WHIPPET RACING was once a popular working man’s pastime, and in the early 1970s, the meeting place of the Durham area of the British Whippet Racing Association was The Alexandra in Rise Carr, at the north end of Darlington, where landlord Derek Wilson was a real whippet man.

He got a licence so that the Alex was one very few pubs in the area that could open on a Sunday afternoon so that the whippet men could wet their whistle while training their dogs on North Park opposite.

Derek had a machine that featured a bicycle wheel. Someone pedalled the wheel and it dragged a rag on a wire the length of the park, and the whippets dashed after it. They were probably trained over 150 yards.

There doesn’t seem to have been racing – that probably took place at the Spennymoor greyhound track which lasted from 1950 until 1998.

Davy Bell is one of those to tell us about the days when the Alex went to the dogs. Darlington, he says, in the early 1970s had a good record in national whippet: a team won the All England Team Championship at Bolton, and Davy himself had a dog, Beeline, that was national champion in 1972-3.

IT looks as if The Alexandra was built around 1863 when Princess Alexandra of Denmark married the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). Regular readers will know that we’re slowly cleaning up a filthy consignment of late-Victorian posters which were found in William Dodds’ picture-framers’ attic in Tubwell Row. One of the posters commemorates the royals’ 1888 silver wedding anniversary.

Mr Dodds would write on the back of the poster the name of the customer who was having it framed. The pencil on this one says “Thompson, Laws Terrace.” Where was Laws Terrace?

To see more posters and loads of other historical pictures that members are generously adding, search “North-East Memories” on Facebook, and ask to join our new group.

THE last three landlords of the Alex – which was also, unaccountably, known as “the Blob” – were Alec and Bessie (Bessie was very skilled in doing everything with a long column of ash hanging from her cigarette and so was known as “Fagash Lil”), Derek and Dot Wilson, the whippet people, and finally Eunice and Joe.

In the early 1980s, the Alex, and surrounding land, was bought by the Rise Carr Rolling Mills, which was going through an enthusiastic expansion phase. The Alex was turned into its management suite and dining rooms, with hotel bedrooms for visiting guests.

The transformation was complete in time for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to visit on September 11, 1985 (as Memories 477 told). However, the Prime Ministerial security team pulled the newly installed, expensive wooden panelling from the walls to check there weren’t any bombs hidden.

THE Alexandra is now the home of the St George’s Bridge Club, which was formed in the late 1990s by the amalgamation of three bridge clubs in the area: the Darlington, the Hurworth and the Long Newton.

Led by Bob Watts, they sold £225,000 of shares to enable the bridge players to buy a communal home. Their initial interest was on a property at the airport, hence the name, but when that fell through, they bought the Alexandra, which had been empty since the rolling mills departed.

The club was opened in July 1999, and now has 200 members who are keenly awaiting its reopening after the coronavirus crisis. Hopefully more on the club when it is back in business.

A CARR is a boggy piece of land and there the "rice" – scrubby, planty, twiggy things – grew. Longfield Lane runs down a bank into Rise Carr. Its name was originally Honeypot Lane, probably because the foot of the bank was a muddy, sticky, boggy sort of a place.

ALTHOUGH the Alexandra now stands in splendid isolation, it was once surrounded by small terraces of houses squeezed beneath the original trackbed of the Stockton & Darlington Railway.

Neil Cummings was born at 4 Elm Tree Street. Then there was Boyne Street, with at least ten houses, and Mewburn Street. This area off Whessoe Road was known as “The Block” and it was cleared in the late 1960s.

“I lived in Boyne Street from 1953 till the area was knocked down around 1967,” says Trevor Jones. “Our house, No 8, had no electricity and to watch a television I had to go to my uncle Jack Cummings’ house in Thompson Street. On the way, I went past a foundry, which was called the Daralum.”

Daralum was in Honeypot House, which was the area’s big farmhouse on the Honeypot Lane bank until industry overtook it. Honeypot House had been the home of Robert Thompson who, with his brother William, were hugely influential in Darlington until their stockbroking business went bust in 1866. The Honeypot estate was sold, and Thompson Street built across its land.

After Mr Thompson, Honeypot House was the home of Henry Warwick, who had a brewery nearby and a chain of pubs. Although the business was sold to Vaux in the 1920s, his maltings remained in Fry Street until the 1970s.

Mr Warwick’s son, Ernest, committed suicide in Honeypot House in 1927, and it was never again a residential property.

In 1946, Daralum Castings Ltd moved in. Daralum stood for Darlington Aluminium, and this company made pots and pans. In 1954, it became the first in Britain to use a new US ground-breaking alloy called Frontier 40E, which enabled it to move in 1960 to larger premises on Albert Hill.

Honeypot House fell empty and was pulled down, although a new Honeypot House is now on its spot.

“MANY thanks for wonderful article on Rise Carr,” says Ian Smith. “I grew up in Eldon Street in the 1960s and 1970s. My childhood was brill; I had grandparents and aunts in the same street, front doors were always kept open and we knew everyone in the street.

“My granddad, Harry, was a renowned local boxer, allegedly bare knuckle boxer in his time - his fists were like shovels.”

The Alex was the first pub where Ian and his sixth form friends tried to get a drink, but when they went in, it was full of men with lurchers (perhaps greyhounds?) and there was an arm wrestling contest going on on the pool table. They quickly retreated.

His grandfather’s reputation got them in at the Locomotive. “It had marvellous etched widows of a North Eastern Railway Raven Atlantic locomotive - I wonder what happened to them,” says Ian. “The landlord was a character called Charlie Upex. He had strange eye sockets that protruded from his head, so we nicknamed him Popeye ¬- but not to his face.”

He remembers Geordie Scarr’s butcher’s shop on the Westmorland Street near the Methodist chapel. “I remember queuing for my mum every Saturday morning,” says Ian, who now lives near York. “No meat was on view, just a great white marble slab and Geordie in his blue apron and fag. I never saw weigh anything, but as he knew my granddad, the portions seemed large.”

One final memory: “There was a piece of derelict land on Harry Street where every year a travelling circus would put its caravans and the children went into Rise Carr School.

“These were great times for my childhood. Rise Carr was a great community with super working class people and crime was very low - mind you, we had a local bobby, PC Paul Bielby, and my parents used to get him to give me a chat if they thought I was straying.”

“MY great-grandfather had a coal business just to the north of the Alex in Rise Carr,” says Ray Todd of Newton Aycliffe. The name on the photograph says CW Pearson, but Ray believes his great-grandfather’s full name was William Charles – but he reversed his initials so he didn’t have a water closet on his nameboard.

“My granddad, Robert, is holding the horse and my great granddad is the man above. My granddad wasn't interested in the coal business and just used the plot, which was quite substantial, for growing vegetables. My uncle eventually sold it to the Rolling Mills who landscaped it.”

Ray comes from a classic Rise Carr family, because his other grandfather, William Todd, had a bakery business on the corner of Whessoe Road and Westmoreland Street (this part of Westmoreland Street was then called Jane Street).

“My aunt, Elsie Johnson, who died in the 1990s, is third from the left and was a regular contributor to Hear all Sides in the Echo,” says Ray.

“Over the road from the shop was Rise Carr Methodist Church, in which my grandad was very much involved.”

Many thanks for all your Rise Carr memories. Are there any other stories to tell? Email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk