The fire which engulfed Middleton St George Primary School last week was fully reported by the Northern Echo.

It was a different story when it opened, however; the paper gave it just seven lines. But, as Echo Memories reveals, there were more pressing matters for its reporters to attend to at the time

THE story of the school that burned down last Wednesday night in Middleton St George can be traced back more than two centuries - even though the building that was set alight was less than a century old.

It was some time in the 1770s that the villagers of Middleton One Row realised that their district needed a school, and they started collecting money. Quite quickly, they opened a small school near the Devonport Hotel.

In 1828, this school needed rebuilding and the schoolmaster himself found £100 to carry out the work. Villagers promised to repay him in full, but despite their best fundraising efforts, he never was.

Still, though, he did have a thriving school: 30 pupils attended, each of them paying fees.

As the 19th Century wore on, the iron industry came to settle down the road from Middleton One Row and the centre of population moved away from the high cliff overlooking the River Tees. Rows of terraces started growing in the new village of Middleton St George and it was here that a school was required.

The villagers still had the lump sum that had been collected in the 1770s - the running costs of the school had been met by the interest from the lump sum and by fleecing schoolmasters when required - and they sold the old school next to the Devonport for £480.

With the money, a school was built in Chapel Street, off Middleton Lane, and it opened on July 31, 1871. Pupils paid 2d a week to attend and within five years, there were about 100 of them.

Fees ended in 1891 and in 1904, the school transferred to Durham County Council. There were now more than 200 pupils crammed into the school. They were taught by a headmaster, five teachers and a pupil teacher.

Chapel Street was clearly overcrowded and plans were made to start again. A 4,480sq yard site was acquired around the corner and, at a cost of £4,751, the Darlington firm R Blackett and Son built a school with space for 250 juniors and 150 infants - plus another 50 could be accommodated in the cookery room.

Another £315 was spent on furniture and the school was formally opened on Tuesday, August 22, 1911, by Alderman GW Bartlett, of Durham County Council (Mr Bartlett has a street named after him in Darlington).

He said: "This must be a memorable day in the history of the village and I hope the school will be a centre from whence good for the village and the country will come."

It was this school that served four generations of Middleton St Georgians until last Wednesday.

THE Northern Echo devoted seven measly lines to the opening of Middleton St George school in 1911. Last week, as you may have noticed on the front page, considerably more space was devoted to the blaze that threatens the school's future.

There were, though, extenuating circumstances for the Echo's behaviour more than 90 years ago. The North-East was in the grip of a railwayman's strike so severe that troops were on the streets and shops were running out of supplies.

The strike had started in the June in Southampton as seamen called for better conditions and a minimum wage. It spread to dockers and then to railwaymen. By July, strikers were starting to die in riots; by early August there were 50,000 troops trying to restore order.

On the day Middleton St George school opened, the North Eastern Railway Company men's action was at its peak.

Shildon was a hotbed of militancy, and the Inniskillin Fusiliers were called in to calm down 7,000 strikers who were milling around the station. A mineral train driver, who was breaking the strike, was stoned and dragged from his engine.

The Echo reported:"Most of the men who took part in the mobbing of the driver after tearing his overcoat from his back, rent it into a number of pieces and afterwards wore those pieces pinned on their clothes."

In Scarborough, there were extraordinary scenes because tourists, having completed their week's booking, were being ejected from boarding houses and were having to sleep with their children and portmanteaux in the station. They had to be physically restrained by police from rushing the platform on the rare occasions that a strike-breaking train pulled in.

The Echo noted: "The strike has proved a most serious blow to trade and has ruined what promised to be the best season since the Boer War."

In Darlington, there was "wild disorder" as the NER tried to deliver goods which had made it into Bank Top station.

Five heavily-laden horsedrawn rolleys, surrounded by 50 police and watched over by four mounted policemen, left the Neasham Road depot and made their way down Parkgate into Borough Road for the first delivery. They were splattered with mud.

The crowds grew bigger and the insults grew stronger as the convoy crossed over the Skerne bridge. Two of the ten drivers had had enough and fled.

The Echo reported: "At the junction of Priestgate and Crown Street, a somewhat ugly incident occured.

"One of the horses attached to a rolley became very restive due, it is alleged, to the action of a member of the crowd in prodding it with a sharp instrument."

As the convoy passed along Crown Street, one driver had to be carried into a shop bleeding profusely.

On reaching Northgate, a "perfect pandemonium prevailed". The road was blocked by thousands of people The paper said:"One man was dragged from his seat on the wagon and was being roughly handled but the police came to his aid with a rush."

The police leader realised he had no chance of getting the parcels safely delivered to High Row and Skinnergate - especially as now there were only three of the ten drivers remaining - and so turned the convoy around and headed back to the depot.

With such extraordinary scenes happening right outside its window, it is little wonder that The Northern Echo did not bother too greatly with the opening of Middleton St George School.

If you have any memories of Middleton St George that you would like to share, please write to: Echo Memories, The Northern Echo, Priestgate, Darlington, DL1 1NF, email chris.lloyd

Published: 05/03/2003

Echo Memories, The Northern Echo, Priestgate, Darlington DL1 1NF, e-mail or telephone (01325) 505062.