ON February 6, 1894, The Northern Echo reported that at the annual meeting of the Weardale and Shildon District Waterworks Company, held the day before in the Mechanics Institute in Darlington, John Rogerson of Croxdale Hall had been re-elected as one of four directors. The shareholders had also voted to increase the expenses the directors were allowed to incur each year from £250 to £500.

This generosity seems to have been too much for Mr Rogerson to bear because suddenly, that same day, aged 64, he died in London.

“The late gentleman’s active commercial career had covered nearly every field of enterprise in the north,” said the Echo. “His interests and connections extended over a great part of Durham and Northumberland as a great captain of industry.”

Born in Morpeth in 1829, Mr Rogerson had made his name operating, and then owning, all the passenger ferry steamers on the Tyne.

In 1865, he became director of the Weardale Iron and Coal Company, based in Wolsingham, which had created the irontowns of Tow Law and Tudhoe.

In 1872, when the East Coast Main Line was diverted over the Wear at Sunderland Bridge on its journey north into Durham, he opened a new colliery beside it at Croxdale.

Mining had already been tried at Croxdale by the Salvin family of Croxdale Hall. In 1845, they had opened a pit to the north of the Wear, and enough miners had settled in the area to warrant the Salvins building them a church, dedicated to St Bartholomew, at Sunderland Bridge.

The Salvins’ pit, though, closed within a couple of decades. Mr Rogerson’s was much more successful. His Croxdale Colliery, south of the Wear, soon employed nearly 500 men who dug 600 tons of coal a day. So successful was it that new terraces lining the Great North Road (now the A167) were built and Mr Rogerson enlarged St Bartholomew’s Church for his miners.

Fabulously wealthy, Mr Rogerson rented Croxdale Hall from the Salvin family.

The 1881 census records him, his wife, three daughters and one son living in the hall attended to by ten live-in servants: a governess, a waitress, a cook, two laundresses, two housemaids, a nurse, a kitchenmaid and a groom.

The Northern Echo:

And it is said that Mr Rogerson added a wooden steeple to the Salvins’ church so that he could see it from Croxdale Hall.

He chose, though, not to be buried beneath his steeple. When death unexpectedly carried him off, his remains were placed in the 5.15am train out of King’s Cross which carried them direct to Wolsingham where he was laid to rest in the churchyard.

“The funeral was the biggest seen in the Wear Valley for many years,” said the Echo. “A special midafternoon train ran to Bishop Auckland for the convenience of the friends from a distance, and the various hostelries of Weardale were requisitioned for the convenience of the many visitors.”

The Northern Echo:
St Bartholomew’s Church, Sunderland Bridge, complete with wooden steeple, on this postcard from 1910

LAST week’s Memories contained a postcard, dated October 24, 1910, showing St Bartholomew’s Church, Sunderland Bridge, complete with its wooden steeple. The removal of the steeple, which had become dangerous, changed the church’s appearance quite a lot and among the people we are grateful to for keeping us right are Helen Ord and her father.

Mary Smith, who lives in Rogerson Close, Croxdale, is another. She recognised the house with the black door in front of the church.

“I was born there with my sister and two brothers,”

she says. “My parents, Francis and Margaret Cleary, moved there in about 1920. They moved out in 1925 when the new road was built and when I was only a baby.”

The Northern Echo:
The village of Sunderland Bridge on May 4, 1966, showing daffodils planted by Mrs AM Salvin of Croxdale Hall in the 1930s as part of a plan by the Durham Gardens Guild to beautify the county. Do they flower still?

The house had once been occupied by the local bobby – it had the word “POLICE”

written on the lintel above the black door.

As regular readers will know, the old Sunderland Bridge was crossed at such a dangerous angle that people fell off carriages into the river (see Memories 154). After Mary’s family moved out, the house was demolished so that the road could be designed to more safely cross the Wear.

The Northern Echo:
St Bartholomew’s Church, Sunderland Bridge, without its wooden steeple (and from a different angle)

Evelyn Stevenson, of Hett Mill, has also been in touch concerning the postcard.

She says that the building in front of the church on the right was a school. Now the village hall is on its site.