CRAWLING about in a dark, dank long-forgotten corner of the internet is the answer to everything. A search with the right words is like lifting up an overgrown stone in the long grass and finding an amazing world scurrying about underneath.

Memories 424 featured a picture from Darlington library’s collection showing Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof along with a couple of women from the town’s Patons & Baldwins wool factory. It appears to have been taken in the mid-1980s when Mr Geldof was at the height of his fame organising Live Aid and Band Aid.

In the picture, he appears to be wearing a knitted jumper with a woodlouse on it. The obvious question is why.

The obvious answer that several people put forward is that Mr Geldof’s band played in Darlington. However, there is absolutely no record of this concert ever taking place, so we’ve discounted it.

Then, after much googling, David Richardson, whose mother Marjorie is on the picture, has come up with the answer. In a strange, unilluminated corner of the web is a 1988 academic paper entitled “The Woodlice in the Cultural Consciousness of Modern Europe”. It is a lengthy discussion of the woodlouse’s roll in art.

It concludes: “The characteristics of woodlice that most seem to attract the attention of our creative minds are their fondness for damp and dingy situations, their ability to roll into a ball, their tendency to scurry away when disturbed, and their numerous legs.

“The French use woodlice almost exclusively as a metaphor for the most contemptible aspects of human existence. The English, on the other hand, are very much more open-minded about woodlice, sometimes using to evoke an atmosphere (admittedly usually of decay), sometimes remembering them with nostalgia, and sometimes even regarding them with affection.”

And it finishes by saying that woodlice “have found niches in a great variety of novels, poems and other forms of art. They have clearly adapted well to most of the higher reaches of human behaviour.”

There is no reach of human behaviour higher than the pop song and the paper explains how in 1984, the Boomtown Rats released their sixth studio album called In the Long Grass. Because in the long grass one may find a woodlouse, the woodlouse became the emblem for the album. It was used as the backdrop to an Irish promotional tour and on the artwork of the singles.

Disappointingly, despite the woodlouse, In the Long Grass did not reach the charts and the lack of success caused the Boomtown Rats to split.

However, says our academic paper, “the woodlouse continued into Geldof’s famine relief projects related to Band Aid, and in September 1985, Knit Aid produced a knitting pattern featuring a large woodlouse crawling across the wearer’s stomach”.

Disappointingly, there are no other mentions of Knit Aid on the internet, but Patons & Baldwins, the world’s largest knitting wool factory, must have been behind it, and produced the pattern of the woodlouse. Any more information very welcome…

TALKING of creepy-crawlies, we are told that the Patons & Baldwins factory at Lingfield Point in Darlington had a moth department. Apparently, moths were kept in large glass tanks and were given samples of wool to feast on. The wool, though, had been treated with anti-moth chemicals and the laboratory was trying to find out which anti-moth product was the best.

IN P&B’s heyday in the 1960s, it had several satellite factories in the region: for example it established one in Crook in 1966 to work with synthetic fibres.

But we were wrong to say that there was a P&B factory in Peterlee. It was a worsted yarn factory opened in 1953 by Jeremiah Ambler & Son, a wool firm established in Bradford in the 1780s. In Peterlee, it used Saco-Lowell machines imported from the US, which had a spindle speed of 9000rpm compared to the 4,000rpm of normal British firms.

However, in 1961, P&B merged with J&P Coats of Edinburgh, to create Coats Patons which was the largest textile company in the world. Jeremiah Ambler was also sucked into this conglomerate, although Mr Ambler’s name remained above the Peterlee works until they shut in the late 1970s.

ONE of the reasons that P&B is so well remembered in Darlington is that in the 1950s, not only did one in three female school leavers start work there, but every school had a trip around it. Every social group, like branches of the Women’s Institute, also regularly toured the plant at Lingfield Point.

It wasn’t just Darlington in which P&B engaged with local people. Daphne Jones, now in the town, remembers attending a P&B knitted fashion show in a hotel in Colchester, Essex, with her mother in the early 1960s.

“There was an audience of two or three hundred,” says Daphne, who started her knitting career at school in the mid 1950s knitting a kettle holder. “The clothes were beautifully made and professionally modelled, with a good commentary. They sold the patterns afterwards and we could buy the wool at our local shop.

“The clothes modelled included lots of jumpers and cardigans, but also other garments and I remember a full length winter coat. It looked marvellous on the model, but I can recall our doubts about its practicality. It would probably get longer and longer with regular wear.”

And don’t mention the knitted swimwear!