WHAT is like living in the middle of a graveyard?

That was the question we posed a few weeks ago when we told that the derelict 1870s lodge house in the centre of Darlington’s North Cemetery is to be auctioned.

The answer: a lot of fun, judging by Margaret Singer’s memories of her childhood growing up in the lodge in the 1950s and 1960s.

“I loved it,” she says, “because of the big open spaces and no neighbours – and the ones that were there didn’t bother us.

“It was a great place to live. Many nights, when the gates were closed, I used to walk around with the dog, Ricky, looking for bats and owls. As a young child, I had no fear of wandering around on my own.”

Margaret’s grandfather, William Alsop, was the cemetery foreman and so three generations of her family lived in the lodge, which was designed by Darlington’s greatest architect GG Hoskins.

Downstairs, there was an office where Mr Alsop had meetings with vicars and undertakers and which had the area’s only telephone for council communications.

“It had a big staircase with a wonderfully long bannister – great for sliding down,” says Margaret.

“I remember Grandad finding a pheasant in the cemetery and he brought it home for me to see, putting it in the front bedroom. However, before I managed to get a glimpse, it flew straight at the window, smashing through and flying off into the distance.

“Grandad had some explaining to do to the council about that breakage.”

Today, the lodge has holes in its roof, its broken windows are boarded up and ivy has rampaged across its honey-coloured stonework.

“The ivy above Grandad’s office is hiding a dent on the bedroom window sill, which is where an incendiary bomb fell during the war,” says Margaret. “It plopped to the floor and just fizzled out.”

Mercifully, Darlington escaped most of the Luftwaffe’s attentions, but there were a couple of raids in 1941 when incendiaries and high explosives were dropped.

“Apparently, from the air, the gravestones may have looked like tents so they thought it was an encampment down there,” she says.

Margaret’s grandparents and parents are buried in North Cemetery in a plot specially selected as it looks at the lodge.

“I find it so sad to see my beloved home in such a sorry state,” she says. “The big house was always a happy place to be and I hope some happiness can return to it once again.”

No date has yet been set for the auction.