THE first battle of Mowden lasted for decades. It was fought in the countryside and concluded in court, and although no humans were killed, a couple of cows were seriously injured.

Mowden is on the western edge of Darlington – it was originally called Moudon which apparently means “a fortified hill on a boundary”.

It is on the road out to Staindrop.

It was agricultural land, known also as Bushel Hill – a bushel is a measure of wheat.

The farmers sold their corn in Darlington market, but they were an unscrupulous lot, and people reckoned they came from “Short” Bushel Hill.

All that changed in the 1840s when John Beaumont Pease bought the farm. It is difficult to know if he bought it as a country retreat – he lived in North Lodge in the centre of town – or as a business opportunity. His cousins had just formed the Darlington Gas and Water Company and, at 200ft above sea level, Bushel Hill was ideal for a reservoir. One holding 800,000 gallons was builtthere in 1849 (it was drained in 1971).

The original farm was demolished in 1862 and local architects Richardson and Ross built JB Pease a minimansion on its site. He tried to ensure it was a private site by diverting an ancient footpath to High Coniscliffe out of his sight.

After his death in 1870, his son, Edwin, who was nicknamed “the Squire of Bushel Hill”, continued to block the footpath, ploughing it up and planting over the top of it, and covering the fences with tar to deter walkers.

This was deeply contentious in Darlington. Another branch of the Peases had closed another ancient right of way through the Denes so it did not interfere with their new Brinkburn mansion, and the Allans of Blackwell Grange had closed the town’s most popular walk along the banks of the Tees.

On May 10, 1875, a wellattended protest meeting was held in the Mechanics Institute, which resulted in councillors, mayors, solicitors and ramblers forming the Darlington Footpaths Preservation Society.

Councillor J Morrell said: “These walks through fields and meadows are important adjuncts to a town like Darlington, and we should guard them with jealous care, for there is nothing so beautiful and healthy, nothing so calculated to lift the mind to the highest possible enjoyment, as a walk in the country.

“These walks were given by our forefathers and it is our duty to hand them down intact to our children.”

Mr Pease of Mowden was the first naughty landowner to be confronted. He apologised and promised to reopen the Mowden path.

Some society members accepted his word, but a couple of renegade ramblers took matters into their own hands.

One of them was definitely EdwardWooler, a lawyer who for 30 years was a Conservative councillor. We know that because he wrote to the Darlington and Stockton Times boasting of his actions. His partner in crime was probably Thomas Metcalfe Barron, who later became mayor.

Both men were such pillars of the community, they still have streets named after them.

Armed with a saw,MrWooler “vigorously set himself to work and cut down nine palings which crossed the path”.

Of course, such behaviour is reprehensible. Butit did the trick. Mr Pease backed down and reopened the path.

A year later, though, Mr Pease built a lodge house on top of his old pond (the Mowden pub is today on this spot).

This caused him to divert another part of the footpath, and the wrath ofthe ramblers again descended upon him.

They took him to the Quarter Sessions in Durham; he appealed to the Queen’s Bench in London, where an old-timer from Coniscliffe was due to testify against him about all the generations of his family who had walked that way unhindered.

The Northern Echo: HISTORIC BUILDING: Mowden Hall in 1966 when its future was in jeopardy. During the Second
World War, the lily pond was designated an Emergency Water Supply in case of enemy action

Amid dark mutterings that the old-timer had been got at, he suddenly switched sides.

The court decided that Mr Pease’s diversion was reasonable, and the footpath society collapsed under the weight of its legal fees.

This left Mr Pease free to spend £13,195 turning Mowden into the mansion that today stands at the heart of the Department for Education offices. He was assisted by Alfred Waterhouse, the nationally-renowned architect who also designed Darlington’s iconic clock tower and covered market, as well as the mansions of Pierremont and Rockliffe.

Mr Waterhouse even laid out the Mowden gardens for £670 (about £70,000 today).

But the project came to a sad end. A few weeks after being knocked unconscious when thrown fromhis bolting horse outside the King’s Head, Mr Pease was foxhunting near Piercebridge when his “horse fell and almost immediately rolled over on its unfortunate rider”. Mr Pease was carried to Mowden on a mattress and there, aged 51, he died.

His son, William, became the third generation of Peases to live at Mowden Hall. He was twice mayor of Darlington and from 1923 to 1926, the town’s Conservative MP. He was also chairman of Cleveland Bridge. As he was a bachelor, when he died suddenly at Mowden aged 62, the hall passed to his cousin, Captain Ernest Pease who, bedevilled by ill-health, sold it in 1927 to live on the Isle of Wight.

The Northern Echo: LAND
off the

Mowden Hall Preparatory School took over in 1935, its object “to prepare boys for public schools and the Navy”.

When war broke out, they were evacuated to Windermere, and the RAF and the Army moved in.

In 1953, Summerson’s Foundries used the hall as its headquarters. Then it was owned by a Skinnergate butcher, Charles Jackson, and an egg-packing firm worked in part of it.

In 1961, Cecil Yuill, a Hartlepool builder, bought the Mowden estate for £241,000 “with plans to build a smalltown on it”. He gained permission to build 1,380 homes (priced between £2,275 and £6,000) on its 500 acres, but he was denied permission to demolish Waterhouse’s listed hall.

Instead, in 1966, it was sold to the Governmentfor £30,000 and the modern office block, which featured on the front of Wednesday’s paper, was completed for the Department of Education and Employment civil servants in June 1970.

The offices are now in such a bad state of repair that the department wishes to move out.

Campaigners, including The Northern Echo, want the 400 jobs to stay in Darlington, so the second battle of Mowden has begun