A 250-YEAR-OLD building in Darlington town centre is on the market for £175,000. For that you get three storeys of space for offices or retail, and you get four parking places for cars down the side.

Far more interesting than that, you get two-and-a-half centuries of stories of human lives, and deaths, that have been connected to this prominent property.

The Northern Echo: No 92, Bondgate

It is in Bondgate (above), Grade II listed, and for at least 150 years it has had a big black board above its first floor windows advertising the name of the occupant. Most recently, the board has had “BL Hairdressing” on it, although for much of the latter half of the 20th Century, it had “Sanderson, Townend and Gilbert” on it because the well known estate agents, surveyors and property developers worked inside.

Back in the 19th Century, it had “Shutt Printers” and “Gun & Rifle Makers” in big letters on it shouting down at the street.

No 92 Bondgate was built towards the end of the 18th Century as a fine house, one of the sturdiest in the street, with one of the widest yards – Potters Yard – running down its side.

The Northern Echo: BondgateThe buildings in the centre of Bondgate were cleared in 1854. On the right is No 92, with the arched entrance into Potter's Yard

In its early days, it had a huddle of lowly buildings in front of it, but these were cleared in 1854 to open out its view.

By then, No 92’s ground floor had been converted to retail, and in 1866, two brothers, Francis and David Brebner, moved in from Edinburgh and turned it into a gunshop with a hugely dramatic display.


The Northern Echo: Bondgate, Darlington, before 1875Bondgate, before 1875 when the fountain was moved to South Park. No 92 has "Gun & Rifle Maker" written on its board as the Brebners were in residence

"A large Bengal tiger, a triumph of the preserver's art with glaring eyes and open jaws, occupied nearly the whole of their window space," remembered an old Darlingtonian in 1900. This suggests that, as well as dealing in small arms, the brothers also traded in big game rifles.

Tragically, on January 22, 1884, David was drowned at Neasham as he tried to cross the swollen Tees on his horse pulling a cart. He was returning from a day’s shooting in Eryholme and tried to use High Ford when a great wall of floodwater – the famous Tees Bore, a natural phenomenon halted by the construction of reservoirs in upper Teesdale which allowed for a more consistent flow down the river – swept him away.

He was only 38.

"Unfortunately, Mr Brebner's eyesight was peculiarly defective after daylight fell off. Objects comparatively clear to others, he could not make out, and there can be no doubt that it is to this circumstance the accident must be ascribed," said the Darlington & Stockton Times.

"It is only too probable that he was coming gently along, trusting to the horse, and ran down the short steep bank into the roaring torrent before he was aware of the proximity of the river. The wind would prevent him hearing the rush of the water, and it is quite certain that he would be unable to see his danger."

The Northern Echo: BondgateNo 92 on an Edwardian postcard of Bondgate

David’s son Ronald was two when his father died. He became a dentist who also filled inbetween the sticks for the Quakers at Feethams. He was selected for the Great Britain amateur football team and so, as the goalkeeper, won a gold medal at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm.

He turned professional but, again tragically, he injured his neck so badly diving at the feet of an opponent while playing for Leicester Fosse, that he died in 1914, aged 33. He shares a headstone with his father in West Cemetery.

The Northern Echo: Potter's Yard in the 1930s. Picture courtesy of Darlington Centre for Local StudiesPotter's Yard in the 1930s. Picture courtesy of the Darlington Centre for Local Studies

Let’s see if we can find less tragic stories of life and death if we peer into the long yard which runs down the side of No 92. The arched entrance to the yard was blocked up in the mid-1970s, but it is still clearly visible as it runs under No 92’s first floor.

This was Potter’s Yard, named after cartwright Thomas Potter, who lived and worked here for most of his life until he died in 1870.


Most of Darlington’s town centre yards were alleyways of contagion, but Potter’s Yard seems to have been different. It was wider, and it was planned so that there were houses on the east side and warehouses and workshops on the west.

The Northern Echo: Looking west up Bondgate on August 23, 1961, with No 92 on the right

Although the only running water came from one standpipe (a 17ft deep well was rediscovered in 1955), sanitary conditions were not as bad as elsewhere. Indeed, in 1883 Mrs Noble died in the yard at the grand age of 99. She was the Cockerton-born widow of an army sergeant who had 15 children and more than 100 grandchildren.

Another lifelong yard dweller was Willie Mafham. By day, he worked as a machinist at Darlington Forge, and by night he was a boxer, under the name of “Kid Donovan”. As he was only 5ft 6ins tall and weighed ten stone, he must have been a lightweight, but he travelled for bouts as far as Hartlepool.

When he retired from the ring, he ran a gym off High Row, training boxers and athletes. He wasn’t averse to a little skulduggery because, in those days when people would gamble on anything, he would put lead in his runners’ shoes to make it look as if they didn’t have a chance only to take it out on the morning of the race in which, unfancied, they’d sprint home in triumph.

Willie also used to drink in the Forge Tavern in Nestfield Street on Albert Hill where, just after the First World War, the landlord was JB Haw.

He heard that in early 1919, after the sporting shutdown of the war, a Victory League was being planned by the likes of Newcastle, Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Durham City, but as Darlington FC had faded away during the conflict, the town had no club to represent it.

So, with seven days to go before the big kick-off, Mr Haw put forward his pub team, the Darlington Forge Albion. He acted as manager and Willie became the trainer. Together, they pulled together a team of old Quakers’ favourites and even older ex-pros.

They lost their first match 3-1 to South Shields, got hammered 7-1 by Hartlepools United and 5-0 by Scotswood, but as they recruited a couple of better pros from Sheffield United, they turned their season around, even beating Newcastle United 2-0 at St James’s Park and finishing above Durham City and the Pools in the final league table.

The Northern Echo: Willie Mafham in the big cap on the right of the front row with the Darlington Forge Albion team of 1919 that saved professional football in the town

More importantly, they had restored the Feethams ground to a playable state and they had saved professional football in the town. For the 1919-20 season, they dropped the “Darlington Forge Albion” name and entered the re-formed North Eastern League as Darlington FC and the Quakers have never looked back since. Well, hardly.

Willie lived in one of the 12 or 14 houses in Potter’s Yard. In the 1960s era of slum clearances when the council had a policy of moving residents from the unhealthy town centre yards to the new estates, Potter’s Yard was one of the last to lose its human population, with its last occupants being rehoused in 1966.

The Northern Echo: Bondgate, Darlington April 1976Bondgate, April 1976, with the entrance to Potter's Yard blocked up

In the 1970s and 1980s, the job centre and the inner ring road were built over Potters Yard, with No 92 taking on what was left of the yard as its parking area.

But before we leave No 92, there is one last treasure to tell of: it has the last remaining firemark (to our knowledge) in Darlington town centre.

The Northern Echo: No 92, BondgateThe Norwich Union firemark on No 92

As regular readers will know, firemarks were issued by the earliest insurance companies 200 years ago to show the property was insured. Fire brigades were then private businesses, and a fireman would want to know he was going to get paid before tackling a blaze, and the firemark, mounted in a prominent position on the front of the building, assured him of that.

Most of the firemarks in our area belong to the Sun Insurance Company, which means the one on No 92 is doubly rare, as it is from the Norwich Union. It shows Justice holding balanced scales in her hands, and it looks as if it dates from the 1860s.

So all this as well as three storeys and four parking spaces. Go to thomas-stevenson.co.uk, the Stockton-based chartered surveyors, for more details of the sale.

And if you could tell us anymore about No 92 or Potter’s Yard, please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk


The Northern Echo: Lifeboat Sunday in Bondgate, Darlington, on June 30, 1906. Picture courtesy of Darlington Centre for Local StudiesLifeboat Sunday in Bondgate, Darlington, on June 30, 1906, with Shutt Printer occupying No 92. Picture courtesy of Darlington Centre for Local Studies