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Published: September 6th 2020
From Langley Park To Memphis. I often draw inspiration from music for a blog title. It could be a line in a song or an album title and it doesn't even need to be from a band with whom I have some affinity. The title seemed appropriate for another wander around County Durham. The 1988 vinyl by the Prefab Sprout gang might have fallen off the radar somewhat, but is still credible 30 odd years on. The last County Durham blog on the heels of the "Senior Advisor", saw us pass the milestone of 70,000 hits in total. Thank you to everyone, who has taken the trouble to read, view or even look at the odd photograph.
Lockdown has had many negatives, but a lack of time wasn't one. I hear the cries of anguish from those who have been home schooling. The time gives you plenty of time to think and one of those travel related thoughts related to American states. I counted in the dark, distant past, pre-blog days, we had ventured to 33 of those states. A decent effort, if I say so myself and yes, Four Corners (for those of you who are familiar) was included.
Alas, Tennesse or indeed Memphis is not on the list and possibly will never be with the change in travel circumstances. I still count myself fortunate to have spotted Elvis though. He doesn't work in a chip shop, but sails a boat on Lake Ohrid, Macedonia, these days. There's A Guy Works Down Lake Ohrid Swears He Is Elvis
I had never been to Langley Park before this week either, so at least one end of the spectrum of the blog title has been accomplished. Let the adventure begin.
I know what you were thinking after my last comment. Adventure and Langley Park. Where is correlation between the two? Langley Park has Diggerland! OK so there are 3 other locations in the UK, but anywhere that possess a location where you can race a JCB has to be adventurous. Diggerland is essentially a theme park, where the rides largely compose of having fun on construction equipment. Racing is not confined to just JCB. Dumpers trucks look to be just as much fun and very probably, a whole lot easier to handle.There are diggers small enough for little people to go on, amusements with a digger theme and a host of rides featuring... yes, diggers. The most impressive
from the perimeter fence was Spindizzy. Think adrenalin ride, where the participants are strapped in the actual gravel bucket. It spins one way for a num er of revolutions and then back. You could see a breath of relief from those on board, but then it went higher! Who needs Alton Towers? We'll come back to Langley Park later.
I started the day at Brancepath, a tiny and beautiful village just west of Durham. A row of immaculate stone cottages leads off the main road towards the entrance to Brancepath Castle. An old bench from the former, unused Railway Station guards the entrance. A stream of cars swung left yo play at the swanky golf club next door. Brancepath Castle is the original home of the Neville family.and dates from Norman times. The property was confiscated in 1570, after the family were involved in a plot to overthrow the Crown. Elizabeth 1 used it as a Tudor deer farm and Charles 1 sold it, when his coffers were looking a bit sparse. The present structure was funded by the Russells, wealthy local mine owners and bankers from Sunderland. The Castle was used by military in both World Wars. The
Durham Light Infantry finally left in 1962. The publishing family, Dobsons, acquired the Castle in 1978. The primary reason was to store the Company stock of books, after their lease ran out on their Notting Hill premises. How the other half live - run out of storage space, buy a Castle! I completed a circuit of the adjacent St Brandon's Church and the impressive stain glass window at the far end.
After the Brancepath excursion, I moved on to nearby Brandon. It was never going to be as pleasing on the eye, but disappointing that I could not get a decent look at their Northern League ground. The gates, hidden up a track behind the main street, were firmly locked. Esh Winning FC was next on my agenda. It isn't actually in the village, but tucked away off the old railway track in nearby Waterhouses. It bills itself as the most scenic football ground in the Northern League. I drove away, unconvinced.
I took a detour to Quebec. I knew the Man from Montreal would appreciate the photograph of the road sign at the start of the village. The village came into being around the time the British
were taking control of the Canadian city of the same name and was thus named in honour of the "victory". There wasn't actually much else to record and my visit was only prolonged by some temporary traffic lights. I added it to the other North American enclaves hiding in the North East - Washingon, Toronto and New York. As far as I know, the Northern League team in the former is not planning to takeover the Redskins franchise. The local colliery is long gone, as is the most famous former connection. The finest mullet in North East if not World football was plucked from his factory job in Quebec and part time playing role in nearby Tow Law. He would go on to grace St James Park and the Stade Velodrome among others. We shouldn't forget Top of the Pops. Chris Waddle, of course. The song, Diamond Lights, could have been written as a tribute to the floodlights at the Ironworks Ground. I jest.
Quebec leads into the village of Esh. Esh, perched high on a ridge, is not to be confused with the previously mentioned Esh Winning. The word "winning" was a Victorian word for coal. The two
The final resting place of Sir Bobby Robson
are chalk and cheese. This was the start of the Sir Bobby Robson part of my journey. Sir Bobby was married at the small village church and his funeral service was held here in 2009. Born in nearby Sacriston, he grew up in Langley Park in the valley below. As with many families, his dad worked down the pit and lived his early years in a back to back terrace on George Street. He was a handy footballer who had a decent career, primarily with Fulham and West Bromwich Albion. However, it was in management that he truly excelled. He transformed Ipswich Town from provincial mediocrity to European winners and inspired the England national team to as close as they have come to recreating 1966. There were European adventures with PSV Eindhoven, Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona, before returning "home" to Newcastle United.
I stopped the car at the top of the Silly Steps. As we have already seen, Sir Bobby worked in many scenic European cities. His favourite view? The view over Barcelona from Montjuc? The view over Lisbon - the City of Seven Hills? No, it was the view over Langley Park from the top of Silly
.... the oldest railway bridge in the world
Steps. The New Board Inn at the top was well populated today with those enjoying the food and drink, as well as the view. The opposite ridge was populated by wind turbines and the Pontop Pike TV transmitter. I descended into town and parked up. It was time to enjoy some food and drink of my own. I surveyed the options. I spotted a queue on Quebec Street - it was a proper chippy. A fish and chip shop that hasn't stooped to being the Jack of all trades and doesn't serve pizza and kebabs. My fish at the Langley Fidh Shop was cooked to order and was fairly decent. I would return. I crossed the road to the very impressive Cafe Montalbano. "Tipico Italiano" said the sign. It was an Italian deli that would not have looked out of place in a swanky suburb of a major city. There were pasta lunch specials and a display of fine looking cakes. I made some notes on the day so far, whilst I savoured my large latte. The noise just up the road was coming from the Langlay Bark. An amusing play on words was the title for the dog grooming
business. A couple of the canine customers were expressing their appreciation of the cut and blow dry. A dog needs to look sharp for the weekend. It was a world away from Dusty Dogs the sign for which I would spy later. I walked down to the sculpture commemorating the Langley Park Colliery. The 10 foot sculpture was only unveiled in 2019 - paid for by public subscription and the work of Mark Burns Cassell. The pit was the sole reason for the existence of Langley Park and closed in 1975 after over 100 years. A total of 323 workers lost their jobs, when the mine closed on 31st October.
I walked round down the streets towards Diggerland. The row of terraces reminded me of Ashington and the home of the Charlton brothers. The outside toilets had been turned into brightly coloured sheds for storage. Langley Park pub commanded a fine view up Front Street from the end of the road. The old Fire Station had become the local garage and MOT testing station. The Miners Institute on Quebec Street was surprisingly small and the Langley Park Sports and Social Club looked like it had served their last customer.
..... back street football
I guessed the adjacent sports field was where Sir Bobby first kicked a football. The centre of the town was littered with former chapels. The premises had mostly been occupied for other uses. One was a gym and Moette Custom Cothing were producing garments in another. An advert announced Star Wars Darth Vader tee shirts had been reduced to £6.99. The new Mick Jagger tee shirt range had been launched. I felt like knocking on the door and asking why they weren't knocking out the From Langley Park To Memphis range in tribute to their local musicians. I will leave Paddy to sort that another time. A sideline could involve the From Langley Park To PSV Eindhoven, From Langley Park To Sporting Lisbon and From Langley Park To Barcelona range.
My last stop in Langley Park was the cemetery. A simple black and white headstone marks the final resting place of Sir Bobby Robson. There were no flowers. No fuss. Sir Bobby Robson. From Langley Park To Langley Park (via Fulham, Wet Bromich Albion, Ipswich, Eindhoven, Lisbon, Porto, Barcelona and Newcastle). Football Player. Football Mamager. All round decent bloke.
The Prefab Sprout album title implies that the band
set off from Langley Park and their music took them to the world. As the sleeve notes say, Recorded in Newcastle, London & Los Angeles. The irony is that the key members of the line up actually hailed from the nearby small village of Whitton Gilbert. Langley Park is no metropolis, but it is compared to Whitton Gilbert. The band have a little known connection with the NEPSR. Along with a lead singer with Deep Purple and a bass guitarist in Dogs D'Amour, Wendy actually briefly attended our school in the town. The pin up poster girl of ex Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, no less was in the same class as the Other Half. I will be totally honest and say I can't actually remember her being there. In fairness, I suspect it is a bit of a blank for her too. She left the band after the recording of Andromeda Heights in 1997, was washing her hair when I saw band at the Royal Convert Hall in 2000 and is now Director of Learning (or an equally grand title) at The Sage in Gateshead. You will recognise the silver creation that snakes across the south bank of the
River Tyne from my other North East blogs.
I headed up to the Tanfield Railway, which dates from 1725. The original wagonway to transport coal between Causey and Sunniside is technically thus the oldest continually operating railway in the world. The line is now restored and operates regular steam trains on the section. I parked at Causey and walked down into the valley to take a look at Causey Arch. The Arch was built between 1725 and 1727 to service a branch line and is the oldest surviving railway bridge in the world. The 150 foot single span remained the longest in the UK for over 30 years.
I turn my attention to the target of the evening entertainment and head west. I passed through the suburbs - if that is the right word - of Stanley. There wasn't much life at the snack emporium - KP, as the rain lashed down. It wasn't really practical to linger, given the unpleasant state of the weather. I turned into Kyo, not to be confused with Tokyo. The word Kyo in these parts means "cattle". West Kyo lays claim to be the birthplace of a certain Hugh Rodham. The coal
miner was more ambitious than catching the bus to Newcastle and departed the UK for Pennsylvania. His grand daughter is Hilary Rodham Clinton, former First Lady, Senator and defeated Presidential candidate.
The sign that greets players, as they venture out of the tunnel at Liverpool FC states "This is Anfield". Well, this is Anfield too .... of a sorts. This is Annfield Plain. Annfield Plain Football Club. A subtle difference in spelling and a whole world away. After COVID 19, the delayed start to the Wearside Football League season was due to kick off with a round of midweek fixtures. Annfield Plain FC sat at the top of the league table. They invariably do, before a ball is kicked. Alphabetical order ensures early season top dog status. Annfield Plain is perhaps best known as the birthplace of boxing World Champ, Glen McCrory and actor, Alun Armstrong. The most famous building in town is no longer there. The old Co-op was removed brick by brick to the nearby Beamish Museum. The football club has been around since 1925, but like the old Co-op building is in need of some love and attention. The club has qualified for the First Round
proper of the FA Cup in the past and even applied for Football League status in 1947. Derwent Park has possibly not had any improvements since that failed attempt, but still gives the impression it could be so much more than home to a Wearside League club. A queue had formed, but alas for Annfield Plain it wasn't outside the turnstiles- it was at the local Chemists. There was plenty of space for social distancing, until the heavens opened and most of the crowd took refuge in the covered stand. The open terrace to the side remained empty thereafter. A couple of old guys sheltered behind the goal under the corrugated iron perimeter fence, that encloses the ground.
The locals have had a struggle to retain a decent playing squad over the summer and played as though they were strangers for much of this match. There will be better days for the Annfield Plain squad. A slick looking Chester-le-Street United dominated from the start. An early chance rattled an upright, but Annfield Plain weren't so lucky from that point onwards. The weather worsened. The rain fell from the darkening sky in sheets, as though it was some form of
film set special effect. The lack of floodlights raised the question mark over weather there would be enough light to play the game to a conclusion. The heroes of the hour - along with the crowd for braving the weather - were the Chester-le-Street forwards. They relentlessly pressed on in pursuit of goals. It finished 0-8. At this level of football in the Wearside League, the players are doing it for the glory. It doesn't pay the mortgage or as Mr McAloon would say in his lyrics ....."it doesn't buy you beer, From Langley Park To Memphis".
A journey inspired by Prefab Sprout, Sir Bobby Robson and the pursuit of proper football. Appendix 1 Wearside Football League Division 1 Annfield Plain FC 0 Chester-le-Street United 8 Date
: Wednesday 2 September 2020 @ 1815 Hours Venue
: Derwent Park, Annfield Plain, County Durham. DH9 8TY Attendance
: Est 68 Scorers
: Malone, Facett (2), Clark, Ramsey, Brewis (2), Ward Annfield Plain
: Douglas, Manning, Smith (Hall), Sunley, McConnell, Potts, Tasker, Ross, Fletcher (Kelly), Hillier (Halliday), Hunter (Manser) Chester-le-Street United
: Anderson, McHarg, Milburn, Crews (Grieveson), Fox (Spellman), Malone, Facett, Clark (Errington), Ramsey, Brewis (Paterson), Ward
Tot: 2.559s; Tpl: 0.031s; cc: 17; qc: 27; dbt: 0.023s; 2; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.5mb