IN the dear-gone days when public meetings helped formulate journalistic bread and butter, two words from the Bumper Book of Adjectives were considered indispensable. One was “packed”, the other “stormy”.

The latest meeting called to save the bridge at Witton Park ticked only the former box (though the weather wasn’t very clever, either.)

Witton Park’s by the River Wear near Bishop Auckland, much water beneath that endangered bridge since the 1960s when the village became the fervent fulcrum of the campaign against Durham County Council’s loathed – and ultimately jettisoned – Category D policy.

Now Witton Parkers were again called to arms, every lamppost plastered with an injunction to SOB – an acronym, of course, for Save Our Bridge.

There may not have been such excitement since the royal train spent the night in the sidings out the back and the Queen Mother waved to the folks as she left.

The village hall thronged, though only Rob Yorke and Heather Smith, two of nine invited councillors – the bridge forms a sort of electoral meeting of the waters – turned out.

Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman was there, too, blamed southerners and central government, elliptically suggested that what they needed was a better bus service.

The call always seems curious. On the 5.20 up from Bishop – the suffix VE denoting not some great military victory but “via Escomb” – there’d been just one other passenger (and probably with a bus pass, too.)

The meeting began at 6.30pm, more buckets than the Great Flood lest anyone cared to offer a little financial support, too.

By 6.45pm Brian Buckley from the county council – nice shoes, Brian – had confounded the doomsayers, announced that he’d “identified” £2.5m funding for a bridge capable of bearing all but the heaviest loads, that he’d be recommending the scheme’s approval, but that it would be then down to the politicians.

Councillors Smith and Yorke barely disguised beams. Mr Buckley could be pushing at an open county hall door.

Appeased, mollified, the village might at that point have gone home to watch Coronation Street, the only commotion when someone from Witton-le-Wear – said to be “a horse and cart village” on the river’s opposite bank – claimed they had problems with boy racers from Witton Park.

Clearly none believed there to be boy racers in Witton Park, not even the young lady with purple hair, though one or two of the older generation might of late have qualified.

Someone also complained that too much county council money was being spent on Durham City, a recurring theme, to the detriment of the villages. A lady in Lycra said that she and her husband cycled daily to work from Toft Hill to Durham and that the year-long bridge closure was particularly inconvenient.

Thereafter, truth to tell, the column’s attention rather strayed in trying to work out their route to the office though Nick Brown, the meeting chairman, said there’d be another County Hall demonstration. “They seem to regard us as ravening hordes, security and everything. We’re mainly pensioners,” he said.

Still, it was all pretty pacific – just one “disgusting” and not a single “devastating” or “damned disgraceful”. Perhaps no longer a bridge over troubled water, and barely a Category- D-word all night.

ON one front sensing victory, Witton Park may soon have another battle on its hands. St Paul’s parish church faces an uncertain future.

“I am aware that there are concerns about its long-term sustainability. There’s a meeting in the diary, there will be discussions,” says the Ven Rick Simpson, the Archdeacon of Auckland.

Probably the last time the column was in St Paul’s was in 1998 for the funeral of the Rev Nick Beddow, for 17 years the wonderfully charismatic Vicar of Escomb and Witton Park and for much of that time the Voracious Vicar in the Eating Owt column.

The Northern Echo:

Nick, just 50 when he lost a long fight with multiple sclerosis, was the most tenacious of trenchermen. His obituarist observed that, though the truest of Christians, he was given to suspending standing orders – “usually the one about not coveting thy neighbour’s pork fillet and, thereafter, half-inching it.”

He fought vigorously for his communities and for his corner, the Durham diocesan newspaper on one occasion observing that some or other set of proposals had met general approval. “Even the Rev Nick Beddow voiced his support,” the report added.

Five bishops helped throng St Paul’s that bleak February day 21 years ago. Michael Turnbull, the Bishop of Durham, described Nick’s ministry as “close to genius”. He was pretty close to the truth.

SIR Peter Soulsby, elected Mayor of Leicester and a former city MP and council leader, has been an interested observer of recent events in Witton Park. He has a second home in the village.

“I know that he absolutely loves it there,” says a city council spokeswoman in Sir Peter’s absence.

Wikipedia gives Sir Peter’s birthplace as Bishop Auckland, though his education was in London. He is a senior figure in the Unitarian Church, is said to have navigated almost all of England’s canals, but may most popularly be remembered for the events of Christmas Day 2017.

That was the day, of all good days, that a passing motorist spotted a homeless man at a Leicester bus stop and pulled over to offer him blankets, clothing and food. Deaf to protests that there was no public transport on Christmas Day, the council fined him £70 for stopping at a bus layby.

The mayor overturned it. “It’s quite clear that he was a Good Samaritan,” he said.

ROB Yorke recalls that Ben Spoor, Bishop Auckland’s first Labour MP and a future government minister and Chief Whip, was another Witton Park lad and (of course) proud of it.

A plumber’s son and Primitive Methodist local preacher, he contracted malaria while in Salonika during the Great War, became an MP in 1918, but suffered ill health and other problems thereafter.

In 1927 he was fined £2 for drink driving and the following year was found dead, aged just 50. A cause of death was given as chronic alcoholism.

HALF of Witton Park – half of old Witton Park, anyway – turned out at Bishop Auckland Methodist church for Gavin Belton’s foot-tapping funeral. As last week’s column noted, he’d been a Tees Valley Jazzman for 50 years.

Others of the family became the Beltones, originally the Blue Crew skiffle group – “won Consett Show,” it was recalled – and, a bit more sedately, still perform.

The young Gavin had been taken to pub gigs by his father though dad – “a teetotal Methodist,” said the Rev John Purdy – waited for him outside.

With vocals from Sue Kibby – some singer – the Jazzmen played Gavin out to Just a Closer Walk With God and What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

Norma, Gavin’s partner for the past 19 years, is organising a memorial gig for Methodist church funds. The band, happily, will play on.