ONE hundred and fifty years ago this week, the small village of Forcett was en fete as six days of celebrations were held, marking the coming of age of John Michell Junior, the eldest son of the local gentry.

“The day was brilliantly fine; the usually quiet little village of Forcett was in great excitement,” said The Northern Echo’s older sister paper, the Darlington & Stockton Times on September 5, 1868. “The church bells were ringing, flags were displayed in all available places, the entrance of the park was decked with flags and evergreens, and all seemed anxious to testify their esteem and attachment to Mr Michell and his family.”

The Michells lived a Forcett Hall, which is a property with ancient roots, and a grand gatehouse and a stond-out dovecote which must intrigue everyone who passes through this dot of a village between Richmond and Darlington.

The original hall was Elizabethan, and was built on some of the lumps and bumps of the famous Iron Age settlement of Stanwick St John. That hall burned down in 1726 and was replaced by the existing structure which was designed by Daniel Garrett, who worked at Castle Howard and who is best known in our area for building Culloden Tower overlooking Richmond in 1746.

It was set into an impressive landscape, overlooking a 17-acre lake beside which was a manmade hill inside which was an ice house – the last time we looked, the ice house was very well preserved, and in the dark tunnel leading to it, there were the remains of ice curling stones from the days when winters were hard enough to allow such sport.

The Michell family owned Forcett Hall from 1785 to 1938, and, 150 years ago, they knew how to celebrate.

On the Wednesday night, 150 men, including estate tenants, local militiamen and top friends of the family like Sir William Ffolkes, dined in a marquee on the lawns by the lake.

“After dinner, Mrs Michell and many ladies who had been entertained by her in the hall, entered the marquee,” said the D&S.

Then came the toasts and speeches, including one by Sir William. He was a minor East Anglican aristocrat who probably spelled his surname without a capital letter and who found himself catapulted to a baronetcy when his ffather was killed by lightning. He was also 21 and studying at Cambridge university, where we suspect he’d befriended John Michell, who made a little self-effacing speech.

Another of the speakers pointed out that at that very moment, the tenants on the Michells’ Aberdeenshire estate were enjoying similar festivities “and perhaps at that very time drinking with all their heart the hearth of the young laird of Glassel”.

The dinner was followed by a ball on the Thursday evening, which was followed on the Friday by an entertainment for “the estate cottagers and children”. The celebrations finished on the Monday with a servants’ ball. They knew how to party in those days.