THE Darlington skyline beneath which thousands of women went to work in the world’s largest wool factory could be about to change forever.

The Power House at the old Paton & Baldwins (P&B) factory at Lingfield Point may be about to come down.

Darlington council has received an outline planning application from the owners of the site who wish to clear the 1940s buildings at the eastern end of the factory and replace them with three large industrial units which will bring 300 full time and 100 part time jobs.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The Power House, Lingfield Point

The bulk of the Lingfield site, which has successfully been converted into a light industrial estate with a 1940s vibe in the last couple of decades, is not affected by the application.


The Power House is a landmark partly because it was where in P&B’s heyday in the 1950s, 700 tons of coal a week were burned to turn 350,000 gallons of water a day into steam which powered the most advanced machines in the British Empire which kept 4,000 women employed.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The latest Futurescope art installation at Darlington's Lingfield Point.

Darlington and Stockton Times: SHINING EXAMPLE: The latest Futurescope image on the side of Lingfield Point.

The Power House will also have been spotted by users of the Eastern Transport Corridor which runs alongside it because, 10 years ago, it became a temporary art installation with huge, round artworks prominently displayed.

“The Power House is a landmark although probably now for the wrong reasons,” said Phil Egan, the asset manager for owners Frogmore. “It is highly contaminated, full of asbestos and there’s probably six inches of pigeon guano covering everything. To go in there, you need a full suit with breathing apparatus. It is beyond repair and beyond use.

“There are some original furnaces in there which look like something out of the Titanic, but anything of any value was stripped out some time ago.

“Our predecessors didn’t look after it and now it doesn’t stack up.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: Lingfield Point History.Building the steam tunnels which ran from the Power House to drive all the machinery in the world's largest wool factory

P&B chose to relocate to Darlington in 1942, and construction of the “wonder factory” started in 1946. The wool company had five old-fashioned, multi-storey mills in Halifax, Leicester, Wakefield and Melton Mowbray that it replaced with the one single-storey factory built across 140 acres of flat cornfields beside the Stockton & Darlington Railway.


Darlington and Stockton Times: Patons & Baldwins

The planning application notes that the area to be cleared once contained “a coal fired boiler house, coal yard, railway siding and degreasing plant in the north of the site. It is understood that the degreasing plant was used for fleece/wool degreasing using a detergent based process”.

Fleeces came from around the world by rail and entered the factory beside the Power House and went first for cleaning. The gloop from the cleaning tanks was scooped off and sold to the cosmetic industry which turned it into women’s pink face powder and lipstick: it was lanolin, produced by the sheep’s sebaceous glands to make their fleeces waterproof.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The fireless steam locomotive at Lingfield Point. Picture courtesy of Richard Barber

Once clean, the fleeces were pushed into the factory by P&B’s own locomotive: a 1948 fireless steam locomotive made by WG Bagnall of Stafford (above, picture courtesy of the JW Armstrong Trust).

An ordinary steam engine, with its own fire and boiler, would have pumped out smoke and soot which could have contaminated the wool, so this highly unusual contraption was bought. Rather than generate its own steam, it filled up with steam from the Power House and so was able to wend its way cleanly around the site.

Bagnall only made 14 fireless engines, mostly for industrial companies like Huntley & Palmer, Proctor & Gamble, and Paton & Baldwin, and six of them survive – P&B’s engine is cared for by the Darlington Railway Preservation Society.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Power HouseThe Poser House is at the front of this aerial view and to the right behind it at a 45 degree angle is what is believed to have been the engine shed

There is in the shadow of the Power House a cutely angled building that we are told was once the fireless steam locomotive’s engine shed. At the moment, this building is not in the clearance area.

In December 1949, P&B started producing yarn at Lingfield – and they started creating staggering statistics.

For example, in the 1950s, 30 per cent of all female Darlington school leavers started their working lives at P&B – and still a fleet of 50 buses had to bring even more women in every morning from as far away as Peterlee.


More staggering statistics: P&B produced 250,000lbs of wool a week, 13m lbs a year. We reckon that unravels to 7.33m miles of wool a year. Therefore, as the moon is on average 238,855 miles away, the Darlington factory produced enough wool every year to go up to the moon and back 15.3 times.

However, in the 1960s, cheap overseas competition and changing tastes at home – people wanted new funky nylon rather than knitted clothes – sent P&B into decline.

In the 1970s, British American Tobacco was attracted to the site, and it soon employed more than 1,000 people making Rothman’s cigarettes. It was said to be the largest foreign investment in the North East until Nissan in Sunderland in the early 1980s, although no one trumpets much about its success because in a decade, Lingfield Point made 100,000,000,000 cigarettes.

When the two mass employers, P&B and Rothmans, departed in the 1980s, the 1940s wonder factory became largely derelict. However, in 1998 the site was taken on by developers Marchday who converted much of it into a retro-themed business park which now employs nearly as many people as it did in P&Bs’ heyday.

Darlington and Stockton Times: An artist's impression of the regenerated powerhouse at Lingfield Point, in DarlingtonAbove and below: Artists' impressions from about 15 years ago showing how the restored Power House could look

Darlington and Stockton Times: An artist's drawing of how the Power House, part of the former Paton and Baldwin's site at Lingfield Point, could look

Marchday had bold, even fantastic, plans to turn the Power House into vintage-looking offices, but, while the rest of the site was transformed, these never came to fruition.

Now the current owners, commercial property developers Frogmore who bought Lingfield in 2018 for £44.4m, want to build three “mix box logistic industrial units” on the site aimed at distribution and storage companies.

If permission is granted, they will go alongside three similar units, covering the size of 14 football pitches, which were given permission in January for the fields between Amazon and Lingfield Point.

“We have plenty of offices on the site, which we intend to continue refurbishing over the next couple of years, but there is a pent-up demand in the North East, and especially in Darlington, for these units – we have occupiers on site who require them,” said Mr Egan.

“Our aim is to secure long term jobs in the area and to secure the future of the site.”

The largest of the units would cover the Power House, while a smaller unit would take the place of what the planning application calls “a blister hangar”.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Aerial view of P&B at Lingfield PointAn aerial view of Lingfield Point in about 1950 with the Power House's chimney on the right of the picture beside the railway line which has now become the Eastern Transport Corridor road

The application says: “It was first recorded on an aerial photograph in 1949, having possibly been moved from RAF iddleton-St-George (now Durham Tees Valley Airport).”

Blister hangars were patented in 1939, at the start of the Second World War, and were designed to be portable. Can anyone tell us anymore about this hangar – is there really a war relic at the home of P&B?


Darlington and Stockton Times: Aerial shots of the Lingfield Point Business Park off McMullen Road in DarlingtonLingfield Point about 10 years ago with the new road built which will provide access to the planned large warehouses. The Power House is on the right