GEOFF GREGG of Tursdale has lured Memories to Thinford roundabout with the promise of fast food – is there anywhere in the country, he asked, where you have a wider choice of culinary on-the-go offerings?

Thinford is the DurhamGate roundabout on the A167, but when it was part of the Great North Road it was an important intersection with an east/west road (now the A688) which connected Bishop Auckland and Spennymoor to the coast.

The first public house on this crossroads was the Bee Hive, on the south-east side. Today, a private farmhouse occupies its site but one of its fields, Gibbet Enclosure, reminds us that this was where, on August 15, 1683, mass-murderer Andrew Mills was hanged.

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On January 25 that year, in a fit of jealousy caused by spurned love, Mills had killed three children from the Brass family – Jane, John and Elizabeth – at Kirk Merrington.

The Thinford crossroads were chosen as the execution site because his wretched body would have been visible as a warning to all the travellers on the roads, and because the shape of the road junction would prevent his evil spirit from returning to the scene of his crime. It was believed that if he were hanged in the corner of the crossroads furthest from where he had committed the terrible deed, his ghost would be too confused to find its way back.

On the day of execution, Mills was tied in chains, placed in an iron cage and then hung from a tall gibbet. It took days for him to die, and he howled awfully in his agony.

Coach drivers on the Great North Road spurred on their horses when they came to Thinford so that they sped past the shrieking man, and one account says: “The people of Ferry Hill and the adjacent hamlets actually deserted their dwellings till life had departed from the poor wretch.” As Ferryhill is more than a mile away, he did well to make himself heard, but perhaps it was very still.

His volume might have been because the executioner had suspended a penny loaf on an iron pike just in front of his face. It was designed to be despairingly out of reach – which made him howl louder – but if, by chance in his hunger, he managed to take a bite from it, the iron pike would spear through his mouth, making him howl louder still.

When he finally died, his body was allowed to rot on the gibbet. Accounts vary as to whether it was eventually taken down and burned, or whether travellers picked off little bits of it as they went as a souvenir and because they believed it would cure them of fever.

Anyway, all of this drama took place on the site of the Bee Hive, a pub that may have got its name because in the days before sugar, honey was used to sweeten ale.

The Bee Hive’s days as a roadside hostelry ended in the late 1850s when the Salvin family of Burn Hall, Croxdale, built the Thinford Inn on the north-east side of the crossroads. It was a traditional coaching establishment, although according to Bob Hall’s 2008 book on the pubs of Spennymoor, it had an “enclosed ball alley” at the rear.

Here in 1871, nearly 3,000 spectators gathered to watch a game of fives played for a £30 stake (more than £3,000 today) between Matthew Taylor of Trimdon and John Dennison of Wingate. Fives was a game like squash only the ball was propelled at the wall by a gloved hand rather than a racket.

The Thinford Inn closed in 2012. It has recently been demolished and it is now being replaced by a Costa Coffee outlet and a Domino’s pizza parlour. They will be opposite the McDonald’s restaurant which is next to the Starbucks coffee shop, which is opposite a KFC deep fried chicken eaterie which is next to a Greggs pasty counter which is beside a Subway sandwich outlet near a Spar shop which will sell you a quick snack if you want.

So that’s eight fast food outlets in the shadow of the hangman’s gibbet, plus there’s a “two for one” pub on the north west side of the roundabout. Thinford is no longer haunted by the ghost of a mass murderer; it is now haunted by the wafting smell of the takeaway.

Many thanks for all your correspondence to Memories. Please keep it coming to chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk, although next week’s edition will be in a truncated form due to holidays.