The mystery of how a landmark village in North Yorkshire earned its unusual name leads Memories to a fox-hating earl

FROM the Saddle in Memories 232 featured pictures taken from the saddle of our pushbike, and boasted that we had pedalled as far as Londonderry.

Not Northern Ireland, of course, but North Yorkshire. We haven’t the puff to get that far.

Londonderry is a long straggle of a settlement south of Leeming. It lines what was once the Roman road of Dere Street and which became, in the coaching age, the Great North Road. Today, still beside the roadside are a couple of cast iron mileposts, pointing to the 18th Century days of the turnpiked roads and pointing the way to Boroughbridge and Catterick.


CLOSED: The mid 18th Century Londonderry Lodge has found itself stranded when the traffic moved onto the dual carriageway

Indeed, the name Leeming Bar harks back to those days, the bar being the barrier at which a horseman had to stop and pay his toll before he was allowed on his way.

Several people have tried to point us in the right direction of finding out why this corner of North Yorkshire is named after a place in Northern Ireland. We have nearly reached our destination...

About 200 years ago William Henry Vane, the Earl of Darlington, of Raby Castle, owned a hunting lodge here called Newton Hall. William was a many-titled man: he was the Viscount Barnard from birth, the Earl of Darlington and Lord Lieutenant of County Durham from 1792, the Bearer of The Third Sword at William IV’s coronation in 1831, Baron Raby of Raby Castle and the 1st Duke of Cleveland from 1833, plus he was made a Knight of the Garter in 1839.

He, though, was not a friend of foxes.

He loved hunting them so much that, in 1819, he resorted to dastardly means in an attempt to bankrupt the fledgling Stockton and Darlington Railway because he thought its noisy, clanking steam engines would scare the foxes from his land so that he had nothing to chase.

When he wasn’t terrorising the foxes in the neighbourhood of Raby Castle, near Staindrop, it would appear that he adjourned to Newton Hall to terrorise the foxes of the Leeming district.

Newton Hall – some sources call it Newton House – was more than just a weekend retreat. It was set in 25 acres of gardens with 45 acres of parkland. There were stables, coach-houses, gatehouses, gamekeepers’ cottages and kennels. And there was a catastrophe: in 1821, during a severe storm, a chimney was blown through the roof, killing a young lady in the bedroom beneath.


OLD BOARD: Welcome to Londonderry

The Earl rebuilt – and perhaps to commemorate a family development, he allowed the straggly village that was growing on the nearby roadside to be called Londonderry.

Because, in 1818, Lady Frances Vane-Tempest, the heiress of Wynyard Hall, had married The Lord Stewart. As the common Vane surname indicates, Lady Frances and the Earl of Darlington were related – they shared the same great-great-great-great-grandfather, Sir Henry Vane the Elder (1589-1654).

Initially, Lady Frances’ marriage was not popular within the family. She was 18; Stewart was 40 and had a womanising reputation.

However, the match between these two haughty individuals proved perfect. And, in 1822, Stewart’s half-brother, the notorious Foreign Secretary Lord Castlereagh, committed suicide, and Stewart unexpectedly inherited the family title – he became the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry – and fortune, which he began lavishing on Wynyard, creating the stately home we see today.


CIVIC INSPECTION: North Riding County Council dignitaries get off their charabancs and look at a by-pass bridge on July 25, 1961. This is probably the bridge near Aiskew which takes the A1 over the A684 to Northallerton

In September 1827, the Duke of Wellington – the hero of Waterloo and a national icon – visited Wynyard, as Memories 234 told. This marked it out as the leading home in the region.

Our readers suggest that to celebrate these events, the village that was growing up near Newton Hall on the Great North Road became known as Londonderry.

Newton Hall remained in the Vane family until 1927, when it was sold to a Sunderland company, and became a hotel. The prosperity of Londonderry was linked to the travellers using the Great North Road – or the A1, as it became when roads were numbered in 1922 - and it had become a village of motels and mechanics.

But another form of transport was also becoming fashionable: flying. In the late 1920s, near the hotel, a bumpy grass landing strip was created and one of the earliest flying clubs in the country was established. It became known as the Londonderry Aerodrome and it was operated by Yorkshire Air Services, which kept early aircraft in three hangars.


WINGWALKERS: The caption on the back of this picture in The Northern Echo's library just says "RAF Leeming". The airfield was built on the parkland attached to the Earl of Darlington's hunting lodge

For example, on Sunday, February 10, 1935, Herbert Baker, 36, of Linthorpe, Middlesbrough, hired a Gypsy Moth plane from Yorkshire Air Services at the aerodrome. Mr Baker had been a pioneer airman at the end of the First World War and although his flying licence had elapsed in 1924, he claimed to have had more than 2,000 hours experience in the cockpit when he hired the plane.

With him was another Linthorpe man, Freddie Dixon, 40, a well known bike and car racer.

The two men took to the skies and headed for home, waving proudly to the people of Linthorpe on the ground. As Baker was turning to start another flypast, he lost too much airspeed and the plane fell from the sky, crashlanding in front of Linthorpe Golf Course clubhouse. It cartwheeled, broke up and was destroyed, although both airmen appear to have survived the impact despite sustaining serious injuries.

With the Second World War looming, Newton Hall and its parkland, plus four farms and the aerodrome, were bought by the Government in 1937, and work began creating RAF Leeming. It is said that William Joyce, who stayed at nearby Scruton House, in the village of Scruton, watched the early stages, and when he defected to Germany and became the notorious broadcaster Lord Haw-Haw, he regularly said over the airwaves that the airfield would be flattened when it was finished.


MEN AT WORK: The A1 near Leeming and Londonderry being dualled on January 25, 1961

It never was. RAF Leeming opened on June 3, 1940, and played a vital role as a bomber airfield during the Second World War. As it grew, it ate ever deeper into the Earl of Darlington’s hunting estate: the derelict Newton Hall came down in the 1950s, and the last remnants, the gamekeeper’s house and the kennels, were demolished in the 1980s.

And so the last part of our Londonderry story is the road – the A1 – which gave it life. One of the From the Saddle pictures showed Londonderry Lodge, a mid 18th Century house converted into a roadside cafe. Now empty, you can still see the capital letters “CAFE” painted on its roof.

It is empty because in 1961, the Leeming and Londonderry by-pass took the traffic on a new dual carriageway. These were exciting times for motorists in North Yorkshire: Catterick had been by-passed in 1959 and when Boroughbridge was by-passed in 1963, the county became the first in England to have the A1 completely dualled.

Not that everyone was happy. A couple of months before the Leeming and Londonderry by-pass opened, the chairman of the North Riding County Council, Alderman JT Fletcher, took all of his councillors on a bus tour of the roadworks and told how he had just written a letter of protest to the Ministry of Transport “about the restrictions on the county of money for road repairs”.

The MoT had told him that an A-road should be resurfaced once every 28 years, a B-road once every 52 years and a C-road once every 67.

What would he have thought of today’s ubiquitous potholes?

The A1 by-pass opened in October 1961, signalling the start of Londonderry’s demise as a place of motels and mechanics.

The county surveyor, Ronald Sawtell, said the dual carriageway was “a motorway in all but name”. However, it has taken more than 50 years for the A1 to be officially upgraded to motorway status, and the drivers who have been crawling through the North Yorkshire roadworks at 50mph for the last year or so must wish Mr Sawtell had foreseen the rise in motor traffic and built three lanes in the early 1960s.

FREDDIE DIXON, who fractured his skull when he crashlanded in the plane he hired from the Londonderry Aerodrome in 1935, was a renowned motor racer who earned the nickname “Flying Freddie”.

He was born in Stockton in 1892 and began his career as a motorcycle and sidecar pioneer, winning the Isle of Man TT in 1923.

“After a prominent career in motorcycle racing, Freddie Dixon within two or three years has become one of the most spectacular of British speed kings and his remarkable degree of mechanical skill allied to his daring driving has earned him the nickname of ‘the Motoring Wizard’,” said The Northern Echo on its front page when it reported his air accident.

“Although ill luck robbed him of success in many track events, he has won several races at Brooklands.”

He is the only man to have lapped Brooklands at 130mph in a car with an engine of less than two litres – as Brooklands staged its last race in 1939, his name can never be erased from the record book.

The Echo of February 11, 1935, continued: “He has had many serious crashes and remarkable escapes from serious injury and death. The last was at Donnington track last July when a crash put him into hospital for sometime. Within a few weeks of his discharge he was driving a car again.


FRONT PAGE: The aircrash, as reported by The Northern Echo of February 11, 1935

“One of his greatest ventures was the purchase of the famous Silver Bullet. He has since dismantled the car with several mechanics for the purposes of reconstruction with the object of making an attack on the world’s land speed record.”

The Silver Bullet was a legendary Sunbeam car, built in 1929 with a whopping 48-litre engine with a view to breaking the land speed record which stood at more than 200mph. Throughout its life, it failed to live up to its potential, and Freddie was one of the several who poured their time and money into it.

He sold it after the aircrash, and retired from racing. He died in 1956.