IS it correct to call Shincliffe a mining community, Memories was asked this week.

Well, yes and no might be the most appropriate reply.

Shincliffe is a place of ghosts, bridges, stations, racehorses and indeed coalmines, but unlike many of the villages that doughnut the city of Durham, it doesn’t feel wedded to its mining past.

In The Northern Echo's library file on the village there is an article from its sister paper, the Durham Advertiser, which visited Shincliffe in March 1961.

“A village which, after a lifetime’s work, has put its feet up and relaxed – that is the visitor’s impression of Shincliffe,” began the Advertiser. “It is everyone’s impression of rural England.”

The Advertiser was painting a pen portrait of a village on the cusp of change, as the mines had faded into distant history and new building was completely changing the community’s character.

Shincliffe exists in the first place because it was here that the Romans crossed the Wear on their way to Chester-le-Street. The centuries after are full of tales of bridge building: in 1400, the great bridge builder Bishop Walter Skirlaw spanned the river with three arches because the existing bridge was in a ruinous state as local people had embezzled the money for its upkeep, but in 1752, two of Bp Skirlaw’s arches were swept away in a flood.

In 1826, Ignatius Bonomi, the famous Durham architect, replaced Skirlaw’s bridge with the crossing that still stands.

Shincliffe’s name, though, is spookily Anglo-Saxon. The first part of it is an Old English word, scinna, which meant “spectre”, so it is the cliff of the spectre or demon. It is the haunted bank.

What terrible events caused it to gain such a reputation have never been fully documented, but many boggy, misty riverside places were haunted by half-seen shapes and scary shadows which were exorcised when the power of the electric light was shone upon them.

Despite these connections with demons, Shincliffe belonged to the Prior of Durham who had a park there. However, Prior Henry de Lusby looks to have had an uneasy relationship with Bishop Antony Bek: in 1300, he was attacked by Bek’s guards on Shincliffe bridge, and in 1305, one of the bishop’s men stole a horse from the prior’s Shincliffe stables and took it to Durham castle.

The Advertiser article in 1961, though, preferred to talk about railways. “Years ago, the village had two stations,” it said. “One was in the village itself and was opened before Durham Elvet Station, and the second was at Bank Top to cater for the colliery and the miners.”

Indeed, that first station was the city of Durham’s closest station: it opened on June 28, 1839, at the end of the line from Sunderland. It was known as Shincliffe Town station, and it closed in 1893 when a new terminus was built at Elvet.

The second station was on the Newcastle & Darlington Junction Railway – one of the earliest sections of the East Coast Main Line. It was designed by the renowned York railway architect GT Andrews and it opened on June 18, 1844.

The coming of the railway age meant the start of Shincliffe’s coal era. Whitwell Colliery, to the east, opened in 1836 and a community of 200 houses, called Old Durham, sprung up beside it. Shincliffe Colliery, on the top of the bank, opened in 1839 and soon employed 300 people, many of them living in the newtown of Bank Top (or High Shincliffe).

In 1849, the Marquis of Londonderry opened Old Durham Colliery, a little to the north, and briefly Shincliffe was a mining community, with its population exploding to 2,123 in the 1871 census (the village’s population in 2011 was 1,796).

But all three collieries closed in the 1870s, causing the population to collapse to 640 in 1891, and in 1894, High Shincliffe was described as “a somewhat deserted village, owing to the closing of the colliery”.

Shincliffe was now living up to its name: it was a ghost town.

“Shincliffe Colliery was once the centre of activity in the village,” said the Advertiser in 1961. “It closed in 1877, and 25 years ago, the colliery chimney, a well known landmark, was pulled down. Since the war, the pitheap has been levelled, and signs of it have been slowly disappearing.”

Indeed, the mining community of New Durham has completely disappeared back to farmland, and much of High Shincliffe has gone – even the 68 aged miners’ homes were pulled down.

“The village is not the ghost town that one would imagine on reading the facts of its decline,” said the Advertiser. “It has become one of the residential of the Durham district.”

There was new building in the old village, which retained its rustic charm “with its flowers and trees lining the street”.

The Advertiser continued: “An integral part of the village is its lovely old church (built in 1851), with spire peeping through the trees as one approaches from Durham.”

And up at High Shincliffe, the colliery yard and the mining community was being replaced with modern estates which would act “as a dormitory for the university and a lot of professional people”. However, sleeping among the new-builds are a couple of terraces with industrial names – Pond Street, Overman Street, Quality Street – harking back to the days when it was a home to proper toilers.

So much had gone, said the Advertiser: stations, pubs, chapels, breweries and the steeplechases – from 1895, Shincliffe racecourse replaced the more famous one at Elvet and until the First World War, it held popular meetings.

The Advertiser finished its 1961 article by returning to the bridge over the Wear that had caused the creation of the spirit-infested settlement 2,000 years earlier.

“Leaving Shincliffe, one passes the Rose Tree Inn, one of the few surviving public houses in the village,” it said. “It is the place where the old and the young meet.

“In the summer months, the students take a punt up the river and drop in for a drink, where to many more it is their ‘local’.”

So although Shincliffe once had very much been a mining community, it had reverted to the relaxed atmosphere of the pre-industrial days, of punting and supping by the riverside – everyone’s impression of rural England. Does that answer the question?