From the Darlington & Stockton Times of July 27, 1968

THERE was a sensation in Leyburn 50 years ago this week when the Roman Catholic priest arrived at the graveside and refused to conduct a funeral service because the deceased had never been to church.

With the mourners of Charles Blenkinsop, 63, gathered around the gaping hole in the ground, Fr Geoffrey Cooper said: “Charles Blenkinsop has not wanted my prayers or the services of the church during his lifetime, and I see no reason why he should want them now that he is dead.”

The D&S Times said: “With this pronouncement, he turned away and walked from the cemetery.”

It caused “confusion” among the mourners, who were so shocked “that they could not find suitable words to say” until a local solicitor led them through the Lord’s Prayer.

“Throughout this week, the people of Leyburn and in fact the surrounding district have become very bitter about the whole affair,” said the paper.

Mr Blenkinsop’s family had been Catholics in Leyburn for 200 years, but Fr Cooper had refused to allow him a church funeral because of his poor attendance. Fr Cooper had agreed to conduct the ceremony in the cemetery, but seems to have had a change of heart when he arrived.

He said: “For years I have been saying it is entirely wrong for people to ignore the church, give it no support and never attend and then expect the use of it for weddings and funerals.”

He said he was respecting the dead man’s wishes by refusing to impose a religious service on the end of his life, and then he wished that he had taken his stance over the coffin of a different dead man. He said: “It would have been better if it had been some wealthy and prominent person who had died after ignoring the church throughout his life. The point would have had more effect.”

July 27, 1918

THERE was a sensation in Richmond 100 years ago this week when a Methodist minister accidentally killed a drunken soldier who had broken into his house.

The Reverend H Tregoning had been awoken at 2am on Sunday by his wife who told him there was someone else in their house in Dundas Street. Mr Tregoning had crept in the dark downstairs where he had found a crouching figure.

A brief struggle ensued, and the intruder cried out: “I’m a drunken soldier. Don’t choke me.”

When Mr Tregoning had caught the intruder, he sent a maid to get a neighbour and a rope to tie him up, and he noticed that the man’s hands had gone cold.

A doctor arrived, and pronounced James McWilliam, 34, of Glasgow, dead at the scene. McWilliam had served in France, where he had been awarded the Mons Star, and was not known to be suffering shellshock. He smelt of drink.

Coroner Mr Gardiner concluded that he had been suffocated, probably by the minister pulling on his collar, and he added that “there was not a shadow of a shade or an atom of blame attached to Mr Tregoning, who was quite entitled to do what he did and more.”

That edition of the D&S also reported that the fittings of Picton Steeple Chase Course had been auctioned. The racecourse ten miles from Yarm had hosted its first race on April 19, 1909, on farmland owned by the Casebourne family.

In 1910, it had held meetings in March, April and November. The meetings had concluded with an entertainment in the Station pub, which was less than a mile from the finishing post on the railway line between Northallerton and Yarm.

The last meeting was held on March 13, 1915.

The D&S’ report of the sale suggests that there was quite a bit of infrastructure at the racecourse. Buyers had come from Newcastle, Stokesley, Liverpool and Wetherby. “The grandstand and all conveniences attached thereto were sold to Mr Watson, of Middlesbrough, at the high price of £1,010. The loose boxes made £103, the telegraph office £60 and the refreshment bar £40.”

According to the Bank of England’s Inflation Calculator, the grandstand sold for the equivalent of £55,000 in today’s values, so it must have been a fairly substantial structure.

We’d love to hear from anybody who knows more about Picton’s horseracing past.

July 25, 1868

THERE must have been a sensation in West Hartlepool 150 years ago after the D&S reported that gold ore had been found on the beach, “near to where a large quantity of Spanish dollars were found about six months ago”.

Elizabeth Dawson had been walking on Seaton Sands when “she saw something shining in the water among the rocks”. She fished it out and found it to be a piece of gold ore about two inches by one inch square.

Jewellers in Hartlepool acclaimed it as “one of the best pieces they had ever seen”.

The D&S concluded its report with a sentence that must have sparked a goldrush: “As to how it came there can only be conjectured, and it is supposed that it must have formed part of the cargo of the Duck, wrecked at that place, and that possibly much more is at present embedded in the sand.”

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