War memories at Harperley station

The Northern Echo: KEEPING TRACK: Dorothy Hall's postcard of Harperley station KEEPING TRACK: Dorothy Hall's postcard of Harperley station

WE’VE been haunting Harperley recently, on the banks of the River Wear between Crook and Wolsingham. When the Wear Valley Railway opened in 1847, a private station was built at Harperley to serve Harperley Hall where George Hutton Wilkinson, chairman of the line, lived.

Dorothy Hall, of Newton Aycliffe, was born in the station house, as her grandfather, John Mortimer, was stationmaster at Harperley, Wolsingham and Witton-le-Wear during his career.

“I remember on the day that the Second World War broke out being on a train going up to Wearhead because the line was flooded just past Wolsingham,” she says. “My grandfather was taking the pilot up.

He would have to get off and have a look at the flooded part of the track to see if it was alright.”

She remembers Ernest Taylor, managing director of Lingford’s baking powders in Bishop Auckland, returning home each day and being collected by his chauffeur at Wolsingham station; she remembers ammunition being taken for storage up the dale – “there were no guards on those trains until after the Catterick Bridge explosion” – and she remembers the way some newspapers were delivered to lineside farms by the fireman tossing them out of the cab window.

She remembers an aerial flight – a ski-lift-type device – that carried stone quarried on Knitsley Fell for hundreds of yards down the dale, over the Wear and deposited it in wagons in a siding near the station.

• AS regular readers will remember from 2010, the Catterick Bridge explosion of February 4, 1944, killed 12 people and injured 102. It was caused by soldiers unloading an ammunition train so roughly that the bombs detonated.

THERE was a little community at Harperley station comprising a couple of railway-related cottages, the station house and a little chapel – some say it was tin, others that it was wood.

“It was part of the Crook Methodist Circuit in the same ‘section’ of the circuit as the chapels at Witton Junction, Fir Tree, two in Howden-le- Wear and two in Witton-le- Wear, which were overseen by the minister responsible for Crook Dawson Street chapel,” says David Armstrong.

“I preached at Harperley on several occasions in the early Sixties. There weren’t many members of the congregation – mainly the Hartley family from Low Shipley farm on the other side of the river who crossed a very rickety footbridge to get to the chapel.

“After the service, Jack Hartley, a saint of God, walked me back up the fields to catch my bus. He always left me with the salutation: “If things don’t change, David, they will stay the same”. Over the intervening 50 years, that expression has gained more and more meaning for me!”

Memories 68 featured a picture of the pre-roundabout crossroads at Harperley where the A68 met the A689.

David says: “Just behind the garage on the right was the football field for the Harperley Prisoner of War camp and on a Sunday afternoon just after the war, it was a custom for many folk to walk up from Crook to watch the prisoners play football – I remember crowds larger than those at Northern League games today!”

Even in those days, the silky skills of the Italians drew an appreciative audience.

THE Stockton and Darlington Railway was rather like a male dog: it liked to mark its property. It fixed a numbered lozenge to all of its buildings. Quite rightly, Eddie Scarlett, of York, corrects Memories 68 by saying: “The S&DR plaque J8 was on the Harperley station house and not J7, which was on the Witton-le-Wear station house.”

HARPERLEY station, designed by Darlington architect John Middleton, was demolished in 1964.

Footpaths, including the Weardale Way, take you past the Elizabethan farmhouse at Low Harperley – where the Durham Cathedral plate is buried in the garden (Memories 66) – and down to the quarrymen’s footbridge over the Wear.

Far from being rickety, it is now a sturdy affair, and a maker’s plaque on it boasts that it can take 232 persons.

As you walk, you carefully cross Weardale Railway, where all that remains of Harperley station is the weedcovered northbound station.

The Memories blog has some more photographs of it.

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