FOR an “unremarkable wall”, it is a wall much remarked upon. The Northern Echo on Tuesday told how there were efforts afoot to save a tumbledown “unremarkable wall” at Middleton St George because, as our headline said, it had been “revealed to be a key part of North-East rail heritage”.

This sparked a debate on the Echo’s website about whether it was worth preserving because, even though it is historic, it has such an unremarkable appearance.

So let’s make some remarks about it.

It stands on the north-east side of the Fighting Cocks crossroads. The crossroads is where Rykeneild Street – the Roman road running north to Sadberge (see Memories 211) – meets an east-west route from Darlington to Stockton. An old coaching inn, the Fighting Cocks, stands on the north-west corner of the crossroads.

It is called the Fighting Cocks because of Squire Henry Cocks, who died in 1894. His family had owned the Middleton area for 600 years, and although he was the last of legitimate line, the Squire squired a number of illegitimate children that ran into double figures. His emblem was three fighting cockerels.

The pub was beside the line of the 1825 Stockton and Darlington Railway. In those days, there were no stations, and so the publican sold tickets to people getting on board the trains – in fact, the Fighting Cocks could claim to be the world’s first railway ticket office.

The station was built on the north-east side of the crossroads in the 1830s, probably to serve the people going to take the health-giving spring waters at the fashionable Dinsdale Spa Hotel (opened 1829). It was probably designed by the S&DR’s resident engineer John Harris, and it was open by 1838 when it was called “Middleton and Dinsdale Station”.

The station was on the south of the line. The “unremarkable wall” formed part of a mid-19th Century cabin, built of buff Pease bricks, on the north of the line. The cabin was originally open to the elements. It might have been a waiting room, although it would have been big enough for only a couple of passengers, or it might have been a shed for line workers. When a door was installed, it became a toilet.

The 1864 Bradshaw’s guide to British railways – the book so beloved of Michael Portillo that he cannot bear to put his copy down – says of Middleton: “Near this is Keso, close to Dinsdale Spa, which has a good sulphur spring and bathing house. Sadberge, Bishopton and Coby Castle are at hand.” Who can tell us what Keso and Coby Castle were?

In 1866, the station’s name was changed to Fighting Cocks, presumably to avoid confusion with the other Middletons on the rail network.

When Bank Top station was opened in 1887, a new approach line was built half-a-mile south of Fighting Cocks. Dinsdale station on the new line took passengers, and Fighting Cocks was downgraded to goods.

Between 1825 and 1887, about 30,000 passenger tickets had been booked to Fighting Cocks.

The Fighting Cocks goods line served factories on the east of Darlington including, after the Second World War, Patons and Baldwins. The line and station closed in 1964, although the track remained into the 1970s – Prince Charles is said to have once overnighted on the Royal Train there.

The station was converted into a pretty bungalow in the 1980s, although no one wanted the lineside cabin so it fell down. Now all that remains of it is an “unremarkable wall”. Using the extraordinary efforts of volunteers to clear and preserve the S&DR trackbed at Brusselton as inspiration, the wall could easily be turned into a little feature on a pleasant railway walk.

With thanks to Richard Barber of the JW Armstrong Trust for the picture