TWO statues once battled it out for world domination on the rooftops of Darlington town centre.

One was a “Chinaman” who appeared, for all the tea in China, to be kowtowing to the stone lion on the opposite side of Blackwellgate.

Our attention was drawn to one of the statues, which was on the roof of the property beside the Bainbridge Barker department store, by Margaret Weekes.

“Neither Colin, my husband, nor myself could remember what the statue was – can you settle our curiosity about it? We know that there were statues at the Pearl and Prudential premises, but we don’t think it was either of those.”

This is the statue of someone from China. He’s got a wide-brimmed Oriental hat on his head, which is bowed in a traditional Oriental greeting.

He was placed up there in the late 1890s by high-class grocer Wilkin Drewery, to advertise the fact that he sold china tea from the shop below. Mr Drewery died in 1926 and his shop moved to beside the County Court where it traded until the mid-1970s.

We don’t know when the statue came down, and had previously thought that it remained into the 1950s. However, we’ve just discovered a 1934 photo in the Echo archive, and it seems to be missing from its rooftop.

Around the time of the First World War, though, it was a noted landmark especially as, in those

jingoistic days, it appeared to be bowing to the large British lion on the opposite side of the road on top of Priestman’s monumental masons’ yard. It was said that the roar of the lion was causing the man from China to bow his head.

John Priestman founded his ornamental stone and marble works in Blackwellgate in 1839 and the lion was helping advertise his wares. Mr Priestman had a large stoneyard behind, complete with an overhead crane which lifted his large blocks of marble.

The firm lasted until John’s last surviving son, Major William, of the Darlington Militia, died in 1909.

If you visit any graveyard in the Darlington area, you will find the name Priestman on many headstones.

Another of John’s sons, Frank, was certainly a fine sculptor: his name can be seen on the bust of Edward Pease in the entrance to Darlington library.

The lion outlived them all – it survived until the late 1960s when the property was demolished so that it could be replaced by a terribly bland bank building, currently the TSB.

SO the stone lion stood proud even when Priestman’s stoneyard was John Neasham’s Ford garage.

Neasham was born in Norton-on-Tees in 1901. He went to school in Richmond and Middleton St George, began as an apprentice mechanic at WE Dove's garage in Bondgate before starting his own business in 1926 near St Hilda's Church, in Parkgate.

“He once told me that his real name was Nesham, and there was a mistake on his birth certificate,” says Peter Ratcliffe, who worked for a decade for Mr Neasham. “When he started up, there was already a Ford dealer called Nesham at Middlesbrough, so he went with Neasham.”

Whatever he was called, he quickly expanded.

“Neasham’s tractor sales were on the corner of North Eastern Terrace and Hargreave Terrace,” says Mark Cooper. “As well as the filling station in Parkgate, which is now a car park, he had a filling station on Yarm Road on the corner with Cobden Street - my grandad served petrol in both!” Mr Neasham also had a large workshop in Borough Road.

He had a finger in every pie in town. He was a councillor, a magistrate, a freemason, an alderman, a mayor; he was chairman of the aero club at Croft Circuit; he was a leading member of the Rotary Club, cricket club, motor club, St John Ambulance Brigade, and the chrysanthemum society; and he had Ford dealerships in Northallerton and Richmond.

“He was also the chairman of Darlington FC and he rewarded long and loyal service by giving employment to players when they retired from playing,” says David Hogg. “I was sold my first car by left-back, Brian Henderson, in 1965. It was a second hand Ford Prefect, and cost £270. I had just passed my driving test and needed a car to travel to work at Guisborough. I made this 55 mile round trip each day in it for 15 months. It only let me down twice - when the brakes failed and the radiator hose burst.

“My next car was a Ford Anglia which was sold to me by former centre-half Ron Greener. It, though, spent more time in Mr Neasham’s garage than on the road.”

Mr Neasham was involved with the Quakers from 1936 and chairman from 1951 until 1964. For all his reign, they were unmovably stuck near the bottom of Division Three, but they did enjoy perhaps their greatest moment of the 20th Century, drubbing Chelsea 4-1 in an FA Cup replay.

They had drawn 3-3 at Stamford Bridge and so brought the Londoners back to Feethams on January 29, 1958.

A crowd of 15,150 crammed in - although at least double that number claim to have been there - to see the Quakers score three joyful times in extra time.

Mr Neasham’s main showroom was always in Parkgate, but the properties in Blackwellgate offered him more display space.

“Down the archway on the right hand side, next to the County pub, there was a house where a member of the Borough Road garage staff lived,” says Peter Ratcliffe.

It was from the Blackwellgate garage that Baron Gabriel H Calcagni de Tande, known as "Gaby", operated. He had come to Britain from Italy in 1941 to fly Spitfires with the Free French Airforce, married a Darlington girl and was taken on by Mr Neasham to help another of his businesses selling post-war surplus military goods into Europe. After that Gaby, who has featured here in the past, became a car salesman.

The Blackwellgate and Parkgate garages closed in 1966 when, on May 20 that year, Neasham’s splendid £135,000 garage was opened beside the inner ring road. He no longer needed the extra display space as he had a lift to hoist cars up onto the roof.

But the move on to the ring-road did not benefit the business, and it struggled in the late-1960s. Mr Neasham's health also declined, and he died on October 6, 1969 - the day that Skipper of Burnley completed the takeover of the garage. It changed hands several times, and was CD Bramall’s when it was demolished about 10 years ago.

BETWEEN Blackwellgate and Houndgate is a large gable end that looks up towards Coniscliffe Road. Today, the Hatch Luncheonette occupies these premises.

“It used to be a feature of Darlington at Christmas time in the 1950s when the whole gable end would be hung with New York dressed birds (feathered, head and feet still on),” says Gill Wootten. “They were hung in horizontal rows, from the top down to the level of the shop window level.”

There were probably two game dealers trading in the area, SA Morgan and W Aitken. Can anyone tell us any more about them and their New York dressed birds?

OUR Blackwellgate meander was started by the Wide-Eye panoramic photograph of the street in Memories 506 in which the Bainbridge Barker department store was prominent.

The store was formed by James Bainbridge Barker in 1899 and his family sold it in 1961 to Matthias Robinson & Son, of West Hartlepool.

A correspondent who signs herself “Miss Brahms” says that Robinsons owned the store for about 10 years until it was taken over by Debenhams, which kept hold of it for just 11 months. Debenhams left in January 1973, claiming the site was too small, and McIlroys took it on.

“I was one of the youngest when I started at Robinsons as a Saturday girl in September 1971 while I was at the QE college,” says Miss Brahms. “I have fond memories and whoever wrote Are You Being Served? Must have worked in a very similar store.”

MEMORIES 508 told how there was an upper floor carpet workshop in Bainbridge Barker at a time when carpet strips had to be stitched together to make one the width of a room.

And it wasn’t just Bainbridge Barker that stitched carpets.

“It was 75% of the work we did in the Binns workshop, which was on the top floor looking out onto Blackwellgate,” says Marian Lewis, of Hutton Magna. “We also had to go out to customers’ houses across a vast area, as Binns had three travelling carpet salesmen who brought lots of work to the store.

“When Mr Bainbridge Barker retired (in 1961), he moved to a bungalow at Aldbrough St John, and I went with the carpet fitter called Reg Williamson to stitch his carpets.”

ANYMORE memories or tales of Blackwellgate, from department stores to cafes to garages to pheasants hung by their feet? All welcome. Email