THE many Hear All Sides correspondents who presently suppose Darlington Council to be a) clueless b) obdurate c) undemocratic or d) barking mad may like to reflect upon municipal events of exactly 100 years ago.

Serendipitously, as always, we came across a report while looking for something else entirely of the way that the council appointed schools staff in the autumn of 1905.

Beneath the headlines "Stopped at D" and "Novel way of selecting teachers" - the sub-editor deserved a bonus for both acuity and brevity - we told how a Mr Dixon had been recommended for appointment as head of the "chemical department" at Darlington Technical College.

The chemical reaction proved highly combustible. D was for dunce, and for disingenuity.

Dixon, a local man with many friends in the town, was among 30 applicants for the post, each of whom submitted testimonials.

They had been considered by an education sub-committee whose secretary, Mr Coffin, had been instructed to list the names in alphabetical order so that they could be "read". Dixon was tenth and when they reached him, they stopped.

Tenth out of ten, he was recommended for the job.

The education committee then met, duly and indignantly. Mr Coffin, deadpan doubtless, said that he had been instructed to read all the names but was stopped when he reached D.

How many testimonials had been read, he was asked. None, said poor Coffin.

Alderman Barron - bulldogs, these Barrons - said that he could not imagine a more disastrous procedure. Ald Widdowfield said it was grossly unfair to all the other candidates.

"It must not be a question of a local man," he said. "It must be a question of the best man before them, regardless of name, locality or friendships."

The sub-committee was asked to reconsider, though whether Dixon eventually got the job is unknown. Name, locality or friendship have, of course, long since been irrelevant in local government appointments.

THAT same day's paper in November 1905 reported that Coun JG Harbottle had been elected unopposed in Darlington's east ward and had held a public meeting to mark the collective card.

The main cause for concern, we noted, was the proposal to build barracks in Darlington. It wasn't that he was against the idea, he insisted, just that the town had no suitable land.

"It isn't our duty as a municipality to be a land agent for the War Office," he added.

The councillor was also anxious to stress that he had nothing against "Tommy". If the War Office chose a site near Darlington, he said, they must do their duty to treat him as well as possible.

Today it would be called Nimbyism; Rudyard Kipling had put it rather more eloquently in 1892:

For it's Tommy this, and Tommy that,

And "Chuck him out, the brute",

But it's "Saviour of his country"

When the guns begin to shoot.

When was it that Catterick Camp opened, anyway?

DARLINGTON Council incompetent? Following the bus route reorganisation a few weeks back, we noted that the new stop outside the Nags Head served about 16 routes and hadn't a single shelter.

A shelter has now appeared. Without risk of accusations of indecent assault, it may be possible for about six intending passengers to be covered by it.

Thus when the taps were turned on last week, at least twice as many of us were thoroughly and miserably soaked long before the bus arrived.

Is this how the council woos people back onto the buses? Or is this why, as last week in County Durham, so many services are being cut back because of a supposed lack of demand?

FOLLOWING his licensing as priest-in-charge of St Gabriel's, Sunderland, the Rev John McManners - featured in last week's At Your Service column - announced that he was "whelmed".

Neither "over" nor "under", just whelmed.

Whether it is possible simply to be whelmed is among many questions posed over the years in The Guardian's splendidly quirky Notes and Queries column.

Some - like how Billy the Kid died, or who was Gordon Bennett or how the Garibaldi biscuit got its name - have coincidentally also featured in Gadfly. Others might otherwise never have been considered. Is it true that women can do more things at the same time than men? - "No," someone replied, "but they're expected to" - did Adam and Eve have navels, what's the oldest trick in the book?

"Send me £200," replied a correspondent, "and I'll tell you."

Though still in the dictionary, "whelmed" is one of those words which seems to have fallen off the edge of everyday language.

A Guardian reader in Brampton, Cumbria, insisted that being whelmed remained perfectly possible - "just as it possible to be gormful, to turn up to work perfectly shevelled, perform feckfully while being ruthful to competitors and finally drive home reckfully at the end of a hapful day to enjoy some absolutely gusting food."

l Notes and Queries have been collected into two anthologies, subtitled "People" and "Places", each £9.99 from Guardian Books.

THE "Places" volume wonders which town or city in Britain has most pubs per head of population. There were two local contenders.

In 1856, wrote our old friend Willis Collinson from Durham, Newcastle upon Tyne had 446 public houses and "beer houses" for a population of 87,748 - around one every 200 people.

In 1994, claimed another correspondent, the talk at Thirsk Racecourse transit camp was that there were 48 pubs around the town square. Harry Whitton, bless him, would have known for certain. Others may.

The improbable record holder may have been now-tranquil Middleton Tyas, near Scotch Corner, which in more boisterous 19th century copper mining days appeared to have a beer house for every boozer. Sadly, only two remain.

STILL knowing its place, the column suggested earlier this year that southern village names seemed somehow quainter and more rustic. Proof comes in this week's Church Times. In the diocese of Bath and Wells, the Rev Paul Reynolds has been appointed Rector of Beercrocombe with Curry Mallet, Hatch Beauchamp, Orchard Portman, Staple Fitzpaine, and Stoke St Mary with Thurlbear and West Hatch.

RECENT columns, of course, have invited readers to combine North-East place names with well known characters, real or fictional, and to suggest the characteristics of the new location.

Additions to the collection include John Prescottingham ("where they have neighbours from Hull"), Romaldkirk Douglas ("a star attraction"), Burton Leonard Hutton ("stylish"), Catterick Stein ("where the food's terrific") and - with an eye on the former railway junction near Great Ayton - Les Battersby.

"Where there's a French connection."