CROOK’S Empire Electric Palace opened on November 14, 1910, and as Memories 259 told, there is an extraordinary amount of its original glamour still surviving behind the walls of the car parts shop that now occupies its auditorium.

As we reported, there is a campaign to Save the Empire and bring it back to life as the fourth oldest purpose-built cinema in the country.

It was nicknamed the “bottom house” because Crook also had a “middle house” (the Royal) and a “top house” (the Hippodrome).

Linda Nikos, who has been living in Crete for 40 years but still considers Crook home, remembers her childhood in Crook’s cinemas.

“Tazzioli’s sweet shop was next door to the Empire and we couldn’t wait each week to see what went up on the billboard which was next to Tazzis,” she says.

“At the top cinema once there was a PG Tips show with lots of giveaways – we thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. I reckon that must have been around 1964.

“I don’t remember going to the middle house, but I used to go to the chippy next door – Cooper’s, I think – on the way back from the top cinema for chips and scraps – 4d!”

Linda, who is back in Crook for Christmas, adds: “My mam and dad brought me up to stand during the National Anthem – and I remember being at the top house and being ushered out before it had finished by a woman who worked there and who probably wanted to get home as quick as possible. My dad was disgusted.”

ONE caller to the Memories desk didn’t leave her name but did leave a fascinating tale about the Empire. Her mother, Eva Foster, grew up in Dawson Street and her uncle Sidney in Bell Street, both of which are directly behind the Empire.

“In the summer, the back doors of the Empire were flung open, and from their gardens, they could see the films for free – but they had to stand on their heads so that the picture was the right way round,” said the caller.

Who can explain why the picture would have been upside down to those behind the screen?

BARBARA TINSLEY of Newton Hall, Durham, called to say that her mother, Elsie Hammel, worked at the Empire at the start of the Second World War.

“Her father was a miner, and she left school at 14 and wanted to be an usherette,” says Barbara. “She called on Mrs Spoor and asked for work, and she got a job alongside a girl called Maudie – I often wonder whether any of the people she worked with can still be alive.

“She remembered the film Deep in the Heart of Texas and how everyone clapped along to its theme tune, and she said there was always a lot of audience participation – people would talk quite openly about what they thought of the picture.

“She worked there for a year but then had to go to a munitions factory, which she resented because she loved the cinema.”

RECENT Memories have been intrigued by Tittybottle parks – places where mothers, or nannies, promenaded to feed their babies and chat to other women. Tittybottle Parks seem to date from the start of the 20th Century.

We’ve found them in Redcar, Bishop Auckland, Masham, Richmond, Guisborough, Loftus, Normanby and Eaglescliffe – some even officially bearing that peculiar name.

Keith Hopper, the fabled Bishop Auckland cricketer, gets in touch to put flesh on the bones of the rumour that Shildon had a Tittybottle Bank.

It was on the south of Shildon overlooking the valley towards Redworth.

“I wheeled my children there many times in the early 1960s,” he says. “There were a couple of seats there, and I remember my father telling me that it really took off during the depression of the 1930s, when the men were out of work and they spent their time wheeling their children out there from Shildon.”

So Tittybottle Bank was just about opposite what was the George Reynolds Industrial Estate.

Today, the wide, straight A6072 whizzes down from Redworth, up Tittybottle Bank and then around Shildon, but in the old days of tittybottling, it was a rural road. In fact, the overgrown remains of the old road now serve a farm and at the bottom of the valley the old tarmac crosses a stone bridge over what the Ordnance Survey map calls Red House Beck.

“It’s Johnny’s Best Beck,” says Keith, “although who Johnny was or why it was his best beck, I have no idea.”

If anyone can tell us anymore about Johnny and his best beck or any other Tittybottle parks – did West Auckland have a Tittybottle school? – we’d love to hear from you.