HOUSING associations are usually thought of as running streets of houses or building blocks of flats, but North Star also plays an important role in regenerating sites that have fallen into disrepair and in finding a new use for historic buildings that would otherwise have been doomed.

And so North Star finds itself owning a pub, a police station, a railway station, a bank, old almshouses and an industrialist’s headquarters that was once the powerhouse of the Tees Valley. Here are just a few of the unusual stories to be found in its substantial property portfolio…


Gainford station

The Northern Echo: Gainford station by Ray Goad, taken on February 26, 1965. Picture courtesy of Richard Barber and the JW Armstrong TrustGainford station by Ray Goad, taken on February 26, 1965. Picture courtesy of Richard Barber and the JW Armstrong Trust

ONCE, the Gainford stationmaster’s house fronted onto the platform at which trains stopped on their way from Darlington to Barnard Castle and then over the desolate tops of Stainmore into Cumbria.

The station opened on July 9, 1856, with a waiting shed to the west of the house. However, the house was only single storey but, about 15 years later, the roof was taken off, a second storey was added and the original roof plonked back on again.

In the late 1850s, the house was also adorned with a Stockton & Darlington Railway property plaque. The railway seems to have been recording its property portfolio. It gave each of its lines a letter – F, in the case of the Barnard Castle line – and each property was given a number, with Darlington as the starting point: Piercebridge station house is F4 and Gainford is F5.

The Northern Echo: Gainford stationmaster's house

There were once about 120 distinctive property plaques across the North East, but fewer than half of them survive: F6, for example, is lost but F7 is on the old Winston station house.

At lofty Gainford station, the stationmaster in G5 was master of all he surveyed.

In front of his passenger platform was a goods siding that ran into a little goods shed, and in front of that was a siding that terminated in a coal depot.

However, after the line closed on November 30, 1964, the waiting shed and sidings were cleared, and the houses of Station Court built on their site.

But the stationmaster’s house survives, in the care of North Star, along with a section of platform in front of it and, of course, its plaque proudly on its wall.

The Northern Echo: Gainford stationmaster's houseGainford stationmaster's house today

The Northern Echo:

The Northern Echo: Hole in the Wall, Barnard Castle, by Chris LloydThe Hole in the Wall, Barnard Castle

The Hole in the Wall, Barnard Castle

ONE of Barnard Castle’s most enigmatic buildings has been converted into flats by North Star and has the Gloucester Place supportive housing development beside it.

It is the Hole in the Wall, which nowadays you can walk all the way round but which still has an ancient alleyway running through its ground floor providing access from Queen Street onto Newgate.

The building was probably originally a warehouse, but in the late 1740s, the early Methodists took it over. They experienced much opposition – when meetings were held in Grace Dunn’s house in Galgate, advertised only by a handkerchief fluttering in a window, she had seven shillings worth of glass broken – so needed somewhere quite secluded to meet but also quite large: they could get 150 worshippers into the first floor room.

Not necessarily safely. One day when William Darney was preaching, the floor gave way “an precipitated some of the congregation into the apartment beneath. Some bruises were the result of the fall, but no serious injury was sustained”.

Perhaps it was safety fears that led John Wesley to preach in the Market Place on his first visit to the town on May 25, 1752. However, the Methodists’ opponents arrived with the fire pump and “dowsed in water” the congregation, so on his second visit, he preached in the Hole in the Wall.

In 1764, Wesley returned to open the Methodists’ first chapel in Broadgate, which meant the Hole in the Wall went back to being a warehouse. It became a Catholic school for a while, and then a wine store, but fell derelict until the late 1990s when it was converted into a brasserie.

The restaurant didn’t work so North Star converted this 18th Century building into apartments in 2002.

The Northern Echo: Hole in the Wall, Barnard Castle, by Chris LloydThe Hole in the Wall at the Hole in the Wall in Barney

The Northern Echo: Webb House, Zetland Road, Middlesbrough, by Sarah CaldecottWebb House, Zetland Road, Middlesbrough, by Sarah Caldecott

Webb House, Middlesbrough

WEBB HOUSE is regarded as Middlesbrough’s most architecturally important building. It is in Zetland Road, overlooking the railway line, and is one of those splendid pieces of Victoriana that show how, in its day, the town was a true industrial powerhouse.

The Northern Echo: Webb House, Zetland Road, Middlesbrough, by Sarah Caldecott

As the entwined Bs in its stonework reveal, it was built for the Bell Brothers, Lowthian and Hugh, who were ironmasters with blast furnaces at Port Clarence and had fingers in many other pies: they owned coalmines in County Durham, quarries in Weardale, ironstone mines in the Cleveland Hills and saltworks on the coast, as well as being elected as councillors, mayors and MPs.

The Northern Echo: Webb House, Zetland Road, Middlesbrough, by Sarah Caldecott

The stonework also reveals the date the headquarters were completed, 1891, although that is only half the story, because they were designed in 1881 but recession in the iron industry held up their construction for almost a decade.

Studying the stonework, with its grand steps, arched windows and rising columns, also reveals why this building is so highly thought of: it was designed by Philip Webb, the father of arts and crafts architecture. Arts and crafts was a worldwide movement between 1880 and 1920 which brought fine, decorative features, usually craftsman-made and often with reference to nature, to the interiors and exteriors of houses.

Despite their industries pumping out smog, the Bell Brothers were very interested in fashionable artistic trends and were friendly with Webb. In 1868, he designed Red Barns at Redcar for Sir Hugh – it gets its name because it followed the simple shape of local farmers’ barns.

The Northern Echo: Rounton Grange, East Rounton, the home of Gertrude Bell's grandfather

In 1872, he designed Rounton Grange (above) at East Rounton, near Northallerton. It took four years to build, its estate covered 3,000 acres and featured two lakes, and its interiors were designed by the leading arts and crafts artists of the day. It cost £33,000 (about £3m in today’s values) to create, and It was regarded as one of the most important country houses built in the Victorian period.

But, abandoned by later Bells and unwanted by the National Trust, it was demolished in 1953, although several, smaller Webb estate buildings survive.

The Northern Echo: Echo Memories - Isaac Lowthian Bell.Isaac Lowthian Bell

Then in 1881, the Bells persuaded Webb, who disliked industry, to design them a suitable industrial headquarters. It was his only commercial building.

Webb installed all those characterful windows because it was dark site, overlooking the railway, and so needed as much light inside as possible, and he constructed it out of washable brick and re-whitewashable render because of the soot and the smoke that the steam engines would fire at it.

It was equipped with every mod-con – there was even an alarm to warn Sir Hugh when his train was approaching the station (Red Barns had a private halt at the bottom of its garden so there was no hanging around on a draughty platform for this industrialist).

At the start of the 20th Century, Bell Brothers was taken over by Dorman, Long who moved their HQ into Webb House, as did their successor, the British Steel Corporation.

In the 1970s, BSC moved out to Redcar and there were plans to bulldoze all Zetland Road for the A66 flyover – a public inquiry, though, turned the plans down.

By 1983, the landmark building was derelict and vandalised and Middlesbrough council bought it from BSC for a token price. The Endeavour Housing Association converted it into apartments which are managed by the charity Toc H for people with health conditions.

Other pieces of Middlesbrough’s magnificent Victoriana have not been so fortunate, and either lie empty or have been pulled down, but this fine landmark has gone on to have a great post-industrial use, and no one would be happier than the architect Philip Webb that his only commercial building has ended up as a domestic property.

Woodland Road, Darlington

The Northern Echo:

THE DROVERS INN (above), on the edge of Cockerton, was once a stopping point for men from as far away as Ireland and Scotland heading for Darlington market. They would rest their animals on the grass around the pub while they refreshed themselves at the bar.

In 1925, the Drovers’ licence was transferred to the newly-rebuilt Travellers’ Rest a couple of hundred yards away, and it became a garage with Fred Beach, son of the last landlord, running a haulage business from there which featured the town’s first hand-cranked tipping truck.

The Northern Echo: The Drovers Garage is demolished in 1965

The old pub was demolished in 1965 and replaced by a petrol filling station, which closed in 1999. For the next 20 years, it was a vacant eyesore, but in 2019, North Star, in partnership with Darlington council, spent £2.7m regenerating the “challenging site” and creating an attractive terrace of affordable homes, some for rent and some rent-to-buy.

The Northern Echo: Angela Lockwood and Peter Gibson at the new development in Woodland RoadAngela Lockwood and Peter Gibson at the new development in Woodland Road

READ MORE: 1974: DO YOU REMEMBER THESE HISTORIC EVENTS FROM 50 YEARS AGO?https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/24343885.1974-many-events-50-years-ago-remember/