ECHO MEMORIES: TAKE A STROLL WHERE THE GHOST HOUNDS ROAMED
From the Northern Echo, first published Wednesday 12th Feb 2003.
SPOOKY. No other word will do. Harewood Grove is one of Darlington’s spookiest corners.
A hulking, forbidding terrace, unlike anything else in town, rears up out of nowhere. In its heyday, it was the home of the wealthy with cast iron balconies for them to disport themselves on. But today it looks rather forlorn, as if it has fallen on hard times – and the bottom has certainly fallen out of its balconies.
The terrace is protected from the full view of the public by tall, forbidding trees. In their heyday, they were part of a large pleasure garden around which the wealthy would perambulate. But today a couple of trees lie fallen; the ornate path is overgrown and covered by wind-blown leaves.
It all feels rather spooky. Of course, the current generation knows only too well of the gruesome, cannibalistic murder a couple of years ago. But previous generations would have told of headless gentlemen, ghostly dogs and spooky apparitions that stalked the area in the dead of night.
These apparitions arose because of the boggy nature of the land. A stream called Glassensikes (‘glassen’ meant blue or grey; a ‘sike’ was a small beck) sprung from a pond somewhere near Tower Road. It ran through what is now Pierremont Crescent, across the playing fields in Cleveland Avenue, and down to Harewood Hill where it spilled over Grange Road on its way to meet the River Skerne near the rugby club.
So badly did it spill that in 1679 “stippin stones” were laid (at a cost of 2d) so that travellers could pass along Grange Road without getting their feet wet.
But, scarily, out of marshy areas grew spooky mists; and in those spooky mists lurked many spooky creatures.
One Victorian writer imagined the full “terror of the neighbourhood”.
“How horrible to be balanced on a stippin stone, a waterlogged marsh on either side and a hobgoblin barring your way,” he wrote.
The Victorian local historian, William Longstaffe, went further. “Glassensikes has goblins as grim as any river-demons,” he said. “Headless gentlemen, who disappeared in flame, headless ladies, white cats, white rabbits, white dogs, black dogs; shapes that walk at dead of night, and clank their chains. In fact, all the characteristics of the Northern Barguest were to be seen in full perfection at Glassensikes.”
The barguest was a huge, black dog – “as black as a hound of hell” – which was last seen more than 200 years ago when it appeared at Harewood Hill one midnight to a traveller returning from Croft.
“Of late years,” reports Longstaffe, “this harmless sprite has seemingly become disgusted with the increased traffic and has become a very well-behaved, domestic creature.”
The taming of the barguests and hobgoblins of Harewood Hill lay in the arrival of gaslights and in the improvements to the marshy land. Glassensikes was culverted. Today, the only sign of this spooky stream is the eccentric house with the huge marble porch opposite the petrol station in Grange Road. Now flats, and with a metal brace hugging its porch, this extraordinary building was originally Glassensikes.
Harewood Hill was drained for building. The Allan family of Blackwell Grange had owned the area since the 17th Century. In the early 19th Century, when the banker Jonathan Backhouse was buying up the south end of Darlington, the Allans sold him the Hill. In 1825, Backhouse acquired Polam Hall and decided to concentrate on his properties on the Skerne side of Grange Road. The Hill was surplus to his requirements, and was sold.
There were already a few houses on the site. The earliest was probably No 7 Harewood Hill, the home of lawyer Henry Hutchinson who was the partner of the legendary railway solicitor Francis Mewburn.
Next door is the early 19th Century villa Harewood House, which is now the council-owned Harewood Hill Lodge, a respite care home for physically or mentally disabled children.
Behind Hutchinson’s house is a wonderful pair of town houses (recently joined by a third) which have the date 1828 on their drainheads. Along the south side of the Hill is Harewood Terrace from 1869.
The really grand architectural statement, though, came in about 1835 when the fantastically forbidding Harewood Grove was built.
The architectural enthusiast Nikolaus Pevsner was very taken with the Grove, which he described as a “Newcastle-type terrace”. It is indeed the sort of row of town houses that you would expect to find in a city – certainly not in a provincial suburb.
The eight houses made up an exclusive place to life. In the 1840s, residents included the Reverend Alexander James Howell, “the incumbent of Darlington”; the Reverend John Marshall, headmaster of the Grammar School in the Leadyard; Miss Ann Allan, the last of the famous family who later died a gruesome death in a fire at Wilton Lodge, in Nunnery Lane (as Echo Memories told last year); architect Thomas Dixon; woolstapler George Carter and Mrs Sarah Ann Shepherd about whom we know nothing.
In fact, we know very little about the Grove as a whole. We don’t know who built it or who owned it, although we do know that the solicitor Hutchinson and the woolstapler Carter owned much of the land around it. In 1845, they tried to flog various plots of their land for building, but without any success.
We do know that it ended the 19th Century in the ownership of noted Darlington solicitor Edward Wooler. On his death in 1929, it was sold to the Armstrong family, which still owns it.
It is the Armstrongs who have applied to Darlington Borough Council for permission to build two three-bedroomed gatehouses on the “large pleasure grounds”. It is understood that these houses will be sold to finance the refurbishment of the Grove.
Some residents are concerned, and the developers accept the need for a “sensitive” plan. More than 30 mature trees would survive, but the new houses would mean the loss of one large sycamore tree in good condition – and also, Echo Memories would venture to suggest, some of the Grove’s unique character.
The council’s consultation exercise ends on Friday.
* If you have any information on any of the buildings or people mentioned in this week’s column, please write to Echo Memories, The Northern Echo, Priestgate, Darlington DL1 1NF