This week, we travel the region in search of the architect godson of the Duchess of Gordon whose fascination with the Gothic can be seen to this day.

WHEN George Gordon Hoskins' greatgrandfather was appointed to the lauded position of High Bailiff of Burton-on-Trent in Derbyshire, he showed off his success by building an elaborate Italianate mansion, set in landscaped parkland.

In the parkland, GG Hoskins' grandfather built a fashionable but frivolous folly.

On the top of Bladon Hill overlooking the River Trent, he had Sir Jeffry Wyatville - the leading Gothic architect of the day - erect a wall topped with turrets, castellations, battlements and pointy, castley windows.

Although it was only a wall, from a distance it looked like a great castle commanding the heights, dominating the landscape.

It was the 1790s. The Napoleonic Wars were at their height. England could be invaded at any moment.

The nation was so jittery that in Hartlepool a monkey was hanged as a French spy.

The people of nearby Burton and Newton Soley were less gullible, but were still greatly disturbed by the bellicose frippery that had come to adorn their hilltop.

Such was their outcry that the Hoskinses hurriedly added some habitable rooms behind the wall, and quickly moved into "Bladon Castle", as if that was their plan all along.

Unfortunately, there was no water in the castle. Daily, a donkey had to haul supplies up the hill.

The folly was by now more wildly over budget than a Darlington relief road.

With GG Hoskins' grandfather frittering a fortune away on his hounds, in 1836 the family was forced to sell the estate - mansion and "Hoskins' folly" - to Lord Chesterfield.

And so, on October 28, 1837, in Birmingham, GG himself was born. His surroundings were more modest, but still there was an air of prosperity - he was related to the Bass family of brewers and his godmother was the Duchess of Gordon.

This feeling of fading opulence, coupled with the mock Gothic grandeur of the folly that had ruined his grandfather, must surely have been GG's driving inspiration when, in later life, he came to design the character of the Tees Valley.

After he was well-educated in London and Paris, the Duchess wanted her godson to go into the church, but as he was showing an artistic bent, she assisted with his architectural studies.

He joined a practice in Westminster and, in 1863, linked up with Alfred Waterhouse, a Gothic architect six years his senior.

Waterhouse - renowned for designing Manchester Town Hall (1868) and the Natural History Museum, in London's South Kensington (1873) - had used the Quaker network to win a couple of contracts in Darlington for the Backhouse family.

He sent 26-year-old Hoskins north to act as his clerk of works.

So GG arrived to superintend the building of Pilmore Hall, in Hurworth - now known as Rockliffe Park, which Middlesbrough Football Club is about to place at the heart of a grand golfing project - and Backhouse's Bank, the splendid centre piece of Darlington's High Row.

GG lived in Hurworth in those early years with his second wife (his first had died in 1862). They had a son whom they named Harry Pilmore.

Hurworth also provided GG with his first project: he designed the £650 Temperance Hall at the east end of the village.

Joseph Pease laid the foundation stone and Alfred Backhouse performed the opening.

Everyone agreed that the hall was of a "most effective Gothic character".

GG was made. He had an "in" with the district's wealthiest people, and he was developing his own distinctive style.

Commissions for mansions and banks followed, from Barnard Castle in the west to Middlesbrough, West Hartlepool and Sunderland in the east.

Following the 1870 Education Act, GG designed schools - Hartlepool had two wonderfully Gothic Hoskins' schools which were demolished in the early Eighties.

His first educational contract was Darlington's Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, which he began in 1872.

Last week, the Department for Culture, Media and Science said it could not give the school - now a sixth form college - listed status because of too many modern additions, but still called it "handsome and impressive".

The people of Darlington did not know what to make of the school when it opened in 1878.

With its tower, its arches, its numerous rooflines and its open cloisters, it conformed to no known architectural style. So they christened it "Hoskinian Gothic", which is as good a label as any.

CRITICS say the best example of Hoskinian Gothic is Middlesbrough Town Hall.

In 1877, GG won the £300 first prize in a competition to design the municipal buildings - the best of 11 entries.

Work began in 1882 and how GG's heart must have swelled with pride when, amid great pomp and ceremony, the £130,000 building was opened on January 23, 1889, by the Prince and Princess of Wales, the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

It is a grand building, full of gates and towers and great touches.

GG had acquired the nickname of "Pitch Pine Hoskins" because many municipal contracts required him to use cheaper materials on the inside.

Middlesbrough, though, got a sweeping stairway, an assembly room with ecclesiastical windows through which the light floods dramatically, and an imperious council chamber.

In short, newborn Middlesbrough got a town hall which declared to the world that it had come of age.

Yet the ravages of time have caused the green Westmoreland roofslates to turn black and the pale stone to weather.

It still looks terribly imposing, but now there's a touch of Gothic foreboding about it. Plus, modern shopping centres and court complexes have encroached around it, so that it flounders a little like a fish out of water.

So perhaps to find Hoskins' best building we have to return to Darlington where, during his 40-year career, he created the town's architectural character.

He covered his buildings in a mock-horror fantasy of belltowers, gable urns, over-powering entrances and sky-scraping classical statues.

You can imagine the sky turning black behind any one of them, the lightening flashing overhead, a dark crow cawing ominously in a belltower and the cloaked shadow of Dracula sweeping out of the crypt?

THE King's Head hotel is/was a little different. It has the drama of his other works, but also a touch of opulence.

There is a grandeur to the "four spacious and elegant bay windows" of the first floor, and a glamour to the balconettes and the balustrades as the eye rises higher.

When it opened on June 1, 1893, local newspapers called it "palatial" and "a temple of luxury".

Even in its fire-damaged state, it is worth staring at. In its day, it must have been mind-blowing, with a regal front door - protected from the weather by a glass and cast iron canopy - in the middle of Prebend Row.

Inside was all marble mosaic flooring, polished walnut panelling and sparkling mirrors. A sumptuous staircase led up to the lofty, handsome ballroom - although many visitors must never have made it that far, overcome by an apoplexy of delight brought on by the ground floor toilets.

"Even the general lavatory is a marvel of complete fitting, being fitted up with solid royal rouge marble, the walls lined with glazed tiles, and fitted with massive mirrors, and the whole equipment being in the perfection of sanitary work, " enthused the Northern Review.

Ill health overtook GG after he had begun the initial drawings for Darlington's new theatre. He retired in 1907, handing his practice over to his brother, Walter, and died in 1911.

"He has distinguished himself by his great architectural genius, abundant evidence of which is manifest in his imposing buildings, " said the mayor.

"He has left many things behind him to keep his memory fresh. " Will a 21st Century fire consign to memory the grandeur and opulence of his best building?

Step inside a GG Hoskins building during the Heritage Open Days.

Darlington library, pictured, is offering tours of its splendid piece of Hoskinian Gothic at 2pm on September 11, and at 10am on September 12 and 13.

To book call 01325-349630.

There will even be the chance to see Hoskins' delicate designs for the library's ceremonial key.

Hoskins' legacy to the North

Dates refer to when GG Hoskins started work on the designs

1863: Clerk of works at Pilmore Hall, Hurworth, now Rockliffe Park, Middlesbrough Football Club's training ground.

1864: Clerk of works at Backhouse's Bank, High Row, Darlington, now Barclay's. First contract: Hurworth Temperance Hall - now the village hall

1865: Elm Ridge, Darlington, Pease family home, now a church

1867: Stables behind Backhouse's Bank, High Row, Darlington

1870: Backhouse's Bank, Market Place, Bishop Auckland, now a pub

1872: Backhouse's Bank, Albert Road, Middlesbrough, now a pub, pictured

1874: North Cemetery, Darlington: chapels, lodges and monument

1875: Houses in Elton Parade, Darlington. Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College, Darlington

1878: Backhouse's Bank, Newgate, Barnard Castle, now Barclay's

1879: Crown Street Chambers, Darlington, now an amusement arcade

1882: Middlesbrough Town Hall. North Star newspaper offices, Crown Street, Darlington, now a fruit and veg shop

1883: Thornbeck Hill, Darlington - his home, now divided into three substantial residences

1884: Edward Pease Free Library, Crown Street, Darlington

1890: King's Head Hotel, Darlington

1894: Technical College, Northgate, Darlington

1895: North of England School Furnishing Company, Coniscliffe Road, Darlington, now Lloyd's bank

1897: The Fleece Hotel, Richmond

1900: Rise Carr schools, Darlington, now a £2.4m pupil referral unit, the Phoenix Centre

1903: Red Lion Hotel, Priestgate, Darlington

1904: First designs for the New Hippodrome, Darlington, now the Civic Theatre