St Teresa’s Hospice, in Darlington, began life as an idea in a letter to this newspaper. Twenty-five years later, it calls a well-connected house home.

On November 26, 1985, a short letter appeared in The Northern Echo from Yvonne Rowe, of Thornbury Rise, Darlington. Headlined “Can WE have a hospice?” it planted a seed.

SIR, I have been reading about the wonderful hospice movement, which cares for the terminally ill and the dying, keeping them happy and free from pain, and giving support to their families,” wrote Yvonne, who at the time was nursing her dying friend, Mary Hester.

“When chatting to a group of friends, we all thought how marvellous it would be to have a hospice in Darlington. However, we all lack courage and know-how about getting started and wonder if any readers would be interested or have any helpful comments.”

More than 40 readers did, from as far afield as Leyburn and Hutton Rudby.

In fact, interest was so great that a packed public meeting was held in the Dolphin Centre on February 5, 1986 – 25 years ago on Saturday.

That meeting heard much pessimism from places such as Newcastle and Sunderland, which had started their own hospices at phenomenal costs – £458 per bed per week and £100,000 annual running costs.

But the seed of an idea that Yvonne’s letter had planted had already germinated in the Darlington mind.

The meeting set up a steering committee and started fundraising. A sitting service began, helping people in their own homes.

Then in 1987, the Carmelite Convent, in Nunnery Lane, sold some land. The nuns felt the windfall compromised their vows of poverty and donated the money to the hospice movement. This allowed Harewood House, in Harewood Hill, to be bought and converted into a day centre for the terminally ill.

It gained the attention of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who wrote in 1988: “I am sure the hospice will bring solace to many and I wish it every success and hope that many will come forward to make it a reality.”

The seed that Yvonne’s letter had planted was now a plant in bloom, but it did not come fully to fruit until 1998 when St Teresa’s Hospice created an in-patient facility at Woodlands, one of the town’s finest mansions which had been home to several of the town’s foremost citizens.

THE Botcherbys, John and Robert, inherited their father’s thriving timber business in the mid- 1820s, and it is said they set themselves up as the Anglican alternatives to the Quaker Peases.

They swore that their mansions would be bigger than anything constructed by the Pease brothers.

John started off with Beech Villa, off Grange Road. It grew into Beechwood, where our Christmas diarist, Enid Robinson, spent her childhood. It is now beneath Sainsbury’s car park.

In the early 1830s, John spent £10,300 building the Pierremont mansion between Darlington and Cockerton.

The staircase windows of this remarkable Gothic construction still have a large B etched in them.

Near Pierremont, Robert, who was very active in St Cuthbert’s Church, built Woodlands in what was then Staindrop Lane (it is now Woodland Road).

But the Botcherbys ultimately lost out to the Peases.

John over-reached himself with his mansions and had to sell Pierremont in 1844 for £3,800 – a loss equivalent to £600,000 today, according to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator.

Two years later, it was bought for £5,000 by Henry Pease, the founder of Saltburn, who spent the rest of his life turning it into “the Buckingham Palace of Darlington”.

Robert’s loss was more profound.

In St Cuthbert’s churchyard, there used to be a headstone dedicated to his children – Elizabeth, who died aged ten months in 1826, and Robert, who died aged 18 months in 1830.

There still is a tablet “erected by his affectionate wife” Anna inside the church in memory of Robert. He died in Woodlands in 1838 aged 47, and the pieces were picked up by another Pease.

ON August 23, 1854, from Pease’s West, near Crook, to the ironstone mines at Guisborough, in east Cleveland, the region celebrated the wedding of Joseph Whitwell Pease, new owner of Woodlands and son of the Joseph whose statue stands in Darlington’s High Row.

Although 26-year-old JW married Anna Fox in Falmouth, Cornwall, the bells of St Cuthbert’s, in Darlington, pealed from early morning, flags flew everywhere and cannons fired. One was in the grounds of Woodlands where “there was also a great profusion of gay streamers”.

In Crook, a cannon was fired throughout the day. “In the enthusiasm of the men, little was thought of a number of squares of glass broken by the discharges of the artillery,” said the Darlington and Stockton Times.

“Sundry half barrels of ale were broached, the effect of which was not so conducive to quiet and order as might be wished; still the day passed off very pleasantly on the whole.”

Reading between the lines, there was a drunken riot. Darlington was more orderly.

“In the evening, about 120 workmen and others who have been engaged in preparing Woodlands for the reception of Mr Pease and his youthful bride, marched in procession, accompanied by banners and a crowd who cheered vociferously along the route, to the Fleece Inn, where an excellent dinner had been provided for them.”

Mrs Pease soon fell pregnant on a regular basis and Mr Botcherby’s mansion became too small so, in 1860, Mr Pease nearly doubled its size, adding its distinctive tower.

His architects were William Richardson and John Ross, Quakers who had established themselves at the age of 15 in 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition in Crystal Palace.

They designed miniaturised versions of the Crystal Palace and suddenly every mansionowner in the district wanted one of their fashionable, new-fangled conservatories.

Richardson and Ross’ partnership lasted until 1862 when Richardson concentrated on glasshouses (his firm is now called Amdega) and Ross specialised in architecture: Grey Towers in Nunthorpe and Northallerton Town Hall are two of his best-known commissions.

Despite the enlargement of Woodlands, by the late 1860s JW Pease felt his family of eight had outgrown Darlington and they moved to Hutton Hall, near Guisborough.

Regular readers will remember that we met JW Pease last year during the 125th anniversary of Darlington library. Poor JW – the MP for South Durham and Barnard Castle from 1865 until his death – had his fortune eaten away by a gold-digger, Lord Lymington, to such an extent that he went bankrupt in 1902 and died of a broken heart in 1903.

AFTER Pease, a Plews came to Woodlands. He was Thomas Plews, whose family had been brewers in Bedale since 1795.

Thomas moved to Darlington in 1848 to take over the brewery branch run by his uncle, Nathaniel, who was also a director of the North Eastern Railway.

Thomas moved into Woodlands in the 1870s, at the height of his powers.

In 1874, he established a malthouse in Neasham Road beside the mainline, where Matalan is today. A malthouse is a large concern, usually with a distinctive smell, where barley is converted into malt ready for brewing or distilling.

Thomas was a councillor – “a thorough Tory” – and became mayor in 1875 when the local economy was in the doldrums.

“The severe distress which fell upon the town during his mayoralty was alleviated by the mayor with lavish generosity which characterised him and culminated in a substantial donation the following year of £50 to the relief fund,” said his obituary in the D&S Times.

Woodlands was the grand home for the mayor and successful businessman. He lived with his wife, Mary, five daughters, three sons, a butler, a governess, a cook, two housemaids and two nurses.

His head gardener lived in one of his estate cottages and looked after his acreage, which stretched as far as Pierremont Crescent, while his two coachmen each had an estate cottage. They looked after the stable block, which is where the Woodland Road petrol station is today.

Thomas died at Woodlands in 1885. “A large number of people attended the obsequies, the deceased gentleman having been highly popular,” reported the Echo.

“The cortege, proceeding from Woodlands to West Cemetery, was headed by Superintendent Rogers and 40 police constables.”

Then came the mace-bearer, the mayor, the MP, three aldermen, 11 councillors, six magistrates, 69 sundry bigwigs, an uncounted number of Thomas’ employees and the hearse, followed by four large carriages of chief mourners pursued by a long line of private coaches.

IN 1908 much of Woodlands’ grounds were sold for building, but it was still a prominent mansion occupied first by the Todd family, who ran drapery shops in the town centre, and from 1950 by Leslie Clark, the managing director of John Tinsley Limited.

Tinsley was originally a mining engineering company based near Plews’ old malthouse in Neasham Road.

Mr Clark died in 1962, but his widow, Mollie, remained in Woodlands. In 1967, she married Colonel William Lee, a remarkable Darlington Grammar School old boy.

Col Lee had gone to France with the British Expeditionary Force in 1939, been rescued at Dunkirk and sent out to the Middle East, from where he served in the Battle of Kohima, in north-east India, with such distinction that he was awarded an OBE.

In peacetime, one of his many interests was chairing the Northern Region Health Authority, for which he was knighted in 1975.

When Lady Lee, a local charity stalwart, died in 1989, Sir William moved to Gainford and for the next six years, Woodlands was the headquarters of the Wiltshier building firm.