TOMORROW, a 120-year-old financial institution in the centre of Darlington is brought back to life as a building society, although the site’s story stretches back many centuries.

It has most recently been Virgin Money. Before that it was Northern Rock, before that it was a branch of Martins Bank although it was built in 1904 by the North Eastern Banking Company.

The Northern Echo: A postcard of High Row, DarlingtonA postcard view of High Row showing the North Eastern Bank on the corner with Post House Wynd

Let the whirl of time continue: the bank was built on a couple of shops, one of which had been the headquarters of the town’s radical politicians.

And the shops were in the carcass of the town’s oldest pub, The Talbot Inn, which had been on the corner spot since at least 1527, if not centuries before.

The Northern Echo: The Talbot in the 1890s, HIgh Row, DarlingtonHigh Row in the 1890s: The Talbot Inn was in the two properties on the corner with Post House Wynd 

The Talbot was named after a medieval hunting dog, and it was a post house – a place where stagecoaches on the Great North Road, which ran outside its door, got new horses. There were stables for dozens of horses behind the Talbot on Post House Wynd, and today there is still a large arch into what was the stable yard.

The Northern Echo: The arch in Post House Wynd which was once the entrance into the Talbot's stablesThe arch in Post House Wynd which was once the entrance into the Talbot's stables

The coachdrivers left letters and communications with the innkeeper of the Talbot and, in the days before the Royal Mail, he was the town’s postmaster.

It was the town’s pre-eminent meeting place, with a long, second floor meeting room for dances and concerts – it was long enough to be used as a shooting gallery – and amid the stables out the back was a garden and bowling green.

The Northern Echo: The Duke of Cumberland, known as "Butcher" after the Battle of Culloden

In November 1745, the Duke of Cumberland (above), the son of King George II, stayed at the Talbot and addressed his troops from its steps, before marching to defeat Bonnie Prince Charlie at the Battle of Culloden. In July 1746, on his triumphant return, he feasted once more in the inn.


However, in the early 19th Century, the Talbot began to fade as the King’s Head rose to become the top coaching inn. Some of the Talbot’s rooms became shops as it slimmed down to occupy only half of the corner site, and there was obviously an air of dereliction about it because there’s an old saying in Darlington: "The wind's so strong it could blow the tongue out of a dog."

This did happen – a strong wind once blew the corroded tongue out of the rusty metal inn sign which depicted the talbot hunting dog. With a clatter, the tongue skidded along High Row, and the last bit of the Talbot closed in 1863.

The Northern Echo: Nicholas Bragg

From the 1840s, Nicholas Bragg (above) had his radical bookshop and grocery business on the Talbot’s corner. He was a Chartist who delighted in being awkward to those in authority – he was imprisoned for three months for causing a public nuisance on a demonstration in the Market Place – and for decades organised the opposition to the ruling Quakers from his shop.

The Northern Echo: High Row, Darlington, from Tubwell Row. Picture courtesy of the Darlington Centre for Local StudiesThe two buildings on the left of the picture were cleared in 1902 for the North Eastern Bank, which is now going to be occupied by Darlington Building Society

Finally, in 1902 the site of the Talbot was cleared, including out-buildings and stables which were probably 400 years old.

A correspondent in The Northern Echo lamented: "And thus, though the High Row of Darlington will shortly be enriched by the erection of an architecturally beautiful building for the transaction of the business of the North-Eastern Bank, the town will be the poorer by the loss of one of its oldest and most historic buildings."

The handsome bank was designed by local architects Clark & Moscrop, who we only met a fortnight ago when they designed Aysgarth School at Newton-le-Willows, near Bedale. They also built Barnard Castle School, but mostly specialised in houses.

The Northern Echo: A postcard of High Row, DarlingtonLooking up Tubwell Row to the site of the Talbot in 1972 when the bank building was occupied by Northern Rock

The bank opened on March 10, 1904, and featured a walnut-panelled banking hall. In the cellar were two large strong rooms while the upper floors made up the bank manager’s private house.

The Newcastle-based North East Bank was taken over by the Bank of Liverpool in 1914 which then merged with Martins Bank – the name that was above the High Row door until 1971 after Martins had been taken over by Barclays. With the large Barclays just a few doors away, the smaller bank on the Talbot site – sort code 11-26-30 and telephone Darlington 66735 – closed.

Over the last 50 years, it has been the home to several financial companies and on Thursday, Darlington Building Society, itself 167-years-old, will open its main branch in the building.

The Northern Echo: The North East Bank on High Row is becoming a Darlington Building Society branch

A Government Treasury minister has been invited to cut the tape at midday on November 2. Before that, at 11am, Chris Lloyd, who compiles Memories, will give a free, illustrated talk in the covered market about the stories connected to the corner site and the society. All are very welcome.