WITHIN two weeks of the First World War ending, Prime Minister David Lloyd George announced: “The work is not over yet – the work of the nation, the work of the people, the work of those who have sacrificed.”

He continued: “What is our task? To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in.”

The war had highlighted how the working class, who had been sacrificing their lives for the sake of the nation, had been allowed to live in appalling slum conditions.

Lloyd George set out to build homes fit for heroes.

But, with the economy crashing and raw materials hard to come by, the state really struggled to get building – only 180 houses were completed in the six months after the war ended when an estimated half-a-million were needed urgently.

Alternatives were needed.

During the war, 7,000 employees of the North-Eastern Railway had been donating a penny or more a week to a fund to assist railway people suffering hardship because of the conflict. In five years, they’d donated £87,500.

In peacetime, the employees were offered the chance to donate to the new NER Cottage Homes and Benefit Fund, which is celebrating its centenary this year and which was planning to build three pairs of semi-detached homes. The railway company pledged to match their employees’ donations pound for pound.

The fund was swelled by a donation of £1,060 from the York station canteen, plus another donation from the 17th Northumberland Fusiliers, which had been the NER regiment. Railway workers organised fund-raising whist drives and football matches – they competed for the Cleveland Shield, which features in an exhibition at Darlington’s Head of Steam museum which runs until the end of this month.

But the donation which really got the fund moving was £10,000 from Lady Ellen Granger, which was given in memory of her brother, Dr Tempest Anderson, the former NER medical advisor.

Dr Anderson was also a well known York ophthalmic surgeon who had a worldwide reputation as a volcanologist. He dashed about the globe recording and photographing eruptions, measuring the “pyroclastic flow” of lava, until in 1913, when he was returning from a volcano in Java, he fell ill on a ship and died in the Red Sea.

With this sort of money in the kitty, the fund could get building on railway-owned land.

Lord Joicey opened its first homes in South Gosforth on May 28, 1921. A second pair were opened by Lady Granger herself in Granger Avenue, York, on July 23, 1921, followed by Darlington’s first pair, on Brinkburn Road, on September 10, 1921.

They were opened by Arthur Stamer, who had been NER’s acting chief mechanical engineer during the war, and The Northern Echo described the cottages as being “in a pleasant, breezy situation”. This pair was pulled down in 1983 and a block of 36 retirement flats, called Tempest Anderson House, was built on their site.

This means that Darlington’s oldest surviving railway cottages appear to be the pair of pairs in Neasham Road, near the stadium, which were built in 1926, according to the distinctive bricked plaque which every pair bears.

And that means our oldest surviving pair could be over in Redcar, where in Lilac Grove there’s a plaque with 1925 on it. There are also early pairs – all the same design – in Guisborough, Thornaby, Seaton Carew and Hartlepool.

Most of these were occupied by people affected by the war. The first tenants in the first pair in Gosforth, for example, were a Tyne Dock crane driver who had been injured in the fighting and who had a wife and eight children (it must have been a squeeze), and his neighbour was a widow of a shunter driver.

By 1932, the fund had built 226 cottages in the NER area – the North-East, Yorkshire and Humberside – in which 550 people lived, including 72 widows and 200 orphans. Of 50,000 railway employees, 31,991 were donating to the scheme, which began building family homes.

The picture changed after the Second World War, as the welfare state assumed greater control for covering people’s housing needs leaving the newly nationalised railways to get on and run trains rather than think about building homes. Then, as the 1960s wore on, the Beeching Axe fell, and there were fewer railwaymen to contribute to the charitable fund.

In 1976, the fund became a housing association and so began to help non-railway persons. Today it has about 1,500 homes from the Humber to the North-East, but, based in Darlington, it still has a railway bias – its biggest recent development has been the hugely successful creation of 73 houses off Haughton Road in its hometown. This included saving a derelict 1844 engine shed, which has now become attractive apartments.

  • The exhibition at Head of Steam runs until next weekend. With thanks to Brenda Flynn, David Walsh, Chris Twiss and Neil Schaeffer for their help.

IT is amazing how these articles trigger other thoughts and memories. After our shorter article on railway housing earlier in the year, John Hill of Darlington wrote: “It bought back many happy memories, because my grandma and granda, Robert and Lillian Ashbridge, lived in NER railway cottage for many happy years.

“It was in Wedgewood Cottages at Lemington in Newcastle. I was in the area last summer, for the first time since they died, and it still looks just the same, apart from being painted white.

“Granda died several years before grandma. He was a guard on the railway.

“Grandma lived there until she died in the late seventies. She lived life to the full, loved her day trips, and was in good health until she died suddenly, aged 86.

“The day of her funeral was memorable. The hearse broke down with a flat battery – luckily I had my jump leads with me!”

AS well as the charitable railway housing scheme, which relied on employees’ donations, there was also the North-Eastern Railway Housing Trust, which was directly financed by the railway company. Rather than helping old or disabled railway people, it was set up after the First World War to build homes for existing railway employees.

It built 200 family homes, the first of which was ready in 1923, off West Auckland Road in Cockerton for workers at the newly established Faverdale Wagon Works.