A few weeks ago I was cycling in Durham when I took a different route to explore some cobbled back streets beside St Godrics, the church named after the hermit who was effectively the first monk of Finchale Priory. Though a listed building in its own right, the church didn’t interest me, but looking in the opposite direction I spotted a more intriguing structure over the rooftops and my curiosity was piqued.
Was there another small church or chapel nearby whose tower I’d never noticed? I didn’t have time to explore further and put it from my mind.
I don’t usually visit the North Road area of Durham; it’s a tired, run down part of the city featuring lots of coffee shops, a handful of small supermarkets and an architectural classic – a 1970’s bus station! Redevelopment is long overdue.
The place clearly had a more illustrious past though, for there are still a few gems that would benefit from a little polish.
The youngest of these was built as the Regal Cinema in the art deco style of the 1930’s. After surviving 5 different owners with it’s original features intact these were all lost as recently as 2003 when it was refitted as an Australian themed bar. As you can see the sacrifice didn’t guarantee success.
Another imposing structure that has seen some changes seems to be faring better, at least at the moment. What was originally the offices of the Weardale & Shildon Water Company evolved at about the same time as the Regal Cinema was opening opposite into the Durham County WaterBoard. It’s now an appropriately named watering hole – The Water House.
The third building’s occupants would be appalled at the thought of their edifice enduring such a fate. Built in 1853 as The Bethel Chapel, it is now the prosaically named North Road Methodist Church. A grade II listed building it still bears the grime of Durham’s industrial past; much of which would have been deposited by the trains of the nearby railway viaduct leading to Durham Station.
But none of these featured that impudent digit that had caught my attention earlier.
Built in 1875, the Durham Miners’ Hall’s location near the chapel and water board offices was evidence of the importance and standing of that industry. Effectively a union meeting place for pit representatives, the building was originally graced by four statues of regional miners leaders within the first floor arched niches, but so ubiquitous was the colliery in these parts that the hall was quickly judged too small. By 1915 the Durham Miners Association had a new hall further up the road, and the statues joined them there. (I was sure I’d already blogged some shots of them, but no trace was found so there’s a future subject!)
The old hall draws little attention now, largely because the ground floor is a fruit and veg market, and the roof home wind-blown weeds. From ground level you might not notice the clock tower. Like the industry itself, its time has gone (and the clock is dormant).
Take the time to find a different angle though and that tower, like the last truly vocal miners’ leader Arthur Scargill, refuses to be ignored.