Great Britain

A southern civil servant's view of Darlington - would this make you relocate up north?

RUMOURS had been rife among the civil servants in London for weeks: they were going to be relocated somewhere up north, to a place beginning with D, as part of the Government’s plans to boost the economy of provincial towns.

When the news was confirmed, they didn’t learn about it through Twitter, as the Treasury officials learned on Wednesday from the Chancellor that their new “economic campus” was going to be in Darlington.

It was brought to the civil servants of the pensions and salaries departments of the Department of Education and Science, based in Canons Park in north London, by their staff magazine.

The Northern Echo: The Magpie magazine

"The Darlington move is no longer a possibility, but a certainty," said the Magpie magazine, which looked as if it had been turned out on a Gestetner machine, of September 1965.

Several hundred of them were being offered the choice to relocate to either central London or Mowden Hall in Darlington. Just like the Treasury civil servants about to be offered a new life in the north thanks to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, they probably had profound misgivings about moving to a strange place where hot savoury ducks on a Thursday night were regarded as a treat.

So the Magpie magazine went on a recce on their behalf to answer the big questions burning in the minds of anyone thinking of moving: how do you get there, how much does a house cost, what are schools like, what about the price of cakes and how ugly are the local women?

The Northern Echo: High Row, Darlington in 1965 with Bondgate to the right

Perhaps this information will be of use to Treasury officials contemplating the switch in 2021…

TRAVEL

IN 1965, there were nine trains a day from King's Cross making the four-hour journey to Darlington. The second class return fare was £6 2s 0d.

The Magpie reckoned it more economical to travel by car.

"If we say the round trip is 480 miles and your car does 30 miles per gallon of petrol, the cost will be only a little over £4, " it said. "The A1 is the finest road in the country for motoring long distances.

Something like 80 per cent of the journey is covered on dual carriageways and motorways (about 25 miles of the latter) and speeds of 55 to 60mph can be maintained for long periods."

The Northern Echo: A crowded Post House Wynd, Darlington, September 1963

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

DARLINGTON is a Quaker town, said the Magpie. "It may be due to the austere background of the town, but one is liable to gain the impression that the townspeople are less fashionable in their dress than their southern counterparts," it said.

"You will find the people rather quiet and direct speaking, but exceedingly helpful.

“Once the initial barriers of reserve are down, they prove to be very friendly and pleasant in their attitude to strangers.

"Their dialect is quite attractive and is not as 'broad' as, for instance, Yorkshire or Newcastle tongues.

"As to the town itself, the initial impact on a suburban Londoner, who is used to the more modern semi-detached, bay-windowed and pebble-dashed atmosphere of Harrow, will probably be favourable. You will learn from the inhabitants that the town suffered virtually no damage in the last war; one lady we spoke to remarked that 'they did not know there was a war on'."

PROPERTY

THE Magpie noted the many back-to-back terraces "some what reminiscent of Coronation Street". It lamented their lack of gardens, front or back, but said that 15,000 properties had been built in Darlington since the war, a third of them by the council.

It noted the "more distinguished and interesting property" in the West End, and was particularly taken by Yuill's "ambitious (although private) new building" on the Mowden Park Estate.

"Houses range approximately from £3,500 (semi-detached) to £4,500 (detached) and the more expensive properties include such innovations as central heating and coloured bathroom suites. A house ordered at the present time would be ready for occupation next January or February."

The Northern Echo: The retailers on the left of High Row in early 1966 were Smith's cleaners, John Grisdale, Timothy White, JE Hodgson's chemist, Singer sewing machines, Barratt's shoes, Watson's tobacconist, March the tailor and, on the corner with Post

SHOPPING

“THERE is an excellent, thriving shopping centre which compares favourably with Harrow or Wembley and which includes major establishments such as Marks and Spencer, Woolworths, British Home Stores, a large new Co-operative store (Darnton House) and several supermarkets (we noticed a Fine Fare).

"There are also two larger stores on the lines of Sopers of Harrow, namely Binns and Doggarts.

“Among the smaller shops we noticed were Boots, Dorothy Perkins, Montague Burton and Samuels the Jewellers.

"We came to the conclusion that the cost of living is slightly lower in Darlington, although not as noticeably so as one might think.

The Northern Echo: Inside Luck & Sons, Darlington's principal shop which was in the building on High Row that a later generation knew as Dressers. It is now a pound shop

"Cakes are a penny or so cheaper and vegetables and fruit are very competitive.

“Some types of meat are more reasonable. For instance, a pound of grilling steak which would cost about ten shillings in North London is seven shillings in Darlington.

"On the other hand, home grown tomatoes at three shillings a pound were a shilling dearer than in the London shops.

"The price of clothing for both men and women did not seem very much different, but footwear is definitely cheaper.

"Restaurant prices are, however, more reasonable although, there appears to be a shortage of places at which one can obtain a meal.

"The opinion of the various people with whom we had conversations was that both socially and as a shopping centre the nearest towns of Stockton-on-Tees and Middlesbrough can offer very little more than Darlington. If, however, a 'night out' or a big shopping spree is envisaged (particularly with regards to ladies' fashion) the towns of Harrogate and Leeds are the places to visit."

The Magpie concluded: "Like most English towns, Darlington has a car parking problem."

WEATHER

"AFTER the indifferent showery weather which has been experienced in London during July, it was a pleasant surprise to arrive in Darlington in brilliant sunshine with temperatures in the seventies.

"Winters can be quite severe, but we were assured that the frightening 10ft snow drifts in the North that one sometimes sees in the newspapers or on television are usually confined to the open expanse of areas like the Yorkshire moors. The snow seen in the town last winter was quite light.

"The Northern climate did not appear to adversely affect gardening prospects. Produce is, however, slightly later in maturing than in the South – locally grown strawberries were still available in the last week of July."

The Northern Echo: View over Darlington in March 1968 towards the power station cooling towers and chimneys which disrupted the television signal, although the Magpie didn't notice

POLITICS

"PERHAPS a little surprisingly, Darlington has, politically, long been a Conservative stronghold - until the last General Election when Labour got in,” said the Magpie. “Tory supporters are apologetic about this, of course, and hastened to assure us that this state of affairs would be rectified shortly!”

This refers to the Conservative MP Anthony Bourne-Arton losing his seat in 1964 to Ted Fletcher who, despite the apologetic Tories, held Darlington for Labour until 1983.

"At least one socialist trait is, however, evident in the town, for the inhabitants are very co-operative minded. There is, in fact, a Co-op garage where you may get your 'divi' on petrol. The healthy state of the Co-op is reflected in the dividend which is 1s 3d in the £. In Harrow it is 4d in the £."

ENTERTAINMENT

ADMISSION to Darlington's two cinemas, the Odeon in Bondgate and the ABC in Northgate, was 4s for the stalls, 5s for the circle, and a few seats could be reserved at 6s 6d.

There was a theatre and two nightclubs – Flamingo and La Bamba – plus indoor and outdoor bowling greens, and facilities for ballroom dancing, bingo, tennis, ice-skating, golf and swimming.

"A ten-pin bowling alley, the first in the area, is to be opened in November," said the magazine. "And if all you want is a pleasant walk, there is South Park."

The Magpie’s reporter was interested in Darlington's eight workingmen's clubs – a concept the Londoners had "heard a great deal about".

It said: "A man may join a club for a small membership fee and then qualify to purchase liquor at much reduced prices and to enjoy a variety of social entertainments including performances by top-class variety artists.

"The Northern clubs are among the wealthiest in the country and can afford to pay enormous fees for international performers."

TELEVISION

"TELEVISION reception is excellent, whether by individual aerial or through Rediffusion and Darlington is definitely one-up on North-West London in that it can tune into all four TV stations. In addition to ITV, BBC1 and BBC2 there is Tyne-Tees Television from Newcastle which is well received."

WAGES

"DARLINGTON is enjoying an era of considerable prosperity and there is plenty of work for those who want it.

“Wages are, of course, on a somewhat lower scale than in the London area and this applies particularly to the women's average wage which we understand is probably no more than about £5 to £6 per week.

“Men's wages are in line with the national average of about £16 per week."

SCHOOLS

"THE inhabitants refer with some pride to their schools and we heard particularly good reports about the Central Secondary School and Eastbourne Secondary Modern School."

LOCAL BEAUTY SPOTS

"IN conclusion, we were asked the inevitable question on our return: 'What were the girls like?'

"Well, while we did not make a particular study of this aspect of Darlington, we were not exactly overwhelmed by the local beauty and we would say that Harrow has more to offer in this line!

"One real 'stunner' that we had the pleasure of meeting, however, was Miss Robson, secretary to Yuill's the builders – but she is getting married next month!"

THE attractions of Darlington meant that by 1971, about 100 civil servants had relocated to Darlington where they were joined by 400 local people working at Mowden Hall. Many of the newcomers were offered council houses on Branksome or Red Hall.

Now, 66 years later, history is about to repeat itself.

l With many thanks to Colin Smith

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