(This is the second in a series of planned posts exploring the cities, towns and counties inhabited by RA and his ChaRActers . . . your comments and additions are very welcome, too!)
In the northern part of England lies County Durham, bordered by the counties of North Yorkshire to the south, Cumbria to the west and Northumberland to the north. And in the northeastern portion of this county you will find the city of Durham, This is the county town of the larger ceremonial county and hometown of the enigmatic rebel, Ricky Deeming, leader of the 60’s motorbike gang, the Durham Defenders.
It’s a part of England where practically every village once could boast of its own coal mine, where mustard making and carpet weaving were among the important industries. Once possessing a thriving population of many medieval weavers, Durham in the 19th century became the home of Hugh McKay Carpets, famed for its axminster and tufted carpets until its closure a few years ago.
Long before the TGV in France, the Transiberian Railroad or bullet trains in Japan, there was the very first train to make the first journey on the first public railway in the entire world. And it happened on Sept. 7, 1825 in the little County Durham town of Darlington. Locomotive #1 carried nearly 600 passengers at an astonishing average speed of 12 mph. And the world was never the same.
County Durham is also home to the world’s first railway bridge, the Causey Arch, built in the mid 1720s. For more than 30 years, it was the longest single span in Britain. This simple, graceful arch was considered the most ambitious feat of engineering since Roman times. Contrary to local legend, it’s unlikely the stone mason of the arch, fearing it would collapse like the previous timber bridge, actually jumped from it to his death. But it makes for a colorful story.
The River Wear winds through the county and city, and Durham Cathedral and Durham Castle sit high on the banks overlooking the river. The beautiful cathedral, considered one of the finest examples of Norman architecture, is better known as “Hogwarts School” to many fans of the Harry Potter films.
Right next door to the cathedral is Durham Castle, an 11th century Norman motte-and-bailey structure which is the home of University College, Durham. It’s the only college entirely confined within a castle’s walls and the only Norman castle keep that never was breached.
Seaham Beach on the northeast coast of County Durham is renowned for its “end of the day” sea glass. In Victorian days, a bottler was located nearby and bits of glass left over “at the end of the day” were dumped over the cliff and into the sea. Collectors have come from far and wide to seek out this gift from the sea, with the colorful pieces of vintage sea glass often used to make unusual jewelry.
More fun facts about Ricky Deeming’s home county:
In 1720 Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe in the ancient town of Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. Gateshead was largely destroyed by fire in the mid- 19th century. Not long afterwards, a Gateshead house became the first home in Britain to be lit using electric bulbs. Gateshead,Tyne and Wear is also the home of the contemporary steel sculpture The Angel of the North.
*Stockton-on-Tees has the widest high street in England, at at No. 58 you will find the shop where a chemist invented the first friction match in 1827. Stockton is also the birthplace of famed furniture maker Thomas Sheraton.
*The first “keep fit” class for housewives in England was held in Sunderland in 1929. Sunderland FC was also the first football club to tour overseas, visiting America in 1894.
*During the Napoleonic Wars, a French warship was wrecked offshore from Hartlepool and the only survivor to reach land was the ship’s monkey. The citizens manhandled the poor monkey into the village square and hanged him as a spy.
*High Force on the River Tees, near Middleton, with a drop of 70 feet, is not the highest, but it is the biggest waterfall in England in terms of water flow.
There is a lot more to learn about Ricky Deeming’s home county. Use the links provided for further reading. The information shared in this post came from Christpher Winn’s I Never Knew That About England supplemented by Wikipedia.