Echo Memories looks at the life of William Barningham, an unpopular man who ended up very rich, but very lonely.

APAIR of curious castellated lodge houses, surrounded by intrigue, adorn the southbound side of the A1(M) near Catterick, in North Yorkshire.

They mark the entrance to a vanished castle – once covered with towers, turrets and battlements – and they appear to have been built with the proceeds of the “Great Darlington Will Case”.

The will was that of William Barningham, a restless, violent drunkard who survived assassination attempts to brilliantly build a £40m fortune.

The complainant was his only child, Mary. Whereas he finished school at the age of nine, he sent Mary to Paris for her education and she was fluent in French, Italian and Spanish.

But on his deathbed, he all but wrote here out of his will because she had sided with her mother Margaret – his wife whom he detested.

Barningham was the youngest of 14 children born to a grocer in Arkengarthdale in 1826. To show he was someone, in later life he paid a researcher who discovered his 12th Century ancestors had been the landowners of “Barningham-on-the-Greta”, the village on the edge of Teesdale.

His first job was delivering letters, at 1d a time, to remote parts of Swaledale.

By walking miles and miles each day, Barningham was earning so many shillings that the jealous postmaster sacked him. So he trudged around the dale getting folk to sign a petition demanding his reinstatement so that the postmaster relented.

One Sunday in 1839, he and his mother walked to Shildon in search of more lucrative employment. There was none. So he went to Middlesbrough, became a blacksmith and acquired a reputation for ingenuity.

In September 1843, he left for France and found work in an iron foundry, in Rouen.

His ingenuity raised enough money for him to set up a business in Pendleton, Manchester, where he had noticed lots of old rails lying around. He bought them cheaply, re-rolled them, and sold them back to the railway as good as new.

Then he spotted that ironworks were opening in Albert Hill, an isolated rise above the Skerne and beside the new mainline on the eastern edge of Darlington.

With the encouragement of the Pease family, in 1858 he bought some land there.

He then acquired the vast iron and glass crystal palace which had just hosted the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition. He dismantled it, transported it to Darlington, and re-erected it as a 800ft by 50ft iron foundry. It was, he said, “palatial”.

Such was his confidence, before the foundry was complete, he spent a further £11,000 buying the nearby Springfield farm to expand into.

It worked. In 1859, his Darlington Iron Company received its first order for rails from the Eastern Bengal Railway Company.

Within a decade, all India ran on his rails, as did trains in Russia and America.

By 1872, he was producing 80,000 tons of finished iron a year, and he was employing 2,000 men and boys (Darlington’s male population was about 15,000) in the largest ironworks in the north of England.

Most of his employees were Irish, who came searching for work after the potato famine.

He was a confrontational boss: he prosecuted strikers for non-attendance, and he fined workers for misdemeanours. In September 1867, puddler John Hopkins was so incensed at having his wages docked that when he saw Barningham in the street, he threw a brick at him.

Sensing danger, Barningham turned round and was struck in the stomach.

At court, Hopkins was sentenced to a month in prison. “Thank you sir,” he told the magistrate. “I can do it on my head.”

So unpopular was Barningham that at a meeting of the Iron and Steel Dressers Union in the Dolphin Hotel in the Market Place, straws were drawn to see who would shoot him.

Rumours shot round town of a “Fenian plot”, but the man with the short straw didn’t have the courage to pull the trigger.

Instead, Barningham made a killing in 1872. He sold shares in his foundry for £275,000 (£23m in today’s values according to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator).

The following year it made £80,000 profit but then recession hit and it collapsed, never to make money again.

It didn’t harm Barningham. He had the share money in his pocket plus an ironstone mine near Guisborough, a steamship and a large works at Pendleton where he also had a substantial home.

He owned Low Burton Hall, near Masham, an estate at Colton, near Tamworth, in Staffordshire, plus 600 acres at Provins, 60 miles east of Paris, which he had bought from a French general.

But it didn’t buy him happiness.

Estranged from his wife and daughter, he spent the last two years of his life travelling alone around France and the health spas of Britain desperate for relief from his liver malady.

He blamed the condition on his past abuse of alcohol, although for his last five years he was teetotal and a “fanatical supporter” of a movement to ban the drinks trade completely.

He died alone in Pendleton on October 1, 1882, having rewritten his will three times in his dying days – the last time, he was too weak to sign his name.

He left nothing to his wife Margaret, who lived in the Springfield farmhouse near the Five Arches railway bridge, and he reduced his daughter Mary’s settlement to £20,000. The rest of his £400,000-plus fortune (£37mplus today) went to his nephews, William and Thomas.

Mary got on tolerably with her cousins – although not as well as her father had hoped as she refused to marry Thomas – but contested the will. Even after her mother died in 1883, Mary went to the High Court in London.

The Great Darlington Will Case was heard over five days in March 1884, much to the delight of The Northern Echo which devoted dense columns to the salacious detail.

Readers learned how Barningham went on twoday benders in the King’s Head Hotel and returned home to beat Margaret. One doctor told how he had advised her to use tea leaf poultices on her face when she’d been struck by a blunt instrument.

Another witness told of the time Barningham had thrown a can of water over her when she’d served herself first with a piece of mutton.

Margaret was portrayed as “cold and unsympathetic”, which only infuriated her husband who was described as “a man of marked individuality of character but lacking any external polish”.

He regularly over-extended himself in business but Margaret refused to lend him any of the £14,000 fortune she had amassed – he suspected it had been given to her by a lover.

For the last years, they’d lived apart and did not speak.

Mary, the only child, had been the apple of Barningham’s eye. She, though, had inherited his determined streak. She stood up to him, provoking a storm of fury.

Even as he lay dying, surrounded by doctors and solicitors, he refused to summon either Mary or Margaret in case they interpreted it as a sign of weakness.

Having heard all the evidence, the judges decided that Mary should receive £150,000 (about £14m today).

She spent some of it on Gatherley Castle, a couple of miles north of Catterick Village.

She moved into the castle in 1900 – the year the lozenges on the lodges declare that they were built.

So presumably she paid for their construction and it was her eye that matched their castellations with the castle’s battlements.

A spinster, Miss Barningham died in the sprawling castle in 1915. It was shut up until a 1928 sale of furniture and seems to have remained empty until the Second World War when German and Italian prisoners were held there.

They were followed by the Polish Resettlement Corps until 1948 when it fell derelict.

It was demolished in 1963 by developer Edgar Lawson.

That same year, the A1 was widened, eating up the lodges’ land so that today they are laid bare on the motorway’s edge.

Their clear visibility makes them a landmark – and a rather lonely reminder of how families can tear themselves a part.

THE Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition was opened by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, on May 5, 1857. It ran for 142 days and attracted 1.3 million visitors to see the 16,000 works of art – including some of the oldest and most valuable in the world.

Railway companies laid on special trains: Thomas Cook ran “moonlight” excursions from Newcastle, leaving and returning in the dark so people had as much daylight as possible to see the treasures. The temporary crystal palace – shaped like an enormous train shed – survived on Albert Hill until the start of the 20th Century when Darlington Forge took over Barningham’s bankrupt site.

Barningham’s Springfield farmhouse is beneath the new Northwood Primary School, which is in Pendleton Road South – named after Barningham’s Manchester works.

GATHERLEY Castle is elusive. It looks to have been built around the 1830s and its principal resident was Sir Henry de Burgh Lawson (1817-1892). He inherited his title in a very complicated process in 1877, so it seems unlikely he built the castle.

His obituary in the Darlington and Stockton Times said: “The deceased baronet was well known in scientific circles as the inventor and patentee of warships that could not be sunk.” He designed warships with three curved keels.

He was buried in Middleton Tyas churchyard.

“Deceased was interred in a white tiled grave gracefully overspread with evergreens, on the right hand side of the first Lady Lawson,” notes the obituary.

The castle was taken over by a Mr Coatsworth of Darlington who sold it to Miss Barningham in 1900.

It is said that after its demolition, its stone was used to build a house in Coniscliffe Road, Darlington.

If anyone has any proper information, we’d love to know.