From the Darlington & Stockton Times of …

March 14, 1868

SAD news as 150 years ago, the D&S reported the death of Barnard Castle barrister George Brown. He was chairman of the Board of Guardians, founder of the Mechanics’ Institute, promoter of railways and, said the paper, he “possessed considerable literary power”.

“He was the author of several pamphlets, and was the first editor of the Darlington & Stockton Times.”

In fact, Mr Brown seems to have founded this august organ at 26 Horsemarket in Barnard Castle on October 2, 1847, and stayed with it until it moved into Darlington the following year when he sold up.

The obituary concludes: “Barnard Castle has lost an intelligent citizen and a useful liberal-minded public man. During his busy lifetime, he met with the bitterest opposition, but he lived to enjoy the respect and friendship of the entire town.”

What could be the bitterest opposition that barrister Brown faced? We know his son, also George, left Barney aged 15 to become a missionary among the cannibals of Papua New Guinea because “it was the farthest place from England”. Was he fleeing his unpopular father?

The paper of 150 years ago also tells of the extraordinary deeds which had caused Elizabeth Stones, of Arkengarthdale, to be in the police cells in Richmond. She was charged with “having wickedly and unlawfully solicited James Raine to throw in the dwelling house of William Parkin a quantity of gunpowder, with intent to do bodily injury”.

The D&S said that for three nights from January 30 “the ‘stang’ had been ridden for the prisoner and her husband, Robert, and John Hillery”.

This column loves a good session of “riding the stang” – a Yorkshire and Durham folk punishment where adulterers and cuckolds were shamed by a large, drunken crowd of neighbours gathering outside their houses, banging pots and pans, chanting and burning straw effigies. It would appear that Elizabeth was being violently vilified for her relationship with John Hillery, and on February 1 she offered five shillings to Mr Raine to drop a parcel of gunpowder down the chimney of Mr Parkin, who must have been leading the stang against her.

But Mr Raine was in drink, and he dropped the gunpowder down the wrong chimney where it was found the next morning by the Arkengarthdale blacksmith when he came to light his fire.

Richmond magistrates ordered Elizabeth to stand trial at the next York Assizes.

March 16, 1968

“THE beacon on a hilltop above Richmond, once a link in the chain of signal fires to warn the country of invasion, blazed again on Thursday to mark the 300th anniversary of Richmond’s governing charter granted by Charles II in 1668,” said the D&S 50 years ago.

Richmond has been given many charters over the centuries by a variety of monarchs and noblemen, starting with one in 1145, which allow the town certain rights to govern itself.

“This charter appointed the town’s first mayor and town clerk,” said the D&S. “It also declared that Richmond ‘may be and may remain for ever hereafter a free borough’.”

The charter allowed Richmond to set up a council of 12 aldermen and 24 councilmen.

“A crowd of several hundred braved a biting wind and showers of sleet to see the mayor, Cllr Reginald Eaton, light the tar barrel in its iron holder,” said the D&S.

To this day, the metal structure of the beacon can be seen on the highest point above Richmond racecourse – in silhouette against the sky, it often looks rather sinister.

“Afterwards sweets were distributed to the many children present and there were refreshments for the adults,” continued the D&S. “There were no babies born in the borough on Thursday to claim the special gift promised by the mayor, but, he said, “I am going to give the ladies of Richmond another chance, and any baby born in the borough on mayor-making day, May 23, will receive a gift.

“Failing this, it will go to the first baby born after mayor-making day.”

Is it too much to hope that the 50-year-old adult who received that 300th anniversary gift as a baby in 1968 is still around? Please email if you know of the lucky child’s whereabouts – what was the special gift?

The 1668 charter set up Richmond council and allowed it to employ officials, like the town clerk. In 1835, in accordance with the charter, the council was employing two chamberlains, two pasture masters, a bellman, a pinder (a collector of stray animals), a cleaner of the castle walks, a cleaner of water grates, a cleaner of flags (paved paths), a sweeper of streets, a weeder of footpaths, an engine keeper, a hall keeper, a cleaner of the chandelier in the town hall, a keeper of the town clocks, a mole-catcher, a keeper of the corporation pews and three constables.