NORTHALLERTON was once a linoleum town, making the new-fangled flooring in a large railside factory which has a close connection to one of County Durham's greatest rages-to-riches industrialists.

Last week we told of Northallerton’s 180 year connection to the railways, and Tom Banfield, of Thornton-le-Beans, quite rightly queried one of our imprecise captions.

The Northern Echo: The view from the signal box at Northallerton station in 1964, looking north into the town, showing the coal drops on the left and a linoleum and carpet factory on the right

The 1964 picture (above) looks north-east from Northallerton station – not north up the mainline as we may have suggested – and shows the four tracks that terminated in the coal drops. Two other tracks led into a linoleum factory, which was once one of the town’s biggest employers.

Its story begins with one of County Durham’s greatest industrialists: Sir George Elliot (below).

The Northern Echo: A cariacature of George Elliot, the North Durham MP

He started as a nine-year-old trapper boy in Penshaw colliery. He led a strike for higher wages, put his pennies towards nightschool classes and by the 1830s had risen to help with the surveying of the mainline from Darlington, through Northallerton, to York.

In 1850, he bought his first pit – Penshaw, the one he had started down – and by the 1860s, he was one of the largest coalowners in the Empire, with mines across Durham, Wales and even in Nova Scotia.

The frustrations of communicating with Canada led him to start a company which laid the first permanent telegraph cable on the bed of the Atlantic.

The Durham miners knew him as “Bonnie Geordie” and elected him in 1868 as the Conservative MP for North Durham (the seat now held by Labour’s Kevan Jones).

He advised Khedive Ismail Pasha, the ruler of Egypt, who gave him a mummy in return. He kept it in one of his many houses, on the Royal Crescent at Whitby, and when Bram Stoker visited him, a sight of the mummy inspired him to write a horror story, The Jewel of the Seven Stars.

Another of his homes, Houghton Hall in Houghton-le-Spring, burned down when his 20-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, caught her party frock in a fire. She died in the blaze.

His wife, Margaret, died in 1880 and Sir George – knighted in 1874 – never remarried, but in 1890 he was sued for £5,000 for breach of promise by singer Emily Mary Hairs. The jury threw out her claim.

He died at Christmas 1893, and left a fortune worth £75m in today’s values.

Much of it was inherited by his son, also Sir George, who in the 1860s had started a factory beside Northallerton station to make tarpaulin, sail cloth and brattice cloth (a strong, tar-coated, fire resistant cloth used as a partition in coalmines). It then moved into making linoleum – a new invention in which linseed oil is applied to a canvas backing.

The second Sir George, lived at Langton Hall near Great Langton, and was MP for Northallerton and Richmondshire from 1874 until 1895. He stood down because he was suffering from bad health as a result of a hunting fall. He went to Nice to recover in the warm air of the south of France, but contracted typhoid which led to pneumonia and he died aged 51 in November 1895.

By the 1920s, the linoleum factory employed 320 people and, despite killing two of them in an explosion in 1923, it was a crucial part of the town’s economy.

It closed in 1938, but its huge Alverton Works, which stretched from Romanby Road to Malpas Road, remained to provide workshops for small manufacturing companies – a mattress spring maker sprang up there in 1947, for example. The increasingly derelict works survived until 1999 when they were demolished, the land was decontaminated and new developments, including a doctors’ surgery and the council archive department, came onto their site.