THE Darlington & Richmond Herald newspaper was pretty annoyed about the advance of progress in Barnard Castle 150 years ago.

“Messrs Backhouse and Co are destroying one of the few remaining relics of olden times left in South Durham,” it thundered on November 17, 1877. “They are demolishing the Queen’s Head Inn in Barnard Castle in order to secure a site for their new banking premises.

“Although the change will improve the architectural appearance of Barnard Castle, it will destroy the associations which cluster about the Long Room which for 60 or 70 years served as the Town Hall and theatre of the little town.”

Everything changes. We’ve recently looked at how Barclays – the successor bank to Backhouses – has just ended its 190-year connection to Northallerton, and the same severance is to take in Barnard Castle where townspeople and councillors are now trying to create a banking hub following the announcement that their branch of Barclays, the last bank in Barney, will close on or before January 17, 2025.


The Northern Echo: The Queen's Head, where the bank was built in the late 1870s, is on the left of this picture

The construction of the bank, in a prime spot opposite the Butter Market on the corner of Market Place and Newgate, was controversial 150 years ago because it replaced the inn which had been the town’s premier meeting place.

Balls, wedding receptions and public meetings had been held for several generations in Prickett’s Long Room – named after the proprietor – in the Queen’s Head, as well as theatrical performances. In 1806, Edmund Kean, aged 19, put on a one man show there of excerpts from Shakespeare’s Richard III, a play he was to become renowned for around the world as he was hailed as the greatest actor of his generation until his reputation was destroyed by his adulterous behaviour.

Backhouses – founded in Darlington in 1774 and the most dependable bank in the North East with branches in most towns – wiped all of that history away, and employed their resident architect, GG Hoskins, and builder Joseph Kyle to create a Gothic bank.

Hoskins is responsible for many of the mansions and public buildings in Darlington that give the town its character, and Kyle, the builder of the Bowes Museum and terraces in Galgate, is just as important to Barney.

The Northern Echo: SUPERB OBSTACLE: A pre-First World War postcard showing the Market Cross standing at the end of the Market Place in Barnard CastleThe Butter Market, this time with Backhouses Bank on the left hand side

The bank was completed by the end of September 1879, with Backhouses giving every workman a bonus of five shillings rather than the usual celebratory end-of-project dinner.

The Darlington & Richmond Herald seems to have forgiven the bank for obliterating history as “a new and handsome building” that “for soundness of material workmanship will vie with any structure erected in Barnard Castle in modern times”.

Alan Wilkinson, in his 1998 history of Barney, calls it “startlingly modern” as, to this day, it stands out from all more traditional buildings of the Market Place – but what future does a 146-year-old Gothic banking palace have when the bank that built it no longer wants it?

The Northern Echo: GG Hoskins' Gothic bank in Barnard Castle, which has recently closedHoskins' bank which is to close by January 2025

The Northern Echo: PLANS IN THE BANK: Auckland Castle unveil a plan to have a Spanish art gallery in the former Barclays Bank buidling in the market square of Bishop Auckland.  Picture: CHRIS BOOTH.Bishop Auckland Backhouses is now the Spanish Gallery - is it Hoskins' finest bank?

Hoskins started his career in the mid 1860s as the clerk of the works on Backhouses’s new bank, now Barclays, in the centre of High Row. He probably designed the stables at the rear which can be seen from the Bells Place car park. He also designed Backhouses’s branches in Middlesbrough, West Hartlepool, Sunderland and, best of all, Bishop Auckland, which is now the Spanish art gallery.

He also designed Darlington library, technical college, sixth form college, the Elm Ridge mansion and everything from Middlesbrough Town Hall to The Fleece Inn in Richmond.