A FORMER mayoress of Darlington re-opened a branch library after the pandemic on Wednesday exactly 50 years to the day since she had opened it for the first time.

Cockerton was Darlington’s first branch library when the mayor and mayoress, Eric and Doreen Jackson, opened it on September 2, 1970. However, the library has been shut since the virus struck in March, but on Wednesday, Doreen popped down as it reopened its doors.

The Northern Echo:

The day Cockerton library was opened: as written in the mayoral diary for 1970

She was just 32 when she became mayor and her husband, a Labour councillor and railwayman, was 39. “I was told that I wasn’t the youngest mayoress because someone before me had had their daughter as their consort, but Eric was told that he was Darlington’s youngest mayor,” said Doreen.

“It was a very happy year and a very busy year, meeting lots of new faces and going to lots of garden parties.”

The Northern Echo:

The opening of Cockerton branch library, also seen above, on the edge of Darlington on September 3, 1970

Eric had become a councillor shortly after they had married in 1961, and they had to leave their young sons in the care of Doreen’s mother.

“We had long days, especially as we had two young children, and I remember that because of powercuts, when we went out in the evening, there were a lot of oil lamps, and a number of times we attended dinners that were lit by candles.”

The Northern Echo:

The Mayor, Cllr Eric Jackson, leaving Bondgate Methodist church - but, interestingly, behind him is the vibrant side entrance of the Majestic cinema and bingo hall

There was a week of powercuts from December 7 to 14, 1970, due to strikes at power stations, but this was the start of a decade of industrial discontent which, compounded by an oil crisis in the Middle East, made blackouts commonplace.

Ironic, really, as Doreen and Eric had revived the mayoral tradition of having a large streetlamp emblazoned with the town’s coat-of-arms placed outside their house during their year of office.

Highlights of the year included the mayor’s ball at the Baths Hall which featured a calypso band, and a charity concert at the Civic by the Spinners, the Liverpool folksingers.

The Northern Echo:

The Spinners, the Liverpool folk singers, sign autographs after their performance for the Mayor’s Appeal Fund on October 19, 1970

Eric sadly died in 1982, and Doreen has since remarried Keith Chapman, but she looks back fondly on her year that was brushed with royalty. Not only were Darlington’s first citizens invited to a Buckingham Palace garden party but, in their first week of office, Princess Anne arrived to open the town hall.

“My job was to look after her and let her go to the toilet before anyone else had used it,” said Doreen, “but she declined. She was very pleasant.”

The Northern Echo:

Princess Anne opens Darlington Town Hall on May 27, 1970, with the mayor and mayoress, Eric and Doreen Jackson, on the right. Above left: Opening the library in 1970 and 2020, and the date in the diary from 1970

Doreen has three albums of photographs of her mayoral year that were presented to her as a keepsake by The Northern Echo. We’ll be publishing more pictures from her year in Tuesday’s paper.