JOHN and Jane Wilson were married at St Cuthbert’s Church in Darlington on September 17, 1878, on what should have been the happiest day of their lives.

However, what happened next was reported in papers from Edinburgh to Belfast to Tamworth in Shropshire under headlines like “A bad beginning” and “A drunken wedding party”.

The Northern Echo: The dancing bear in Bondgate, although it's not doing much dancing. Picture courtesy of the Centre for Local Studies in Darlington library

The syndicated stories began: “A strange conclusion has taken place to a wedding in Darlington.”

After the service, the happy couple returned to their home – or perhaps their lodgings – in Buckton’s Yard, just off the High Row to celebrate their nuptials and by midday, they were drunk.

Blind drunk.

“The bride quarrelled with a woman in the yard and used the most abusive language,” says the report. “Constable Macfarlane twice put her into her house, but she persisted in causing a disturbance, and when he attempted to take her into custody, he was resisted by the bridegroom and the other two defendants (Sarah Roden and Bridget Liffity), who used him badly.”

The bride was fined 10 shillings for being drunk and riotous on her wedding day, while the bridegroom and the two women fined 20 shillings or one month’s imprisonment for assaulting the police officer.

The Northern Echo: Swenden's advert. Picture courtesy of the Centre for Local Studies in Darlington library

BUCKTON’S YARD was, in centuries gone by, that sort of a place. Memories 510 three weeks ago told how Darlington had become one of the first places in the country to benefit from the Government’s Towns Fund aimed at transforming town centres. Some of the £3.6m coming Darlington’s way is going to spent on restoring the atmospheric yards off High Row – although they are probably not going to be restored to the way they were in late Victorian times.

Buckton’s Yard was the worst.

On its south side in the late 18th Century was a notorious pub called the White Swan where the toasting forks had to be chained to the wall to prevent them from being used as weapons. When it closed, it became one of several lodging houses in the yard, crammed with transient people.

In 1870, an unsavoury chap called Hugh Hanman stole seven shillings and several pocket watches from his fellow lodgers and fled, but police overtook him near Otterington, on the road to Thirsk, and he was incarcerated.

In 1877, a dancing bear was stabled in the yard during its visit to the town by its two French handlers. Unfortunately, the Frenchmen were arrested by police for thefts in previous towns. It is not known what happened to the bear, although in Darlington library, there is a splendid picture of a bear in Bondgate.

There was a brothel in Buckton’s Yard – we know this because the man running it was charged with not sending his children to school.

The Northern Echo: Dave Middlemas's Swenden's stone ginger bottle

And there was drinking in the yard, which led to violence and deaths. In 1870, when John Devitt drunkenly attacked Catherine Gettings in the yard, she responded by smacking him with a hatchet and her husband, John, waded in with a poker.

In 1876, Catherine Durkin made her 14th appearance in court for attacking an old woman in the yard with a broken bottle.

And in 1899, Frank Garvey, 25, was charged with murder for drunkenly beating Grace Hartley, 39, to death after a row developed when they were in bed.

“The circumstances of the tragic occurrence show a combination in the lives of the parties concerned of poverty, drink and wretchedness, a living from hand to mouth, not because of absolute lack of money but because of low and unfavourable surroundings for healthy physical and moral development,” said The Northern Echo, before finding something positive to say about the yard. “Buckton’s Yard, High Row, Darlington, is not a place that boasts of much that is beautiful and bright in its external aspects – ‘yard’ is sufficient to suggest questionings on the style of the dwellings – but there are people of kindly tendences.

“Mrs Nevison, the neighbour in whose arms Mrs Hartley died, seems to be a woman of kindliness of heart.”

When Mrs Nevison had tried to raise the victim off her bed, “Mrs Hartley made a feeble attempt to speak. Her lips seemed to murmur, but no sound came. She fell back dead”.

Garvey, who had been involved in a drunken brawl in the yard six months earlier, was acquitted when the murder charge was heard at Durham Assizes.

“The prisoner admitted striking deceased with his flat hand but said that beyond this he did nothing, and he said that the woman told him she had fallen downstairs after going for a pail of water. He was found not guilty.”

The Northern Echo: Post House Wynd in August 1974. when there was still an entrance into Winterschladen's yard - the company's premises ran through to Buckton's Yard

SUE BENNETT was born in Post House Wynd where her family’s home ran through to Buckton’s Yard. They had a secondhand clothes shop on the Wynd, with a workshop – where several women seamstresses prepared the garments for their new owners – and laundry which opened onto Buckton’s Yard.

“My 1950s and 1960s childhood memories were of Buckton’s being a very commercial yard,” says Sue. “There was Sharp’s radio dealers’ workshop, Dipaolo’s ice cream factory where the ice cream was made for their café at 23 Post House Wynd, and there was Winterschladens spirits and ales warehouse delivery yard on the north side for their premises in Post House Wynd.

“I think there was a cigarette warehouse was on the south side of Buckton’s Yard, and I remember the back of Preslands, the Skinnergate barbers and hairdressers at the west-end of the yard. They had a lovely rocking horse for children to play on.”

WINTERSCHLADENS was a well known Middlesbrough off-licence and it arrived in Buckton’s Yard in 1955 when it took over James Swenden’s bottling and brewing business.

Mr Swenden was a chemist from London who arrived in Darlington in the 1890s to run a shop on High Row – his chemist’s shop still goes as Rowland’s.

However, he sold it in 1894 to concentrate on making mineral water in Clark’s Yard behind the shop. In the 1920s, he took over William Firth’s lemonade and ginger beer manufactory in Buckton’s Yard, which dated back to 1828 and used water drawn from a heavily polluted well as its secret ingredient.

The Northern Echo: An advert for Firth's brewery in Post House Wynd - it was taken over by Swenden in the 1920s and Winterschladen in the 1950s

Mr Swenden had a big complex in the yards running through to his shopfront on Post House Wynd, and many people have souvenirs of him in the form of bottles with his name on.

Peter Ratcliffe has kindly been in touch as he has clear Swenden’s bottle that was found in the foundations of a school as it was demolished on Albert Hill.

Dave Middlemas has a Swenden’s stoneware cask.

“I dug it out of the side of the old tip next to Stressholme golf course 40 years ago as a teenager,” he says. “I narrowly escaped death by being buried alive a week or two later when my trench collapsed and it took three people an hour to get me out. I never went back. Although I later caved and potholed, I always regarded bottle-digging as just too dangerous!”

VALERIE GARWOOD of Hurworth Place tells us about a curio that used to be in Clark’s Yard. “As you entered from Skinnergate and followed the wall on the right, which I think used to belong to Mr Bell the butcher, there was a corner with a little shed containing…a toilet,” she says.

The Northern Echo: Buckton's Yard in the 1970s - the sign advertises Regency Fabrics but in the 1950s it promoted Sharp's TV repair workshop

It’s no longer there, but we think it was beside what is now The Iron Horse cyclery.

THE yards are lined with large framed works of art that were created by pupils at Darlington Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College in 2012, as part of the Art in the Yards project. Nearly a decade later, the weather has begun to eat its way into a couple of the works, but their full, original glory can be seen a series of videos which are still available online at

The Northern Echo: Darlington - Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form student, Alex McDonald, with his work on display in the town centre yards

SPECIAL thanks to Sue Bennett who has researched the history of the yards. As well as Buckton’s Yard and Clark’s Yard, there is Mechanics Yard, so if anyone has any stories about them, we’d love to hear them. And, of course, there’s Post House Wynd, where Sue’s family lived. We’ll return to the Wynd in the near future, so if you’ve got anything to add, please email