Last relic of fire-hit church

OLD STONEWORK: Dave Chapman with the original font from St Matthew’s Church in the Denes area of Darlington

NORTHERN VISIT: Princess Anne with sculptor John Hoskin whose Resurgence was unveiled at the opening of the new Darlington Town Hall in 1970

OPENING DAY: The line-up at Cockerton library in 1970, from left, David Dougan, Alf Bird and Doreen and Eric Jackson

First published in Your Memories

ST Matthew’s Church in the Denes area of Darlington caught fire on Good Friday 1921. As it was made of wood and tin in 1911, there was very little of it left – not even a picture.

Parishioners raised money to build a brick replacement which opened on September 21, 1936, and which, now joined with St Luke’s, is still serving its community.

Dave Chapman, of Merrybent, saw the piece on the church in Memories 72, and realised that in his garden he has possibly the only remains of the first St Matthew’s church: a sandstone font.

Dave collects such fascinating historical bric-a-brac, and he acquired it many years ago.

It looks very aged. Is that the effects of the fire, or could it be that the font is older than 1911 and came from elsewhere? Can anyone tell us?

MEMORIES 72 also included a picture of Cockerton library being opened on September 3, 1970. Many thanks to everyone who answered our plea and named the dignitaries.

Special thanks to Doreen Chapman who recognised herself as the mayoress, drawing the first book, with her late first husband, Eric Jackson, the mayor, behind her. Eric, a Labour councillor for the North Road ward, died in 1982.

Doreen remembers that their year’s mayoralty began with a bang in May 1970.

“In the first week, Princess Anne came to open Darlington town hall and then we went down to Buckingham Palace for a garden party,” says Doreen. “I remember Princess Anne was very young, very nice but she seemed rather nervous.

“She also unveiled the Resurgence sculpture outside the town hall – I don’t think she was very impressed.”

VALERIE Burley’s father, Alderman Alf Bird, was also in the picture. He had been mayor of Darlington in 1963-64 when the Queen Mother came to town to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School (now the Sixth Form College).

Alf, a builder who died in 1973, was a director of Darlington Football Club and president of the Conservative Club.

“He first stood for the council in 1953 as an independent even though he was a member of the Conservative Club,”

says Valerie. “He believed politics should not enter into the local arena which should all be about the good of the town.”

THE fourth person on the picture was David Dougan, director of the Northern Arts Association, who performed the library’s official opening.

“It is a wonderfully designed building,” he said. “It is difficult to think how it could have been bettered.”

Designed by borough architect Eric Tornbohm, the circular library cost £15,000 to build.

It was the first branch library in Darlington, and Mr Dougan said the town should set itself the target of building another four within the next six years. The cost, he said, would be “chickenfeed”.

He concluded: “Darlington has an excellent reputation for contributing to the arts generally… The town has proved that it regards the arts as important and worth paying for.”

Forty years on and the circumstances, and appreciation of the value of the arts, has changed, but at least Cockerton library has been spared the axe.

THE Friends of the Denes in Darlington are having a Fun Day on April 14 in their newly refurbished park on which nearly £900,000 of lottery money has been spent. The day will include the launch of a history booklet, of which more nearer the time.

A time capsule will be buried in the Play Dene beneath a carved stone. Schools are being involved in selecting the contents of the capsule but local residents are also invited to contribute.

If you have a picture, a memory or an item that might be suitable for a Denes time capsule, please contact Lisa Locke of Groundwork North East on 01325-353791 or email lisa.locke@groundwork.org.uk by the end of the month.

TONIGHT, as reported in Memories 73, Alan Todd addresses Croft Lecture Society about the history of Croft Aerodrome.

Please note that proceedings begin at 7.30pm in the village hall, and not 7pm as we said.

Sorry for the confusion.

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