RECENTLY, we had a picture of an extremely attractive cast iron mangle owned by Dave Chapman of Merrybent. The most attractive part of it was that it had the name of “Sykes & Co, Darlington” in large letters in the ironwork.

Katherine Williamson, in Darlington library, was kindly able to locate an advert for this ironmonger whose shop turned out to be in what is today Houndgate Mews.

Sykes & Co occupied this grand and solid Victorian townhouse from about 1900 until 1930. It is only a few doors from John Lear’s ironmongery which from 1760 to 1965 was at the top of Horsemarket. We looked in there earlier this year because we’d found a couple of cast iron kitchen ranges with “Lear, Darlington” on them.

Just as Lear was buying in ranges made elsewhere and putting his name on them, so Sykes’ mangles are likely to have been made-to-order from a supplier with his name already cast on them.

Sykes’ ironmongery was next door to The Fleece Hotel which, for more than 300 years, was a suitably impressive endpiece to High Row. Somewhere beneath its 18th Century façade was a townhouse that was believed to belong to the Prescott family, who had been associated with the town since Oliver Cromwell’s days.

It was a hotel by 1688 when Henry Lovell went to work behind the bar. He remained behind the bar until his death, aged 93, in May 1739.

A Victorian historian said of him: “He was never known to have one hour’s sickness, nor even the head ach and though a free toper of ale, sometimes for days and nights successively, he had an aversion to drams of all kinds and retained his hearing, sight and memory to his last moments. He never made use of spectacles, nor ever lost a tooth.”

In 1968, the Ministry of Housing said: “The Fleece Hotel makes a valuable contribution to the street scene in the central part of Darlington. It is one of the few inns of architectural or historical interest in the town.”

And so in January 1969, it was demolished – much to the Ministry’s dismay. Its owner, Vaux brewery, could not afford £100,000 to renovate its warren of rooms.

We believe the Fleece’s central doorframe was carefully dismantled and put into crates for the council, but we have never been able to locate those crates.

In 1969, the council stipulated to developers that the Fleece’s “present front facade is kept, or rebuilt in Georgian style”, but instead we got the hideous early 1970s building that now houses Boyes.