A LANDMARK hotel at the gateway to North Yorkshire may be about to change colour.

Visitors crossing the Tees from Darlington and arriving in the county may soon be greeted by a deep grey Croft Spa hotel as the owners have requested permission of Richmondshire council to change it from its current bright white.

“The constant traffic (a lot of which is quite heavy now) makes the building look dirty and grimy after a short period of time and a darker colour should help alleviate that,” say the owners.

The hotel was mentioned here last week when 5,000 revellers celebrated the first Whit Monday Bank Holiday 150 years by attending a gala there which ended up in a brawl.

But the hotel, at Croft-on-Tees, is older than that: it was built in 1835 to accommodate people coming to take the whiffy, sulphurous waters which came spewing out of the ground.

The village first developed as a health spa after 1700 when the local landowner, Sir William Chaytor, was arrested in his own hall and imprisoned in London for his debts. Perhaps he saw the eggy waters would prove healthy for his ailing bank account and by 1713, Croft water was on sale in bottles in the capital.

His grandson, another Sir William, continued the marketing. He was an entrepreneurial fellow and having exhausted the family leadmines in Wensleydale, he bought Witton Castle in County Durham to see if he could apply his mining skills to coal. This led to his colliery being the starting point of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 1825.

He also looked at the family’s other mineral interest: the water. In 1808, he built a small hotel beside Croft bridge, and went drilling to find a new source of water.

He struck gold in 1826 when he hit an aquifer 26 fathoms (156ft) deep. It gushed enough for him to build a spa bath so people could bathe and plunge in it, and so many came that, in 1835, he instructed Durham cathedral architect Ignatius Bonomi to enlarge the hotel. This was an inspired move as in 1841, the first stretch of east coast main line, from Darlington to York, opened, with a station just over the river from the hotel.

In 1860, a ballroom was added to the hotel, and its golden age began under landlord Thomas Winteringham. He had been brought up at a pub in Boroughbridge which was, in the days before trains and cars, the overnight stopping place for horses travelling from Middleham and Richmond to southern racecourses.

Thomas fell in love with horses, served an apprenticeship at Middleham and then ran the Jacques' family stud at Easby Abbey, near Richmond. From there he was poached to run a stud at Croft Spa.

The most famous horse in his care was Alice Hawthorn, which won 52 races, including the Chester Cup, the Goodwood Cup and the Great Ebor Handicap – perhaps that’s why to this day there’s a pub called The Alice Hawthorn at Nun Monkton, near York.

When Alice Hawthorn died in 1861 of "cancer of the udder", it was buried behind the hotel.

Over the following years, two more of Thomas’ favourites, Mowerina and Burlesque, were buried alongside it and then Underhand found its final resting place there. Underhand was bred in Consett by George Forster, manager of the ironworks. Under Thomas’ tutelage it became the only horse to win the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle, also known as “the Pitmen’s Derby”, on three occasions (1857, 1858 and 1859).

Indeed, so famous was Underhand that it was mentioned in a song by George Ridley, the man who wrote the Blaydon Races. Indeed, the Blaydon Races and his song about jockey Joey Jones seem, on paper, to be very similar:

"Noo when the horses started,

An' was cumin past the stand,

Sum shooted oot for Peggy Taft,

And some for Underhand."

Thomas Winteringham himself died at the hotel in 1872 when he had at least 22 racehorses owned by aristocrats from at home and abroad in his care. The stud passed to his 15-year-old son, John, who was also a shrewd horseman, but when he died at the age of 29 in 1886, the horses were sold off.

During the First World War, the Army used the stables which then became workshops and a bus depot for much of the 20th Century. In the last 10 or so years, five houses have been built behind the hotel and presumably the four horses lie somewhere beneath their foundations.

Changing the hotel’s face to deep grey after 185 years will be a major, if superficial, item in its history, but at least the building is still proudly open – unlike the 16th Century Bridge Hotel at Catterick, which is in a terribly sad state.