From the Darlington & Stockton Times, April 28, 1917

A HEADLINE exactly 100 years ago read “Stupid hoax at Thornaby”.

“Some individual with a sadly misplaced bump of humour was responsible this week for the wholesale hoaxings of Teesside people,” said the paper. “On Monday, the following advertisement appeared in a local paper: “Large supply of potatoes; supplied to all comers – D Sheldon, grocer, Thornaby-on-Tees.”

“The result was extraordinary. Within a short time of the publication of the paper, the shop was besieged, people coming from Middlesbrough, Stockton, Norton, Grangetown, South Bank and Eston.

“A notice was exhibited by the tradesman that the advertisement was unauthorised, and that no potatoes were to be had, and he is offering a reward of £5 for information which will lead to the discovery of the person responsible for such a senseless peace of fooling.

“On Tuesday, there was a further influx of would be purchasers, and indignation was strong when they found they had been duped.”

This story provides a vivid insight into life at the time, as does the D&S’ suggestion that the Germans had created a private company called the Factory for the Profitable Utilisation of Army Corpses. This company was apparently using chemical treatment to break down soldiers’ bodies and recover their fat and the bones. The bones were ground to make fertiliser for fields and to enrich pig feed, while from the fat was recovered nitroglycerine, out of which explosives were made.

From 1,000 bodies weighing an average of ten stone and containing three per cent fat, four hundredweight of glycerine could be extracted.

“As the published number of killed far exceeds this, the output of glycerine may have been increased proportionately, not to mention the soap incidentally produced,” said the D&S.

April 29, 1967

THERE was a heated debate raging through the letters column of the D&S 50 years ago. The previous week, Arthur Newstead, who’d lived in South Kilvington, near Thirsk, for nearly 50 years had written in asking if sheep imbibed water, saying: “I cannot ever remember seeing sheep drinking.”

The response was instantaneous. R Kirkbride of Otley wrote: “As a Dalesman, I can say that sheep do drink, especially in hot weather. On moors and fells, there are lots of small streams and bogs that are well known to them. A sheep will eat her way towards one of these when thirsty, but she does not drink much at any time.”

LW Jardin of Thornton le Watlass, near Bedale, wrote: “I have just finished fattening 70 hoggs and at one time they had me carrying ten gallons a day to them until I installed a piped supply.”

April 27, 1867

"SOME 20 years ago, a temperance society was formed in Great Broughton by a few hard working men and those who knew Broughton then say that the change for the better is almost marvellous,” said the D&S.

The society’s annual meeting had been held on Good Friday with a procession through the village, near Stokesley, to the newly-built Temperance hall, which was filled four times over by the numbers taking part. At the evening public meeting, there were so many that a second meeting had to be held in the nearby Independent chapel, with speakers “going from place to place and speaking at each meeting”.

The highlight was Joseph Hazlehurst, “the signing sweep”, whose tunes “considerably enlightened” the proceedings.

Meanwhile, on the beach at Redcar, there had been an “extraordinary accident”. A “mountebank” – charlatan – who claimed to have been a pupil of the French high wire star Charles Blondin had been performing all week before large crowds on the sands but, said the D&S, “on Tuesday evening, the rope on which he performed broke and the poles suspending it fell, thereby precipitating the poor fellow to the ground, but as he alighted to his feet, he received nothing more than a good shaking. It is almost a miracle that no person was hurt because a large crowd of persons were standing near the poles at the time they fell.”

Incidentally, Blondin himself performed over a July weekend in 1872 at Darlington’s Polam Hall, even thrilling the crowds by cooking up an omelette while balanced on his high wire – as he had when he had conquered the Niagara Falls in 1859. There is a story that in his downtime that weekend, he had crossed the Tees on a rope tied to the chimney of the Comet pub in Hurworth Place in Durham. The rope had been tethered in the grounds of Croft mill on the Yorkshire side.

There is no evidence that the Tees part of that story is true, but a fellow calling himself “Bon Bon, the young Blondin, son of the original Niagara hero” performed at Croft Gala on April 19, 1881. He, too, may have been a mountebank.