ONE Memories is over and the next one is already begun. I've had loads of communications regarding Saturday's paper, especially concerning the photographs - front and back - of the Whessoe Road area.

One rather odd line of inquiry is that one of the old railway workshops was used in the mid-1960s to build a new Olympic class yacht. W Richardson and Company were responsible and this is their story, from an article I did ten years ago. They are probably best known for their landmark beside Bank Top station - a thermometer - and shipbuilding is just a footnote in the railway town:


FOR decades, train travellers knew that they had reached Darlington when they caught sight of a huge thermometer that stood near Bank Top station.

Today, road travellers know that they have reached Darlington town centre when they catch sight of an impressive Victorian villa in Grange Road.

The villa is not quite the landmark that the thermometer was, but as a large thicket has just been cleared from in front of it, it is now properly visible for the first time in ages.

The villa and the thermometer are related.

The thermometer bore the name of its sponsors, W Richardson and Co, and although the villa bears the name Ashburn, it was built for William Richardson in July 1877.

In fact, Ashburn's distinctive wooden porch, recently painted burgundy, should give us a clue that it was the home of a man who specialised in designs with a difference.

Richardson was born in Langbaurgh Hall, in Great Ayton,North Yorkshire, into a family of Quakers. He came to the Quaker town of Darlington in the early 1850s and fell in with John Ross. Both were born in 1836, so were too young to run their own architects' practice.But research by the Victoria County History suggests they may have been apprenticed to Joseph Sparkes.

Sparkes was also a Quaker, born in Exeter in 1817, but married in Darlington in 1847. He designed the splendid Mechanics Institute in Skinnergate and the North Road Railway Workshops (both in 1853).

It may be that Sparkes let his two young co-religionists loose on the smaller, trendy projects that were flooding into his office.

In 1851, Prince Albert held the Great Exhibition inside his sparkling Crystal Palace in London, and a new craze was born. Anyone who was anyone was suddenly adding greenhouses, conservatories and even vineries to their villas and mansions.

In 1889, The Northern Echo summed up the fashion: "In the popular mind nothing so accurately indicates the extent of a man's wealth, in the absence of first hand information on the point, as the quantity of glass which adorns his mansion and grounds; and a tolerably good guide it is too."

All of these glasshouses needed to be designed - and the young Quaker whippersnappers were the boys for the job.

Preserved in Darlington library is a book of architectural drawings from the early 1850s. Sparkes' Mechanics Institute is there, along with a series of sketches - some anonymous, some signed Richardson and/or Ross - of glass constructions for the town's leading Quakers: a glass porch for John Pease, a Forcing Pit and a vinery for William Backhouse, a conservatory for Anna Pease, vineries for Edmund Backhouse, John Harris and JB Pease. All are dated 1851, when Richardson and Ross were only 15.

Sparkes died in 1855, and it appears that the two boys - by then aged 19 - took over his practice (Richardson's birthplace at Langbaurgh Hall suggests his parents might have had the odd bob or two to invest in their son's career).

By the time they were 21, they were designing for the top of the market: a "loove" for Joseph Pease at Southend; a vinery for Cliffe House at Piercebridge, and conservatories for Captain Maude at Sellaby Park, for Thomas Meynell at Yarm and for Sir William Eden at Windlestone.

About 1862, Richardson and Ross went their separate ways. Ross remained an architect, working on additions for Quaker homes. He laid out the roads on the Duke of Cleveland's Green Tree Estate, behind Skinnergate (Duke Street, Raby Street, Powlett Street, Cleveland Terrace, Millbank etc) and built St George's Presbyterian Church in Northgate, Grey Towers mansion at Nunthorpe and Northallerton Town Hall in 1873.

Rather than go for designing, Richardson became a more practical joiner. Based in Northgate, he dabbled in furniture, but was known for his greenhouses.

By 1874, he was doing well enough to build the North of England Horticultural Works off Neasham Road - on the opposite side of the main line to Bank Top, where the Matalan supermarket is now.

In 1877, he had enough money to ask his old friend Ross to design Ashburn for him in the countryside at the end of Grange Road.

Naturally enough, it had a fancy porch - and marks on the brickwork suggest there might also have been a trademark conservatory.

In 1889, The Northern Echo enthused about how Richardson was building not just greenhouses but hothouses, palm houses, orchid houses and cucumber houses for all Europe. The perfect timber came from Sweden, Norway and Russia; the flawless glass from Pilkingtons in St Helens and James Hartley at Sunderland.

The workshop in Neasham Road, reported the Echo, had a lofty glazed dome that welcomed rail travellers into Bank Top.

Richardson was not just building these fantastic houses - he was also heating them. The paper marvelled: "The problem of getting pure air, with the 'chill taken off', in an artificially heated chamber seems to have been satisfactorily solved by an apparatus called a radiator."

So, as the 19th Century drew to a close, people realised that open coal fires were dirty and had a nasty habit of burning the mansion down. Yet the palms in the palmhouse were heated by a hot water boiler without any fuss, mess or danger - especially with this new-fangled "radiator".

In 1894, the Neasham Road works was doubled in size, with the "spire-surmounted glass dome" still overlooking the railway.

Richardson was now winning huge heating contracts for schools, hospitals and cathedrals: Durham, York, Lincoln, Ripon and Southwell were all warmed by him. In 1915, 225 men worked in Neasham Road.

William Richardson died at Ashburn in 1921, and in 1924 the works was sold to Reginald Pease, who, in turn, was succeeded by his son, Maurice.

In 1952, Maurice erected an 18ft wide thermometer beside the main line to promote the business.

In 1960, a big fire meant most of the works had to be rebuilt. Even the thermometer was affected, because it was repositioned on a triangular stand.

But Richardson's was no longer thriving. It diversified into boat-building and for a while in the mid-1960s it looked as if its "Tempest" sports yacht was going to take the Olympics by storm.

There was a brush with bankruptcy in 1970 followed by a take-over, but when the receivers were called in 1980, 170 people lost their jobs.

The conservatory business became Amdega, which now employs 320 people on Faverdale, but the Neasham Road site fell derelict and the trackside thermometer looked more and more tatty with each passing train.

Eventually, in early 1987, the whole lot was cleared and Richardson's was erased from the view of railway passengers - although car travellers can still spot his house, which is now the offices of KWM financial advisors, in Grange Road.