BEFORE our summer holidays, we were looking for examples of Second World War pillboxes, and Phil Dennis has kindly sent in pictures of this box in the steep cliffs of Egglescliffe looking down onto Yarm bridge.

“A little known fact about Preston Hall Museum is that there was an underground control room to be used by the local authority in the event of war with Russia,” he continues. “This was in place until more robust accommodation was built under the municipal buildings in Stockton. Evidence can be seen of the air purification system sticking from the east of the building at a lower level.”

The Northern Echo:

The pillbox overlooking Yarm bridge, by Phil Dennis

We’d love to learn more about this, or any other, Cold War bunker.

BACK to pillboxes, Paul Dobson of Bishop Auckland draws our attention to a hexagonal one on the A685 near Kirkby Stephen.

“I’ve always thought that if the enemy had got that far inland, all hope would be lost!” he says.

Quite true, although we believe this box is identical to one at Stainmore, so perhaps the tactic was to lure the enemy to the most inhospitable part of the country and let him freeze to death.

The Northern Echo:

The pillbox overlooking Yarm bridge, by Phil Dennis

DARLINGTON-born author Peter Hore has been following our thread on pillboxes. “I wonder if you can help?” he asks. “I’m writing about the Wrens and the Y service in the war.

“The Y service was a secret listening service who captured German Morse on HF and voice on VHF and fed their ‘intelligence take’ to Bletchley Park. Without them, Bletchley would have had no input and no codes to work on.

“There was a Y station at Sluice Gate near Blyth and the station included a direction finding tower. Each tower was about 18ft across, hexagonal, a concrete base, lower brick wall, with a wooden superstructure.

“Might anyone know more about the Wrens at Sluice Gate, and where their tower was?”

BARRY RAPER takes us back to Broken Scar on the edge of Darlington where we’ve already established there was until recently a pillbox – indeed, there were several boxes on the banks of the Tees round to Blackwell.

“At the dam at Broken Scar there are concrete ‘barrels’ in the water,” says Barry. “When I was a kid, I was told that they were to stop boats coming down the Tees during the war. Could this be right?”

The Northern Echo:

The remains of a Second World War direction-finding tower on the Isle of Wight. Was there one on the North-East coast as well?

“I SEEM to remember a pillbox where the Nicky-Nack Beck joins the River Wear near Croxdale,” says Nick Stott. This would put it on the east side of the river from Brancepeth Castle which was the regimental headquarters and camp of the Durham Light Infantry during the war.

Nearly all of the wartime camp has gone, although its Whitworth Lane entrance is still guarded by a rural pillbox near some senior officers’ houses. The Nicky-Nack pillbox must have also protected the camp.

But Nick’s story of Nicky-Nack is too good an opportunity to pass up. Nicky-Neck Beck joins the Wear at Sunderland Bridge beneath Croxdale having run beneath the Nicky-Nack Bridge on the B6288 beside which stood the Nicky-Nack Inn.

Why Nicky-Nack?

It was well known that woods in the area were infested by all sorts of terrible spirits and ghosts, particularly after dark on damp, misty nights.

One night, a man who had enjoyed several drinks, was returning home through the woods when he was spooked by a “nicky-nack” noise echoing slowly through the trees. He tried to run to shake it off, but however fast he ran, the noise kept pace with him. He imagined it contained a sinister message, “click and catch ‘im, click and catch ‘im”, so he ran faster still.

The Northern Echo:

The Blue Tigers marching band outside the Daleside Arms in Croxdale in 2018. The Daleside was originally the NickyNack Inn where it is said that a man passed away having been scared out of his wits by the ghost of NickyNack

But the noise ran with him. It seemed to be coming from the other side of the beck – it was as if the murderous spirit was stopped by the water from grabbing hold of him and disembowelling him most horribly.

Panicked beyond belief, he dashed into the bar of the Nicky-Nack Inn, gushed out his story and died of exhaustion.

Then someone noticed on one of his boots there was a loose heel plate – perhaps it was one of the earliest “segs” (or segments of metal) invented in 1880 by Keighley shoemaker John Blakey and to this day known as Blakey Segs.

Anyway, when the shoe moved, the heel plate flapped against the sole of the boot and made a “nicky-nack” noise.

And so it dawned on them: the poor fellow had killed himself trying to run away from the noise of his own boot which had been magnified by a terrifying echo from the dense trees of the Nicky-Nack Wood.

Although today you can’t get a drink at the Nicky-Nack Inn – since the mid 1990s it has been called the Daleside Inn – you do still cross the Nicky-Nack Bridge over the Nicky-Nack Beck, and at the Nicky-Nack’s confluence there used to be a Nicky-Nack pillbox.

BY COINCIDENCE, this month 150 years ago, the Darlington & Stockton Times was reporting how 400 men and boys had become trapped in Brancepeth Colliery, causing anguished scenes on the surface.

It happened one Thursday August evening when a rope had broken, allowing a set of coal tubs to run 300 yards down an underground incline before coming to a stop in an almighty crash. The wreckage blocked the shaft and so the faceworkers could not get out.

“The relatives of the workmen and lads (about 400 in number) assembled on the pitheap and it required the greatest exertions on the part of Sgt Wood and three constables to prevent an accident from some of them falling down the pit shaft,” said the D&S.

After several hours of panic, a way through the wreckage was cleared and the prisoners escaped. But amid the wreckage was found the body of 15-year-old William Moud.

“He had apparently been riding to the shaft from his work, thereby breaking the rules of the colliery, when the smash-up took place in which he lost his life,” said the D&S unsympathetically. “A verdict of ‘accidental death’ was returned.”