THERE were two miniature railways running in Bishop Auckland 50 or more years ago.

On the Jane Armstrong Park at Woodhouse Close – once known as the “mini rec” because it was a miniature railway with a recreation ground in it – there was a five inch gauge railway operated from the late 1940s by members of the Bishop Auckland & District Model Engineers Society. They gave rides behind a model of Flying Scotsman built by honorary secretary, Leslie Finlay.

“I spent my growing up years seeing this loco take shape and I remember an evening when mother was out at a church meeting and father decided to test the boiler pressure on the kitchen table just to see how far it would go,” says Maureen Pringle, of Newton Hall, Durham. “The steam shot out of one end and removed a line of paint from the kitchen door.”

The engine was called Night Hawk because of the many night hours Mr Finlay spent building it. He sold it in about 1970 to a museum in York.

“He made many more model locos over the years, but Night Hawk was his first,” says Maureen.

About a quarter of a mile away at Cockton Hill recreation ground, off Helena Terrace, there was an earlier, larger miniature railway which was operated in the late 1940s by Herbert Dunn. Mr Dunn had bought a 15 inch gauge 2-4-0 model loco, and ran it on a straight stretch of track about 50 yards long.

“The motive power is provided by a petrol motor housed out of sight on the tender,” said British railways magazine in 1955. “To give the necessary touch of realism, the exhaust from the motor is diverted by means of a flexible tube up the chimney.”

After a couple of years, Mr Dunn took it to Seaton Carew. “He ran it on the sands at Seaton for about 50 or 60 yards,” says his son, Ridley. “He sold it to a firm in Weymouth in Dorset.”

The model loco was transported from West Hartlepool station on a 22 ton plate wagon down to Dorset in 1955, partly because Mr Dunn had other fish to fry – he had purchased a picturesque stretch of riverbank at Whorlton, on the edge of Teesdale, which he was turning into a daytrip attraction. More on Whorlton Lido, as he called it, and its miniature railway next week.

ON January 29, 1820, King George III exclaimed: “Oh! For a breath of Gatherley air.” And then he died. Last week, we assumed the king was referring to Gatherley Castle which now lies beneath the widened A1(M) to the east of Richmond.

“Sorry, but when I googled Gatherley Moor I got the answer that it was to the north of Richmond and the A66 runs through it,” says Neil Wishart.

He is correct. Gatherley Moor is above Melsonby, and has splendid – and bracing – views over Holmedale and Gilling West and into the Pennines. And it was the home of horseracing.

“In no part of England, perhaps was horse-racing carried on with more spirit than in Richmondshire,” wrote the Durham historian Canon James Raine of the 15th and 16th centuries. “Gatherley Moor, the most celebrated course in the north of England, was in the very heart of the district; and almost the highest ambition of the North-country gentleman was to bear away the bell on that famous field.”

In 1554, the May race on Gatherley Moor was so keenly contested that one noble horseowner murdered his rival. In 1615, an exciting Easter meeting ended with the “great snow race” in which no one could see which horse crossed the line first because of the blizzard.

Racing at Gatherley continued until 1741 when it moved to the warmer climate of the moors above Richmond.

LAST week’s centre spread featured a poster, by David Simpson, featuring curious place names of the North-East.

“It informs, amuses and reminds us of our rich tapestry of place names,” says Paul Weightman, of Dinsdale. “Sour Milk Hill, Sunderland, was on my father’s farm and speaks for itself – we were milk producers. Nearer to Darlington, Hunger Hill and Cold Comfort were for miscreants of Neasham Abbey.”

This is a fascinating snippet: were these two farms really where naughty nuns or pesky priests were sent if they transgressed at the abbey?

And John Heslop, from Durham, writes to point out that his personal favourite, Victoria Garesfield, was missed off.

Victoria Garesfield, who sounds as if she should be a BBC television presenter, was in fact a colliery near Rowlands Gill in the north of County Durham. It was opened in 1801 on a field belonging to Mr Gair, and as it produced top quality coal, lots of pits were dug on Mr Gair’s field. Each had to be given name, so you’ll find South Garesfield or Swalwell Garesfield and Clinty Drift Garesfield (which is a great name). Victoria Garesfield opened in 1870, employed more than 600 people in its heyday during the First World War, and closed in 1962.