One hundred and fifty years ago, Darlington's Woodland Road was just a country lane with a stream running down the middle of it.

There was Holy Trinity Church, built in 1836 high above the carriageway; opposite, down a shady, tree-lined lane, was West Lodge, built in the late 18th Century.

Beyond the church, where the track forked, was another mansion, called Woodlands, which had been built about 1829. Further up, on the right-hand side, was Pierremont, the most impressive of all mansions, which had been built in the early 1830s.

But that, apart from Barlow's farmhouse, was that until you reached Cockerton Bridge. Just paddocks and fields behind thorn hedges. And there was water. Lots of it.

A stream ran down the road from Woodlands to Greenbank.

Further up, at Traffic Valley, where Jimmy Barlow had his farmhouse, it was much worse. Another stream wiggled its way from Boyes Hill (the rise at the Carmel Road end of Milbank Road) across Jimmy's farmland and over Woodland Road, towards Pierremont. On rainy days, Traffic Valley was a swamp.

"So bad was it that, at times, cattle would get bogged down by the roadside and, to make matters worse, town manure used to be dumped here and left for the farmers to cart away at their leisure," remembered CP Nicholson in his book Those Boys O'Bondgate.

But, in the late 1850s and early1860s, the rural era of Woodland Road came to a close. A line of mini-mansions sprung up on the right-hand side opposite the church, from Fairfield House (now George Dent school) up to Rose Lea (now called Hollyhurst).

Pierremont mansion grew bigger as its owner, Henry Pease, grew richer, and new villas appeared in Carmel Road. The borough of Bondgate was joining up with the township of Cockerton.

On April 6, 1858, Jimmy Barlow died. His will stipulated that his farmland estate should be maintained for his wife, Ann, and his six children - John, Mary, Elizabeth, James, Isabella and Margaret - until Ann died. Then, he said, the fields should be auctioned off and the proceeds split equally between the six siblings.

But something went wrong. We can only speculate at what, but in early 1862 a case came before the Vice-Chancellor, Sir John Stuart, in the High Court of Chancery, in London.

He was asked to decide the fate of the farm in the parish of Darlington which was now "in the occupation of Thomas Tutin", the husband of Jimmy Barlow's eldest daughter Mary.

How Thomas came to be occupying the farm we shall probably never know. Had Mary and her husband moved in to care for her widowed, aged mother when no one else in the family would? We know, for instance, that although Margaret, the youngest daughter, had an infant child by her husband, Thomas Crofton Ridley, she was living in Belmont, in the US, under the name of Margaret Fairbanks - clearly in no position to look after an ailing mother.

Or had avaricious Tutin seen the potential of the estate and seized the lands in a ruthless bid to make money? It may never become clear, but we know that on Friday, June 13, 1862, Sir John Stuart ordered that the farm should be divided into 43 lots and sold by auction, as the late Jimmy Barlow had said in his will.

And we know that on June 4, 1863, "with the approbation of the Judge to whose Court the said matter is attached", the 43 lots came under the hammer of Thomas Watson at the Sun Inn, on the corner of Prospect Place and Northgate, Darlington, at precisely four o'clock in the afternoon.

The sale catalogue says: "This estate consists of 18 acres or thereabouts of valuable freehold land, situate within one mile of the flourishing town of Darlington, and adjoining the High Road leading from that town to the town of Staindrop, and is admirably suited for building purposes, especially for villa and private residences, which are much required in the neighbourhood, and in every respect is well worthy the attention of capitalists."

The villas were even planned out for the capitalists along a new road that would be called Pierremont Crescent, and which arced gracefully from Woodland Road to a public footpath that would later become known as Milbank Road.

But something again went wrong. Only Lots 16 and 24 were sold.

Lot 16 was on the corner of the proposed Pierremont Crescent and the putative Milbank Road, and Lot 24 adjoined the Woodlands estate of Sir Joseph Whitwell Pease who seems to have bought it to protect himself from being overlooked by the new houses.

Again, there can only be conjecture about what put the capitalists off. But there is a line in the sale catalogue that says each lot is "now in the occupation of the said Thomas Tutin".

Were Thomas and Mary still clinging illegally to what they believed was their inheritance? The estate of the deceased James Barlow was again presented to the market at 4pm precisely at the Sun Inn on July 26, 1864 - the following year. There were now 45 lots, although acreage of the estate was down to eight.

The sale catalogue again states that it is "well worthy the attention of capitalists", and it again lays the lots out along the gracefully arcing Pierremont Crescent, although this time the new streets of Barlow Street, Woodlands Terrace and Pierremont Terrace have been drawn in.

And, perhaps crucially, it also notes that the property was "late in the occupation of the said Thomas Tutin". The Tutins have, in fact, disappeared from the face of Darlington. Quite what happened to them we shall probably never know, but this time the capitalists filled their boots.

Every lot sold, and within a couple of years Pierremont Crescent, Barlow Street and Woodlands Terrace had been built, their foundations concreting over the fall-out in the Barlow family forever.

BEFORE the Barlow estate was offered for auction for the first time, in 1863, Henry Pease of Pierremont (the youngest son of Edward "father of the railways" Pease) had waded in and bought the boggiest field which faced on to Woodland Road.

Before the estate came to the market for a second time, in 1864, he waded in again and negotiated the purchase of another four large lots of land. In the 1870s, he set about developing his new acquisitions into Pierremont South Park which, although it was across Woodland Road from his mansion, he could see from his windows.

Vera Chapman, in her book Rural Darlington, describes how Henry made full use of the natural water features in his new park: "From nurseries in Edinburgh came hardwoods and conifers, fruit trees, bulbs and roses. There was a kitchen garden, with greenhouses and glasshouses, a semi-circle of espaliers and a rose-arcaded promenade.

"An ornamental lake was set with masses of rock, an island grotto, boat cave and waterfall, and it was lit by gas lamps in the winter for skaters.

"The handsome fountain, 20ft high, with 21 jets and a main basin surrounded by 12 specially designed vases on pillars, was edged with semi-circular flowerbeds. The park entrance on Woodland Road was laid with mosaic tiles, and had a desk and visitors' book with names from all part of Britain and abroad; it was open to all who wished to come."

The fountain, "the Pierremont Vase", now looks rather sad in South Park. The gardener's house and stable block is now beneath the petrol-filling station on Woodland Road. The rest of Pierremont South Park is now beneath the houses of Pierremont Gardens.

IN between the two sales of the Barlow estate, someone else waded in and privately negotiated the purchase of some of the land that had failed to attract the capitalists.

He was James Barlow, second son of the late Jimmy Barlow. For £795, he bought 7,950 square yards of land which fronted Woodland Road. These were Lots 25 to 30 in the first sale.

To help him financially, on December 26, 1863, he secured a £500 loan at five per cent annual interest from Elizabeth Todd, a widow of High Street, Stockton, who is listed among the "gentry, clergy etc" in street directories of the time.

On June 18, 1866, James paid Elizabeth back with the proceeds from the sale of 5,265 sq yd of the land for £658 to Matthew Armitage.

Matthew Armitage was a joiner, cabinet-maker and builder of 98 Bondgate, and it seems to have been he who built the impressive Cliffe Terrace, which still stands on the land slightly above Woodland Road.

There are five houses in Cliffe Terrace, one of which is owned by John and Barbara Squires.

They very kindly lent Echo Memories the handwritten deeds to their property out of which the above story has tumbled.

In 1875, Matthew Armitage sold John and Barbara's house to William Hodgson, a butcher from Hartlepool.

Mr Hodgson owned it for 20 years, but never lived in it. Instead, a succession of single women occupied it but, tantalisingly, their relations to, or with, the butcher have been lost in the mists of time.

However, with the proceeds of the 1875 sale, Matthew Armitage was able to pay the £800 he had borrowed from Ann Allan - and here an even more intriguing story tumbles out of the deeds.

Miss Allan was an ancient spinster who lived in eccentric isolation and died the most gruesome death. But all that will have to wait until next week.

THE late Jimmy Barlow's farmhouse stood on the corner of Pierremont Crescent and Woodland Road. It survived the auctions and the developments of the 1860s, only to be demolished in the 1890s. A late-Victorian house stands on the site.

IF you can answer any of the riddles in this week's Echo Memories, or have any further information, please write to Echo Memories, The Northern Echo, Priestgate, Darlington, DL1 1NF, email or telephone (01325) 505062.

Published: 06/02/2002