The walk in Darlington’s South Park continues – although the pace quickens – as we rollerskate past the town’s most oft-seen ghost and on to the most famous of floral features

LET’S move along. Let’s quicken it up. Let’s lengthen the stride.

Let’s head for home.

We’ve tarried too long in the park. For more than a year now, Echo Memories has been strolling around Darlington’s South Park, meandering through history and digressing into geography.

We’ve travelled as far afield as St Petersburg and Afghanistan, but we’ve only reached the Victoria Embankment gates.

So let’s turn around and push back along the riverside path.

We’ll leave behind the lodge house at the gates, its drinking fountain dated 1856 from the days when the Thompson brothers owned Polam Hall and the showfield, the days before they went spectacularly bankrupt, as we’ve already told.

And we’ll also turn our backs on the gigantic boulder by the gateway. At the moment, it is a bald boulder. You can see the boltholes on it which once secured a plaque. Now the plaque is gone. But someone is replacing it. We’ve been told a plaque-maker has been employed, so we’ll return when they are ready, later in the year.

We’re now scurrying along the raised path. River on the right; showfield on the left.

Please keep up. This path was created when the Skerne was canalised shortly after the Thompsons’ bankruptcy in the late 1870s. It was planted with lime trees in 1884.

Now down to the left. Into the sunken garden. Careful – it’s usually a bit squishy underfoot, but that’s because in 1880 they dug a small pond here, its shape mirroring the larger ornamental lake over there. It even had a little island in it.

The pond seems to have been filled in during the 1930s and turned into a secret grotto, a hidden arbour. In February 1938, an ancient stone archway was brought here from the old Bishop’s Palace in the Leadyard, where the town hall is now. It was said that it was down this archway that the dying Lady Jarrett slumped, bleeding profusely, her hand hacked off by brutal thugs who wanted the precious jewels in the ring on her finger.

Hers was the most horrific murder in Darlington’s history; hers was the most oft-seen ghost in Darlington town centre; hers was the blood that could never be washed, no matter how one scrubbed, from this archway.

A great story. We told it in length a couple of Christmases ago. No time for a reprise now.

It was complete tosh, anyway… Except that until last year there was a stone archway leading into the grotto. Could it possibly have been the one?

The archway, which generations of children had run across, was demolished because it had become too dangerous. It could crumble at any moment, they said. But, of course, the wrecking crew soon found out that it was an arch intent on staying. They really had to give it some hammer before it came tumbling down.

Could it possibly have been that Lady Jarrett’s spirit was reluctant to relinquish her last hold on this earth?

On. On. Over there to the left.

We’ve looked at the bandstand – remember, design No 279 from a Glasgow company, opened on July 4, 1893 – but we haven’t mentioned the rollerskating rink in front of it.

The rollerskate was invented by a Belgian called Joseph Merlin in 1760, but after crashing into a very expensive mirror at a London party he didn’t pursue his idea, so it wasn’t until 1819 that the first rollerskate was patented by a chap called Monsieur Petitbled (no, not a made-up name, I promise you, even though your knees bleed a small amount when you scrape them when rollerskating).

Darlington’s rink opened in the summer of 1938 when the Government, with war looming, was encouraging the population to “keep fit” – a new pastime. South Park embraced the “keep fit” revolution, and Darlington council bought 100 pairs of skates that were hired out.

Hurry, hurry. Past the steps that lead up to Park House. On to the slope beneath the clocktower where, ever since 1897, they’ve planted a commemorative scene in flowers. The first celebrated Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Then they planted pictures of the royal family, until 1905 when they florally celebrated the centenary of Nelson’s victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.

According to the Darlington and Stockton Times, 1907 was the “most ambitious arrangement yet” undertaken by the park-keeper James Morrison. He depicted Teesdale scenes: Abbey Bridge, Rokeby, High Force and Greta Bridge.

“To depict a landscape in this way is indeed a difficult task but Mr Morrison sets about it in a very workmanlike way,”

reported the D&S. “He first drew his design to scale from photographs and then worked them out in various bedding plants with marvellous skill.

“Grey antenaria is used to depict the stonework of the bridges, the water flowing below being white mesembreanthum. The archway and the boulders in the stream are picked out in red alternanthera and the banks of the Tees are done in blue lobelia, while in the green background hernaria glabra has been used to advantage. In the High Force picture, the whin sill (rocks) is done in mesembreanthum with the crevices of the rock picked out in small echeverias. The water below is represented by antenaria. Borders of golden feather, antenaria, alternanthera, alysum and lobelia, are placed between the beds and add greatly to the effect.”

Flowery language indeed. “In early summer, habitues of the park carefully note the terrace, wondering what ingenious device is being woven into it.”

They still do. What will it be this year? The bicentenary of Waterloo? The 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War? A celebration of South Park on which £4m of Lottery money is being spent?

The designs are about to be drawn up…the plants will be ordered next week… But we’ve slowed, we’ve slackened. Quick, over the footbridge. The first bridge here was built in 1939. It was meant to be rustic, but it looked rather Japanese, as if it were built out of bamboo. The one we walk on today was built in 1960.

Over the bridge, we reach the newest area of the park. This two-acre extension was bought from Blackwell Grange and laid out in 1933. “The work, which has included considerable filling in with soil, construction of rockeries and the planting of flower beds, has been executed by unemployed men under the direction of the borough surveyor, Mr Ernest Minors,” said the D&S of the opening on August 3.

The ceremony was performed by Alderman Tommy Crooks, of the Park Committee, and the deputy mayor, solicitor John Fenwick Latimer. About 160 tons of stone had been used creating the rockery, and two or three natural springs had been discovered. These created the water feature over which a mini-bridge had been thrown.

In the 1940s, a scaled-down version of South Park was built amid the rockery, complete with a miniature bandstand and a tiny clock tower.

Last summer, though, this was one of the saddest areas of the park. The bridge gone, the water stagnant, the rockery crumbling, the maze of paths leading only to a windblown collection of burger cartons.

Hope, though, springs eternal – despite this 1930s extension being outside the Victorian renovation area on which the Lottery money can only be spent.

Still, still there’s more to see.

Quick. Quick. No time to draw breath. Come into the garden, the Chandler Rose Garden.

Have a look at the base of a sundial which was reputedly designed by the most famous of 17th Century English architects and which came from the grounds of one of the district’s grandest lost stately homes… No, we can’t delay. We really can’t stay. More than a year on a series about a blooming park – what will the editor say?

But what do you ask? Who was this Chandler who had a rose garden named after him?

Who was the most famous of 17th Century English architects who designed a sundial which 21st Century Darlingtonians have defaced? And where in the district was the lost stately home?

Oh no, I fear we’ll have to come back another day…

Postcards courtesy of George Flynn