POTTERING around the Whitby area a couple of columns ago, we noted a rather large polar bear – made from white willow by local sculptor Emma Stothard – on the end of the pier at Staithes.

A Captain Cook connection was claimed, though the bear will be shifted to warmer climes ere the winter storms begin. Ms Stothard, we noted, had previously exhibited a lobster quadrille at Staithes and – “perhaps more surprisingly” – a family of elephants.

Graham Hunsley in Darlington, who retired last month after 47 years practising criminal law, wasn’t really surprised at all.

Google Sandsend and elephants, Graham suggested. These days it’s the internet which never forgets.

It’s the story of Duleep Singh, Maharajah of Lahore and supposed last King of the Sikhs, who leased Mulgrave Castle from 1859-63 after fleeing India to exile.

Mulgrave’s near Sandsend, then as now home to the Marquess of Normanby. Back then, however, the marquess was Her Majesty’s ambassador to Florence and thus had a holiday home on his hands.

The man they called the Maharajah of Mulgrave lived extravagantly and ostentatiously, is said to have been a close friend of Victoria’s and to have played often with her children.

While other men went grouse shooting with dogs, it’s said, the Maharajah set off with his elephants, even teaching them to trumpet as they returned across the estate boundary in order that the servants might know to have his tea on the table.

He is said also to have enjoyed hawking – though this should not be supposed selling clothes pegs door-to-door – while dressed in full Indian figgery and accompanied by retainers in scarlet tunics.

Local legend further has it that the elephants became so greatly distressed when exercised on the beach between Sandsend and Whitby – something about not liking sand between their toes – that their owner built the first cliff top road for their use.

Mr Hunsley wonders if the elephants’ discomfort was because they’d forgotten their trunks. Or their pachy-macs, eh Graham?

Subsequently, however. Duleep is said to have paid for his lavish lifestyle. “He became dissolute, took mistresses, fathered illegitimate children and used up his generous allowance, forcing him to beg for money from the Queen,” says a website.

He was just 55 when found dead in 1893 in a Paris hotel room – “penniless and shattered.”

Whether the elephants were African, Indian or apocryphal is unclear. A familiar photograph of elephants on Whitby beach is thought to be from the early 20th century.

Some local historians try to kick sand in the face of it all but the column, like the Mulgrave elephants, is thick-skinned. Herd instinct, why let the facts stand in the way of a good story?

GRAHAM Hunsley also noted the approving reference in the same column to Doreen’s black pudding, made in Thirsk, enjoyed at Raithwaite Hall, near Whitby and sold (says Graham) at Lewis and Cooper’s in Northallerton. “I try never to leave Northallerton without stocking up,” he says. “In my opinion it’s one of the best in the North-East.”

SOME weeks ago we pondered the word “shan”, apparently confined to Teesside and last let loose in the Echo in 2011.

A young lady from Hartlepool had been ordered by a court to pay £28.02 compensation for stealing ten packets of bacon – perhaps to accompany her claimed 28 pints a day. She thought, we reported, that the penalty was a sham.

What she’d actually said was that it was a bit shan – thereabouts meaning harsh or unfair.

The column’s reference induced correspondence with Redcar and Cleveland councillor David Walsh, not native to those parts, who accepted a challenge to use “shan” in public debate.

Triumphantly, David now sends proof. Minutes of the full council meeting record that he was called upon to answer a question about social care. “No one should expect shan treatment from public service or shan treatment as an individual,” he said.

Did anyone know what he was talking about? “I don’t know,” says David. “The acoustics in the council chamber are so bad, they probably didn’t hear.”

Shan fairy ann, he claims his Lobby Lud fiver, nonetheless.

IT wouldn’t be the first time that the Echo has had a problem with local dialect. Some years before, we reported a court case in which a late-night pub burglar in North Shields had crept into the bar and discovered a lock-in. “They gave us a good howking,” he told the court. Lest something be lost in the translation, we made it a good hiding, instead.

WHETHER belated ruby wedding gift or early Christmas present, former Hartlepool United FC chairman Garry Gibson kindly sends Must I Repeat Myself, the tenth volume of readers’ letters which didn’t quite make the Daily Telegraph.

It includes one from Dr John Garside in Thirsk, responding to a female columnist who’d supposed her husband’s tent erection to be “as strong and stable as anything decreed by Kubla Khan.”

Dr Garside was impressed. “Even on our honeymoon under canvass in Scotland my own wife has never been so complimentary.”

Why it failed to get in is unexplained.

PETER Johnson’s letter actually made The Times. In the waiting area of his GP’s surgery in Durham, he wrote the other day, there are 70-or-so notices on the wall. Mr Johnson not only wondered if it were a record – and none subsequently has over-prescribed – but would welcome guidance on which to read first. “Perhaps,” he added, “it could be the subject of another notice.”

THOUGH the Eating Owt column was never much taken with the St George Hotel at Teesside Airport, which closes this week, it holds memories, nonetheless.

It was during a meeting there in the summer of 1980 – goodness only knows what about – that I was hauled out to be told the exciting news that Darlington carpet shop owner Joe Burnside had become one of Britain’s first heart transplant patients.

The donor was an 18-year-old schoolboy athlete who’d died after a race, giving Joe a bonus 28 years and allowing him to celebrate his golden wedding at the end of 2007. It was Christmas Day – they were Mary and Joseph, after all.

FRASER Nelson, editor of The Spectator, has been bewailing that journalists’ expenses aren’t what they were. “I bet many an expense account went down a lot when Michael Fallon left the cabinet,” he writes. Back in the early 80s, when Fallon was MP for Darlington, he regularly appeared on the column’s claim, too – and only once caused raised eyebrows in the accounts department. It wasn’t the five Friday night pints he supped, but the five Mars Bars which – work, rest and play – accompanied them.

…and finally, a reader who asks anonymity reports the outcome of two auctions of what folk call railwayana. At the first, a nameplate from the Flying Scotsman went for £64,500. At the second, the “Shildon” plate from the back of an old bench on the town’s railway station fetched £300. So that’s what I’m getting for Christmas? Thanks.