A FORTNIGHT ago, Memories visited Butterby, a lost spa resort to the south of Durham which borrows its name from French: it was originally "beau trove", or "beautiful find".

So it seems appropriate to visit another Durham place with a misheard French name: Bearpark, to the west of the city, gets its name from Beau Repaire – a "beautiful retreat".

From at least 1244, the Prior of Durham retreated here, and in 1285, Prior Hugh of Darlington enclosed up to 1,300 acres of land behind a wall and a palisade to create Beau Repaire Park where he could go hunting.

The remains of the priors' manor house remain on the north bank of the River Browney; on the south bank is the trackbed of the Lanchester Valley Railway which whizzed through to Consett in 1862. It encouraged the creation of Bearpark Colliery which opened in 1872. By the 1890s, it employed more than 1,000 men and boys, so a colliery community sprang up beside its pitheap and railway sidings. Right into the 1960s, the colliery employed 800 or more men, but then the decline set in.

The railway closed in 1966 and the pit was labelled "uneconomic" by the National Coal Board. However, the men dug deep, and upped their output from 19cwt a shift to 24.7cwt, which encouraged the NCB to give it a reprieve.

But it was only a stay of execution, as it closed in 1984, just after the national strike. This left Sacriston as the only mine in Durham operating to the west of the A1.

The shafts were capped and the colliery site and the sidings beside the river were landscaped so that now the area, in this post-industrial age, looks more like the park of Beau Repaire where the priors went hunting than it has done for generations.

  • These pictures of Bearpark are all from The Northern Echo archive. If you have anything to add, please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk, and we hope that Memories shall be restored to its full glory next weekend.