Round the World: An A-Z miscellany of Barningham and its neighbours by Jon Smith

THIS is a ridiculously magnificent and ambitious book containing 187,000 words, 1,815 entries and 342 photos about a Teesdale village which today has just 241 inhabitants.

It is a compendium of the stories in the award-winning magazine produced by the Barningham Local History Society, a magazine which is always crammed full of curious items about buses, ghosts, tramps, skeletons and curious court cases.

“Other places started to sneak in,” says society stalwart Jon Smith. “Newsham, Scargill, Smallways, Greta Bridge and Rokeby, Whashton, with its mad marshall-general, Dalton’s one-legged would-be murderer, the blood-spattered pub under the Stang, the outlying farmsteads full of eccentric Victorians and the rogues who fled our corner of Teesdale to escape the gallows.”

So we put the A to Z through its paces by looking up the title, Round the World, which Page 259 informs us comes from a popular two mile walk around the village, which passes plantations named Canada and Ladysmith.

On the flick-through, our eye was naturally drawn by Page 261 and the entry headed “Satanic Possession”. In 1821, a religious fanatic in Barningham said he had become possessed by the devil, and invited a small posse of believers to come to his aid. The chief priest among them compelled him to kneel which he struck him on the head with his clenched fist shouting “This is God’s hammer! Devil come out!”.

He repeated this three times after which the chap possessed by the devil was “assailed on all sides with horrid yells and frightful gestures, kicking him and cuffing him”.

After a while, the victim announced that the devil had left him, which prompted the beating to cease.

One of the group stayed watch over the victim for three days and three nights to ensure the devil did not return, and “the rest of the group attempted to bury the devil in a nearby quarry, but he escaped”.

As this column knows only too well, contemporary newspapers and magazines are a great source of tales of the unexpected.

But Round the World also chronicles villagers’ memories. Page 260 features an eye-catching entry: “Rusty – tame fox at the Milbank Arms in the 1960s, convinced it was a dog. See Tommy.”

Obviously we needed to see Tommy, but before we did, we looked up the Milbank Arms on Page 198 to learn that it got its name when the Milbank family bought the Barningham estate in 1689. Before that, it was the Royal Oak, a name usually associated with Charles II’s escape from the Battle of Worcester in 1651. More recently, the pub has been famed as one of the very few in the country not to have a bar – the landlord kept everything in the cellar or on the stairs – until the radical refurbishment in 2018. The book notes that the Milbank Arms is haunted by a girl in a long taffeta gown.

Armed with this information about the Milbank Arms, we turned to Tommy on Page 299. “Tommy – cat at the Milbank Arms in the 1960s who slept in a box below the dartboard, even when matches were going on. ‘I don’t think anybody ever hit him,’ says the then-landlord Neil Turner.

And so half-an-hour had been lost in the most agreeable manner seeking out the historical trivia from Round the World.

The book costs £9.99, with proceeds going to the upkeep of the heritage centre in Barningham village hall. The remaining 100 copies are available in a few shops in Barnard Castle, or direct from Jon Smith on 01833-621374 or by email,