In Saturday's paper I have an interesting little tale about the royal coat of arms in St Cuthbert's church in Darlington. It has been beautifully restored by the Friends of the church.

"The coat-of-arms was so covered in old varnish and dust that you wouldn't have noticed it before, but now you won't fail to notice it because itll shine out from the wall," Gill Tiffin, chairman of the Friends, told me - and she's right.

There has probably been a royal coat of arms hanging in St Cuthbert's - indeed, in every church in the land - since 1534 when Henry VIII knocked the the Pope off his pedestal and made himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. It became customary for the arms to be displayed to remind people of the link between church and state, and I discovered one internet source that said that Henry's daughter, Elizabeth I, actually ordered that all churches should display the arms.

The trouble for the churches was that each time the monarch change they had to alter their arms to reflect the change.

St Cuthbert's arms appear to date from Queen Victoria's coronation in 1837 as they have VR ("Victoria regina") in each of the top corners. Intriguingly, there is also the numeral "1" as if the painter presumed that at some time in the future there might be a Victoria II and Victoria III.

The restoration of the arms has been co-ordinated by Christine Port of the Friends who has a deep love of the church's history. She very kindly handed me a copy of the July/August 2009 parish magazine in which she has an article that pulls to pieces one of my own articles.

It concerns the reredos - the mosaic of the Last Supper that is behind the altar. I always believed the story that John Dobbin, the artist famous for his portrayal of the opening day of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, had originally created the mosaic as an unsolicited gift for Westminster Abbey. The abbey turned it down as they had nowhere to put it and so Dobbin off-loaded it on St Cuthbert's - the church where he had been baptised on March 21, 1815. The story says that you can tell the reredos wasn't planned for the space behind St Cuthbert's altar because it has had to be cut down to fit.

I've pasted my original version of the story, from 1996, below.

Anyway, Christine decided to do what I didn't: check with Westminster Abbey. This involved her going down to London and sifting throuogh the Chapter Minutes from 1861 to 1874: the period during which Dobbin created the reredos.

And in those minutes there is not a single mention of Dobbin, or a reredos competition, although there are plenty of mentions of Westminster's new reredos which was installed in 1867.

So Christine concludes that it is "extremely improbable" that there is any truth in the Westminster Abbey connection to St Cuthbert's reredos.

So here's my 1996 story: can you spot any other mistakes?

A NEW exhibition allows the works of one of the North East's most famous artists to be seen in a fresh light, but as yet no one has been able to shed any more illumination on the painter's life.

Cleaning of John Dobbin's works has given them a sunnier appearance, but there are still many tantalising mysteries surrounding him.

He was baptised on March 21, 1815, in St Cuthbert's Church, Darlington, the son of John and Elizabeth who lived in Weaver's Yard. This was off Northgate and was later called Half Moon Yard because it was near the pub which still stands.

John Dobbin senior was a weaver who worked in Pease's Mill in Darlington town centre, but John junior never followed in his father's footsteps. At first he was apprenticed to a cabinet-maker in Grange Road, but in his twenties he set off for London to make his name as an artist.

His most famous work is the Opening of the Stockton to Darlington Railway, and a portion of it the Skerne Bridge is featured on the back of the current £5 note.

However, when the railway opened, John was only ten. It is believed that his father took him to see the momentous occasion, and it is possible that the older Dobbin sketched the scene. It wasn't until 50 years later that the historic picture was completed. Whether John completed it from memory or from his father's earlier sketches is unknown, but the time lag explains why the painting is not strictly accurate.

The Skerne Bridge, for example, is not the imposing structure spanning the fast-flowing river as Dobbin suggests. It was a far more humble affair, and today it is concealed by pipes.

Although living in London, Dobbin was fond of his home town and many of his exhibits were views of Darlington. Perhaps when his first wife, Amy, died he became more religious for his works then developed a spiritual theme. It is known that his second wife, Hannah Jones, was a woman of "independent means" so perhaps it was she who financed his Grand Tour around Europe where he painted splendid cathedrals and castles.

Dobbin, who died in 1888 and is buried in Kensington, must have been fairly well known in his own day for he was granted an audience with Spanish Queen Isabella who gave him permission to paint as he liked in her domain. Back home, he was entrusted in restoring Turner paintings.

The biggest Dobbin mystery of all (other than his face no portrait survives) is his screen behind the Communion Table in St Cuthbert's Church. Perhaps inspired by his time in Italy, he switched from watercolours to mosaic and spent six years chopping up bits with hand shears to create his picture of the Last Supper.

It is rumoured that the screen was intended for Westminster Abbey, but when it was complete the dean decided he couldn't take it. So Dobbin offered it to his favourite church in his home town.

There was much debate at St Cuthbert's about the merits of the reredos.

One clergyman described the Apostles as "the most villainous set of mortals I have ever seen". But the church still took it.

Unfortunately, though, it proved to be too big for the wall, and a chunk of sky had to be chopped off. This might be because it was designed for the larger nave of the Abbey. It may simply be, as another rumour has it, that when Dobbin asked for dimensions, the vicar measured the wall with a broomstick.

After the mosaic was fixed in 1875, Dobbin's output seems to have stopped, because he suffered "a ganglion or sprung tendon on his right wrist". Was this, asks Darlington Museum curator Alan Suddes, because of his six years of scissoring?