THE Devil’s Stone is the central feature of the landscaped area outside the council offices in the centre of Crook. It is made up of three large lumps of igneous rock that were one giant piece until someone blew it up looking for a diamond that is reputed to be hidden inside.

It is called “the Devil’s Stone” because if you run seven times around it, the devil himself will appear. No, really, he will – please give it a try and send us a picture if he pops up.

The stone, as Memories 476 told, is an “erratic” – it started life in the Lake District but more than 10,000 years ago during the last Ice Age, a glacier moved it 60 miles east and dropped it on Dowfold Hill on the edge of Crook.

“It was a well known feature on a footpath over Dowfold, next to the old quarries,” says David Armstrong. “The farmer was threatening to bulldoze the erratic into the quarries, so my old schoolmate Harry Brook started a campaign to get it moved into the town centre.

“This was in the mid-1960s when there was a council election. I stood as an independent, because if I hadn’t there wouldn’t have been an election, but it caused quite a stir because my uncle Ernest (Armstrong, father of Hilary) was the sitting Labour MP.

“I was, of course, beaten by the Labour candidate Bob Pendlebury, who was a good friend. I used the time at the count sitting next to him very effectively, and he became the main reason that the stone was moved into the town centre.

“You are quite correct in saying that anyone claiming a connection to Crook or the villages around will know Dowfold as “Duffold”, so when at school my class did some writing about the erratic, I wrote “Duffold” believing it to be right but the headteacher very soundly corrected me.”

DOWFOLD HILL is to the north-west of Crook, and with the Devil’s Stone acting as a landmark, in the 1950s and 1960s, it was the venue for illegal gambling.

“It was the site of very well attended games of pitch and toss on a Sunday morning,” says David. “It was almost the perfect spot as any police trying to approach could be seen from miles away.”

By coincidence, Malcolm Middleton is one of many people to write in following last week’s article about The Alexandra Hotel in Rise Carr, Darlington. The Alexandra, you will remember, was the centre of whippet racing but was still visited by Margaret Thatcher.

“One of my abiding memories from my youth is that I witnessed one Sunday afternoon two men playing pitch and toss outside the Alex in the middle of Whessoe Road,” says Malcolm. “Of course, in those days, traffic was practically non-existent.”

Pitch and toss was as great a Durham mining entertainment as whippet racing. It was known as “the hoy”, and often involved great drinking and much gambling.

“One player throws two pennies in the air, and the other player has to guess which way they will fall,” says Malcolm.

There are only three possible outcomes: both coins landed heads, both landed tails, or there was a head and a tail. Two heads and the “hoyer” or “chucker” kept all the stakes; two tails and the gambler won; a mixed result caused the stakes to roll over to the next hoy.

The hoyer was often assisted by a “bevver” in making sure the result somehow went the right way.

Gambling was illegal in this country, except on racecourses, until the 1960 Betting and Gaming Act legalised betting shops, bingo halls and casinos. Almost overnight this wiped out games like the hoy.