Headline brings memories flooding back for Elsie...

The Northern Echo: RISING DAMP: Schoolboys watch the river rise at Neasham on November 3, 1960. The Fox and Hounds is in the background. This picture appears in the fantastic new Echo Memories book, The Road to Rockliffe RISING DAMP: Schoolboys watch the river rise at Neasham on November 3, 1960. The Fox and Hounds is in the background. This picture appears in the fantastic new Echo Memories book, The Road to Rockliffe

THE Page in History in Memories 61 took us back to December 14, 1936, when the Northern Despatch’s main headline was: “Floods follow storm in Darlington district. Tees over banks at Croft.”

For Elsie Banks, of Brompton, near Northallerton, it brought back “vivid memories”, as she was a young child a couple of miles down the road at Neasham school.

She was only allowed to leave school when the floodwater started climbing the schoolyard steps.

This meant some children had to exit through the schoolhouse, and others had to be lifted over the schoolyard wall into a market garden.

Then the primary aged children were expected to make it, with water levels dangerously high, to their scattered homes.

Elsie was seven and lived at Fishlocks Farm at Low Dinsdale – two miles, over rough terrain, from the school.

She arrived home to find her parents stuck in Darlington Monday Market and their poultry and cattle in danger of being washed away.

“Hen houses, complete with hens, together with huge trees were rushing past in the mainstream,” she recalls.

“The river was a roaring, raging torrent, conveying drowned cattle and sheep. A hen house collided with a tree, bursting the house open and scattering its occupants to their destruction.”

The river stopped at the step of the milk kitchen – about 4ft below the 1881 high water mark notched on an out-building.

“At the school, the water had flooded the classrooms,” she remembers.

“To enable the place to dry out, we had an extended Christmas holiday until January 1937.”

BY watery coincidence, David McMahon in Swaledale draws our attention to The Northern Echo of March 6, 1883. David witnessed the surprise flood in the dale on December 8 last year – two people were airlifted to safety from stranded cars and Grinton bridge was submerged – but witnessed nothing as poetic as the 1883 report described.

The Northern Echo: The Northern Echo of March 6, 1883. Headline: The Devastation in SwaledaleOver the top? The Northern Echo of March 6, 1883

It is probably the most overblown piece of hyperbole that I’ve discovered in 20 years of delving into back copies of The Northern Echo.

Headlined “Devastation in Swaledale”, it begins: “Who is there that has not heard of that beauteous valley of the Swale, with its lofty ranges of hills which sweep along in some grandeur or develop into fantastic shapes and groups like portly and solemn giants holding wicked and mysterious conclaves of a diabolical character?”

The article inundates the reader with wild and wondrous words. There must be billions of them in the dense type. This is a single sentence: “A south-west wind sprang up, driving the rain into the bedded masses of snow, percolating through them, loosing their sides, struggling and forcing its way beneath them, till with a roar and a rush they entered the gills and becks like miniature avalanches, and, like wild, seething rivers, came tearing down the hills, sweeping thousands of tons of massive boulder stones, gigantic mounds of hillock deposits from the leadmines, which abound in the dale, millions of tons of debris consisting of sand, soil, timber, trees, roots, rubble, pebbles, rushes and tangled grasses into the Swale, making it into a boiling ocean which rushed and roared triumphantly over the rich meadow fields, hurling down miles of strongly built stone fences and adding to its heterogenous freight of debris by tearing and rending at the staunch, stout, massive bridges till, with a fiendish roar, it swept them all away.”

Wow! The worst hit areas were above Reeth: the villages of Low Row and Isles Bridge.

The article finishes: “It has been stated that £100,000 will not more than cover the actual, consequent damage to the land of this terrible devastation.

Well may the mountains of stones strewed on these fair fields seem to us sad monuments of buried hopes “We have not attempted to adorn or exaggerate: ours has been a brief, plain, unvarnished tale, but it would seem to us that the people of England have no knowledge of the devastation that has been caused in one of their own fair dales. They freely pour money into funds of relief for distress and floods abroad and surely it must be that they are ignorant of such a case at their own doors or their hearts and purses would have been open ere this.”

BACK on the buses, Marjorie Fitzgerald, of Newton Aycliffe, spotted in Memories 63 her uncle with his foot on the running board of an early bus to Eldon.

Arthur Blanchard is believed to have worked for United before the First World War in which he lost his life.

His name is recorded on both of the war memorials in Shildon although, rather oddly, he appears not to be among the 71 Blanchards who are listed as being killed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s excellent website.

“I remember in my parents’ house there was a picture of him in uniform, with putees wrapped around his lower legs,” says Marjorie.

Then she boards another of our bandwagons. “I think Radley’s buses of Eldon Lane ran the first school bus in England,” she says.

It was a Catholic thing, in the years before the outbreak of the Second World War.

“It would pick us up at the bottom of Gurney Terrace in Close House and take us to St Wilfrid’s School in Bishop Auckland,” she says.

“We paid half-a-penny, and Fr Tuohey paid the other half-a-penny out of parish funds.”

PTE A Blanchard is mentioned on the New Shildon war memorial opposite the railway institute.

This memorial also includes the name of Joseph Leng, aged seven, “drowned whilst visiting his father in France”.

Joseph Leng Snr was a sapper in the Durham Light Infantry.

In October 1919, he was stationed near Calais when he received a visit from his wife and son from Shildon.

Two of his Army colleagues took young Joseph boating.

The craft overturned, and the boy is buried in Sangatte.

DEREK JAGO in Bishop Auckland asks for a mention for Bond Bros buses of Willington. It was formed by J Bond who, after the First World War, augmented his hardware shop by starting a milk round.

His delivery vehicle had seats which folded down for the milk, but then he realised he could charge people one penny to sit on the seats for a trip into Bishop Auckland.

His people-carrying milkfloat was not, though, able to make it up Newton Cap bank.

J Bond had six sons – the brothers who ran Bond Bros for most of the 20th Century.

“It wasn’t just a business for Arthur Bond,” says Derek. “He saw it as a service for the community.”

Bond Bros buses were usually a Manchester City light blue.

The last mention of Bond Bros in The Northern Echo archive is in 1997 in a story that begins: “A family-run bus company which regularly transports schoolchildren has been disciplined for poor maintenance standards.”

Has anyone more information or pictures?

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