It was just a passing reference, a throwaway line as they might almost say in the Crook and District Games League, whose annual presentation we reported a fortnight back.

The year’s chief winners had been The Australian in Howden-le-Wear. Idly – and thus wholly appropriately – we’d wondered how the pub came by its name.

From Crook two days later, Harold Stephenson emailed a 1966 newspaper report about local lad William Walton, who’d joined the 1860s gold rush to Australia – though since the outward journey took eight months by sailing ship, the phrase about haste and speed comes to mind.

Finally landed, Walton laboured six days a week for two years without so much as a glimmer. Then, nearing the end of his tether, he abandoned his principles, mined on the Sabbath and things really began to pan out.

His wife, it’s reported, stayed at the camp with the kids, guarding with a shotgun what few possessions remained. The gold he struck is said to have been worth £32,000 – a huge fortune today.

Walton, says the 1966 report, came back to Howden-le-Wear in 1867, built and named the Australian, proceeded to drink the profits and to give away his gold. When he died in 1907, only £100 remained.

The story’s probably been passed down the generations, though by no means downed in one in the Australian, now the only pub in the Co Durham village.

“It’s a load of….” says Ron Flounders, the present landlord. If not fool’s gold, he thinks it inaccurate, anyway.

Within memory, Howden-le-Wear had four pubs and a workmen’s club, the Plantation the venue in 1898 when the village football team was presented with the inaugural Northern League second division trophy. Two years earlier they’d whupped the mighty Middlesbrough 3-0.

The Australian’s old fashioned, welcoming, run by Ron and his wife Valerie since 1999 and otherwise absolutely empty. “We plod along,” he says. “If we didn’t own it, we certainly couldn’t afford to rent it.”

The sign may well be a cobber in a cork hat but is a bit beyond my line of vision.

Though there seems little doubt that William Walton was the gold finger of Howden – “I think every landlord before me has had the floorboards up looking for nuggets,” says Ron – the deeds he still treasures tend to tarnish the rest of the story.

In 1867, they record, Walton – mine host, as it were – bought the pub for £580 from William Brownbridge of Witton-le-Wear. Five years later he sold it to Thomas Thompson for £870 – if not quite striking gold, then a very handsome profit, nonetheless.

Ron believes that the pub may previously have owned by the Shafto family, Bonny Bobby’s boys, its being equidistant between their home at Whitworth Hall and Hamsterley Forest, where they disported themselves.

Earlier monarchs were reckoned regular visitors. Might it, Ron muses, have been called the Royal George?

He doesn’t doubt Walton’s generosity. “I think he gave a lot away but he couldn’t have drunk the profits. By then they weren’t his to drink.”

Joan Potts is secretary of the Howden-le-Wear Local History Society, has spent time digging in the Australian and seams elsewhere in an attempt to polish the nugget. She has also very kindly provided the old photographs in today’s column, suggesting that Walton may still have had enough money to buy one of those new-fangled motor cars.

“There are all sorts of stories/ I’ve even had people from New Zealand here, trying to check it out,” says Joan.

The society’s records indicate that William Walton was born in Cockfield in 1833, had at least seven children, died at the age of 74 in 1907 and is buried next to his wife in St Mary’s churchyard, not far behind the pub. Mary Anne Walton was just 55 when she died in 1892.

“He was the pub’s best customer and gave away most of his fortune including nuggets of gold,” says another of the history society’s records.

All that glisters? Further information joyously and lustrously received.