From the Darlington & Stockton Times of January 7, 1871

THE main news from 150 years ago was that the region was experiencing its coldest spell of weather in a decade, with a temperature of minus 19 being recorded on the thermometer at Ferryhill Station.

The Tees had frozen, preventing ferry boats from crossing from Stockton to Middlesbrough. Yarm was also frozen, and there was skating at Broken Scar on the edge of Darlington. The Skerne also froze, "on which large numbers of boys and men have daily disported themselves".

Communal wells froze, locomotives froze, and people froze – the paper was full of reports of dead vagrants.

“Painful distress is being experienced by the poorer classes, a vast number of whom, and particularly the Irish, have occupation on the farms which surround the city of York and who are consequently cut off from their ordinary means of subsistence,” said the D&S Times. “To meet this distress a public meeting has been called by the Lord Mayor which, in all probability, will result in the opening of the popular and useful institution – the soup kitchen.”

It wasn’t all bad news, though. At Barnard Castle, the ice was about 14 inches thick on the Tees and the first ice sports were held for 15 years.

There were 100 yard races for both sexes, with prizes bottle of rum (married men) or half-=a-pound of tea (married women), 1lb of tea (young women) and a bottle of wine (boys under 14).

There were sack races, wheelbarrow races, donkey races, three-legged races and wrestling for a bottle of whisky that was won by D McCarthy.

The 250 yard foot race around the bridge pillar for another bottle of whisky was won by James Gibbon.

And there was a blindfold bell race. A chap seems have run around on the ice clanging a bell at various moments and the competitors had to catch him. “This was certainly the most amusing and, at the same time, very deceptive performance of the day and was kept up for three quarters of an hour, Mr William Colling holding the bell until he was completely out of breath and ultimately caught by John Cardwell,” said the D&S. ”There was a large gathering of spectators, between 400 and 500, some of whom participated in several other interesting games. Everything passed off satisfactorily and without any incident occurring.”