From the Darlington & Stockton Times of… March 2, 1968

NOWADAYS it would be regarded as clickbait. “Was it a UFO over Yorkshire?” asked the headline on the back page of the D&S Times exactly 50 years ago.

A “thing” had been spotted by dairymen Mr D Waite and Mr F McDonald at Kirkby Malzeard in the south-east sky.

“A huge egg-shaped object appeared high in the sky, changing colour from white to red and back again,” said the D&S. “Both are level-headed men, not given to imagining such sights, and their account of the phenomenon can be relied on as being correct.”

Mr Waite said: “I know almost every star in the morning sky, and every shadow and shape of the countryside, but I can give no satisfactory explanation of the object we saw.”

The D&S said: “On arriving at the dairy, the two men brought out their mates, and the last anyone saw of the object was when it lifted even higher in the heavens before finally disappearing.”

In Topcliffe, the people were fearing that they would no longer be seeing things – specifically their medieval Toll Booth. There was much consternation as it was due to be demolished to improve the blind corner – Angel Corner – where Long Street meets Front Street.

Spectator in the D&S reported that the Toll Booth had once been the administrative office for Topcliffe market, and that Mrs Hilda Gavigan still had the padlock and chain that her husband’s grandfather, Ralph Wood, had used on defaulters who failed to pay their tolls.

The column continued: “There is an old story that it was on an old oak table in an upper room, reached by stone steps outside, that the parliamentary commissioners paid over to the Scottish army the sum for which the Scots had agreed to return Charles I to parliament’s custody. It would be nice to know if this were true.”

Indeed, it is vaguely true. In May 1646, realising the English Civil War was going badly, Charles had surrendered to the Scottish army at Newark hoping they would treat him better than the Parliamentarians. The Scottish spirited their captive northwards, resting him overnight at Topcliffe on May 11, 1646, and eventually holding him in Newcastle while they entered into negotiations with Oliver Cromwell’s men.

By the end of the year, a deal was done: the Scots were to be given £400,000 to cover their military costs, and the Parliamentarians were to get the king back so they could try him.

On December 16, 36 carts left London bound for York carrying the first down payment of £200,000, with the cash in bags of £100 which were placed in chests containing £1,000.

The rich convoy reached York on January 3, 1647, where Scots representatives began counting the cash.

As they refused to count on the Sabbath, it took until January 15 for them to verify the loot. Then they journeyed to Northallerton where, at Porch House on January 30, the king was handed over.

It is not clear what precisely happened in Topcliffe’s Toll Booth, but local legend is insistent that it was on the oak table that the receipt for the king’s ransom was paid.

For centuries afterwards, it was often said that Topcliffe had the only market in the country on which it was possible to buy a king.

March 2, 1918

“PASSING sentences upon ten bigamists at Durham Assizes, Mr Justice Bray said bigamy had become very frequent, and particularly so in the case of soldiers,” the D&S reported 100 years ago. “He did not think he was wrong in saying there had been nearly 500 cases of bigamy during the last year, and it was quite clear something must be done to stop this epidemic by increasing the punishment.”

Mr Bray was particularly concerned that “a man who undoubtedly did good work in France, and perhaps had been wounded, should have a licence with impunity to desert his wife and children and perhaps ruin some young girl”.

Meanwhile, at court in the North Yorkshire village of Wath, John Bird of Coldstone Farm, Sinderby, appeared accused with breaching the 1915 Gas Restriction Order “by using petrol for the purpose of attending service at Howgrave Chapel”.

The D&S said: “The present order makes it clear that with the exception of clergymen and ministers who cannot otherwise reach their churches and of invalided soldiers, persons may not use motor cars for this purpose. Attendance at places of worship is not included in the definition of “necessary household affairs” and it is expressly stated that the performance of a public duty does not include attendance at a place of worship.”

The chapel was two-and-a-half miles from Mr Bird’s home, and was where Mrs Bird had been organist for 25 years. They were unable to walk to chapel, although it was noted that they had horses and that Mrs Bird was a cyclist.

It was the third time that the Birds had been stopped and warned about driving to worship, and the case was brought to highlight the law to others who might have been tempted to burn fuel for the sake of a few prayers.

The D&S concluded: “After the magistrates had consulted in private, the Chairman said the Order was absolutely clear and they must convict, but they would not inflict a penalty. The case would be dismissed on the payment of costs (5s 6d).”

February 29, 1868

AT HARROGATE, Darlington’s rugby football players had met Leeds Grammar School on a breezy day. “No sooner had they kicked off, then the wind, which was blowing ‘great guns’, carried the ball across the ‘stray’ for at least a quarter of a mile. At length it was brought back into play, but it was very evident that neither side could possible obtain a goal as it took them all their time to keep the ball within bounds. After fighting on thus for about half-an-hour, they were obliged to give it up as a ‘bad job’. The two clubs afterwards partook of tea together at the Royal Hotel.”

Meanwhile, the D&S was very disappointed in events at Guisborough, where a lady had travelled to Middlesbrough by train to conduct some business, after which she had returned home by the same means of transport. However, she left her bag containing ten pounds in cash in the carriage, where it was discovered by a “smart and well conducted” station lad.

“He soon ascertained to whom the property belonged, and, as soon as possible, placed the bag in the lady’s hand, who was no doubt glad to find her money etc as safe as she had left them,” said the D&S. “The youth, however, was quickly dismissed without the gift of a penny even to reward him for his promptitude and honesty.

“It is hoped his integrity will not pass unnoticed by his employers.”