A DERELICT piece of Darlington’s heritage is to be auctioned off by the council: the lodge house in North Cemetery.

There’s a gaping hole in the roof, the windows are shuttered up and thick ivy covers the brickwork, but there’s enough visible of the patterned rooftiles and the delicate arched stonework to hint that this was once a special building.

In fact, it was built as a memorial to Darlington’s greatest son, designed by Darlington’s greatest architect and built by Darlington’s most idiosyncratic stonemason.

Joseph Pease, whose statue stands in High Row, is the town’s greatest son. When he died on February 8, 1872, his businesses employed 10,000 people and his personal estate was worth £350,000 (wealth comparisons across time are very difficult, but this is at least £37.5m in today’s values and could be £170m).

Ten months later, his five sons offered 14 acres of land to the town in Joseph’s memory to create a new cemetery amid the railwaymen’s terraces in the north end of town. Apparently, Joseph had often spoken of the “expensive and painful journey” the families in the new streets had had to endure to inter their loved ones in the established West Cemetery.

The Peases gave £3,000 to drain the land and the £4,375 cost of building the chapel, the lodges and the gates (although, due to cost over-run, the final bill was nearer £15,000).

GG Hoskins, who designed many of the best Tees Valley Victorian buildings from Darlington’s stately King’s Head Hotel to Middlesbrough’s grandiose Town Hall, drew up the plans, and the sole contractor was Robert Borrowdale, a wonderfully eccentric stonemason who loved to cover his building in carved heads of men with strange facial hair and women looking austere.

Borrowdale was from Barnard Castle. He carved a huge monument of an angel which stands in Startforth churchyard and is dedicated to his wife and six children who died distressingly young. He built many characterful buildings in Darlington, although only Melville House and Leadenhall Street (which has a lion on it) survive, off Northgate.

He was present on April 8, 1874, when mayor Arthur Pease laid the chapel foundation stone in which he placed photographs of Joseph Pease and his five sons, plus a copy of The Northern Echo.

The cemetery came into use in 1877 – apparently without ceremony.

It would be great to see the lodge rescued from dereliction and put back into use by a new owner, but is it right that the proceeds from the sale should go into the general budget for “maintenance and upkeep” of the cemetery, or would it be more appropriate for them to be spent on a one-off special project in the spirit of the Peases’ original donation?

  • The details of where and when the auction will take place have yet to be finalised.