THIS week, I have been conjuring with a carillon.

A carillon is a giant church music box. It has a large drum – a tune barrel – with pegs sticking out of it. As the drum turns, the pegs pluck wires which stretch up into the church steeple where they are attached to little hammers which bash on the church bells to play a little tune every hour.

Or, at least, that’s theory.

There was a carillon craze in the late 18th Century, starting in Holland and Belgium where towns competed against each other to have the most fancy carillon. St Cuthbert’s Church in Darlington caught on, and installed its first carillon in 1774.

But it was so complicated that it soon fell silent. In fact, like most carillons across the country, it was silent for much of the 19th Century.

As the century neared its end, there was a second great carillon craze – even though a blacksmith had his arm crushed by a tune barrel he was installing in a Huddersfield steeple. They amputated his arm, but infection set in and he died a week later, killed by a carillon.

St Cuthbert’s couldn’t get its old carillon working, so in 1907 the Backhouse family of bankers donated a new one in memory of Edmund, Darlington’s first MP. It had seven hymns – one for each day of the week – which it played every four hours when triggered by the church clock.

Bit was little better than the old one, and soon fell silent. It was repaired in the 1920s, but again fell silent; it was refurbished in the early 1950s and it was recorded before it once more fell silent. It was last heard in about 1970, but it missed so many notes that the carillon had become a campanological cacophony, and it was turned off for good.

Digging around in Darlington library, though, I found a 78rpm vinyl record of the 1953 recording. An appeal in the paper last Saturday brought forward Bobb and Gill Wooten who had a portable 78rpm turntable in their attic, and last night at St Cuthbert’s, the carillon was heard for the first time in many decades.

It was appropriate, because it was the start of a £30,000 campaign to restore the church clock. With the carillon’s bells chiming once more, it was the launch of a true ap-peal.

Are there any other carillons in the area, either working or non-working?

NOW that the section of the A1(M) just south of Scotch Corner has had its 50mph average speed limit lifted after three years, a new identical limit has been imposed on the road to the north of Scotch Corner.

This at least has enabled me to master the cruise control on my new car, and this week I spotted that the workmen were digging out huge quantities of Danish Scurvy Grass, my favourite weed, as they replaced the central fences. Danish Scurvy Grass is the fastest spreading plant of the last 50 years. It started on the coast but suddenly took a liking to the salty strips beside our post-winter roads and so its tiny off-white blooms can be seen on every verge.

And then, after scurvy-spotting, I noticed a portable toilet in the middle of the roadworks. Workmen have to relieve themselves, but in case any prudish drivers crawled by at 50mph, the authorities had put a large sign with capital letters announcing that it was a “welfare station” – a bog, as we used to say in the playground.