LAST week, when we peered into the Hunwick and Newfield picture packets in The Northern Echo library, we opened a can of wriggling worms.

We didn’t just shine a spotlight on these two small villages on either side of the River Wear, we turned a searchlight on them, because by coincidence, last week’s Sport Archive concerned Hunwick FC and then Mike Amos visited a punk concert at Hunwick Workingmen’s Clubs.

The Northern Echo: COVER STARS: Harry Kirtley, Newfield born and bred, spotted himself on this wonderful picture from September 1961. "It was taken between Wear Street and Bridge Street", he said. Sheila Sharp, landlady of the Queen's Head at Primrose Hill, Ne

Harry Kirtley, Newfield born and bred, spotted himself on this wonderful picture from September 1961. “It was taken between Wear Street and Bridge Street”, he said. Sheila Sharp, landlady of the Queen’s Head at Primrose Hill, Newfield, recognised her late husband, Robert. From left to right: Alan Dale, Edward Sharp, Harry Kirtley, Alan Pattison (on bogie), Peter Dale, David Cant, Kenneth Sharp, Alan Cant, Robert Sharp, Susan Cant, unknown girl with hoop

First, before we come to outside toilets, some dates.

Hunwick and Newfield sprung to life in the early 1840s, when the West Durham Railway (WDR) ran past them on its way to Crook.

After leaving the mainline near Ferryhill, the WDR ran past Spennymoor to Byers Green. It then climbed over Todhills and dropped down towards the Wear which it crossed to Sunnybrow before proceeding to Crook. Just before the Sunnybrow crossing there was a junction where, in December 1840, a branchline ran to Newfield, on the bank of the Wear.

A colliery was sunk at Newfield in 1841, and, as well as finding coal which was converted to coke on the site, a layer of clay was found beneath the Beaumont coal seam. The clay proved ideal for brick-making. So with mine, cokeworks, brickworks and tilery, Newfield’s population exploded: in 1831, it was just eight; by 1851, it was more than 1,000.

The Northern Echo: DUMPING GROUND: Looking from Hunwick Station across to Newfield – Newfield school is on the left. The picture was printed on August 12, 1964, when the caption beneath it read: "Many areas of South West Durham are ugly enough with the scars of forme

FLOTATION DEVICES: This picture from August 1964 was taken from Hunwick looking across the Wear to Newfield and showed what was called a “dumping ground” for discarded aircraft petrol tanks. This was only half the story. Both Dennis Mawson and Oliver Smith said the glass fibre tanks were made by Whessoe of Darlington, perhaps at its Crook plant, and when the aircraft industry did not want them, they were put to use by boatbuilders. “They were used as floats for catamarans that were built there,” says Dennis, and Oliver said: “People used to cut them up to make canoes and float them in the river.”

From Newfield, the branchline crossed the Wear on a timber trestle bridge and hauled itself up a 100ft hill to Hunwick, to reach an old colliery.

And at Newfield, there was even a branchline off the branchline – it went over the Wear on a second wooden bridge to a new, little colliery called Bell Pit.

Nearly all of this industrial growth was short-lived. In the 1850s, the North Eastern Railway built lines north to south reducing the WDR to just a stub, known as the Byers Green branchline. Bell Pit only lasted a few years and Hunwick colliery closed in 1921.

However, Newfield colliery, which employed 600 people at the start of the 20th Century, endured employing a handful of men into the 1980s. Newfield brickworks and tilery continued to about the same time, employing more men than the colliery, and its site is now a business park.

Much of this information has been supplied by the Wear Valley Railway archivist, John Askwith, whose grandmother Margaret lived in 2, Bridge Street, Newfield, with the railway outside her door, and his grandfather, Thomas, worked in the brickworks.

LET’S talk outside toilets – although few of our correspondents were vulgar enough to use the word “toilet”. They either said “midden” or “netty”.

On the cute kids picture on last week’s front cover, we were impressed by the cast iron chute cover in the background. Everyone said it was at ground level so that the midden man could on with his business.

“Every week a wagon – the midden wagon, I think – came down the back lanes, and the midden man lifted the cast iron cover, shovelled the waste into the wagon and then threw some pinkish coloured powder into the closet before closing the cover,” says Ann Hunter, of Newton Aycliffe, who grew up in Newfield. “It was not until the late 1950s that these earth closets were replaced with flush toilets, but we still had to go to the bottom of the yard to 'pay a visit'.”

“Midden” is an interesting word. It’s of Viking origin, where “mødding” is a dungheap. “Netty”, which other correspondents used, is less easily explained. It may come from “gabbinetti”, which is Italian for “toilet”; it may come from the word “necessary”, or it may come from the French “nettoyer”, which means “to clean”. Any other ideas?

“WHAT a pleasure it was to see the photographs of Newfield,” says Ann Hunter of Newton Aycliffe. “I lived at Newfield for 23 years and have very fond memories as it was a lovely place in which to grow up. Long summer days with lots of friends playing kick the can, sometimes down to the woods near the river with a bottle of pop and jam sandwiches to play on the ivy log (a big fallen tree trunk covered in ivy). We seemed to have many hot summer days.

“The winters were sometimes harsh and we were often snowed in, so days were spent building igloos. The freedom to play outside is something I treasure.”

Newfield was one of the scores of villages that in the 1950s Durham County Council placed in “Category D” – meaning that they would get no investment and so would be encouraged to wither and die.

“I can remember clearly when Category D was first mentioned,” says Ann. “My friends and I sat outside trying to make sense of it, we didn't fully understand, all we knew was that some of our friends had to leave the village as their houses were being demolished. It was very upsetting.”

Ann started her teaching career at Newfield school, working alongside the teacher who had been there when she was in the infants. After seven years, she moved to Vane Road School in Newton Aycliffe where she spent the rest of her career. Newfield school closed in the early 1980s.

NEWFIELD brickworks made firebricks – the silicate bricks which were used in furnaces – out of the clay known locally as seggar and ganister.

Colin Bennett emailed to say: “I spent my last 20 years working at the brickworks until 2006 when production ceased. I was told that the plant had been installed in 1963 when it was the most modern in the country but when I was there it was certainly starting to show its age. The coal-fired kilns had been replaced by a long tunnel kiln which operated continually. There were no chimneys so the draught was provided by large exhaust fans. If the bearings on these fans needed attention, you had to work on top of the kiln and got a good roasting.”

JAMES and Elizabeth Sayers – Jim and Betty to their friends – are both 93 this year and, although they now live in Spennymoor, met at Newfield school when it opened in 1932.

The journey to school involved walking alongside the railway line.

“One day, Betty somehow got her hand trapped between two buffers on the wagons,” says Jim. “Her hand flattened like a black pancake and she was dragged along the track. One of the firemen put the brake on one of the wagons which released the pressure on the buffers and she pulled her hand out just in time – another few yards and she would have been onto the bridge and into the river.”

HUNWICK station was initially on the east to west West Durham Railway but from 1856 it was incorporated into the south to north line between Bishop Auckland and Durham City. The line closed in May 1964, and the station is now a private house.

On January 1, 1936, railway porter Joe Musgrave threw himself beneath a train at Hunwick station. He’d injured his leg skating some years earlier, and the pain had become too much.

Next to the station was the Station Hotel which everybody knew as the “monkey”. Its nickname was so strong that in the 1990s it was renamed “The New Monkey” – although all of our correspondents were mystified as to how it got its name.

Our picture showed the Monkey’s antique-collecting landlord, Harry Callow, from the 1960s and 1970s.

“He was a friend of my father John Benjamin Jefferies who kept the Maltman Hotel in Claypath, Durham,” says Peter Jeffries, of Durham. “Harry had a dog called Norman which used to board the train at Hunwick station. I don’t know how many times it was brought back from Newcastle station as all the staff there knew who it belonged to.”

In Oliver Smith’s day, the Monkey had a reputation as an open-all-hours drinking den. “It was widely known that it was rarely locked and if no one was behind the bar, one could help oneself and just leave the money on the top,” he says.

MANY thanks to everyone who has been in touch. Anything else we should know about Newfield and Hunwick, and why was the Monkey called the Monkey?