WITH the clock now stopped at one, the windows boarded up, the headstones toppled over and the litter blowing in wafts across the tangled grass, it is hard to imagine the excitement exactly 150 years ago in an exposed field on the edge of the booming railway town of New Shildon.

More than 2,500 people had gathered to see a man with a trowel in action.

Not any old trowel.

The Darlington & Stockton Times said: “The trowel is massive and elegant, and is handsomely engraved with a view of the church in the centre, surrounded by the following inscription: ‘Presented to the Rev Horatio Spurrier MA on the occasion of his laying the memorial stone of All Saints’ Church, New Shildon, on Easter Monday, April 13th 1868.”

Mr Spurrier was from Derbyshire, and attended Oxford University, where he became a keen rower – he was nearly selected among the eight for the 1859 Boat Race.

In 1866, aged 34, he came north to Shildon, and, unusually well liked for an Anglican vicar among the coalminers, he stayed.

In front of that large crowd 150 years ago on land donated by the Earl of Eldon, Mr Spurrier used the trowel to tap the foundation stone into place. The stone, with the date in Gothic lettering, can still be seen, although it has lost the brass plaque which bore the names of the vicar and the church’s architect and main contractor.

The architect was James Pigot Pritchett, of Darlington, who was involved in nearly 100 churches and chapels in his lifetime – the most important is St Nicholas’, in Durham City; perhaps the most notorious is St Laurence’s in Middleton St George which was closed in 2014 when it became structurally unsafe. Pritchett also designed the sad, empty building which was Darlington Arts Centre.

The contractor of All Saints was Robert Borrowdale, who carved the stone for some of Darlington’s most curious buildings – like Leadenhall Street, which is topped by a lying lion – as well as for North Cemetery. On the 100ft spire at All Saints, Borrowdale place some very dramatic-looking gargoyles.

After the stone had been laid, Mr Spurrier led the way to the Mechanics Hall where “almost 600 persons sat down to a rather more than usually pleasant tea, presided over by the ladies of the neighbourhood”.

Once the women had tidied away the dishes, the men – there were at least 13 leading religious, political and industrial men on the platform – started speaking.

“These gentlemen in short and appropriate speeches congratulated the residents of Shldon in the progress which was so apparent by the manner in which, with so little difficulty, they erected such beautiful edifices as the one they were now assembled to inaugurate,” said the D&S.

The £2,500 church came into use the following year, and Mr Spurrier remained as rector throughout his career. In 1887, he married Eleanor Cumby, the grand-daughter and heir of Captain William Pryce Cumby, the hero of the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar, who lived in Heighington.

Consequently, when he died, Mr Spurrier was buried in Heighington churchyard.

All Saints Church lasted until November 1998, when it held its last service, conducted by the Bishop of Durham. It has stood empty ever since, and although planning permission was granted in 2015 for it to be converted into residential use, on its 150th birthday, it looks extremely forlorn.

STAYING in Shildon, in Memories 370, we told of Network Rail’s planning application to replace a portion of Hildyard’s footbridge, which is at the back of the Locomotion museum, with an earth embankment. The bridge is in portions because it spans the site of Shildon sidings, which grew into the world’s largest railway marshalling yard – as the sidings widened, so the bridge widened.

The planning permission means that part of the story of the bridge will be lost, but it also means that Network Rail is going to repair the surviving, oldest portions of the bridge.