WHEN Ruth and Ray Blundell moved into their new house in Cockerton in December, they felt as if they had come home.

They had -to a "haven for homeless girls", a home for orphans.

Their house is the one that sits sideways on to Woodland Road, just over the Cocker Beck and next to where Drovers petrol station used to be.

This was, originally, Brookfield House on the edge of Henry Pease's Pierremont estate. Henry's head gardener lived there.

Henry, brother of Joseph, whose statue adorns High Row, and son of Edward, "Father of the Railways", owned the Pease woollen mills in Darlington.

As he prospered, so he built Pierremont into "the Buckingham Palace of the North". (Regular readers will remember that the Stooperdale offices, featured here last week, were regarded as "Darlington's own Buckingham Palace" when they were built in 1911). Henry's private life was not so content. His first wife died in 1835, after four years of marriage, and it was not until 1859, when he was 55, that he was able to replace her.

His second wife was Mary Lloyd, from Birmingham, who was 22. The big age difference caused comment and consternation in Quaker circles.

Mary bore Henry five children and had a young nurse, Jane Kerr, come over from Armagh, Ireland, to help her look after them. When Mary's children had outgrown the need for a nurse, Mary set about finding Jane a new job.

Mary had many social concerns in Darlington. She was a Guardian of the Poor and a regular visitor to the workhouse in Yarm Road. She was particularly interested in a new policy at the workhouse of removing young children to a less grim abode. So she hit upon the idea of opening an orphanage which Jane could run. She badgered her husband into finding a house and he decided to move his head gardener out of Brookfield House.

With its long garden down to the beck and its potential for extension, it was an ideal place for children to grow up. (The houses in Deneside now occupy the garden).

The orphanage opened in 1874 with five girls - "all cases of sorrow" - and Jane Kerr as matron.

It was soon extended - the bargeboards at the top of the house facing on to Woodland Road are the result of this extension - to accommodate 12 girls.

The 1881 Census tells us that the girls, aged five to 16, came from far and wide. Four were from Darlington and one each from Gainford, Melsonby and Evenwood. But Alice Green came from Leeds, Annie Anderson from Surrey, and six-year-old Elizabeth Jenkins from Holborn, London.

Quite how the orphans were selected we don't know, but we do know that they attended the village school and found work as governesses, teachers or maids. We know Mary Pease kept a close eye on them, making clothes for them and nursing them.

When one of the orphans died, Mary wrote a poem called The Golden Gate: She lay on her little pallet, In the small and lowly room, On her sweet face the hue of death Which told of her early doom.

All through the night they had watched her, Until the morning grey, When with a parting kiss, she said: "I'm going home today.

"My mother," she said, "I see her stand With a happy smiling air, And two angels are there on either hand, And the Golden Gate is there."

And with a smile of ecstatic joy, That no earthly bliss could raise, She passed away without a sigh, To the Blessed Land of Praise.

In 1895, Miss Kerr, aged 54, seems to have retired as matron, and the orphanage closed. She remained in the house, now called Brookfield again, for a year before disappearing from the records.

Mary Pease's husband, Henry, died in 1881 and, because of her comparative youth, she outlived him by 28 years, dying in Pierremont in 1909.

"By her demise one of the last of the old guard of the Pease family has been removed from our midst," lamented the Darlington and Stockton Times.

It was right. Mary was the last of the generation that had been there at the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825, and the last of the generation that routinely performed unsung good works.

She was also the last of the generation that could afford to live in mansions like Pierremont.

Immediately after her death, the estate was sold and surburban streets such as Pierremont Crescent and Pierremont Gardens began to creep over the land.

The house in Cockerton remained Brookfield until 1987 when it was renamed The Orphanage.

Now Ruth and Ray Blundell are looking for any history, information or old photographs of the house or any of its former occupants.

Please contact them via Echo Memories.

Write to: Echo Memories, The Northern Echo, Priestgate, Darlington, DL1 1NF, email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk or telephone (01325)505062.

Published: 30/01/2002