SHILDON Wagon Works, known thereabouts as the Shops, closed 35 years ago with the loss of 2,500 jobs and the sound of breaking eggs, all in the same basket.

You either worked at the Shops or down the pit, it was said, and by 1984 the pits had long since collapsed, exhausted,

A meeting at the town’s football club last week unfurled an appeal to raise £7,000 to restore the century-old NUR banner which, vainly, had led the protests.

Had it been a Durham colliery banner, money would (rightly) have been thrown at the job, The Shildon lads have had £1,000 from the RMT, a lot of rejections – “chasing white rabbits down dark holes,” someone said – and must now go on-line cap in hand.

“It’s time to turn the town’s pride dial up a bit,” said Gerald Slack, leading the appeal. “We don’t just want scraps from the table.”

Railway engineering in Shildon began around 1825, the year of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, the bicentenary approaching without even the benefit of a bloke with a red flag to warn of its imminent arrival.

The extent to which the Works worked depended, according to folklore, on whether it was hammer-and-tongs day shift or, more somnolently, nights.

What’s not doubted is that the Shops boys turned out more wagon trains than Wells Fargo.

The National Railway Museum gave two banners to the Auckland Railways Group, of which Gerald is secretary, in 2016. The newer one’s by no means unimpressive but sow’s ear to silken purse in comparison to its forbear.

“It’s been affected by the ravages of time, not a pretty sight,” said Gerald.

He spoke enthusiastically, always talked of the banners as “she”, had been talking to a company which has restored banners for the royal household. “They say things a lot worse than this have been restored,” he insisted. “Maybe I’m getting sentimental, but I think there’s something special about these banners. They represent the spirit of the collective workforce.”

The original banner had hand-painted images of the works on one side, symbols of socialism on the other. It’s hoped that it will go on permanent display in the town.

Donations can be made on-line at -appeal.

COINCIDENTALLY, the Weardale Railway newsletter, Between the Lines, reports that it’s exactly 50 years since Bishop Auckland won a somewhat improbable best kept station award. “Although the gas-lit station was not adorned by flower beds and had not received a coat of paint for some time, the judges deemed it to be one of the cleanest and tidiest in the region.”

FIFTY years ago last Sunday, on Monday, March 3, 1969, the last train ran on the branch line from Darlington to Richmond.

Richmond railway station is wondrously restored – cinema, art gallery, café, much else – and is also home to the Richmond Brewing Company. We raised a glass of Station Ale in affectionate, misty-eyed memory.

The line opened in 1846, the station – said by railway historian David Joy to have style, panache and “exquisite barge boards” – seven months later.

Imagined extensions abounded – “absurdly ambitious,” wrote Michael Blakemore, another historian. Seeking to exploit lead mining in Swaledale, they included lines westwards to Reeth and even to Muker, but also a line to Hellifield and back.

The branch prospered, nonetheless, not least on the occasion of Richmond’s Whit Sunday cycle meet when special trains would decant from Saltburn, Middlesbrough and Bishop Auckland and never more than in 1927 when more than 16,000 passengers booked LNER specials to Richmond and Leyburn in the hope of seeing Britain’s first total eclipse of the sun since 1724. The clouds never lifted.

A little exhibition records personal memories, a loop film plays against a background of suitably elegiac music. The cinema’s showing The Aftermath.

Since we wouldn’t know a barge board from a bumble bee, it is not possible to record if they remain, and whether or not they’re exquisite.

The lady of the house nonetheless recalled a visit with the boys, about 25 years ago, when a piece I’d written about the last train was still framed on the station wall. “They thought it was very funny. You were a museum piece even then,” she said.

Even that’s gone. Sic transit gloria mundi, as probably they said of the dear old branch line to Richmond.


CLUED-UP as always, last week’s column unravelled a murder mystery night at the Old Swan Hotel – formerly the Hydropathic – in Harrogate.

Four years before vanished crime writer Agatha Christie added mystery of her own, the Hydropathic was among dozens of Harrogate hotels taking advertising space in Bradshaw’s 1922 Railway Guide – “extensive pleasure grounds, electric light throughout, full suite of baths including Turkish and electric.”

It was an age when hotels appeared truly grand, with or without a capital, when terms were usually “moderate” and when clues much might be gleaned from the telegraphic address.

The Prince of Wales was “Elegance, Harrogate”. The North Eastern, a little more modestly, was “Comfort, Darlington”. The West Cliff, optimistically, was simply “Sunshine, Whitby”.

The Majestic in Harrogate took a little longer to stake its claim – “the finest spa hotel in the world.”

Just one murder mystery remains: what on earth was an electric bath?

THE same piece reported a little pre-prandial competition to marry off improbable partners. The winner paired the actress Whoopi Goldberg with Peter Cushing, making her Whoopi Cushing, though it now seems to have been an inside job.

“It was in Private Eye quite recently,” says Eric Gendle in Middlesbrough, and sends two further examples from that gnomic publication.

If Isla St Clair married the snooker player Jimmy White, divorced him and married the singer Brian Ferry, she’d be (it’s supposed) Isle White Ferry – and if 70s actress Wanda Ventham had married Emlyn Hughes, divorced him and married Henry Kissinger she’d be Wanda Hughes Kissinger now.

MILITARY intelligence was one supposed an oxymoron. Now it’s greatly sophisticated, as we learned from a talk by Army reserve corporal Martin Finn – probably known as Mickey – at the Age UK men’s breakfast in Durham.

The most obvious example of higher intelligence was that he made no attempt at recruitment. Grandads’ army is redundant.

ANOTHER example of advancing years, the periodic Tyne Tees Television reunion to which the column is customarily invited spent much of the time comparing sick notes, from hip replacement to hyperventilation.

Even top mountaineer Alan Hinkes, another regular guest, has been laid low in recent weeks by shingles – a particularly painful affliction, they reckon.

Alan, who lives near Barnard Castle and was appointed OBE for services to the sport, is now resuming an upward trajectory. “Before that,” he says, “I was just going up the wall.”