Saturday 2 March 2013

Witton le Wear to Crook - a walk in Durham pt3

No, I've not made a mistake, this is part 3 - the sideways move into one particular ancestor from this neck of the woods, James Nutley yesterday, doesn't count!

For the last few days, inspired by a photo  of a gravestone found on an old backup disk, I've been retracing a walk the OH and I did in 2003.  It combined our two favorite things, family history for me and pubs for him (well, OK I'm not adverse to a few beers myself and the sit down is always welcome, even more so these days). 

We had reached Witton le Wear, found a gravestone, had a beer and now it's time for the homewards stretch.
The map of the walk, red stars outward, green stars back (map from Bing Maps)
Not wanting to go back on ourselves we had decided to walk along the road out of Witton le Wear to the east until we hit the footpath going back to Howden le Wear.  It was nice and level but not much to see except trees and no footpath on most of the narrow road.  We passed a sign for a nature reserve, which was unfortunately invisible from the road, but the rest was fairly tedious, so I expect I was really glad to see the sign for Engineman's Terrace and Railway Cottages, the second green star on the map above.  This was where we turned north and returned to the footpaths.
Map of the Howden le Wear area from a 1960s Ordnance Survey map
Compare the map section above, from the 1960s, to the one I marked the walk on ... just where that second green star is there was a railway junction, the line that still exists as the Weardale Railway curves around to the west, but another line used to go straight up, connecting Howden and Crook with Bishop Auckland.  The blobs on the right of the line are the North Beechburn Colliery that I mentioned in the first post of this series, there is a handy row of houses just on the other side of the cutting.

When we were in Beamish at the beginning of this holiday I had taken a photo of a timetable for a railway excursion.
Excursion Timetable - Weardale to Saltburn by the Sea 1913 (on Beamish Station in 2003)
I can only think I must have spotted that it mentioned Crook and knowing we were going there the next day couldn't resist.  It shows that the travelling time from Crook to Bishop Auckand was 27 minutes, with stops at Beechburn, Wear Valley Junction and Etherley.  My grandad, who was born in Crook, used to go to the Boy's Grammar School in Bishop Auckland - I suppose he must have caught the train every day.  Imagine being able to go all the way to Saltburn by the Sea (and back) for just 1/9 (that's one shilling and nine old pence, equal to 8p in new money, but equivalent to about £3.77 in today according to the National Archives Currency Converter).  Looking on National Rail Enquiries it would cost £10.30 return for the journey from Bishop Auckland to Saltburn today, not that much I suppose for a trip to the seaside. 

Historic money comparison is a funny thing - you really need to compare value rather than actual figures - so what proportion of someone's wage would 1/9 have been in 1913 for example? The average weekly wage in 1913 was £1 7s (one pound and seven shillings) or thereabouts and there were 20 shillings in a pound so 1/9 was about 6% of the average wage.  The average wage in 2010 was £452 a week, so £10.30 is just over 2% meaning that looks like the fare is cheaper now!  However remember that the cost of living was much less in those days - a fraction of what it is now - so actually money was sort of worth more - meaning a different comparison makes the train fare in 1913 much, much cheaper than today.  [Figures from the Measuring Worth website.] 

The promised Railway Cottages did look just like something you would expect to find by the side of a railway line, low with decorative chimmeys.  We turned up the footpath expecting to see some sign of the old railway line, but the footpath just went across the preserved railway and continued on the flat for as far as we could see.  Engineman's Terrace was a long row, of fifteen or so houses, less decorative so maybe more recent than Railway Cottages.  They are now a bit stranded at the end of a lane, but I suppose once they would have been very busy, built for the men who worked at the junction and the engine sheds there.  I wonder if I had any ancestors who worked on the railways in the area?

It seems that the line was closed - Beeching? - in 1965 and the track lifted a couple of years later.  They even filled in the cuttings!  There are some pictures on the Disused Stations website for Crook, Beechburn and Wear Valley Junction.

Beechburn Station (remains)
© Copyright Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
We walked up the footpath towards Howden le Wear and I remember that it was so sad to see just a few pieces of broken brick in the path where there should have been a row of houses.  The green way ran right into the centre of the village - and through it towards northwards towards Crook. 

Howden le Wear aerial view - the railway line ran north to south straight through the middle (from Google Maps)
If you think it looks odd from the air, that wide green swathe through the middle of a village, you should see it from the ground - it really doesn't look like a park at all, just a wide green space.  I'm fairly sure that when we passed through Howden on the way to Witton le Wear we just didn't notice it, or at least not the same way we did on the way back having walked the track of the line from the junction.  Sad.  I remember we passed a pub on our way back through the village - looking at the maps it would have been the Plantation Inn, we didn't call in and I can only imagine that was because it had no real ale. 

We decided to continue back to Crook on the road, there was another cemetery just outside Howden le Wear, but we didn't go in.  Time was pressing and we knew the buses from Crook back to Durham weren't that frequent on a late Sunday afternoon.  The next green star on the walk map marks the memorable spot where the OH picked up some money from the pavement, no-one around to hand it to, Sunday afternoon in a strange place ... what do you do?  We eventually chalked it up to luck, our good luck, someone else's bad and thought it would pay for a beer or two when we got back to Durham. 

There are no Good Beer Guide pubs in Crook now, but in the 2003 guide there was one, the Uplands Hotel.  Unfortunately it was closed between 2:30 and 7pm and we'd hit Crook in just that window so we went for the bus instead.  There had been a brewery in Crook for a while, the Darwin Brewery, but the year before our visit it had relocated to Sunderland, so we missed out on that as well.  The last green star is in the square where the bus stop was.

Looking back on it now, ten years later, I find it hard to remember what is was like to be able to set out confidently to walk so far on one day - nearly ten miles - not so much you might say, but a fair trek for someone only used to the odd sponsored walk.  The fact that I can recall so much about the day itself means that it was definitely worth it  - memories are the things you live on as you get older (and in my case more wibbly!) AND I did get a picture of Thomas and Sarah Jolly's gravestone - Result!

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