AEOLIAN HOUSE stands in splendid isolation on the outskirts of Darlington, built in the open countryside in the 1930s so that a singer could practise on its verandah without disturbing any neighbours.

Today, of course, it is notorious as the scene of the unsolved murder of Ann Heron, its remote location perhaps assisting the murderer in fleeing the scene of the crime. The shocking events of 1990 were the subject of a two-hour documentary on Channel 5 last week (it can still be seen on catch-up), in which the most inconsequential of the many questions was about Aeolian House’s unusual name.

The Northern Echo: Aeolian House featured as the lonely backdrop to Channel 5's documentary, the Mysterious Murder of Ann Heron

The answer can be traced back to Jack Johnson, who started work in about 1890 as a printer with The Northern Echo only to lose a finger in the Priestgate press. He then went to work with his stonemason father, James Peacock Johnson, and they worked on the technical college in Northgate, the King's Head Hotel and the Boer War Memorial in St Cuthbert's churchyard.

Beyond stones, Jack was interested in singing, and in 1906, he formed the Aeolian Male Quartette, a group that was named after Aeolus who, in Greek mythology, was the ruler of the four winds. Aeolus lived in Aeolia on the Aeolian Islands, near Sicily, where the winds had a musical quality – the Aeolian harp is a box with strings in it that is left by an open window so that Aeolus' winds can play random tunes on it.

The Northern Echo: Echo memories - Mary Swain's old photograph of the Aeolian Male Quartet - D17/05/02AL

The Aeolian Quartet pictured about 1925, from left, Jack Johnson of Aeolian House, Fred Bradley, James Johnson (nephew of Jack Johnson) and Jack Cook

On New Year’s Day 1908, the Aeolian Quartette won the "premier honours" of the Middlesbrough Eisteddfod. Middlesbrough had a large Welsh population in its ironworks, and the eisteddfod was the biggest event in the town’s calendar and it was probably the largest annual eisteddfod outside Wales. To win it was a major honour for the Aeolian, and Sir William and Lady Eden snapped the Quartette up to be the star attraction at their New Year Ball held three days later at Windlestone Hall, near Rushyford.

In 1909, the Quartette won the prestigious Blackpool Eisteddfod and then cut a disc – the Polka Serenade – on the Sterno label.

The BBC called them to London to broadcast to the nation on the wireless. The Northern Echo's critic said: "They came through remarkably well. Every word was heard distinctly, which is a very rare thing even with the solo singers who broadcast.

"They did a little thing of their own with some very clever farmyard effects and then sang the Negro Spiritual Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. Their performance compared very favourably with anything of the kind the BBC has given us."

The Northern Echo: The Aeolian Male Quartette's certificate from the 1910 eisteddfod at Middlesbrough

The Aeolian's certificate for winning the Cleveland & Durham Eisteddfod, held in Middlesbrough, in 1910 - they also won the 1908 eisteddfod. Middlesbrough had a large Welsh population, due to the ironworks

The Aeolian had a fluid line up, although Jack’s nephew, Jim Johnson, was a founder member, and his friend, Fred Bradley, was another key member. Jack Cooke, who had been trained at Durham Cathedral, was a fourth regular singer.

In 1933, Jack instructed the Co-operative Stores to build him a house for £800 at Morton Palms, Although the A66, Darlington’s outer ring road, dashes through Morton Palms, in Jack’s day there probably was no more isolated spot in the district. It was in the countryside midway between Darlington and Middleton St George, with only the farm of Morton Palms a few fields away and the Wheatsheaf Inn (now called The Old Farmhouse) on the horizon.

The Northern Echo: A 1930s sale catalogue picture of Aeolian House, shortly after it was built in the middle of countryside at Morton Palms

A 1930s picture showing Aeolian House shortly after it was built

Jack stipulated to the Co-op that the house should have a large verandah at the rear where his Quartette could practise in peace accompanied only by Aeolus' four winds.

Sadly, Jack did not live too long to enjoy his musical location. He died in 1937, aged 61, and the Quartette folded. He left Aeolian House to his second wife Mary, and she brought up their children, Mary, Marguerite and John, there.

The Northern Echo: Echo memories - The Aeolian Quartet pictured about 1925, from left, Jack Johnson of Aeolian House, Fred Bradley, James Johnson (nephew of Jack Johnson) and Jack Cook

The Aeolian Quartet pictured about 1925, from left, Jack Johnson of Aeolian House, Fred Bradley, James Johnson (nephew of Jack Johnson) and Jack Cook

Perhaps we should also explain Morton Palms, which sounds extremely exotic even though it gains its name from a bloke called Brian. This countryside was once part of the moorland that surrounded Darlington, although cropmarks in the area suggest that this spot was dry enough to have been inhabited since the Iron Age.

In the mid 16th Century, moor settlement was owned by a fellow called Bryane Palmes. Unfortunately for him, in the 1569 Rising of the North, he sided with the Catholic noblemen. When Protestant Queen Elizabeth quashed their rebellion, she confiscated Brian’s land, although 450 years later, it still bears his name.