Following the railway tracks of John Bowes, the illegitimate son of the 10th Earl of Strathmore and whose legacy to the region was The Bowes Museum.
Here is the story of a station that has it all: sex, railways, royalty, racehorses and even a little football – what more could you possibly want? It is the story of Broomielaw, which is a racehorse owned by Sir Alex Ferguson.
More importantly, it was also a private station in Teesdale, a couple of miles east of Barnard Castle.
TODAY, it is so lost from view that you could walk past it without even knowing it was there – although standing in a nearby field is a derelict signal box, with raucous rooks bouncing playfully through its broken windows, which tells you that you are on the right tracks.
If you peer down from a little lane, through the trees and the overgrowth, through the leaves and the trunks, you catch a glimpse of an old platform, and a hint of the delicate detail of the wooden canopy.
Plus there’s a strong whiff of the decades of decay.
Broomielaw was built in the middle of nowhere to placate the derailing dukes – you may remember from a couple of weeks ago, that the Dukes of Cleveland of Raby Castle went to great underhand lengths to prevent the railway penetrating Teesdale.
Broomielaw, the closest point to Raby, was built to assuage them and to serve another, closer, castle – Streatlam, the home of John Bowes.
His father was the 10th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, with estates in Hertfordshire, Durham and Scotland; his mother was Mary Milner, a gardener’s daughter from Stainton, the village near Streatlam, who had been the earl’s mistress for a couple of years. When John was born in 1811, his father was 42, his mother 24.
On his deathbed in 1820, the earl attempted to legitimise John by marrying his young mistress. There followed a bitter five-year legal battle which ended with John being declared a bastard and losing his father’s Scottish estates (the Scots took a dimmer view of illegitimacy than the English).
But he kept Durham.
John was educated at Eton and then Trinity College, Cambridge, where his tutor was William Hutt. In 1831, John’s widowed mother Mary married Mr Hutt, who was 13 years her junior. For a humble gardener’s daughter from Stainton, Mary had done very well: her first husband was an earl, and her second became an MP who was knighted in 1865 for his work colonising New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
John Bowes also became an MP. In 1832, along with Joseph Pease, the Darlington promoter of the railway, he was elected to represent South Durham, a seat he held until 1847.
At Streatlam, John had a racehorse stud. He won the Epsom Derby in 1835 with Mündig, and again in 1843 with Cotherstone. Both horses were trained in Malton and were ridden by William Scott, a jockey noted for his talent as a rider and as a consumer of vast quantities of alcohol before a race. Consequently, he had a tendency to weave across the course.
Amazingly, John placed such a large bet on Cotherstone that he won £21,000 – £2m today, according to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator. With this, John paid off his election debts, invested in the exploitation of the coal beneath his Gibside estate and relocated to France, because he was tired of the English obsession with his illegitimacy.
He bought a theatre in Paris and a chateau by the Seine. He married an actress, Josephine Benoîte Coffin-Chevalier, the Countess of Montalbo, and collected French art.
In 1860, they sold the chateau and returned to Streatlam with their collection and an orangery. Much of this precious cargo must have travelled by railway from the Gard du Nord to Broomielaw.
BROOMIELAW was on the Darlington and Barnard Castle Railway, which opened on July 5, 1856. The detail that is still visible through the trees marks the station out as a cut above your usual halt, and in John’s day it had a roofed stairway – the only one of its kind in the country – so that he could walk from his train up to his carriage without running the risk of getting wet.
From there, a wide private carriageway, lined by railings, ran to the castle.
John was so proud of his personal halt that in 1862, when his horse Queen Mary had a foal, he named it Broomielaw. Broomielaw won the Chester Cup and the Prince of Wales Stakes, but its greatest claim to fame was that it was the grandfather of Merry Hampton which, in 1887, was considered the worst horse ever to win the Derby.
John died in 1885 without issue in the way of children, although he and Josephine did leave The Bowes Museum, a French-style chateau on the edge of Barnard Castle built to house their collection – an extraordinary issue.
Streatlam passed to the legitimate line of Bowes-Lyons.
Claude, the 14th Earl, stored his famous paintings there: a Rubens, a couple of Hogarths and a Reynolds.
His eldest son, Patrick, took up residence when he turned 21 in 1905, and his five younger brothers and four sisters would stop off at Broomielaw to visit. The youngest of his sisters was Elizabeth Angela Marguerite, who fondly remembered her summer holidays in Teesdale and whom the nation remembers fondly as the Queen Mother.
Post-war financial pressures, plus the need to pay for a royal wedding, forced the Bowes-Lyons to sell Streatlam in 1922. The following year, Elizabeth married Prince Albert, the king’s second son, who would become King George VI.
Streatlam’s new owners allowed the castle to go to rack and ruin. They even allowed local children to use Broomielaw station to catch excursion trains, but the Second World War destroyed Broomielaw’s exclusivity. On June 9, 1942, it was formally opened to the public.
The Territorial Army destroyed Streatlam. On March 29, 1959, on an exercise involving dynamite, its members blew up the 15th Century castle.
No one seems to have minded too much. Today, you can still make out its foundations.
You can spot its orangery and, on the A688 between Barnard Castle and Staindrop, its lodge houses.
Broomielaw lasted a few years longer. On April 5, 1965, the Darlington and Barnard Castle Railway closed, taking the station with it, and the trees, the weeds and the rooks began their slow takeover.
BUT why Broomielaw?
The Broomielaw is a stretch of land along the River Clyde, Glasgow’s major port since the 17th Century.
Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United football manager, grew up thereabouts and in 2007 bought a colt for £200,000, which he named Broomielaw. It’s won a couple of times.
So, at a guess, the Bowes’ Scottish estates must have included Broomielaw, which John translated to Teesdale.
THE Darlington and Barnard Castle Railway was engineered by Sir Thomas Bouch who built a terminus for it behind Galgate, the main street into Barnard Castle. This 1856 station is now a private house, and several people have pointed out that in front of it, facing onto Galgate, is a building with a Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) plaque.
Like a dog marks its territory, so the S&DR liked to mark its property.
The Galgate property, which was apparently the stationmaster’s house, is numbered F11 (inset).
Within a couple of years, the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway (SD&LUR) was being planned to take the railway over the summit of Stainmore – but the design of the new line meant the old station was in the wrong place.
A second station was built.
When the SD&LUR opened on August 8, 1861, it became Barney’s passenger station, and the first station became a goods station.
“As such, it was a really valuable asset – for cattle, shop deliveries and, in the Second World War, for tanks,”
says local historian Alan Wilkinson.
Both stations closed, like Broomielaw, on April 5, 1964.
Whereas the first survives, the second disappeared under a light industrial estate opposite Glaxo car park at the top of Montalbo Road.
Montalbo Road peters out at a padlocked gate which prevents you from crossing the first viaduct that Bouch constructed on the SD&LUR.
While his extraordinary works over the Tees, Deepdale and the Belah grab the headlines, this 66ft little number over Percy Beck (also known as Black Beck) is a graceful delight.
The ravine is steep, filled with the chatter of birdsong and the trickle of the beck.
Ivy has claimed the south face of the viaduct and the trees of Flatts Wood try to conceal its north face.
Some would argue that these manmade industrial structures enhance nature’s beauty, but nature doesn’t think so and, just as at Broomielaw, she is claiming Percy Beck back.