THE mystery picture in Memories 416 didn’t seem to offer much potential but, as usual, Memories readers provide all the answers.

The picture, from Darlington library, was simply captioned “Croft, North Yorkshire” and showed a couple of out-buildings that we wondered might have been in the old coal depot at the end of the Croft branchline.

“They were, in fact, situated to the rear of the Croft Spa Hotel,” says Peter Tarn in Forcett. “A clue to the location is the mature trees in the background – they are in the grounds of Croft Rectory.

“I believe these buildings were constructed originally as stables.”

Although the Croft Spa Hotel was built in 1808 in the horsedrawn era on the Great North Road, it wasn’t a coaching inn. It was built for the accommodation of people who were coming to take the sulphurous waters springing out of the ground.

It was enlarged in 1835 as the railway age dawned, bringing water-takers from further afield.

So although horses were important to it, they were not as important as they were at coaching inns.

But in the 1860s, the landlord, Thomas Winteringham, had a racehorse stables and stud at the hotel. At least 22 racehorses, owned by aristocrats from home and abroad, were stabled there.

These included Alice Hawthorn, who was the “queen of the turf”, one of the greatest racehorses, winning 52 times, who retired to stud at Croft, and when it died in 1861 of “cancer of the udder”, it became the first racehorse to be buried at the rear of the hotel.

Then there was Underhand, born in 1854, which became the first horse to win the Pitmen’s Derby at Newcastle three times.

Underhand was also buried behind the hotel along with at least two of Thomas’ other favourites (Mowerina and Burlesque). The stables came to an end in 1886 when Thomas’ son John, who had succeeded him, died at the age of 29.

“After the decline of horse-drawn traffic, the stables were made available to villagers for use as workshops or lock-ups,” says Peter. “Harry Gibbon had a garage here – the gap between the two stables provided access to where his vehicle lift was located.

“There were more old stables just out of the picture to the right, which were later developed into the Stable Bar, which was a popular watering hole in the 1960s and 1970s.

“The open ground in front of the buildings was part of the large hotel car park which was often used by the village kids for impromptu football in the late1950s.”

Most of the out-buildings have been cleared away in recent years and four or five smart houses have gone up on the old car park. Do the racehorses of yesteryear still sleep beneath their foundations?