King Coal, Pelton
The village of Pelton is, it would be fair to say, rather unassuming. Home to just over 8,000 people and lying a couple of miles northwest of Chester-le-Street, it might be best known by some people as the birth town of Alan White, the longtime drummer in progressive rock band Yes. However, it’s also where 19th-century trade union chief Thomas Hepburn was born in 1795 – and his upbringing as a coal miner begins to hint at why you should give Pelton a closer look.
Pelton even used to have its own train station, which was in operation for passengers from 1894 until 1955. Admittedly, it was Pelton’s train station largely just in name, being physically nearer the similarly-named village of Pelton Fell; besides, if you head to the site of the station today, you will see very little even suggesting that a station ever stood there.
Nonetheless, if you journey towards the end of this site in the direction of South Pelaw, you could soon see… a giant head! That’s probably the best way of summarising its look, anyway; it’s a structure with an elaborate design akin to that of a head statue built by New Zealand’s indigenous Polynesian civilisation of the Māori. However, it is actually an art installation designed by the artist David Kemp.
A stonemason and local volunteers physically put together the structure, which comprises stone from a bridge that once crossed Consett railway station, itself – like the Pelton station – now long gone. The completion of King Coal was coincidentally reached on 15th October 1992 – the same day the closure of Durham’s few remaining coalfield pits was announced. We can’t help but think that, to this day, it makes a very fitting – and visually striking – tribute to the area’s coal-mining past.
You might remember, last year, hearing or reading stories of a theatre called the Darlington Hippodrome opening to the public. However, this wasn’t a new theatre; it was, in fact, formerly Darlington Civic Theatre! It had closed in May 2016 for an extensive restoration project that cost £13.7m and lasted for 18 months.
The improvements to the theatre you may previously remember – and where you might even have seen some shows – include the addition of a three-storey glass atrium comprising the main entrance and box office. It’s now also possible to take lifts to all of the auditorium’s seating levels – and we wouldn’t be surprised to see those lifts heavily used, especially given that the capacity has been extended from 900 to over 1,000. This and a new fly system have made the venue suitable for bigger productions.
The project has also seen the restoration of the Edwardian auditorium – an especially endearing part of the venue that first opened in 1907, towards the end of King Edward VII’s reign. Back then, the theatre was actually called the New Hippodrome and Palace Theatre of Varieties – and, with its historical features now beautifully restored, the return of the “Hippodrome” reference to its name seems wonderfully appropriate.