BISHOP AUCKLAND is full of intriguing buildings, none more so than Zair’s Café in Fore Bondgate which was once the town’s premiere meeting place.

Memories last visited in January 2015 when we were on the trail of the Doctors Tunnel which used to be at the rear (see Memories 212 and 213). Since then, the upstairs has been converted into a tasteful holiday apartment, called the Old Assembly Rooms, which is now taking its first bookings.

During the conversion, the building yielded a few more of its centuries of secrets.

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In the late 18th Century, it developed from a comfortable private residence into a fashionable public house, called Shepherd’s Inn, with a large ballroom on its first floor. As well as dances, the ballroom hosted public meetings and inquiries and even the magistrates court.

And up on the roof, there was a viewing platform so that drinkers, with binoculars, could see over to the racecourse that was on the Flatts where the Kynren nightshow is today.

The inn faded after 1861 when the town hall opened and became the natural venue for municipal events and balls.

The Shepherd’s was divided into two in about 1900, with the west side becoming known as Ye Oakland Inn and, the east side, from the 1920s, was let to Sam and Spranza Zair who established their café and ice cream emporium there. They had emigrated from central Italy, and Spranza’s parents, Columba and Joseph Rea, followed, so the café had the name Rea over the door.

The café is now run by Sam’s grandson, also Sam, who has converted the upstairs into a holiday apartment. In doing so, he has found a way into a lost attic at the top of the house, where hints of the Georgian grandeur of the ballroom have been hidden for decades by a false ceiling.

You can make out the outline of the bricked-up windows that must have been huge in their day, and you can see the curved cornice and decorative plasterwork of the original ceiling which seems to have been painted a rich gold colour – or is it just an accumulation of nicotine from the centuries of good times?

Sam has also opened a way into an old niche known as “the jockey’s room”, as it was where the man who tended the ice cream cart horses slept. In it was decades of debris, including an old photograph of Spranza at the café door, an old horse harness, a Second World War gasmask with “Zair” written on the box, and a couple of bricks from Newton Cap colliery.

Plus there was a box of grubby receipts from the 1930s showing how the Zair and Rea families traded with the town around. Therefore, this week’s From the Archive section of Memories has been renamed From the Attic as we pore over what has not seen the light of day for 70 or more years.

EXACTLY 150 years ago, there was more drama in Bishop Auckland. In the Darlington & Stockton Times of May 4, 1867, our sister paper reported how James Hodgson, the president of the Bishop branch of the Amalgamated Cordwainers’ Association, had been released from the Durham House of Correction after serving a three month sentence for intimidation during a recent strike.

Cordwainers were shoemakers – they originally used cordovan leather – and were more skilled than cobblers who mended things. In County Durham, many cordwainers were employed by master shoemaker Robert Longstaff, who had workshops in Bishop, Crook and Spennymoor.

When they had gone on strike, he had recruited unemployed shoemakers from Tyneside – some of whom may have been German immigrants – to keep his workshops going. When the foreigners arrived in Bishop, the strikers unceremoniously pointed out the error of their ways to them and forcibly escorted them to the station where they plonked them in a railway carriage which took them home.

Out of this melee, Mr Hodgson was found guilty of intimidation, but he appealed to the Queen’s Bench, in London, which overturned his conviction and ordered his release.

He arrived back in Bishop on the 6.18pm train from Durham 150 years ago this week. “A large number of his fellow workmen assembled at the railway station to give him a hearty welcome as their champion”, said the D&S.

“The brass band, of which Hodgson was drummer, was also in readiness to escort him to the town in triumph and, as soon as the train arrived, he was greeted with hearty cheers from the large crowd.” The procession weaved its way through the main streets, including Bondgate, to Mr Hodgson’s home.

The paper said: “The strike, it may be remembered, commenced at the shop of Mr Robert Longstaff and that gentlemen being reported to have said that red herrings were good enough for working men, the demonstrators demonstrated on passing his premises by flinging red herrings in all directions.”

Can they really have flung smoked fish at Mr Longstaff’s shop?

WE have unfinished Bishop Auckland business from earlier in the year concerning the Latherbrush Bridge by which Etherley Lane goes over the railway up to Weardale. How does it get its name?

Former town mayor Barbara Laurie says that before the railway was built, there was a small terrace of houses on Etherley Lane, one of which was a pub.

“The landlord of the pub supplemented his income by offering his skills as a barber, so the pub became known as the Latherbrush,” she says.

Therefore the bridge gets its name from the pub which got its name from the barber.

Peter Daniels sent in a piece of the 1896 Ordnance Survey map which marks the Latherbrush Inn beside the railway bridge. About 100 yards to the west of it is another pub, Pollard’s Inn, which gives us an excuse to use this pair of pictures.

Its name comes from an ancient story, set in the days when the Bishop of Durham offered a reward to anyone who could slay an extremely ferocious wild boar which was terrorising the west of the town. A young knight, Richard Pollard, stepped forward and after a long and exhausting battle killed the monster near Etherley Moor.

He sliced out its enormous tongue as a memento but was so exhausted he then fell asleep.

When he awoke he discovered that the boar’s body had been stolen. He rushed to Auckland Castle where the bishop told him he’d already given the reward to a chap who had turned up with the carcase.

The bishop, though, believed Pollard’s story because he was still in possession of the tongue. Being a kindly fellow, the bishop offered to give Richard whatever he could ride around while he was finishing his dinner.

Calmly, Richard strode around Auckland Castle.

The bishop wasn’t prepared to give away his valuable home but instead gave Richard the most fertile fields to the west of the town. They became known as Pollard’s Fields, and so the inn got its name. Unlike the nearby Latherbrush, the Pollard’s still serves – although somewhere inbetween our two photographs, it lost its apostrophe.