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The man who powered the town
ONE of the items for sale at Saturday’s D a r l i n g t o n Book Fair is Pip’s Annual, a 1929 collection of cartoons that appeared in the Northern Despatch newspaper.
The Despatch was an evening paper started during the First World War to complement the morning Northern Echo and bring 24-hour rolling news from the Front to the people of Darlington and south Durham.
Pip started drawing his cartoons in 1927, lampooning local issues of the day and, most importantly, sending up local characters.
On Page 27 of the album is a rather uncomplimentary series of drawings under the heading “No cause for alarm”, showing a motor car bouncing and shaking very badly by the kerbside.
Eventually, a corpulent, sweating figure clambers out: William Sykes, well-known in town for his electrical engineers shop in Bondgate.
In fact, William Sykes’s photograph still hangs in the shop.
He came from Huddersfield around the turn of the 20th Century with his family to become foreman to Darlington Corporation – the forerunner of the council. Darlington was one of the last places in the country to switch from gas street lighting to new-fangled electricity.
“He spent 18 years in charge of laying the electricity cables in the roads, and then he saw the potential for starting a contracting business, and it is still chugging along,” says his grandson, Maurice, 74. “It must be one of the oldest businesses in town.”
At first, Mr Sykes’ office was in Dunn’s Yard, off High Row – probably where the Abbey National building society is today – and then, in 1935, he moved into a greengrocer’s shop near Four Riggs, in Bondgate.
It is an intriguing building, the front of which appears to have been rebuilt a decade or two before he moved in. The rebuilding meant that the entrance to Bowker’s Yard disappeared – a yard in which, in 1902, there were three houses containing seven rooms in which ten people lived, not in luxury.
The rebuilding was on top of an old cellar with a strong vaulted roof which goes out underneath the Bondgate pavement to the kerb – the kerb at which William Sykes once parked his motor and struggled to get out.
The Darlington Book Fair is at the Arts Centre, Vane Terrace, from 10am to 4pm on Saturday. Pip’s Annual, which cost one shilling in 1929, is now valued at £25.
Chris Lloyd will be signing copies of his local history books at the fair from 1pm to 2pm.
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