THIS splendid picture from Tom Hutchinson's new book, Bishop Auckland & District, shows the laying of the foundation stone for the Hippodrome theatre in Railway Street, Bishop Auckland, on July 24, 1909, by Sir William Eden, of Windlestone Hall. His wife, Lady Sybil Eden, was supposed to perform the ceremony but "was unable to fulfil the engagement" – The Northern Echo of the day didn't explain why.

Sir William – the father of Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden – was presented with a pen and ink sketch of the theatre by Darlington architect, JJ Taylor, who also handed him a silver trowel. Mr Winship, of the London builders, then presented his lordship with a mallet and "he proceeded to formally lay the stone, expressing the hope that the building would be for the pleasure of public and that the venture would be a success".

One always wonders what happened to such trowels and mallets that were handed out wily-nily at such ceremonies in days gone by, but rarely seem to survive.

The £10,000 theatre was to hold 1,800 people and would even have storage room for bicycles. A local company, with lemonade manufacturer EW Sant as chairman, was promoting the scheme, and present at the stone-laying was Signor Rino Pepi, who would become the theatre's first director and who, of course, was the inspiration behind Darlington's Hippodrome (as well as hippodromes in Shildon and Middlesbrough).

Sir William was a great, and genuine, promoter of the arts in Bishop Auckland. In 1890, the Theatre Royal in Newgate Street was condemned by opponents for being a malign influence on the town, but Sir William very publicly, with a cast of supporting ladies, took his seat in the centre of the circle and gave the theatre, and its manager Arthur Jefferson, his seal of approval.

Indeed, in 1892, he even allowed Mr Jefferson – who, of course, was Stan Laurel's father – to rename the theatre in his honour, and so the Theatre Royal became The Eden Theatre.

So Sir William supported Signor Pepi in 1909 in laying the Hippodrome's foundation, but despite his warm words, Pepi struggled desperately to make the theatre pay and had to sell it two years later to be turned into a cinema.

Sir William died in 1915, but his heir, Sir Timothy was something of a thespian himself. On February 23, 1925, he appeared at the Eden Theatre in The Second Mrs Tanqueray alongside Mrs Patrick Campbell, who was one of the greatest West End actresses of her day.

However, her day had been about 30 years earlier when she had starred in the first production of The Second Mrs Tanqueray, and then as the first Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.

By 1925, she was renowned for her huffiness – a condition not enhanced by a nasty blow to the head in a taxicab accident in 1912.

The Bishop audience was very partisan on the opening night, and gave the local landowner Sir Timothy an "enthusiastic reception".

So enthusiastic a reception that Mrs Patrick Campbell suffered a hissy fit which caused her to be indisposed for the rest of the run.

This was the final straw for manager Mr Jefferson who, struggling to make the Eden pay, departed Bishop Auckland soon afterwards.

The Eden was demolished in 1973, although its site on Newgate Street is marked by Eden Corner where there is a statue of Stan Laurel. The Hippodrome still stands and is now a bingo hall.