NEWTON Cap is famed for its two bridges - the low, ancient one and the tall, railway one. But for most of the last century there was a third bridge at Newton Cap.

It was built just after 1900, around the River Wear from Bishop Skirlaw's bridge of 1400 and the old railway viaduct of 1857.

It was a footbridge thrown across the Wear on a couple of wires that had been designed to pull a pit cage up and down.

It meant that miners who lived in Escomb could get to the Toronto pit at the top of Newton Cap without having to follow the wobbly Wear around to the Skirlaw Bridge.

The footbridge was built by the Toronto pit's resident blacksmith, Robert Craggs.

He was born at West Hoppyland, near Hamsterley, the son of a farm labourer. He served his apprenticeship as a blacksmith at Raisby Hill Limestone Quarries, Coxhoe, before marrying Margaret May, of West Cornforth, in the early 1880s.

Margaret's family disapproved of her marriage to a lowly blacksmith.

Her uncle Jonas was a well-known fire and brimstone preacher, and her father, Thomas, owned a number of small pits at Metal Bridge, Escomb, Cockfield Fell and Woodhouse.

Soon after the marriage, Robert and Margaret went to live in York, Robert working on maintenance in the Clifton Mental Hospital.

In the late 1890s, something drew them back to Bishop Auckland, and Robert ended up as landlord of the Edinburgh Castle Hotel, in Bondgate - near where the Bay Horse is today.

Then, around the turn of the century, he became blacksmith at Toronto pit, and with his young family of two sons moved into a pit house at No 6, Institute Terrace, Toronto. There a third child, Ethel, was born in 1903.

As pit blacksmith, Robert was responsible for the cage and shaft, for repairing equipment and for shoeing the pit ponies. He also built the third Newton Cap bridge.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, the German workers and engineers who had been building the patent coke ovens at the pit were taken away and interned - horse-drawn taxis apparently turned up and carted them off. It fell to Robert to finish the job.

He died on August 14, 1917, of pneumonia.

"Ethel's last memory of her father was of him writhing in agony on the floor in front of the kitchen fire," says his granddaughter, Margaret Bond, who is Ethel's daughter.

His sons, Thomas and Jonas, were summoned from the front at the Somme, but arrived home the day after their father's funeral.

Margaret, his wife, and 14-year-old Ethel, were then ejected from their home in Institute Terrace because they no longer had colliery connections. They went to live in Bishop Auckland.

The boys returned to the front. Thomas won a Distinguished Conduct Medal when he took command of his Durham Light Infantry company after all the officers became casualties. He died in 1941, a year after his mother.

Jonas was wounded in the leg and captured. He seems then to have been shot dead while a prisoner of war.

The family received official notification of his death in August 1919 - the letter was addressed to Robert, who had by then been dead two years.

Ethel died in 1982. Her daughter, Margaret, now lives in Darlington.

Which leaves Robert's bridge. Toronto coalmine does not seem to have reopened after the 1926 General Strike, although in 1937 the workings started again to win fireclay.

Robert's bridge seems to have fallen into disrepair around this time, and it was probably dismantled during the Second World War.

Its foundations on the Escomb side were washed away in a flood in 1988, although there is still evidence of the existence of the third Newton Cap bridge on the Toronto side.

* There is a footpath from Escomb to Newton Cap on the south side of the Wear.

It is a delightful walk, if rather boggy in places. There are some colourful attractions - when Echo Memories visited at the weekend, a kingfisher flashed down the river, and there is a footbridge over the most vivid orange stream imaginable, which presumably runs through what was Escomb's old ironstone mine.