From the Darlington & Stockton Times of August 10, 1867

THE new Post Office on Darlington’s Northgate opened “for the transaction of business” 150 years ago this week. Its smooth stone, said the Echo’s sister paper, presented a “handsome appearance” and “in the interior everything is newly fitted up with astonishing completeness”.

The public entered into a “spacious” posting hall, and were separated from the tellers and the sorters by “a large ornamental glass partition, 17ft high”.

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“In the window facing Northgate is fixed by means of a circular cutting in the glass a clock bearing two dials, one outside and the other within the building,” said the D&S Times. “Underneath the dials are the letterboxes which, with the exception of the “too late box”, are always kept open.

“The “too late box” is, of course, open at the proper time, but inasmuch as it has hitherto been the custom to close the ordinary box when the late box was open, a serious error may arise from the change unless some attention is paid by the public.”

Can anyone explain what a “too late box” was?

A new post office was needed because the old one, a couple of doors to the north, was about to be demolished as a new street called Crown Street was about to be built.

The D&S says that the new office was designed by James Williams, who was the Government’s Office of Works post office designer during the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s. He was based in London, and sat at his desk knocking out post office plans for distant towns he cannot have visited. He designed more than 30 post offices from Exeter in the south to Carlisle in the north. In our area, Mr Williams designed post offices in:

Newcastle – in St Nicholas Street, which opened in 1874, and has recently undergone a £5.8m restoration to turn it into an architect’s office;

Stockton – in Dovecote Street, opened in May 1879 when the Middlesbrough Daily Gazette claimed it would be “one of the sights of Stockton”. It is now a community café;

Middlesbrough – in Exchange Square, opened in September 1879, and is now the home of Teesside Archive;

Durham – in Saddler Street, which opened on December 21, 1880, and is now a betting shop.

Darlington, then, was the first. It cost £3,500, and the D&S marvelled at how the sorting room was fitted with 19 gas lights to enable round-the-clock sorting. Such an advance was needed as ten years earlier, the PO employed three clerks and three “letter carriers” (presumably posties) whereas in 1867, it employed eight clerks and seven letter carriers who between them dealt with 130,000 letters a week.

But, of course, it was not enough. In 1912, the PO built a large extension in Crown Street on the rear of the Northgate building. The extension is now Darlington’s main post office, and since 1985, the 150-year-old Northgate building has been home to Dorothy Perkins and now TopMan.

From the Darlington & Stockton Times of August 17, 1867

THE Tees Valley Railway was being built from Barnard Castle towards Middleton-in-Teesdale and the 60ft Lunedale Viaduct, “an elegant and substantial structure”, was nearing completion.

It is always a wonder how these marvellous bridges were constructed, but this little article from 150 years ago gives us a clue.

The five arches of the Lunedale Viaduct were built around a wooden mould, or “centre”. This allowed the bricks to rest on the wood as the arch grew until the keystones at the top could be forced in to take the weight. The forcing in of the keystones also widened the arch slightly which caused the centre to drop out.

However, in the summer of 1867, the inspector of works ordered that the centre of the final Lunedale arch should be knocked out before the masonry was complete and the keystones were in as he needed to use the wood on the viaduct over the River Balder at Cotherstone. The eight-mile line took two-and-a-half years to complete, as progress was hindered by the extreme Teesdale weather, and so the inspector obviously wanted to make viaducts while the sun shined.

But removing the wooden support, said the D&S, “loosened the entire arch, when the bricks came tumbling down upon those below, who were engaged in freeing the centre. Four men were injured by the falling bricks and the wonder is that their lives were spared”.

The Lunedale and Baldersdale viaducts cost £5,000 each and were the only major pieces of infrastructure on the line – the directors deliberately placed their terminus a third-of-a-mile away to the south of Middleton-in-Teesdale so they didn’t have to bridge the Tees for a third time and take the railway into the town.

They were designed by Alexander Nimmo and Thomas F MacNay, former pupils of the famed and disgraced engineer Thomas Bouch (disgraced by the collapse of his Tay Bridge at Dundee in 1879).

But although the same wooden moulds were used for the two viaducts, they have very different dimensions: Baldersdale is nine arches across a 30ft span and 100ft high; Lunedale is five arches across 50ft and 60ft high.

The Tees Valley Railway opened on May 13, 1868, when the D&S enthused in particular about the Lunedale Viaduct. It said: "The view from this situation is magnificent. On either side of the rail the visitor may carry his glance for miles along the rocky, silvery Tees, garnished on each or either side with lovely landscape, whilst Laithkirk stands out prominently to the north and lends its pleasing quaintness to complete the general effect."

The opening was celebrated with a cup of tea was drunk in the London Lead Company's school room in Middleton, and the local vicar, the Reverend WL Green, thanked the grace of God that no one had been killed during the line's construction, although four men clearly had a very lucky escape.

From the Darlington & Stockton Times of August 18, 1917

THE Echo concentrated 100 years ago on the resignation from the War Cabinet of the MP for Barnard Castle, Arthur Henderson. Henderson, who to this day is the youngest ever mayor of Darlington, had become the first member of the Labour Party to enter Government when he had become President of the Board of Education in May 1915, but he was compelled to leave by the Conservative members of the coalition when he attended a socialist peace conference in Stockholm.

Henderson’s attempts to negotiate with the enemy came as the British public started to become aware of the slaughter in Flanders as the Battle of Passchendaele got under way.

Against this national backdrop, the D&S reported that there had been a “bear garden” atmosphere in Darlington Market Place. “On Monday, the peace-by-negotiation party were holding a meeting addressed by a speaker from Jarrow, and early on it was evident his observations were not to the liking of the large crowd,” said the D&S. “Eventually the hubbub became so great that he was compelled to cease.”

The British Workers’ League, a patriotic anti-socialist movement which counted the novelist HG Wells among its leading lights, then burst in to choruses of Rule Britannia and the National Anthem.

“Later on some of the crowd gave chase to a man who was alleged to be of alien nationality, and he had to be removed to the police station in Northgate for his own protection,” said the D&S.

It continued: “The following night, the gentleman from Jarrow again appeared and after he had had an innings, the British Workers’ League arrived on the scene, and subsequently there was more rowdyism, one or two of the peace-by-negotiation supporters being rather roughly handled.”