AFTER nearly 150 years at the heart of its railway community, the Eldon Arms Hotel in Ferryhill Station has yet to reopen after the pandemic.

The brewery, Samuel Smith’s, is advertising for a management couple for the hotel and will re-open once they are in place, but in the meantime, the locals are looking elsewhere. Those locals include the Ferryhill Local History Society, which used to meet in the rear function room and has now had to find a new venue as it restarts its programme.

But fortunately, being local historians, they know the story of the Eldon Arms which, built in the grand style of a major London station, is a real landmark in the area.

Ferryhill Station is a railway community. In 1829, when the Act of Parliament was passed allowing the Clarence Railway to run through the area, the only buildings were Swan House, a farmworker’s dwelling, and a roadside beer house belonging to John Rudd.

The Clarence began operating between Crow Trees Colliery, Coxhoe, and Stockton in 1834, and the first passenger train tragedy occurred on March 19, 1839, when a train travelling to Stockton left the rails on the Mainsforth curve. The engine and the first carriage rolled down the embankment trapping the driver, stoker, and guard beneath the engine.

All three died. Their bodies were brought to a wayside pub, called the Station Hotel, where the inquest was held.

The Clarence Railway formally opened a station at Ferryhill in 1840, and in 1844, the Newcastle & Darlington Junction Railway – the beginning of the East Coast Main Line – arrived. This meant that by 1847, Bradshaw’s Guide, the book beloved of Michael Portillo on his Great British Railway Journeys, was listing trains calling at Ferryhill for journeys to Newcastle, Darlington, and Hartlepool.

In just a handful of years, Ferryhill Station had become a railway hub. The village had grown so much that it merited an entry in Whellan’s Directory of 1856, which listed a post office and three respectable inns: The Clarence, The Swan, and The Commercial (below, in the 1980s).

The Northern Echo: The Commercial in Ferryhill Station


The Northern Echo: The Swan Hotel in about 1985The Swan Hotel in about 1985

The Commercial Hotel was run by Prudence Alderson. Her relative, Jane Ann from Windlestone Cottages, married William Hogarth, who was an entrepreneurial joiner and builder. Together they established the Eldon Arms in its prime location facing the railway station.

The Northern Echo: An Edwardian postcard showing the Eldon Arms

The Eldon – named in honour of the local landowner – was open by 1872, and had been built to compliment the Commercial. Many of its external features and brickwork are very similar to the station and hotel at St Pancras, in London, which were built between 1868 and 1872 to the grand designs of the greatest railway architects of the day.

So the Eldon brought a touch of that style to Ferryhill.

Bradshaw’s in 1872 records that Ferryhill was linked to Edinburgh and London – and even to Paris, although, when booking, you had to pay a supplement of one shilling for your luggage to be transferred from London to Paris independently.

Perhaps travellers stayed at the Eldon Arms before departing for the French capital.

At Ferryhill Station’s peak, in 1910, the railway ticket office was issuing one million passenger tickets each year.

After 135 years, the station closed in 1969, but the Eldon Arms remained as a social hub of the community.

The Northern Echo: The Eldon Arms in the snow

In the 1930s, it was the rehearsal room for Mainsforth Colliery Band, which met in an upstairs room each Sunday morning. A lodge of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, a fraternal organisation, also met there, and it became renowned as a centre for racing pigeon fanciers – a splendid trophy was always on display behind the bar (below).

The Northern Echo: The pigeon trophy behind the bar at the Eldon Arms

Darts and dominoes teams were regular competitors in local leagues for both men and women. Phill Nixon, “The Ferryhill Flyer”, was the runner up in the 2007 BDO World Darts Championship in 2007 having practised his skills in the Eldon Arms.

The Eldon Arms has a history of long serving hosts. The Hogarths remained in charge until Jane’s death in 1894. The Hodgsons appear to have taken over until 1914 when it was being run by the grandly titled Durham and North Yorkshire Public House Company Limited. The trust installed managers Tom Stapleforth in 1914 and William Corner in 1921.

In the late 20th Century, Bob and Elsie Carr were long-time hosts.

On their retirement, they were succeeded by Paula Richardson and Dave Athey who spent more than 20 years running the Eldon Arms, making the local history society warmly welcome for many years.

But the society is reopening before the pub, and so its first post-pandemic meeting on Tuesday will be held at the Ferryhill Sports and Education Centre at 7.30pm.

The society would like to invite all members and anyone else interested in local history to join them to listen to Steve Erskine’s presentation entitled “Stories and Quirks of Family History in a Military Museum”.

With thanks to Tim Brown