RECENTLY we were musing about Middleton St George’s co-op which used to be in Central Buildings, with an odd outhouse out the back, in the centre of the village. Today its premises are called Twelve Central and are occupied by a hairdresser and beautician.

The MSG co-op was built in 1906 on land sold to the Darlington Co-operative and Industrial Society by Sir Henry Spence Moreton Havelock-Allan, of Blackwell Grange.

“I can remember going into the co-op and the counter was over to the left and it came round in a semi-circle,” says Avril Gilchrist, whose dividend number was 12714, of Middleton One Row. “It was a well stocked shop.”

Alan Pallister, divi number 20893, got in touch from the Isle of Man.

“The co-op was always known as “the stores”, and during the war years, they delivered to your home when requested,” he says. “Delivery was by horse and cart, in the hands of Ernie Hall, and the outhouse was the stable.”

Frank Richardson, divi number 345672, remembers there were stalls for three horses, although only two ever lived there. A hayloft was above them.

MSG co-op closed in the late 1960s, when Frank was running the village football team and wanted to enlarge into a youth club.

“The pigeon club allowed us to use its premises for a year so we could raise funds,” says Frank, an honorary freeman of the village after nearly 41 years on Low Dinsdale Parish Council. “Then I went to Harold Whitehead in the co-op in Darlington and asked him how much he wanted for the store. He said £13,000. I told him what it was for and we’d be 10 years raising that much, so he made a phone call to Newcastle and said ‘will you be interested in £3,500?’.

“I said we’d snap his hand off, but then, after another phone conversation, he said ‘you can have it for £2,500’. We’d already raised half of that, and we were in the following Monday.”

For nearly 30 years, the youth club, with up to 144 members, was based at the old co-op until the larger building attached to the reservoir – the Water Park – fell derelict and was converted into a parish meeting hall. The former co-op was sold for £30,000 with the proceeds ploughed back into children’s facilities, including the playing field.

DESPITE its sudden blooming of housing suburbs, Middleton St George is at heart an industrial village.

The Middleton Ironworks were founded in 1864 in the middle of nowhere, midway between Middleton One Row and Sadberge. They were beside the Stockton & Darlington Railway and were located at a

midpoint between the Cleveland ironstone mines and the Durham coalmines.

The ironworks needed workers so Irish immigrants arrived, and terraces were built for them to live in. The Irish were Catholics, and so a church was planned for them in Chapel Street, but just as the foundations were laid, the ironworks fell on hard times and the church was abandoned – Chapel Street, therefore, never had a chapel.

When the works got going again in the 1870s, there was a mad rush by various missionaries to recruit the ironworkers into their faiths. The Wesleyan Methodists arrived first, building their chapel in 1869; the Catholics then converted a village hall into a temporary church, and finally the Anglicans arrived in 1871.

To make up for their lateness, the Anglicans built a “striking ornament” – St Laurence’s Church, which was consecrated by the Bishop of Durham on April 13, 1871 – and then, in 1872, they held an eight-day recruitment drive. This ended in controversy because the Anglicans accused the Methodists of trying try “to reap some of the fruits of the mission” – ie: poach some of their converts. The Anglicans got their own back by holding a procession to St Laurence’s Church which deliberately processed through an open-air non-conformist meeting, causing their religious rivals to flee in “embarrassed confusion”.

Perhaps the faiths realised things had gone too far and they needed to unite rather than fight, because in 1907 an Undenominational Mission Hall was built.

It was in the Undenominational Mission Hall that the pigeon club were meeting when Frank Richardson started fundraising for his youth club in the early 1970s.

Today the Undenominational Mission Hall is a private house but, quite magnificently, there is still an iron fence outside it that proclaims it to be an Undenominational Mission Hall.

It was built when undenominationalism peaked before the First World War. Undenominationals were people who were not attached to any religious denomination. They considered themselves just Christians.

Undenominational should not be confused with nondenominational, which became popular about 50 years later. A nondenominational service was one that was acceptable to people of any Christian denomination.

Well, we hope that’s the case. The difference between undenominational and nondenominational is not something that is often discussed. Are there any other undenominational buildings in the area?

THE Undenominational Mission Hall is next door to the hall in which the Catholics had their temporary church. In 1936, the church was converted into a 265-seater cinema, called the Lyric, which during the Second World War proved hugely popular with airmen stationed at the nearby airfield. The Lyric even had a row of double courting seats at the back of the gallery.

It closed in the late 1950s and it, too, is now a private residence.