Last week's story about the possibility of buried Second World War aircraft parts near Yarm has set lots of rabbits running. But the trouble now is that the cart is before the horse so we need to go back to the beginning - even if we are shutting the stable door after the beast inside has bolted. . .

EGGLESCLIFFE is the church – eccles – on the north bank – cliff – of the River Tees. Opposite is Yarm. Below the landmark church was once an important shallow ford – it was the first crossing upstream from the sea.

The ford was replaced by a wooden bridge in the 1300s, which was replaced in 1400 by a stone one by the great bridge-building Bishop of Durham, Walter Skirlaw. By 1805, Skirlaw’s bridge was considered too narrow, so they built a wider one which was due to be ceremonially opened on January 14, 1806.

Unfortunately, the night before the ceremony, the new bridge fell down.

After recovering from the embarrassment, they rebuilt Bishop Skirlaw’s bridge, which is still in use today.

Less than 20 years later, the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) came clattering through the countryside.

At Yarm station, there was a junction onto a 1.2-mile branchline which ran into Egglescliffe and practically terminated at the bridge parapets.

The S&DR opened on September 27, 1825, and the branchline opened on October 17, 1825. There was a little ceremony as a horse pulled the first trainload of coal wagons down to the new coal depot in the Hole of Paradise.

Everyone applauded and went for a celebratory drink in the New Inn, which also opened that day.

The New Inn, overlooking Yarm bridge, later became the Railway Inn and is now the Cleveland Bay Hotel. It is one of the very earliest railway- related public houses in the world.

The idea behind the S&DR and its early branchlines was to move coal from the Durham mines to market.

The branchline carried the coal so that the people of Yarm could buy it, but because it terminated at Egglescliffe, the railway company didn’t have to spend a lot of money bridging the Tees.

However, this concept quickly became outdated as mainlines were rapidly built criss-crossing rivers, counties and countries. One of those mainlines was the Leeds Northern Railway from Northallerton to Stockton which came striding through Yarm on its extraordinary 43-arch viaduct in 1851. It hurtled through Egglescliffe, and the S&DR was so impressed by its trackbed that it decided to join it and abandon its original route.

Where the two lines met, a new station was built a mile or so north of the old village of Egglescliffe.

A sign-writer was despatched to paint the nameboard for the new station, but he didn’t know his Latin. Instead of thinking that it was the cliff with the eccles on top, he presumed it was the cliff where the large birds of prey lived.

And so he painted the name “Eaglescliffe” on the virgin nameboard, packed up his brushes and went home, content in having done a good job.

Nobody dared to point out his mistake, and so the village that grew up around the junction was called Eaglescliffe after the signwriter’s error.

THE mainline rendered the Yarm Coal Depot branchline redundant.

Yarm station closed on June 16, 1862, and its platform and waiting shed was shipped to Heighington station on the edge of Aycliffe.

The coal depot branchline was abandoned in 1871. Now the A67 follows its course, and the coal depot behind the pub has several blocks of flats on it. None of them seems to bear the depot’s original name, which is a shame because Hole of Paradise would be a hell of an address.

The coal depot manager’s house does survive, a curiosity beside the A67 as its upper floor windows are fake – they are painted on the bricks.

The S&DR was similar to a male dog in that it liked to mark its territory. The depot manager’s house still has its plate – D13 – marking it out as S&DR property.

The railway had a wonderful way of creating businesses along its trackside. Soon after it opened, brickworks and quarries began to the west of Egglescliffe, and in 1833, at Urlay Nook, a fertiliser manufactory opened.

Later it made sulphuric acid and then chromium – it can claim to be the start of Teesside’s great chemical industry.

NOW the horse has caught up with the cart. During the Second World War, when Lord Nuffield – the former William Morris of motoring fame – was looking for somewhere to place his No 2 Metal and Produce Recovery Depot (MPRD).

No 1 MPRD was at his Cowley factory in Oxfordshire, and an old brickworks, ideally placed beside the railway, between Urlay Nook and Eaglescliffe caught his eye for No 2.

All crashed and unrepairable planes from across the north came to No 1 MRPD to be stripped of all reuseable parts and then smelted down for their aluminium.

Lord Nuffield even opened a new station near Eaglescliffe for the reclamation workers and called it Allens West. This is an old railway name for this area, but we seem to have forgotten who Allen was and what he was west of.

No 1 MPRD employed 1,500 people at its peak and created enough aluminium ingots to make another 5,000 aircraft.

The Northern Echo: NEW STOP: Allens West station opened during the Second World
War to serve the reclamation depot
Allens West station opened during the Second World War to serve the reclamation depot

No 2 was not as large but at the end of the war, when there were suddenly thousands of items of surplus RAF and USAAF kit, Cowley was declared full.

All sorts of ideas were put forward for disposing of the items. It was suggested some planes be flown out to sea on autopilot and when they ran out of fuel, they would splashdown to a watery grave.

Instead, an Air Ministry memo of February 26, 1945, said that No 2 MPRD would be almost doubled to take a further 40,000 tons. Deep quarries which surrounded the Eaglescliffe depot were now pressed in to use.

And rumours began of what was going into the quarries.

“My father, Harry, was on the railway and he shunted the trucks with parts in up to the quarry which was about behind Eaglescliffe station,”

says Ken Evans, of Stockton.

“It was 210ft deep – it had been a whinstone quarry, worked by the Darlington firm Ord and Maddison.

“My father said all sorts went in there, all surplus to requirements, even motorcycles still in their packing cases.”

Other people report gun turrets and aircraft wheels being thrown into this quarry, which was to the east of Durham Lane, in the area where Marshalls building merchants has its large yard today. There are rumours of crated Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, which would have flown Spitfires had there been any need, being tossed down there.

In the decades that followed the war, a variety of companies have sifted through the wreckage, recycling the metals and hoping to strike gold.

For nine months in 1985, Ken Evans worked digging up what his father had buried 40 years earlier.

“I got down to 120ft in that quarry, and started retrieving quite a few parts – windscreens, undercarriage mechanisms – but we had to stop and back fill it,” he says.

Similarly in the 1990s, we learn of an eccentric local businessman who invested a small fortune digging for boxed Merlin aero-engines and Harley Davidson motor bikes. He lost a fortune, and found nothing.

So was it fool’s gold, or shall we all descend on Eaglescliffe one Sunday morning armed with shovels and start digging for victory?

BECAUSE these things do happen. Only this week, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told a select committee that there are 11,000 container units of British military hardware in Afghanistan. When we pull out next year, he said 6,500 units would be brought home. The remaining equipment would be sold, given away or destroyed.

Or, perhaps, buried in old quarries and brickworks for future generations to discover?

“I’ll tell you where there’s some buried things,” says former Aircraftman (First Class) Harry Reed of Meadowfield.

As the Second World War ended, he was in 120 Maintenance Unit stationed at Rasel- Ain in Palestine, which was the major RAF stores for the forces who were to assist with Britain’s post-war mandate to govern the territory.

“We didn’t have a rifle range, so we built one,” he says. “The butts, where the targets went, had to be raised up and all sorts of stuff went into there: crates with aircraft parts in, tyres, even brand new aircraft that were surplus to requirements.”

The archaeologists in Burma have failed to locate the 124 Spitfires that the British supposedly buried at the end of the war. Some historians say the failure is because they were looking in the wrong place. Perhaps they should have been searching in Palestine, as well as Eaglescliffe.

IN the days before the railways, the site of No 2 MPRD was known as Carter Moor. Much of it is now earmarked for housing, as Memories told last week, which will mean the demolition of the derelict and decayed Carter Moor farmhouse.

It was built in 1714 by a Mr Maire and was a “baiting house” for carters and packmen – travellers carrying goods from one place to the next.

FINALLY, we were very taken by the name of the beck which runs from Durham Tees Valley Airport, through Bunkerdale, up to the S&DR at Urlay Nook and then down into the Tees at Yarm. It is called Nelly Burdon’s Beck.

If you can tell us who Nelly Burden was, or add to any of today’s stories, please get in touch. Thanks to all, many anonymous, who have contributed to the mysteries of Eaglescliffe.