THE main news in the first week of 150 years ago was that the region was experiencing its coldest weather in a decade, with a temperature of minus 19 being recorded on the thermometer at Ferryhill Station.

The Tees had frozen, preventing ferry boats from crossing from Stockton to Middlesbrough, and in Darlington the Skerne was a sheet of ice "on which large numbers of boys and men have daily disported themselves".

Communal pumps froze in Bishop Auckland and Durham, despite fires being continuously kept burning around them; locomotives froze, and, of course, people froze.

Mr Gallagher had been drinking in a pub at Sleetburn, near Waterhouses, on New Year’s Day and got lost on the way. Despite his wife searching for him much of the night, he was found dead the next day, “ultimately killed by the severity of the weather”, according to the Echo.

At Spennymoor, an old man of between 60 and 70 was found frozen in a half-built house. “The poor fellow was recognised as a man who has for some years past hung about the neighbourhood, generally sleeping about the ironworks and coke ovens, and he was known by the nickname of “Lord Boyne” from the fact that he was supposed to have come from Ireland many years ago to work on the Brancepeth estate for Lord Boyne,” said the paper. “The poor fellow appeared to have no home, no friends, nor anyone to care for him.”

It wasn’t all bad news, though. At Barnard Castle, the ice was about 14 inches thick on the Tees and the first ice sports were held for 15 years watched by 500 spectators.

There were 100 yard races for both sexes, with prizes bottle of rum (married men) or half-=a-pound of tea (married women), 1lb of tea (young women) and a bottle of wine (boys under 14).

There were sack races, wheelbarrow races, donkey races, three-legged races and wrestling for a bottle of whisky that was won by D McCarthy.

The 250 yard foot race around the bridge pillar for another bottle of whisky was won by James Gibbon.

And there was a blindfold bell race. A chap seems have run around on the ice clanging a bell at various moments and the competitors had to catch him. “This was certainly the most amusing and, at the same time, very deceptive performance of the day and was kept up for three quarters of an hour, Mr William Colling holding the bell until he was completely out of breath and ultimately caught by John Cardwell,” said the D&S Times. As the thaw began to set in, the ice broke up. The paper’s Darlington reporter said: “Much amusement was created at the Stone Bridge by men floating about on detached pieces of ice, which they moved by means of a lever placed in the bed of the river.”

AS Ferryhill was the epicentre of the frost 150 years ago, it is a happy coincidence that has led Tim Brown, of Ferryhill History Society, to send in a couple of pictures from the society archives of Ferryhill looking distinctly chilly in the past.

One of the pictures shows two milkmen stranded in the snow on the Merrington Road, which is the B6287 ridgetop road between Ferryhill and Kirk Merrington with panoramic views over the county. They got stuck heading to Merrington beside what is now the Ferryhill Business and Enterprise College, although their horse seems to have been led away to safety.

For two men delivering milk in snowy weather, they are strangely well dressed in their watch chains and they aren’t wearing the sort of heavy overcoat your mother would advise if you were venturing out in a blizzard.

The one at the front is holding a pint measuring jug in his hand; his companion has the gill jug, which would have measured out a quarter pint of milk.

Even more interesting, in the distance to the left of the front man, are the remains of what appears to be a circular building – it looks quite low, but there are probably many feet of snow covering its ground floors.

Of course, it is the most famous windmill in the district. At the neighbouring farm run by the Brass family, on January 25, 1683 – 338 years ago this month – servant Andrew Mills killed his employers’ three children: Jane, 20, John, 17, Elizabeth, 10. He was driven by the devil and a fit of jealousy that the beautiful Jane was to get married the following week – but not to him.

It is said that on a New Year’s Day, the three murdered children can still be seen playing happily around the windmill, but if on that day you were to run round the mill 13 times in an anti-clockwise direction, you would summon up the spectre of Andrew Mills, who was publicly hanged near the Thinford roundabout on the A167 on August 15, 1683.

The windmill was abandoned in 1903 after being badly damaged by lightning. It remained derelict until 2006 when its round shell was saved and connected to a new residence.