that time the real prosperity of Croft commenced with the advent of Mr. Thomas Winteringham as landlord of the Spa Hotel. He was an enterprising man and established a stud of `Thoroughbreds’ which was famous. Some of the noted sires were Chanticleer, Lord of the Isles, Thornaby, Scottish Chief, Costa and Underhand which was Mr. Winteringham’s own horse. Lady Dot and Letty Long – both celebrated matrons, had their home there. As many as 30 hunters were exercised every morning. If all could not be accommodated at the hotel they were billeted at stables in the village.
Approaching the Richmond Road we get a view of the railway viaduct over the River Tees which is of special interest. Mr Swales, a retired railway man, records that this stone bridge had its foundations laid on sheep’s wool, thorns and concrete because of the sandy bed. The reason for the abrupt curve on the railway line at Croft, just before the bridge is reached, is due to the fact that no other foundation could be used than that selected. This man’s grandfather was a water diviner.
Crossing the bridge from the Yorkshire to the Durham side we reach the part of Croft which is called Hurworth Place; Croft Post Office, Railway Station and Telephone Exchange are situated here. Facing the river are the old cottages, Post Office, Comet Hotel and Tees View Cottages. These stand a little distance from the road and are approached by a short drive. They are always a mystery to strangers; some think they are a fortress of some kind, others think they are alms houses or a hospital. They are adorned with models of a lion, a unicorn and an eagle. To the village they are known as Menagerie Row.
They were built by Sir Ernest Cassell. In the background and also built by Sir Ernest is Croft House, then the home of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Thompson Maxwell. In 1878 Sir Ernest married their daughter Annette. During the Great War one daring airman cut off the eagle’s head. Later it was cemented on so neatly that a stranger could not tell such a thing had happened.
Near the cottages is Croft Post Office occupying one of the houses on the river front. Next we come to the Comet Hotel which takes its name from the famous Shorthorn `Comet’ bred by Charles Colling and sold for 1,000 guineas. A signboard depicting the famous `Comet’ used to hang over the entrance to the hotel but it was removed in 1959. Colling lived in Monkend Hall where he died in 1836.
Quite near is the old brickyard, now dismantled, with four small bungalows on part of the site. It is interesting to know that Hurworth Rectory was built from bricks made here.
Mr. Jim Suggett, who lived in one of the bungalows, helped to carry these bricks onto the `drying tables’ where they dried in the sun before being put into the kilns. He and his mate received 1/for every 1,000 bricks they moved (that was 6d each). They could move from 4,000 to 5,000 bricks a day, working from 3 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Blacksmith’s Shop – Toll House
At the left hand side of the Durham end of the bridge was the Blacksmith’s Shop. In 1871 Robert and Betty Dixon lived there and at a later date their two sons, John and Tommy Dixon. Later the shop was worked by Mr T. Longstaff, nephew of John and Tommy. Part of the blacksmith’s shop was a small inn known as “The Pig and Whistle.” Pig is taken from the work “Piga” meaning “a girl” and whistle is an incorrect pronunciation of “wassail.” Therefore, the correct meaning of the name of the ancient signboard was “A Lass and a Glass.” The children no longer stand at the door to watch the sparks fly and hear the anvil ring. It was demolished in 1939.
The Toll House was next to the Smithy’s shop and was partly washed away by one of the big floods, and with it a substantial sum of money. The Toll Gate extended right across the road. There was a wicket gate for pedestrians who passed over the bridge free of charge. Traffic and all kinds of animals were paid for. Mr and Mrs Raisebeck kept the Toll House for 12 months, leaving in January 1865. It was demolished in 1871.
Walking up the bank past where the Old Toll House stood we pass the Joiner’s Shop of Mr G Richardson, who has been in business 60 years. Further on we see the familiar face of Mr Raw in his Grocer’s shop, where he, with his father – the late Mr Frank Raw – have carried on for 63 years.
Railway Station (old and new)
A stone’s throw from here we reach the Railway Station, Croft Spa. There have been many changes since the Croft branch of the Stockton and Darlington Railway was first opened on October 27th 1829, the station at that time being where the coal depot is now, and Croft was the terminus on the line. A long procession of coaches, each drawn by one horse and crowded with passengers carrying flags and banners, was followed by a train of wagons filled with coals. This line is called “the old line.”
The first “Station” was a wooden hut about 9ft x 6ft with just enough room for a small sloping desk, a stool, two or three books, a ticket rack, a small metal stove and the fussy important gentleman, Mr Watson, the stationmaster. The Company gave a luncheon at the Croft Spa Hotel when Mr Newburn, their solicitor, told those present that in a few years a railway would be made to London when travelling would be so fast that people would be able to travel one day and return the next, and there would be no need to send Coft Spa water to London in flasks to be sold at 1/- per flask. Roars of laughter greeted him, but the prophecy came true.
Mr. George Lumley (the writer’s father) was goods agent at Croft 44 years. In his twenties he was a fitting engineer and designed a model engine, the only one of that period, which is now in Darlington Museum. A great musician, he played an ebony and ivory flute.
The stone flags at the edge of Croft Station platform were originally sleepers before the days of wooden ones. At the time of writing this story (1960) a new railway bridge at the station is in course of construction. This change has been made necessary to cope with the diesel train traffic and to widen the road over the railway for the increase of heavy traffic.
Another interesting resident is Mr. W. Haynes, always known as “Billie.” His friendly personality made him popular with yourw, and old. He still lives in the house in Monkend Terrace where he was born in 1879. His mother was born here, and his grandmother, who took is visitors, was the first tenant. In those days Croft was full of visitors who came to take “the waters.” He was christened in Croft Methodist Chapel and has been a lifelong member and is still a Trustee. At the age of 15 he earned 2/6d. per week as a blacksmith in. Darlington. He held a driving licence in 1899 and drove the first car that was in Darlington. In 1900 he joined a cycling club when cycles had solid tyres. He was captain of Croft’s second cricket team for 12 years, for the best “batting and bowling average.”
Floods and Fords
The River Tees can be very angry at times. It is an awe-inspiring sight to see the river in spate. It is like a huge wall of water coming to meet you and before you realise what has happened this wall of water has spread out with a roar like a heavy peel of thunder. Old residents remember many disastrous floods. During one flood several pillars of the bridge were damaged and a local tax was levied to have them repaired. Another flood washed away the Turnpike house with £50 toll money.
Another entered the Church and carried away the Church gates. Two walls were washed away, one at the entrance to Richmond Road, the other directly opposite.
In 1881 another disastrous flood reached a height shown by a black brick in the wall close to Mrs. Hopper’s window. This was painted the day after the flood by Bob Byers and Arthur Ness, then 20 years old. The custom of thus marking the height has been handed down. In that flood the waters swamped the coal depot and the neighbouring cottages. Mr. & Mrs. Ness and family were marooned. To relieve the anxiety of the villagers they periodically rang the large house bell to let people know that all was well. Horses were removed from the Spa hotel. Huge boulders hurtled down smashing the railings by the riverside. The long beam which forms the seat inside the railings by the bridge was washed there in the 1895 flood from `Step ends’ between Langton and Middleton – in – Teesdale.
In 1895 the Tees was frozen for six weeks. It was possible to skate from Croft to Yarm, several miles distant. The late Mr. J. Wilson Mr. Harry Garrington and Mr. J. Hall skated several miles in the opposite direction, to Piercebridge. Everyone enjoyed the skating, moonlight nights enhanced the enjoyment and when there was no moon candlelight gave the scene a fairy – tale touch.
Long ago there was a ford across the river, reached by the grassy slopes at the South end of Mr. Ness’s garden wall. Cattle passed over here to escape the toll. Another ford is said to have existed where the bridge now stands.
The Jackass Colliers
Long ago, Croft Depot was the only place for miles around where coal could be obtained. In those days men came from the Dales with donkeys laden with `lead’ to export to other places and returned home with bags of coal carried by the donkeys. Often the `queue’ reached from the bridge to the Depot and they frequently arrived during the night so great was the rush…They were called Jackass Colliers. There is a petrifying well in the Coal Depot yard in the recess at the end of the coal cellars.
Miss Raisebeck lived in one of the old Posting Houses the `Sign of the Black Bull’ on the Yorkshire side of the river just past the Richmond Road. This was one of the resting places for the donkeys, while the men went inside for a `refresher`. One of the little square window panes had the following lines on it:
“A diamond, a pencil, and a pane of glass,
is pen and pencil for every idle ass.”
Another pane had this inscription: –
“Jonathan Nelson of Portsmouth 1810.”
Unfortunately in 1934 this pane was broken and replaced by ordinary glass. The house is now demolished.
This old resident also spoke of Corpse Walks, one of which was across Monkend Hill from a hind’s house across the glebe land. The Rector, Mr Villiers, about 1874 received the Toll of 1/- being the owner of the land over which the Corpse was carried.
During the time of Archdeacon Dodgson (1843-1868) the musical part of the church service was provided by five villagers, Robert Forster (crescendo), Jacky Coates and son Willie (forte with graces and pianissimo), Jake Hopper (shrill staccato) and Bob Wilson (double forte). They rattled the church rafters in those days and regular churchgoers accepted this as correct church music. The tune was `pitched’ by Jake Hopper with the aid of a `pitch pipe’ or `whistle’, an extraordinary wind instrument in shape rather like a chair leg and made of mahogany. This is now in the possession of Mr. Charles Featherstone’s grand-daughter.
In Reverend Law’s time (1868) the sexton sat in a square pew just inside the church door. `Amen Clark’ and `Dog Man’ sat on the right, the latter with a long pole to scare the dogs away. `Cuckoo’ Jack Robinson was a character of the 1870’s who got his name through mimicking this bird. When dying, at the age of 90, he was still in possession of a perfect set of teeth!
VILLAGE lads Robert Byers, William Parlour and Harry Raisebeck were all in the church choir. William was known as “Whistling Willie.” He used to walk with his hands in his pockets whistling all the time. Since then he became an outstanding figure of our village as Alderman William Parlour, a great agriculturalist. giving lectures on “Agricultural Science and Practice” to schools and discussion societies, contributing weekly articles to the Darlington and Stockton Times, a founder member of the North Riding and South Durham Agricultural and Value’s Association, and a member of the N.F.U. On behalf of the Durham County Council he purchased Houghall, one of the best Agricultural Colleges in the country. He was an expert on the Shorthorn breed of cattle and, to further interest in this breed he inaugurated a fund to purchase the “Coiling Memorial Cup.” the first trophy the Royal Agricultural Show possesses.
Robert Byers was a crack shot, and was with the First Volunteer Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry for 10 years, winning many prizes at Bisley and Wimbledon. He was a great fisherman, one Good Friday landing 99 grayling from the River Swale.
About 70 years ago George Metcalfe was a familiar figure noted for his joviality. He was a postman, riding a penny-farthing bike when delivering letters as far as Halnaby Hall. Later he drove a pony and trap which he let out on hire. He was a cobbler too. working for all the gentry in the district.
Our grand old man of Croft, Mr. William Basham, who celebrated his 95th birthday last June (1959) has just retired from gardening. He is a member of the village Hall and in 1955 won the Billiard Handicap. In 1956 he won the prize for snooker handicap.
The Inness Family
THE late Mr. H. A. Inness, of Monkend Gardens, who grew orchids, had the honour of having received two scrolls of Freemanship from one city. He was Honorary Freeman and Freeman by heritage of Newcastle. The Freemanship by heritage has been in the family for about 350 years, handed down from generation to generation. It is believed it was originally gained by John Inness in defence of Newcastle against the Scots. Honorary Freeman is the greatest honour a city can bestow on a man. This was given to Mr. Inness for services in the Boer War. His scroll of office bears the inscription “Admitted a Freeman of this city before the Right Hon. Arthur Munro Sutherland. Lord Mayor,” and stands charged with a musket for the defence thereof. Some of these men were obliged as boys to sign agreement binding them to serve their employers for seven years. Mr. Inness had a copy of the agreement drawn up in 1815 between his grandfather (then a boy) and his employers. This bound his to serve them faithfully for seven years, his salary during that time rising to 6 /- a week. These were the rules : –
- He must not enter a public house or ale house.
- He must not play cards.
- He must not play dice.
If the Freeman’s son broken any rule he was immediately imprisoned. It was not uncommon for these boys to break their contracts 100 years ago—in which case descriptions were advertised in newspapers and arrest followed.
Mr. Inness had the right as Freeman to graze two cows on Newcastle Town Moor and had no Corporation Tolls to pay in the city. The honoured men were also entitled to have their sons educated at Newcastle Grammar School, free of charge.
During the Second World War the three sons of Mr. Inness attended the Lord Mayor’s office in Newcastle for the interesting traditional ceremony. Each held a musket in his right hand. and the Holy Bible in the left hand, and as recipient of the Freemanship promised to defend the City walls. Cosmo Inness was one of the first boys in, our village “to fly.”
The Featherstone Family
ONE of the most interesting village characters was Joe Featherstone (son of Charles Featherstone). There was nothing to which Joe could not turn his hand. He was an authority on antiques, having gained much knowledge from his father. He accompanied William Parlour, auctioneer, to many ancestral homes —near and far—when they were dismantled, picking up many a treasure at these sales. He drove a horse-drawn mail coach from Darlington to Croft, Hurworth and Neasham, for 26 years. He was an enterprising young man and ran a horse-drawn wagonclte to and from Darlington for some years when there were few trains. Passengers climbed three steps to enter the coach and sat facing each other. On Saturday nights a row of orange boxes were placed down the centre of the wagonette to accommodate extra passengers. Mr. Abbott and Sons buses were the next means of travelling by road. Today there is a regular United bus service. Joe’s next successful venture was a taxi business, now carried on by his daughter. Next, still as enthusiastic, he commenced_ a newsagent’s business in part of the Old Curiosity Shop, delivering daily papers in the village and to outlying farms. At that time the papers delivered by train were Northern Echo, North Star, Strand, Windsor, Woman at Home, and Quiver Magazine. Several villagers commenced a Magazine Club for exchanging books, each person keeping the magazine one week. Today a Mobile Library van visits Croft every week.
Old Curiosity Shop
CHARLES FEATHERSTONE’S Old Curiosity Shop held many a treasure of intrinsic value and he loved to show his collection to any who wished to see it. Part of his premises was at one time a Boys’ School. Mr. Mawson was the school master; Mr. J. Wilson. Mr. H. Garrington, and Mr. W. Simpson received part of their education here. Mr. Featherstone was a great temperance man, ran the Band of Hope sing-songs in one of his rooms which all the village children went every Monday night. The writer is the proud possessor a small sugar basin and cream jug which once adorned the shelf by the window of his Old Curiosity Shop, presented to her by him when a very small girl, for winning a singing competition.
Above the “Old Curiosity Shop” (now a fish shop) is a figure of a man’s head which represents John Wesley and was placed there by Mr. C. Featherstone. At that time he kept a pet donkey called Jane which he hired out to the many visitors who flocked to Croft in those days. The ride was from the shop to the Comet Hotel and back, but he warned all not to strike Jane or she would throw the rider off her back. One day someone struck her so she lay on the ground at the Comet Hotel., rolled the rider off, and trotted back home.
A STONE’S throw from the “Old Curiosity Shop” is the Methodist Church, a plain little Gothic building which celebrated its Diamond Jubilee in 1930. Mrs. Cozens had the honour of cutting the cake at this celebration and was presented with a silver cake knife. Before this Church was built a few people in Croft used to attend services in a room called “The Upper Room.” Mrs. Cozens and Mrs. Ducker were regular worshippers. Both have since died. This was about 1865. This room was afterwards occupied by John and George Metcalfe, who had a cobbler’s shop. It is quite close to the present Church. On January 1st, 1870, the foundation stone was laid by Edmund Backhouse, of Middleton Lodge. When the building had been sufficiently completed for services it was dedicated by the Reverend James Hughes.
The Church was opened free of debt and great credit was due to all in their successful effort. The total cost was £695 / 11 / 2, and much money was raised by a bazaar, public teas and collections. A grant of £20 was made on condition the Church was opened free of debt. Many beautiful gifts are to be seen in the Church including two stained glass windows.
For many years an Alexandra Organ was used but in 1913 a pipe organ was installed. At that time Mr. Mather was a well-known figure in the choir. Mr. Vincent, from Sunderland, rebuilt the organ and he and Mr. Newrick, F.R.C.O., gave an organ recital at the opening. Mr. Frank Raw was organist and choirmaster at this time. Mr. Richard Raw, his son, succeeded him as organist and on his father’s death became choirmaster, and is still acting in that capacity after 44 years. In 1957 a Rebuilding and Organ Renovation Fund was lodged with a target of £4,000 in four years. This figure was passed at the end of two years two Spring Fayres being held which helped to raise the money. Coffee mornings which are held weekly, are very profitable. Structural improvements have been made, a kitchen and toilets being added. The organ was rebuilt and modernised by Mr. Sewell, Sunderland. The rebuilding of the organ scheme terminated on September 23rd, 1959, when the organ was dedicated by the new Minister, Reverend G. D. Baddley, re-opened by Mr. Raw, followed by a recital by Mr. Conrad Eden, from Durham Cathedral. Supper was served in the schoolroom.
Mr. Raw is proud of his choir and junior choir, who have won many trophies, one of which was a Rose Bowl, at musical festivities.
Great credit is due to the stewards of the Methodist Church, Mr. and Mrs. Wearmouth, and Mr. and Mrs. Earl, who have served the Church for 21 years. Mrs. Raw has been choir secretary for 34 years.
A friendly feeling exists between the two churches, each having an active Sunday School. Harvest Festival services are shared by all. The old-fashioned Harvest Home or Mell takes the form of a concert and supper in the Day School after the week night thanksgiving service in the Church. The Mothers’ Union, Young Wives’ Guild, and Men’s Guild, are connected with St. Peter’s Church. The Methodist Church has an active Guild programme for devotional, literary and musical evenings. On the first Sunday in each month the Methodists have a friendly musical fellowship hour. in which several members from St. Peter’s join. All are greeted with a cup of tea. Members of the Over-Sixty Club are happy community, enjoying socials, concerts, films and summer outings.
A Choral Society has been formed with the Rector as chairman, and weekly rehearsals are held at the Rectory. Mr. Raw is pianist, Mr. Homer conductor, Mr. Whitworth treasurer.
Croft Day School
THE land for Croft Day School on the Yorkshire side of the river was given by Archdeacon Dodgson. In his time it was a Church School. In later years it became a National School. Children came here from surrounding small villages when their schools were closed. Today, an Education Act allows children to attend here from the Yorkshire side only. Approximately 89 children attend here, aged 5712 years. There is a canteen, and branch of the County Library. Many scholars who received their first education here have gained high distinction and become very talented men and women. An excellent playing field for football and sport is there’s through the generosity of Captain Parlour. The late Mrs. Dixon-Johnson, of Oakwood, used to present each child in school wth two large Jaffa oranges on Easter Monday.
South Parade to Monkend Hill
QUITE close to the school is Carroll Place, a short cul-de-sac of eight new houses, part of the Council’s Housing Estate. Now we come to South Parade and pass on to the Market Gardens with their fruitful soil. Fifty years ago Jackie Allison, who tilled these gardens, despatched by rail tons of Victoria plums to the towns.
This luscious fruit could be bought for 10d. per stone. Butter cost 9d. per pound, eggs were 18 for 1 / -. and milk lid. per pint. Villagers left a plate and basket on the garden wall with the money. When the farmer’s gig drew up his wife got out, took the money, left the goods and the gig ambled off to Darlington market. Those were the days! Travelling on a short distance we see Monkend Hill. This was the rendezvous where the children 20 years ago used to “jarp” and bowl their Easter Pace eggs. Stones discovered here some years ago may have been remains of an old Roman road.
Old Name Places
CROSSING the main line railway bridge is Banks Terrace, where Captain Maltby lived. He spent much time in China where he contracted Yellow Fever. He was the first gentleman to bring to England the beautiful Chinese lilies which he found in one of the Chinese valleys. They were taken to Kew. His father was Bishop of Durham.
Most of these houses have a well connected with them. Opposite Banks Terrace is the Village Hall, built for the Village by Mrs. James Backhouse, of Hurworth Grange. Here Croft Women’s Institute hold their meetings in the winter months. Further along the road we come to Peaceful Valley, so named derisively by Wesley Featherstone because of the quarrelsome people living in four picturesque cottages. A quoit pitch was once used here by village boys, a prize of a copper kettle being presented to the winner in the matches. At the back of these cottages is a well 30 feet deep. Leaving Peaceful Valley we come to Pilmore Hall, now called Rockcliffe, built by Mr. Alfred Backhouse. The grounds were very beautiful, as many as 30 men being employed to keep them in perfect condition. Mr. Backhouse built the private bridge over the Tees connecting both parts of his estate. Previously they crossed the river in a small boat. Mr. Fraser was gamekeeper and reared hundreds of pheasants each year. He had orders to spend every Sunday afternoon in Pilmore Park to see no damage was done to the beautiful trees which Mr. Backhouse had planted and loved so well. Mr.’ John Scrivener was a well-known figure on the estate. When he was a young, man Mr. Backhouse asked him if he had any thought of getting married, to which he replied: “Yes sir, I might if I had a cage for the bird.” Mr. Backhouse built two houses and Mr. Scrivener married and brought his bride to Croft. Here they celebrated their golden wedding and here they passed on in the house where they came as bride and bridegroom.
Later Rockeliffe Hall became the home of Lord and Lady Southampton. After their death the Hall was acquired by the Nursing Brothers of Saint John of God who have transformed it into a hospital for Orthopaedic and Spastic patients of all denominations. It is subsidised by the Ministry of Health and is now called St. Cuthbert’s.
Croft in Wartime
IN the 1914-1918 war 95 men of Croft served in His Majesty’s Forces. Twenty-two gave their lives, and their names are honoured in memorial in the Church. Excitement reigned everywhere in Croft in 1919 when it was proposed to give all the men who had served the Forces a grand welcome home. A committee was formed with Mr. George Richardson as chairman, the late Mr. George Eden, hon. secretary, and the late Mr. Wadsley treasurer. They hoped to invite all the returned sailors and soldiers who resided in Croft Postal District (which included Croft Spa, Hurworth Place, Halnaby. Dalton and Eryholme Junction), to a luncheon, sports and entertainment, ending with a dance in the evening with the Croft Band in attendance.
Everyone, young and old, rose to the occasion and the magnificent sum of £87/2/2½ was raised. There was a balance of £12/12/11 which was apportioned to 16 Servicemen, who did not participate in the celebrations.
We are proud of Croft’s part in the 1939-1945 war. Many kindly folk housed evacuees. some of whom remained for years and made many friends. Several are now abroad with children of their own. Others still come to have a look at their “old” or “new” homes which sheltered them in days of danger.
A canteen was opened in the Methodist Schoolroom for .troops. During the whole of the late war the Royal Observer Corps maintained an observation post in Croft. The post was manned by local observers day and night.
In 1945 at one of King George VI’s investitures at Buckingham Palace, Major L. W. Arnett was awarded the M.B.A. and Major W. Chaytor the M.C. Neither was aware of the other’s presence until their names were called, but both added lustre to the name of Croft.
Sports and Activities
CRICKET has always been very popular in Croft. When it was first played is not known, although it is certain that a team composed of members of the Chaytor family, employees of the Chaytor estate, and some of the villagers played in the latter part of the 1800’s. The ground at that time was on the Yorkshire side in the field in front of the house at the Old Spa Farm. This continued in use until 1927. In 1923 Lord Southampton formed a team captained by his son, the Hon. Charles Fitzroy, from the employees engaged on the Rockcliffe Park Estate. He laid a very fine pitch in a field alongside the drive to Rockcliffe Hall, a delightful situation, and until the year 1927 this team functioned principally as an estate team. In 1927, due to a combination of circumstances, the effects of the Great War., the industrial depression and subsequent reduction in the number of employees on the estate, it was decided to disband the Croft Cricket Club and to form a new club from the remaining members of the Rockcliffe Club together with members of the old Croft and. Hurworth clubs, this combination to be named Rockcliffe Park Cricket Club and the ground to be the one at Rockcliffe Park. From this time until now (apart from the Second World War years) this club has continued to play with much success.
The late Mr. George Earl, tailor and postman, captained the team for 25 years. His son, Robert Earl. has been secretary for 20 years.
The revival of the Tennis Club with Mr. C. W. D. Chaytor as president, has proved very successful. There are 35 senior members paying an annual subscription of 25/-, and 12 juniors subscribe 10/- per annum. Fifteen vice-presidents each subscribe 10/-. Their headquarters are at the New Spa, where the waters were once sold. It has been transformed into a modern, well furnished room with platform for concerts, polished floor for dancing, tables and chairs for whist drives.. There is a well equipped kitchen. Money needed has been raised by members’ efforts. Dancing, games, lectures and parties are enjoyed here. The premises were opened by Mrs. Littleton in 1959.
Croft has many activities, catering for young and old. In 1910 the late Mr. George Aldous, for many years landlord of the Comet Hotel, formed the first Scout Troop at Croft. He was Scoutmaster till he emigrated to Vancouver some years later. In 1911 a troop of German Scouts passed through Croft. Our troop met them and they spent the night in a barn at Oxen-le-Fields Farm. The same year a party of Scouts visited Windsor Great Park for the International Rally, the forerunner of the present Scout Jamboree. Today in 1959 we have keen groups of Scouts and Cubs which have been re-organised by Mr. Fletcher (Scoutmaster), 15 Scouts and 15 Cubs. In June three Cubs received “Stars.” Our Rector is Group Scoutmaster; Miss Barbara Gibbon is Cubmaster.
CROFT Women’s Institute, founded in 1922, held its first meeting at the Spa Hotel, when Mrs. Watt, from Canada, came to speak. Twelve people were present—some of them are still members. A second meeting was held when Mr. Kekewich came to speak to a more enthusiastic audience. Mrs. R. Bowes, from Monkend Hall, was elected president. and a committee formed. It has progressed through the years, enjoying a dramatic and choral society, country and Morris dancing. Christmas parties have been a feature for members and village children, and summer outings have left happy memories.
Frequently members of the Over Sixty Club are entertained. Several members have been talented craftswomen, winning many onours. Some have visited Denman College and the Albert Hall. tablecloth, worked and given by one of the members, adorns the president’s table at each meeting in the Village Hall. On the table there is always a vase of lovely flowers. On the death of our president, Mrs. Pease, members bought a chair in her memory, suitably inscribed and used as a President’s chair. One member gave a cushion and embroidered cover for the chair. The members’ chairs are bright scarlet and gay green. In 1951 a silver cup was given by Mrs. R. Raw in memory of her mother, to be presented to the member gaining most points in competitions for the year, and to be held for a year with name inscribed.
Another interesting event was the erection of the bus shelter in which the villagers shared. It stands on the grass verge near the bridge and is built of stone, in keeping with the bridge. It commemorates the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
There was great excitement in 1947 when the W.I. celebrated its 25th anniversary at a garden meeting at the home of Mrs. Arnett. Mrs. Pease cut the cake, decorated with 25 candles. The Dramatic Society produced an original play : “Past, Present and Future of Croft Women’s Institute.”
Two members have celebrated their golden wedding and several their silver. In 1959 the W.I. adopted Miss Agnes Downes, a patient in Winterton Hospital, Sedgefield. Some years ago a member emigrated to Canada. She keeps in touch with Croft and when visiting England attends the meetings. Many charities have received gifts.
During the 1939-1945 war the W.I. Savings Group undertook weekly door-to-door collections for War Savings and large investments were made. At the end of the war a special Garden Party was held at Buckingham Palace when our Group ‘Secretary, Mrs. Whitworth, was a guest. the sum of £20,000 having been raised.
We are proud of the enterprising enthusiastic members of the Young Farmers’ Club, which is now 26 years old. They played a special part at the week-night Harvest Service at St. Peter’s when ten of their members walked up the main aisle each with a gift and presented it to the Rector, all winning a special word of praise and thanks. Their first red-letter day was in 1934 when they were presented with the Shield in an All-England contest. At the same time Miss Jean Simpson (now Mrs. Thuribeck) the Secretary. was awarded a certificate. They continue to win trophies.
Captain Parlour … President.
L. W. Arnett … Leader.
Fred Brown … Chairman.
ONE resident tells that the Order of Druids Society has been in existence over 100 years. Originally, for small weekly contributions, members had a doctor if ill. Since the inception of National Insurance Act, 1912, the Government named the doctor. The Society paid sickness benefit to members who were unable to work and is still doing so. The average over the last 50 years is 100 members. The late Mr. George Stairmand and his son have been connected with the Queen Victoria Lodge at Croft since 1886.
Literatary and Debating Society
MR. R. Byers, Mr. W. Parlour and Mr. Parncutt were the founders of this Society in the late 1890’&. Meetings were held in the Village Reading Room, a pitch pine building where in those days the late Joe Featherstone had his garage. There was a library, and many noted draughts players spent pleasant evenings there. two of the notables being “Big Bamlett” and “Mr. Churnsides.” They occasionally indulged in hot suppers, of rabbit pies, mashed potatoes and coffee. The three founders frequently enlivened the villagers with their “Penny Readings” held in Mr. Charles Featherstone’s Academy Rooms above his Old Curiosity Shop. Laughter and many an encore showed the appreciation of the audience. Mr. Parlour used to recite “A visit to the moon,” and “Jackdaw of Rheims,” both favourites with the old audiences. Mr. Byers would be “announcer” and say : “Our next penny reading will be on Tuesday at 7 o’clock when ‘Big Bamlett’ will sing “Lay me in my little bed.” causing much laughter. since he was a huge man as his name implies (6ft. 5in.).
Customs and Superstitions
A QUAINT custom in the Middle Ages was payment of the “Rent of a rose” for certain land in Croft. This land, cultivated by the late Mr. George Stairmand, now tilled by his son Victor Stairman, is on the Yorkshire side on the road to the New Spa. In the old days it was tilled by Robert and James Eden. The late Mr. Harry Raisebeck worked here when a boy and was paid 2d. per stone for picking gooseberries. Robert did the market garden. James did the public garden which adjoined “Echo Field” across the road. This is the land for which the “Rent of a rose” was paid in the time of roses. The Duke of Connaught, passing through Croft to Scotland, was presented by Sir William Chaytor with a leaf of Black Prince strawberries grown on his land. Mr. A. Raisebeck, who was working here at that time, witnessed this presentation.
Mr. Harry Raisebeck recalled memories of weddings being a great event. A shovel full of hot silver coins was brought from the Spa Hotel and thrown in the air outside the church gates. His fingers were burnt many times and Cobbler Kit Colman, who hailed from the Dales. never missed a scramble. At night they ran for ribbons.
Mr. Abbott, always a great sport, ran many times for the ribbons and frequently got his share of the hot silver coins. In those days, and today, the church gates were roped till the bridegroom paid a ransom. It was usual to carry the bride over the threshold of her home as it was considered unlucky to walk.
About 1890 it was a common sight to see and hear the organ grinder with his red-coated monkey, the dancing bear, the man on stilts and the German band. Each had a fixed day for his weekly visit. One sporting gentleman, the late Sir Henry Havelock Allan. chartered the barrel organ and played it all day outside the Spa Hotel and Church, paying off an old score and recompensing the organ grinder with a sovereign. He also led his hunter up the hotel staircase, but straw had to be spread to tempt Chestnut down again. Mr. Tom Wilson helped in this escapade.
November 5th, “Nut Cracking Night,” provided great excitement. It was customary to have homemade toffee, roast chestnuts and potatoes baked on the ashes round the bonfire. Early in December the Wassail Cup Singers would call with a wax doll in a box wishing all a Merry Christmas. The waits never forgot to appear. One of the most impressive customs at Christmas is a carol service and religious play given each year by the Sunday School children in the Methodist Church. All welcome the Church and Methodist Choirs singing carols as they travel the village and outlying farms, bringing good cheer and in return receiving hospitality.
One of the oldest customs remaining with some of the old families is the eating of Frumerty on Christmas Eve. It is a very ceremonious event. The table is laid with Christmas cake, gingerbread and cheese, and two candles are placed at either end. The frurnerty is made from wheat “tread” with milk for several hours which is served hot with sugar and spices. This ceremony has a religious significance, the candles commemorating the birth of Christ—the Light of the World—the spices in memory of the Magi, who brought sweet spices from the East, and the wheat and wine in commemoration of the Last Supper, when Our Lord took Bread and Wine and gave it to his Apostles. After eating frumerty the youngest member of the family cuts the Christmas cake, which is served to each with gingerbread and cheese. Then all rise and drink the wine, wishing each other a Happy Christmas. It is interesting to know that 60 years ago villagers bought their wheat for frumerty from the Old Mill.
Fifty years ago two of our shopkeepers, Mr. Harry Suggeti and Mr. Frank Raw, gave their customers a Christmas gift some received a box with two coloured Christmas candles inside. The custom was to light them on Christmas Eve, as the frumerty had to be eaten by candlelight; and the candles must never be lifted from the table, according to superstition, until they were snuffed. They continued to be used for all Christmas festivities and parties. One of the large gaily coloured almanacks which rolled up like a blind was another gift many villagers appreciated. These were displayed in many a village kitchen. Sometimes they adorned the “parlour.” which was only used on Sunday or special occasions.
A few superstitions still linger in the village. For instance, it is a sign of disaster or death when “Gabriels Ratchets” or wild geese call out to each other when flying over in the dark. Evil spirits are kept away by dropping two pins in the iron well, for fairies dance here in the moonlight.
CROFT is a very loyal community and all National festivities are celebrated by villagers who provide sports, prizes, teas and amusements for children and adults. King Edward VII’s Coronation was celebrated by sports held in Mr. Layfield’s field (now Mr. Jackson’s), when each child was presented with a mug.
King George V’s Jubilee celebration was held in Rockcliffe Park. It took the form of a Fancy Dress Parade through the village, sports and Maypole dancing. Adult sports were continued at night. The late Lord Southampton provided tea for the children. The late Captain Riley Lord provided mugs and a new penny which the late Mrs. Riley Lord presented. A band added to the jollification. A Scotch Elm was planted on the “green” facing the river in Hurworth Place by Mr. Harry Suggett. The late Doctor Tindall proposed a vote of thanks. This tree stood sentinel with others planted by Mr. S. Garrington, Mr. W. Pluse, Mr. G. Metcalfe and Mr. J. Layfield, all of whom have now passed on. After sports there was a bonfire in the field round which community singing was conducted by Mr. Raw.
Previous to Queen Elizabeth Il’s Coronation Day a united open air evening service was held in Mr. Jackson’s field on May 31st, 1951 when the Reverend Stafford. Methodist Minister. Reverend Piper (flurworth Church), Reverend Charlesworth (Croft Church), took part. Musical items were given by the Methodist Choir.
On Coronation Day the unfavourable weather prevented outdoor celebrations. The crowning of the Village Queen took place in the Methodist Church. Tea was provided in the Village Hall and a concert followed. Later in the week a Fancy Dress Parade and old fashioned Cricket Match were held in Mr. Jackson’s field. The week’s festivities closed with a Camp Fire and Community _ Singing.
First Choral Society
FEW people are left who remember the happy times at the first Choral Society rehearsals. It was formed in 1912 and met at the Village Hall. Mr. Bishop, who provided his own pianist and soloist, was a talented conductor. There were 30 members and the subscription was half-a-crown. The orchestra consisted of Cello and Violin played by the Misses Forbes. The concert in the Village Hall was one of the highlights of village life. It was patronised by all, from the gentry to the ordinary people. It was an evening out. looked forward to and enjoyed. Excitement was intense, the Choir ladies dressed in white, gentlemen in black, eagerly awaited the moment when all stood for the National Anthem. Many and varied glees were sung: “Hundred Pipers,” “Over the Fields,” “Caller Heiring.” Then came the 1914 war. interrupting so many activities, the Choral Society being one.
THE Local Government of Croft is administered by Darlington and Croft Rural District Councils. Pipe water supplied by the Tees Valley Water Board replaces pumps used in most houses 70 years ago. At that time there were no lights in our village, and villagers carried oil lanterns. Eventually gas lamps were installed from the local gas works; now today.. electric lights have taken their place. On the Yorkshire side of the village there are no street lamps.
A friendly policeman sees that law and order are fully preserved.
Strange to say, Croft has no General Practitioner, though a distinguished surgeon, Mr. K. C. McKeown resides here at Tees View. State Registered Nurse Burnside, a fully qualified midwife, is on call when needed.
Walks and Bridle Path
ONE of the prettiest walks in our village is past Croft Hall, up three stone steps, along a cinder path passing the west side of the Hall, along the top of the Echo Field till we come to a wicket gate. Here we reach the New Spa where the “waters” were once sold. Now we go through the Spa Woods, noted for their beauty with an avenue of beech trees, by a bubbling stream crossed by rustic bridges. This leads to the Old Spa. Grannie Alderson sold the “waters” here. She was a picture in her black gown, snow-white apron and little black lace cap with a ruche of white lace next her face and tied under her chin. She passed on many years ago, and the baths have since been filled in. Continuing through the wood, the Iron Well is reached just within sight of where Clervaux Castle once stood, and following the Bridle Path we arrive at Barton.
Another favourite walk visitors and villagers love is through Rockcliffe Park. The entrance is by an iron stile at the side of the Station Hotel. After crossing the railway line there is a public path through the beautiful park. From the front drive we catch a glimpse of St. Cuthbert’s Hospital, once the residence of the late Lord Southampton. This walk ends at Blind Lane, from which there is a lovely view of the horse shoe curve of the river.
Here Our Story Ends
CROFT, with its cottage gardens ablaze with blooms of_ every hue, filling the air with the scents of roses, lilies and honeysuckle, will remain a fragrant memory to visitors and passers-by. The swallows resting on the telegraph wires across the river are about to say goodbye for a season. The sun is setting in a golden glory, tipping the elm tree tops with its departing rays, gilding the Church tower in a new beauty, and soon, to quote the poet Gray, will “leave the world to darkness and to me.”
I wish to express my grateful thanks to all — past and present — who have helped so much while writing The Story of Our Village.
- To the older people, for they alone could supply so many items of interest.
- To the Rector for permission to take photos of the interior of the Church for illustrations.
- To Mr. R. L. Swinden, artist, Darlington, for his copyright photo of Lewis Carroll.
- To Mr. J. Allison for the decorative printing for the frontspiece.
- To Mr. R. Little, Mr. S. Cardwell and Mr. L. W. Arnett for maps
- To Mr. W. Raw for the loan of the late Dr. Walker’s book on Croft.
- To my friends, Miss Bruce for printing photographs and coloured W.I. badge, and Miss Swales and Miss Campbell for so many recollections of Croft, one of whom was one of the first W.I. members in 1922.
- To members of our W.I. who, have given or lent photos for reproduction; and the member Mrs. Little who, with her husband, have done the printing for mounted photos.
- To my parents and grandparents.
- To the kind typist—many thanks.
- To those scattered far and wide, as far as Devon, who were members of Croft W.I., I say THANK YOU!