LAST week, we were admiring the 1898 Yorkshire Penny Bank in Newgate Street in Bishop Auckland.

The building may be empty now, but it has got three dramatic towers on its roof and four lions staring down from its first floor – it is a powerful reminder of the days when a local bank branch was crucial to a town’s economy.

The Northern Echo: Yorkshire Penny Bank, Bishop AucklandYorkshire Penny Bank, Bishop Auckland

Martin Roberts in West Auckland, who is compiling a guide to the architectural treasures of County Durham, urges us to eye up a couple of other banks by the same architect.

“It is by Walter Brierley of York who never seems to have produced a bad building,” he says. “He was hugely talented, but only worked north of the Tees on a few buildings that still survive.”

Brierley, who lived from 1862 to 1926, was known as “the Yorkshire Lutyens” after the greatest architect of his era, Sir Edwin Lutyens. Most of his 300 buildings were in the York area, but some of his most noteworthy were towards the northern end of his patch.

The Yorkshire Penny Bank of 1898 appears to be one of the first of his creations in this area, followed the following year by one of Shildon’s most striking buildings: the York City and County Bank in a prominent position at the top of Main Street. This Arts and Crafts style building became the home of the HSBC branch which closed in 2012.

The Northern Echo: The HSBC branch in Shildon, the last bank in the townThe HSBC branch in Shildon, the last bank in the town

Between 1903 and 1906, Brierley built the £33,000 County Hall in Northallerton, which North Yorkshire County Council still uses for its headquarters – in fact, it still celebrates the architect, calling the main offices the Brierley Building, holding meetings in the Brierley Room and refreshing its staff in the Brierley’s Restaurant.

In 1912, Brierley did major alternations at Acklam Hall, the stately home which dates from 1680 and which is now Middlesbrough’s only Grade I listed building. It is now a wedding and fine dining venue, and the restaurant at its core is known as The Brierley.

Perhaps Brierley’s quirkiest creation is the Water Tower of 1915 in Ingleby Arncliffe, which he built for ironmaster Sir Hugh Bell (see Memories 235). Sir Hugh, thrice mayor of Middlesbrough and first chair of the Tees valley Water Board, feared water would run during the war, so he had Brierley build the tower which was fed by a spring 1,000ft up in the Cleveland Hills. The water supply never did dry up so the tower is really just a curious folly.

The Northern Echo: The 1915 water tower at Ingleby Arncliffe. Picture: STUART BOULTON..The 1915 water tower at Ingleby Arncliffe. Picture: STUART BOULTON..

Towards the end of Brierley’s life, he built the Midland banks in Darlington (1923) and Durham (1930). Durham’s is tucked away in Saddler Street, whereas Darlington’s occupies a prominent spot at the end of High Row – and, whisper it quietly, it doesn’t really work as well as his other buildings.

The Northern Echo: HSBC Durham, from Google StreetviewHSBC Durham, from Google Streetview

The Northern Echo: Midland Bank, interior, HSBCMidland Bank, interior, HSBC

A tour of Brierley’s work ends with what Martin describes as “the superb little chapel” at Durham School in Quarryheads Lane, which was constructed between 1924 and 1926. It was in memory of the 97 old Dunelmians who had been killed during the First World War, and so it is approached by 97 steps.

The Northern Echo: At Your Service at Durham School chapel.Picture by Tom Banks 13-03-11At Your Service at Durham School chapel.Picture by Tom Banks 13-03-11

Which is all well and good – but what is to become of Bishop Auckland’s Brierley bank as since the Yorkshire Bank left it in August 2016, it has been looking for a new future.