“THE men,” said the Darlington & Stockton Times as it reported the deaths of Teesdale brothers who drowned beneath ice in 1901, “were both capital swimmers and had made a desperate and gallant struggle for dear life.

“Although it will never be known on this side of the grave, there can be little doubt that they fought hard for a considerable period. But their cries, if uttered, would be unheard, as the district in winter time especially is darksome, lonely and solitary.”

The deaths of Barnard Castle engineers Edward and Ernest Smith give a tragic twist to a story that Memories 451 began in November with the 450th anniversary of the Rising of the North.

Royalists were besieged inside Barnard Castle by Catholic noblemen and the bombardment had such ferocity that the County Bridge beneath was broken. When the short-lived rising was over, the bridge was repaired, and the date 1569 was carved onto a stone in the central refuge.

Over time, the datestone became weathered and the figures were erased, and so during a late-Victorian restoration, a stonemason chiselled out a replacement – transposing the figures to 1596. Perhaps because of the embarrassment, Barnard Castle has hidden the stone low-down on an approach wall and put a lamp-post in front of it to make it awkward to photograph.

The Northern Echo:

Leaving no stone unturned, Memories tracked the stone down and, very pleased with itself, went to the Moments café in the shadow of the Buttermarket to congratulate itself. In the bowels of the café, is an amazing collection of 17th Century cellars, steeped in mustiness and featuring an old black range.

The Northern Echo:

It has two maker’s plates on it, showing that it was created by W Smith Junior at the Low Mill foundry in Barnard Castle – and we are grateful to everyone who has pointed us in both the wrong and right directions.

The Northern Echo:

The Northern Echo:

The Northern Echo:

Because William Smith & Sons is one of Barnard Castle’s most successful and enduring businesses, founded by blacksmith William in 1832. An inventive fellow, he was soon creating horse-rakes and hay-strewers for Teesdale farmers.

From 1841, William and his wife, Mary, lived in Cross House in Putnam’s Yard, a narrow passage off Market Place – it runs today between Boots the Chemist and Castle Cards. They lived in the upstairs, accessed by external steps, as downstairs was workshops – a coachmaker, ironfounder and saddler shared the yard with them.

In 1859, William bought land on Back Lane, the edge of town, and moved his foundry there – the company’s main site today. He began diversifying into scarifiers, drag-harrows, cheese presses and chaffcutters, but he really hit the big time in the 1860s by building the world’s first street scraper and sweeper. As all roads were mud and all carts were horsedrawn, streets the world over were a muddy, dungy mess which, in dry weather as the cart wheels pounded round, gave off a terrible dust.

William’s device scraped the mess off the compacted mud and swept it neatly to the side where it could easily be removed.

The Northern Echo:

The success enabled William to move his family out of the yard and into a new house beside the foundry in what is now called Queen Street. In 1933, William Smith & Sons made the first cast iron street signs in the foundry, opening up a new line of business which the company still pursues, as well as lots of other signage solutions.

But this William Smith & Sons is not the William Smith Junior who is named on the range in the Moments cellar.

That is William’s second son, William Jnr, who was born in 1845. He had an inventive turn of mind and an independent streak.

In 1867, having just built Barney’s first 60hp traction engine, he stepped out of his father’s shadow and set up his own foundry in Low Mill, which was some distance downstream from the town centre on the northern bank of the Tees. It was an old “walk mill”, where woollen cloth was pounded and walked upon while immersed in water to remove its impurities.

But the mill was too far away.

In 1869, the Smiths’ old family home of Cross House was up for sale, and William Jnr bought it. He moved his Low Mill business into Putnam’s Yard where it retained the Low Mill name – perhaps to differentiate it from his father’s William Smith & Sons business a few hundred yards away.

In the yard, William Jnr’s foundry produced his patent stone crusher and his potato washing machine. He developed a hot air stove specially for heating large buildings like churches, and he built at least one range with his name on it. He even invented an early machine gun, although the Government adopted the Maxim gun.

William Jnr, though, suffered diabetes for six years which reduced him to a shadow of himself, and he died in 1894, aged 49.

His widow, Charlotte, was left with 11 children, the youngest of whom was eight, and the Low Mill business.

Helped by her six sons, she kept the show on the road – but then in 1901, tragedy carried off two of them: Edward, 23, an engineer, with a fine tenor voice, and Ernest, 21, a chemistry student and moulding expert who had introduced the “knobbed jaw” to the stone crushing machine.

The lads had set out from the works for a February Saturday afternoon wintry walk up Deepdale, and hadn’t returned. At 3am on Sunday, a search party had found their footprints in the snow, and after mass on the Sabbath, two holes in the ice of Lartington fishpond had been discovered with two hats lying on the crusted surface.

The manmade fishpond, created by damming the Ray Gill, is a little to the south of Lartington Hall, near a caravan park. In the Smiths’ day, it had a boat house and a pier and it fed a series of waterfalls.

And it was 17ft deep.

Their bodies were retrieved when the pond was dragged with grappling irons.

Their funeral was held five days later. “Long before the hour fixed, many persons were permitted to have a last loving look at the calm and placid countenances of the once light-hearted and joyous youths,” said the Teesdale Mercury.

Hundreds lined the streets as two hearses carried the bodies from their mother’s house in The Bank to the Catholic church in Birch Road. “Tenderest breathings were uttered”, said the Mercury, for Edward’s “generous-hearted” widow and their new-born baby.

The Mercury finished its report of the funeral by saying: “RIP. The works, of course, will be carried on in the future, as they have been since the death of the late Mr W Smith by the sons – four of whom still remain in the concern. The business will be conducted in all its branches of iron and founding, and in the production of patent stoves, hot air cooking ranges, stone breaking and screen machinery and general engineering, and still under the name of W Smith’s Low Mill Foundry.”

And carry on they did. A plaque on the wall of the new Low Mill housing development in Hall Street says that William Smith’s foundry lasted on the site until 1991.

Indeed, Charles Lilley remembers it in operation during the Second World War as he lived in Putnam’s Yard for the first six years of his life.

The Northern Echo:

The Northern Echo:

“On entering the yard there were three premises on the left hand side, Mrs Eastwood’s, owner of the then grocery shop, my parents’ house, then an empty property used as a warehouse, then Cross House at right angles to the others, and on the right, wash houses, coal stores, and earth closets,” he says. “Before the war, the building was used as part of the foundry, and a strong glow of fire when casting could be seen through the arch door window.

“My early years were spent foraging peas from the warehouse in the yard, and guess who got one of the first bananas in 1945…”