THE Robert Watson Memorial is the biggest thing in Bishop Auckland Town Cemetery.

Mr Watson was born in Hamsterley in 1819 but made a fortune on the US railways where he became mayor of Lee’s Summit, a small town near Kentucky. He never married, and when he turned 70, he retired back to Hamsterley to live with a relative.

Knowing death was inevitable, he designed a six ton monument to himself, which he had made in Connecticut and shipped to Bishop Auckland. It was installed to great public interest in 1890, and in his final year, one of his favourite activities was to anonymously sit on one of the benches he had installed in the shadow of the 20ft tower and listen in to what visitors were saying about the monument and the man who had constructed it.

Mr Watson died aged 72 on May 9, 1891, and Billy Mollon, who has been researching the story, directs us to The Northern Echo report of his funeral on May 12, 1891.

It says that Mr Watson’s “grave is walled with glazed brick and cement, and lies a little to the north-west of the towering monument”.

And it adds: “In the foundation of the monument a copy of The Northern Echo, containing a full description of the memorial and a sketch of the deceased gentleman, is preserved in a sealed bottle. A good number of town and country people visited the grave.”

This may be the only picture of the man responsible for this monster as the original sketch is not in the Echo’s archives.