A SERIES of events this week marks the 160th anniversary of the opening of the Britannia – forever the Brit – one of Darlington’s most venerable pubs.

For more than half a century it has also been the Columnist’s Rest – this columnist’s rest, anyway – a blessed sanctuary, if not quite a confessional, in which the only three-point plug worked the electric fire and where tens of thousands of words have in a quiet corner been composed.

The back story’s pretty interesting, too.

In 1849, ten years before William Easby became the first landlord, the house just off the town centre was the birthplace of Joseph Malaby Dent, tenth child of George Dent, a house painter after whom a nearby children’s nursery is still named.

Joseph left school at 13, made little impression as an apprentice printer, turned more successfully to bookbinding and headed to London with half a crown in his pocket.

“Small, lame, tight fisted and apt to weep when under pressure,” says a pretty curmudgeonly biography, adding that Dent was given to paroxysms and possessed a scream that could pierce a man’s soul. Eminently consulted, a Belgian specialist suggested that on such occasions he dip his head in a bucket of cold water.

He had become a publisher – a crusader, it’s said – launched in 1906 the Everyman’s Library with the aim of making classical literature available for a shilling a book.

“For a few shillings a reader may have a whole bookshelf of the immortals,” he wrote. “For £5 a man may be intellectually rich for life.” Each book bore the imprint: “Everyman, I will go with three and be thy guide.”

For all JM Dent’s love of literature, however, it’s recorded that he couldn’t spell for toffee.

At first there were 50 titles, when Dent died in 1926 there were hundreds, Everyman’s continuing along its all-embracing odyssey.

Relaunched in 1991, the company produced 130 titles in its first year and as a millennium project gave 300 books to each of the UK’s 4,300 state secondary schools and to 1,700 schools and libraries across 77 countries in the developing world.

Their shelf value was £19m. The failed printer had left his mark.

THE Brit remains an everyman’s pub, classic and classless, though with one or two more three-point plugs.

Towards the end of the 19th century the little place had also been a base for William Roome – “soda, lemonade and ginger beer manufacturer” – this undermining the belief that there was no Roome at the inn.

Pat and Amy Kilfeather took it over in August 1969 when beer was 1/10d a pint, left exactly 25 years later – when it was £1.36 – and took their old Gledhill till with them.

They were wonderful licensees, he from Sligo and she from Darlington, warmly welcoming save to those who chewed gum or who were guilty of one or two other solecisms which Pat declined to specify. “I do not wish to serve you,” would suffice.

It was modest in a magnificent sort of a way, a conversational pub where the menu consisted in its entirety of ham and mustard or cheese and pickle sandwiches. “The sort of pub where even if you don’t have a pint you feel better just for having gone in,” said John Steele at Pat and Amy’s retirement do.

Pat died in 2009, shortly after their golden wedding, Amy in 2016.

Still, among much else the pub serves an exemplary pint of Cameron’s Strongarm, first brewed in 1955 to assuage the thirst of Hartlepool’s steelworkers and similarly soothing to the brows of fevered journalists.

Last night the monthly folk club staged a special “Songs of drink and ale” session, tonight the Darlington Sing Community Choir will be performing and raising a glass and on Saturday there’s a 1920s themed party, fancy dress optional.

As always at the Brit, all are welcome – they might even be more tolerant of gum chewers – though it was necessary in the name of investigative journalism to enquire if they’ll be charging 1920s – or even 1850s – prices.

Sadly, they will not.

The Northern Echo: Caring priest: the Rev David LewisCaring priest: the Rev David Lewis

A REAL sadness on returning from holiday to learn of the death of the Rev David Lewis, a gentle man and a caring priest. He was 58.

David, a fitness fanatic, had been team vicar in the East Richmond group of parishes, stretching from Croft in the north to Danby Wiske, near Northallerton. Amid them all, he lived in Great Smeaton and has used his running as a fund raiser. Last year he became vicar of Elmley and associated parishes in Worcestershire, where he died while jogging.

“He was an outstanding priest who had won the hearts of all to whom he ministered. His untimely death is a terrible tragedy,” said Dr John Inge, the Bishop of Worcester.

Churches in David’s former North Yorkshire benefice opened for prayer at the time of his funeral last Tuesday.

HAPPIER church news, a service last Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of the ordination of the Rev Peter Lind-Jackson, for 18 years the Vicar of Barnard Castle until his retirement in 2000.

Peter had been a stalwart of the Durham diocesan clergy cricket team, revered by the Backtrack column, turning more in retirement to golf and to fishing.

He’d also several times featured in the At Your Service column, most memorably at a service in St Mary’s, Barney, attended by the Ven Granville Gibson, then Archdeacon of Auckland.

The archdeacon, stentorian even when unamplified, was in the vestry before the service, many of the congregation still at the back of the church 50 yards away, when a venerable voice boomed around the church. “No one told me that blooming Mike Amos was coming.” He had forgotten about his pectoral microphone.

Last Sunday’s service was across the Tees at Startforth, where Peter and his wife Shirley now live.

LAMENTING two weeks ago the death of retired music teacher John Biggs, a stalwart of Bishop Auckland Methodist church and of the town, we noted his flamboyant fondness for tie, socks and matching gallusses all musically festooned. Kath, John’s sister – “and secretary” – reports that all three were on display at John’s memorial service. “Sorry,” adds Kath, “but there never were any boxer shorts.”

FRONTED by Martin Young – remember him? Curly hair, sideburns, kipper tie – the BBC made a now-nostalgic little film in 1975 about the Shildon-based Cavalcade of Steam which marked the 150th anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

Reprised on Facebook to mark the 194th anniversary last Saturday – and with thanks to Kev Connolly for the spot – it had topped 250,000 views even before the big day.

The Friends of the S&D organised some low-key events to mark the 194th. Rather more is on the cards six years from now.

The Northern Echo: A Tudhoe registration plateA Tudhoe registration plate

…AND finally, we’d cause a few weeks back to recall the magnificent car registration SH11DON, owned by Graeme Scarlett of that parish. Paul Dobson in Bishop Auckland now spots something similar – though not, of course, as good – on an Audi in Tudhoe. Tudhoe? You know, t’udder side of Spennymoor.