TUESDAY marked the 140th anniversary of what the town mayor described as “one of the most important occurrences which has ever happened in Darlington”.

It is 140 years since the cornerstone of Darlington library was formally laid, and since this picture was taken recording the occasion.

The Echo headline from 140 years ago this week


Laying the cornerstone of the library in Crown Street, Darlington. The stone is on the front corner of the stage, and has a man standing on it giving a speech. The photographer is standing where today the stairs go up to the car park above the old Wilko's store. He is looking across the site of the library to the old bootlace factory in which The Northern Echo had made its first home

The concept of a “free library” – ie; free to use, but paid for by ratepayers – in Darlington was very controversial. When Edward Pease first promoted it in 1870, a referendum of townspeople resoundingly rejected it because they didn’t want rates to rise and they didn't want to drive private libraries out of business.

But in 1880, Mr Pease had died aged 46 in the five-star Hotel Schwitzerhof in Lucerne, Switzerland, and had left £10,000 – £1m in today’s values – to the town if it opened a library. A second referendum was held and, unable to look a gift horse in the mouth, the townspeople this time voted yes.

There are several different view of the cornerstone laying in the library collection. This one seems to be Sir Joseph himself standing on the stone making his speech

On June 4, 1884, a procession of the great and the good – headed by a military band, the police force plus the fire brigade with their new steam engine and two older manual ones – set off from the town hall next to the covered market.

The most obvious route for them to take was to head north to the site of the library, but instead the headed south, processing along Victoria Road, Grange Road and Blackwellgate until they ended up exactly where they had started. Then they headed north to the new Crown Street.

The Northern Echo said: "The scaffolding round the new building was gaily decorated with flags etc, and a spacious enclosure, provided with seats, was reserved for ladies."

The silver trowel Sir Joseph used is on display in Darlington library

After the mayor had made his portentous remarks, he handed Sir Joseph Whitwell Pease with an inscribed silver trowel and a mallet made out of oak from the old church at Aycliffe.

The stonelaying Sir Joseph Whitwell Pease

The cornerstone today. Picture: Hugh Mortimer

The Echo said: “Sir Joseph, having adjusted the stone with the mallet and trowel, mounted the cornerstone and declared it duly laid and hoped that for many, many years to come it would have its effect upon the people of this place in promoting their education and their comfort in life (cheers).

“Beneath the stone, a bottle was placed containing a copy of The Northern Echo, an account of the circumstances attending the founding of the library and other documents.”

The photographs from the day, plus the inscribed silver trowel, are on display in the newly refurbished Darlington library, in the local studies centre, at the moment. The mallet, though, seems to have disappeared – unless you have it in a cupboard. Please let us know if you do, and why should Darlington have a mallet made out of wood taken from the old church at Aycliffe?

The first section of the library was completed in 1885

  • For those who get confused by their Peases, Sir Joseph Whitwell Pease was the son of Joseph Pease, whose statue stands on High Row. Therefore, Sir Joseph was the grandson of Edward “Father of the Railways”. Pictures of all the Peases involved are on display in the library

The presentation of the trowel to Sir Joseph after the stonelayingREAD MORE: THE SURPRISING PLACE IN LITERARY HISTORY OF A DARLINGTON PUB

Ken Cooke, of the Green Howards, leaves York station to go to the Normandy beaches this week

THANK-YOU to everyone who has been in touch with complimentary messages about last week’s supersized D-Day special. It has been a very poignant week, watching the commemorative events, both here and abroad, unfold.

The story of 98-year-old Ken Cooke, a member of the Green Howards who features in the regimental museum in Richmond, featured in the supplement. He was one of the handful of survivors who returned to Normandy where he told the BBC that he had brought with him the ashes of two fellow Green Howards who had come ashore with him but who had died recently to scatter.

He said: "There is a row of graves in Bayeux where there are 12 Green Howards all in a row. I have stood there and I have cried because I always say I could have been one of those, as simple as that."

As well as saluting the actions of those on D-Day, this week many families have been remembering their relatives’ contributions.

“My father, John, from Sunderland, was in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve

and served on HMS Nelson on Arctic convoys and the Malta convoy,” writes Robin Rutherford, in Darlington.

“He also trained as a diver for the Tirpitz raid up in Kylesku in Scotland but he never went on the raid as he burst his eardrums in a practice dive, which was just as well for me and my brother and sister as his replacement did not survive.

“Kylesku was chosen because of its similarity to the fjord in Norway where Tirpitz was moored but dad never told us where it was and it was not until I was cycling in the west of Scotland that I cycled over a bridge and lent my bike against a pile of rocks only to discover that they formed a memorial mound to those who had trained there. It was a very moving moment.

“His wartime photo album is quite extraordinary and catalogues his war from the North Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and will always be part of our family history.

“Thank you for the Memories supplement. What a great piece of work. We must never forget.”