Take a stroll down Bishop Auckland's Newgate Street as it looked back in the day

·9-min read
A 1960 postcard of a very busy Newgate Street in 1960, from Tom Hutchinson
A 1960 postcard of a very busy Newgate Street in 1960, from Tom Hutchinson

THERE are 34 empty shops in Bishop Auckland’s Newgate Street – that’ll become 35 when Boots closes in April.

But this is a street packed with history and great architecture, a street down which Roman soldiers once marched and along which drunken miners once staggered, a street once packed with pubs, cafes and shops – several of which were run by an “amorous grocer” – and even, of course, a theatre which the young Stan Laurel, one of the world’s most famous comedians, knew.

Read more: Boots confirms Bishop Auckland store to shut permanently

A street where, as we told last year, you can still get a pork dip in a 140-year-old butcher’s shop.

Let’s have a little wander down the street and through history…

The Northern Echo: The oldest photo of Newgate Street, taken in 1850
The Northern Echo: The oldest photo of Newgate Street, taken in 1850

The oldest photo of Newgate Street, taken in 1850

NEWGATE STREET follows the course of the Roman road of Dere Street, which crossed the Tees at Piercebridge and marched centurions to Binchester – the largest Roman fort in the county – before they went to serve on Hadrian’s Wall.

Read more: What Bishop Auckland shoppers think about the town now that Boots has pulled out

Its name, Newgate Street, suggests that it was a later development than the older streets in the Bondgate area, but that it came about as the medieval town expanded from the Market Place.

It is first mentioned in 1470, and until the Victorian era, its properties were mostly low and thatched.

The Northern Echo:
The Northern Echo:

Bishop Auckland town centre seen from the air on March 22, 1972, with the straight Roman road of Newgate Street clearly visible in the centre

Indeed, look at No 69, until recently a shoe shop. It has, according to the people of the Heritage Action Zone, “the hallmarks of a late medieval house”. It could be 500, 600 years old – what secrets does it hold inside?

The Northern Echo: Perhaps 500 or 600 years old in Newgate Street. Picture: Google StreetView
The Northern Echo: Perhaps 500 or 600 years old in Newgate Street. Picture: Google StreetView

Perhaps 500 or 600 years old in Newgate Street. Picture: Google StreetView

An indication of the size of these properties comes from a story about the Malt Shovel Inn. Until it was rebuilt in 1875 (we think it was where Poundland is today), it was a tiny, low-ceilinged hostelry, where the landlady, Ann Simpson, was renowned for her meals – her “ordinary” (ie: regular menu) cost 1s 6d.

The Northern Echo: Probably the Malt Shovel Inn, rebuilt in grand style in the late 1870s. Picture: Google StreetView
The Northern Echo: Probably the Malt Shovel Inn, rebuilt in grand style in the late 1870s. Picture: Google StreetView

Probably the Malt Shovel Inn, rebuilt in grand style in the late 1870s. Picture: Google StreetView

Perhaps Ann ate too much of her own cooking because when she died on November 22, 1804, aged 52, she was too large to get outside.

A contemporary report said: "She was so corpulent as to require a coffin 3ft over the shoulders, and it was necessary to displace a window to get her remains out of the house.”

The Northern Echo: A busy shopping day in 1900 in Newgate Street
The Northern Echo: A busy shopping day in 1900 in Newgate Street

A busy shopping day in 1900 in Newgate Street

IN 1879, from the Market Place up to the railway station, there were 50 different types of tradesmen. There were 16 grocers, 13 drapers, eight boot and shoe makers, seven hatters, and six butchers, fruiterers and stationers. There was a violin shop, a piano shop, two sewing machine shops, an umbrella maker, a clogger and a cocoa palace.

Some shopfronts dating back to these days can still be seen: McIntyres boot makers (below) is about 125 years old while Gregorys butchers have been going since 1822 and have been in the same shop, covered in traditional tiles, since 1850.

READ MORE: PORK DIPS FROM GREGORYS

The Northern Echo:
The Northern Echo:
The Northern Echo: Woolworths in Newgate Street, Bishop Auckland, in 1956: bookie Lec Vickers, who worked with Fred Simpson, had his office down a passageway to the side of Woolies
The Northern Echo: Woolworths in Newgate Street, Bishop Auckland, in 1956: bookie Lec Vickers, who worked with Fred Simpson, had his office down a passageway to the side of Woolies

Woolworths in Newgate Street, Bishop Auckland, in 1956

AND, in 1879, there were 15 inns: Post Office Hotel, Three Tuns Inn, Royal George Hotel, Three Blue Bells Inn, Waterloo Hotel, Durham Hotel, Westmorland & Cumberland Inn, Station Hotel and Wear Valley Hotel, which were on the east side up to the station.

And on the west side: White Lion Hotel, Commercial Hotel, Turf Hotel, Black Horse Hotel, Red Lion Hotel, Black Boy Inn, Theatre Hotel and Tile Sheds Inn.

In all, there were at least 60 public houses in the town. They did a roaring trade not just from the townspeople but from the ironworkers from Witton Park and the miners from all the pit villages who came into Bish for a Saturday night knees-up.

And the Newgate Street grocers benefitted as they went home, because drunks were not allowed to travel on the trains – so they had to sober up pretty quick.

Between 7pm and 8pm, the grocers laid on vinegar by the pint to do the trick.

“As it got to train time, into the shop would come rather unsteady lady customers supporting their blaked and speechless husbands,” a grocer’s assistant once said. “I got busy with my pint pots and vinegar and helped to pour it down the gullets of the inebriated gents.

“The operation was performed on dozens and never once did any refuse to swallow the deep brown liquid from the blue and white pint pots. It looked like beer and that was enough.

“It was always successful and by the time they staggered up to the station, supported by the so-called weaker sex, they were just not drunk enough to be disqualified by Mr Crawford, the stationmaster.”

The Northern Echo: The co-op in Newgate Street had every conceivable department
The Northern Echo: The co-op in Newgate Street had every conceivable department

The co-op in Newgate Street had every conceivable department

THERE are some splendid buildings in Newgate Street from this late Victorian time. Here are three of the best:

The co-op store was started in 1873, to the designs of local architect William Vickers Thompson, and was expanded in four phases up to 1894 so that it housed every conceivable department.

The co-op ceased trading in 1968, and it was the home of Beale’s department store until 2017.

The Northern Echo: Yorkshire Penny Bank has four lions in its stonework
The Northern Echo: Yorkshire Penny Bank has four lions in its stonework

The Yorkshire Penny Bank (above) is dated 1898. It was designed by Walter Brierly of York, who was known as “the Yorkshire Lutyens”, and has four lions staring down from the doorway and a Scottish baronial tower on its roof.

Next to it is a shop that was once Timothy White’s. It has an alleyway running through it that went to a builder’s yard and followed an ancient right of way to Bondgate.

At the centre of the arch above the alleyway is a fabulous, and out-of-proportion, sculpture of a naked male cherub (below). This is Bishop Auckland’s answer to the Manneken Pis in Brussels, because when it rains, the water runs down the cherub’s superlarge face, down his body and onto his anatomy so that it tinkles onto the street below.

The Northern Echo: Bishop Auckland's answer to Brussels' Mannekin Pis in Newgate Street
The Northern Echo: Bishop Auckland's answer to Brussels' Mannekin Pis in Newgate Street

EDWARD MANTLE was a serial entrepreneur in Newgate Street: in August 1904, when his wife Annie died, he had three shops and a café.

Within a month of Annie’s death, Edward had rekindled a romance with an old flame: Miss Emily Hammond, who had a milliner’s shop in Brierly Hill in the West Midlands, where she lived with her aged mother.

Indeed, said the Echo, in September 1904, he sought consolation in her arms and "stayed from Saturday to Monday", suggesting a degree of intimacy.

On October 2, Edward wrote to his “Emmie” asking if she would become his “darling, sweet little wife”.

He wrote: "I am sure I can make you happy, and I am certain you can make me so. I love you – and I can give you no higher praise – because you are so like my darling Annie – a sweet, devoted, unselfish little pet."

The words of the silver tongued charmer melted Emmie’s heart and she said yes. They set a date for August 1905. She put her milliner’s on the market and bought a £450 house for her mother so she could move to be with her beloved in Bishop.

But when Edward told his children that they were about to gain a new stepmother, they turned so “antagonistic” that he quickly had to wriggle out of the marriage.

"He began to detract from his own attractiveness by telling Emmie that he had 'got a lot of boils'," said the Echo, "and that he really was not so nice as she thought he might be."

On April 12, he wrote to her saying he could not go ahead, and finished his letter by saying: adding: “May God bless and keep you in His everlasting arms.”

The Echo reported: "That, counsel commented, in view of the way in which this amorous grocer had acted was as blasphemous a thing as he could possibly write to a woman whose life he was spoiling."

Because Emmie sued him for breach of promise. The case came before the London Sheriff’s Court in December 1905.

"Miss Hammond, an attractive-looking lady, wearing an astrachan coat with black hat, gave evidence," said the Echo. She said when she put her hat shop on the market, takings had dropped by up to £4-a-week, and she had that £450 house that was now standing empty and unnecessary as she wasn’t moving to Bishop.

The court agreed that when she said "I do" she had entered into a contract with the back-sliding shopkeeper, and he was awarded to pay her £400 damages – that’s more than £50,000 in today’s values.

The Northern Echo: Newgate Street in 1900, with the co-op on the left hand side. The cinema opposite is yet to be built
The Northern Echo: Newgate Street in 1900, with the co-op on the left hand side. The cinema opposite is yet to be built

Newgate Street in 1900, with the co-op on the left hand side. The cinema opposite is yet to be built

MANY of today’s pictures are from Tom Hutchinson’s many books of images of Bishop Auckland. Still available are Past and Present (£9.50), A Selection of Postcards (£5), Bishop Auckland & District (£9.50), Newton Cap & Toronto (£7) and Page Bank (£5). They are available from Cockton Hill News, Bishop Trains, Bondgate Books, The Bishops Shop, or by emailing hutchinsontom542@gmail.com

The Northern Echo: Boots, on the right hand side on the corner of Victoria Avenue, arrived in Bishop Auckland in 1912. Their departure 110 years later has highlighted how the street is in decline
The Northern Echo: Boots, on the right hand side on the corner of Victoria Avenue, arrived in Bishop Auckland in 1912. Their departure 110 years later has highlighted how the street is in decline

Boots, on the right hand side on the corner of Victoria Avenue, arrived in Bishop Auckland in 1912. Their departure 110 years later has highlighted how the street is in decline

HAVE you got any information, snippets or thoughts about Newgate Street? Please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk

READ MORE: NEWGATE STREET AS IT IS TODAY WITH 34 UNUSED SHOPS

The Northern Echo: Looking south in a busy Newgate Street in July 1968 ahead of a public inquiry into the town's parking and traffic problems - the yellow lines of 1966 obviously hadn't worked
The Northern Echo: Looking south in a busy Newgate Street in July 1968 ahead of a public inquiry into the town's parking and traffic problems - the yellow lines of 1966 obviously hadn't worked

Looking south in a busy Newgate Street in July 1968 ahead of a public inquiry into the town's parking and traffic problems

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