WHEN the Bearpark class of 1951 held a reunion, lots of former pupils turned up with photographs. So former classmates Brian Crampton and Gordon Luke pulled them altogether, collected a few more, and produced a limited edition booklet.

Bearpark, of course, is a couple of miles east of Durham where, in 1258, the Prior of Durham, Bertram de Middleton, built a retirement residence which he called Beau Repaire. It is French for "beautiful retreat", but the Durham pronunciation turned it into the sort of place where grizzlies might live.

The Scots destroyed the beautiful retreat during the 17th Century civil war, and so it is the mining community, created when the pit opened in 1872, that the classmates remembered.

"In the village there were eight colliery rows and the school and the chapels, and the pitheaps out the back, and beyond them, the fiery heaps – we called them that because they were always on fire," says Brian, who now lives in Newton Aycliffe.

Like many of the class of 1951, Brian attended the school from the ages of five to 15, and then started down the pit. But at 6ft tall, he was a bit big for the 18-inch seams.

His height, though, made him good as a goalkeeper, and after trials at Newcastle, West Ham and Leeds, plus a spell with Darlington reserves, the Bakelite factory in Aycliffe came in for him.

"They offered me a job if I would play football for them, and then, because you worked on the estate, when you got married, you got first choice of a council house," says Brian.

What more could a young man want: a job, a house and "amateur" football – with a brown envelope of "expenses" stuffed into your boots to make sure you didn't sign for anybody else in the Northern League.

Brian worked for Bakelite for 38 years, but still remembers the days of his youth in Bearpark, sliding down the pitheaps on tin sheets.

Nowadays, the eight rows – streets named Bough, Catherine, Edmund, Thompson, Swan, Dodds, Dyson and Fry – and the two Methodist chapels (one Primitive and the other Wesleyan) have been demolished and lie beneath countryside on the edge of the modern village.

The first hundred copies of the book, at £5, went to former Bearpark pupils, but if there are enough orders, Brian and Gordon will do a reprint. Call 01325-307093 for more information. The duo are also hoping to create a Bearpark calendar for Christmas – watch this space...