MOWDEN, originally Moudon, means “a fortified hill on a boundary”. The Baydale Beck runs down the west of the Mowden estate and it is still a ward and parish boundary, and in ancient times, it marked the edge of Darlington. The B6279 Staindrop Road goes over Baydale Beck on Moudon Bridge.

In the early 1840s, John Beaumont Pease (1803-1873) bought Bushel Hill Farm at Moudon. JB, whose principal residence was North Lodge in Northgate, retired from the family businesses at the age of 30 due to ill health and lived till he was 70 – presumably because the air at his country retreat of Bushel Hill Farm was so sweet.

In 1850, JB Pease allowed his cousins, who had recently formed the Darlington Gas and Water Company, to build an 800,000 gallon reservoir at Bushel Hill – at 200ft above sea level, this was one of the highest points in the town, so ideal for a waterworks. The round reservoir was drained and demolished in 1971 and now Bushel Hill Court is on its site.

In 1856, a large cache of Roman coins was found in the beck near Moudon Bridge. Most of them had images of Empress Flavia Maxima Fausta on one side and her mother-in-law Helena on the other. These were minted by the empress’ husband, Constantine I, in honour of his victory at the Battle of Chrysopolis in 324AD which had reunited the Roman empire. However, two years later, Constantine had his eldest son, Crispus, executed after he had begun a sexual relationship with his stepmother, the empress. Shortly afterwards, the empress herself died in a bath of boiling water – was she, too, executed by the angry Constantine, or did she die trying to induce an abortion in fear that she was carrying her stepson’s child? No one knows how the coins ended up at Moudon Bridge.

In 1862, JB Pease demolished Bushel Hill Farm and had local architects Richardson and Ross build a mini-mansion on its site. To keep it private, he re-directed an ancient footpath to High Coniscliffe away from his villa.

In 1873, Edwin Lucas Pease inherited the villa. He was the founder of the Skerne Ironworks, on Albert Hill, and he became mayor in 1875-76. He was nicknamed “the Squire of Bushel Hill”, and to deter ramblers, he ploughed up the footpath, planted on top of it and then erected tar-covered fences.

On May 10, 1875, a protest meeting in the Mechanics Institute resulted in the formation of the Darlington Footpaths Preservation Society – EL Pease was not the only wealthy landowner in the area keeping the plebs out.

Councillor J Morrell told the meeting: "These walks through fields and meadows are important adjuncts to a town like Darlington, and we should guard them with jealous care, for there is nothing so beautiful and healthy, nothing so calculated to lift the mind to the highest possible enjoyment, as a walk in the country. These walks were given by our forefathers and it is our duty to hand them down intact to our children." Mr Pease appeared conciliatory, but despite his promises, didn’t reopen the path until a group of renegade ramblers led by Cllr Edward Wooler, a solicitor, attacked the illegal fencing. Cllr Wooler "vigorously set himself to work and cut down nine palings which crossed the path".

In 1877, Mr Pease built a lodge house on top of his pond where the Mowden pub is today on Staindrop Road. This caused him to divert another part of the footpath, and the ramblers took him to the Queen's Bench in London. An old-timer from Coniscliffe was due to testify how generations of his family had walked that way unhindered, but at the last moment, he unexpectedly switched sides, sparking accusations that he had been nobbled. The court decided Mr Pease's diversion was reasonable, and the footpath society collapsed under the weight of its legal fees.

In 1881, Mr Pease began rebuilding his mansion, which he now called Mowden, with Alfred Waterhouse in charge of the project. Waterhouse was the greatest architect of the Victorian era who designed Darlington covered market, Barclays bank on High Row, as well as mansions at Rockliffe and Pierremont. Mowden cost £13,195 and took four years, with Waterhouse coming back in 1889 to oversee another extension.

Mr Waterhouse laid out the Mowden gardens for £670 (about £80,000 today) – it is these grounds which are now to be built over.

In 1889, a few weeks after Mr Pease was knocked unconscious when he was thrown from his bolting horse outside the King's Head, he was foxhunting near Piercebridge when his "horse fell and almost immediately rolled over on its unfortunate rider". He broke six ribs and was carried back to Mowden on a mattress where he died, aged 50.

His son, William Edwin Pease, inherited Mowden. He was twice mayor of Darlington and from 1923 to 1926, the town's Conservative MP. He was also chairman of Cleveland Bridge, a keen polo player and a big game hunter.

WE Pease died in 1926, aged 61, and as a bachelor, the property passed to his cousin, Captain Ernest Hubert Pease. Ernest also sought to inherit the Parliamentary seat, but in the by-election, he lost by 329 votes to the town’s first Labour MP, Arthur Shepherd. Struck down by ill health, he went to live on the Isle of Wight, where he died in 1928, and Mowden was sold.

In 1935, Frank Marchbank founded a boarding school in the hall "to prepare boys for public schools and the Navy". When the Second World War broke out, the school was evacuated to Windermere, and then to Newton Hall, near Newcastle, a former Joicey family home where Mowden Hall Preparatory School continues to operate.

During the war, the hall was occupied by the military, and its lily pond was designated an Emergency Water Supply to be used in case of enemy action.

After the war, the 157-acre Mowden estate was bought by Charles Jackson, a Skinnergate butcher, who lived in Wilton House, Nunnery Lane, which was also part of the estate. He had an egg-packing firm working out of Mowden, until in 1953 when it became the headquarters of Thomas Summerson & Son, an Albert Hill foundry whose family lived at Hallgarth Hall at Coatham Mundeville.

In 1961, Cecil Yuill, a Hartlepool builder, bought the Mowden estate for £241,000 "with plans to build a small town on it". He gained permission to build 1,380 homes (priced between £2,275 and £6,000) on its 500 acres, but he was denied permission to demolish Waterhouse's listed hall.

In 1966, the hall was sold to the Government for £30,000 and the modern office block was completed for the Department of Education and Employment civil servants in June 1970.

In 2013, when the civil servants had moved to new offices behind Darlington Town Hall, Mowden Hall was occupied by Marchbank free school, which was named after the headteacher of the 1930s boarding school. It is for pupils with special educational needs.

The 1960s office block was demolished in 2017, and last week councillors approved the construction of 18 three bedroom and 12 four bedroom houses on the site, plus the removal of about 85 trees.

Quite a few original features are believed to survive in Mowden Hall. In the brickwork around the outside is an unusual sunflower and Saltire decoration, which is repeated in some stained glass windows. There’s a fireplace made of Frosterley marble and a secret door is still hidden in the panelling in the billiards room – although it is blocked up on the other side.