The life of Relly’s railroads and paper mills


Not only did the railroads go to Relly in southwest Durham, but the banks of the Browney there were once filled with stationery.

And now, if you’re in the mood for nervousness, don’t read any further.

Because the paper mills were violent places.

Rag and bone men went door to door picking up rags and bones – animal bones were crushed to make fertilizer, and linen rags were pulped to make paper.

Not only were they smashed, but they were torn, pounded and shredded by all kinds of fast-rotating machines, powered by ruthless steam engines.

Mixed with river water, the pulp was then stretched over frames and pressed in a steam press to extract the water. Often it was also heated in an oven, and then the brown paper came out.

Great dangers therefore lay in wait for the paper mills.

In 1866, 15-year-old Ellen Dinning, a smart girl who lived with her family in Grape Lane in central Durham, began working at Relly Paper Mill. gave its name to the junction where a line looped to join the Lanchester Valley Railway.

The remains of Relly Paper Mill in 2005

Ellen was employed in the carving loft of the mill, along with 15 other girls. Their formidable machines were driven by a shaft which rotated at 140 revolutions per minute by a steam engine at the bottom of the mill.

One day in August after their shift was over, Ellen volunteered to show a new entry, Bridget Corbett, all the fascinating corners of the at least a century old factory.

They descended onto the dusty ground, through which the six-inch well spun without a cover. She opened a trap door in the ground to show Bridget the spinning flywheel on the engine below.

Then she stepped over the trapdoor.

Ellen was in fashion in a wide skirt. “She seemed to know everything about the place,” Bridget said later. “She had a crinoline and a winsey knickerbocker dress.”

You’ve probably already guessed what happened.

“The poor girl was dragged away and killed, and her body was transported at high speed,” reported the Durham Advertiser, the Echo’s sister newspaper, August 24, 1866. “With each turn of the tree the body was stuck between the well and the wall and crashed against the ground.

It took Bridget two minutes to locate mechanic Nesbitt Oswald and cut him off. The advertiser’s reporter discovered that by that time, the shaft had rotated 280 times.

Other newspapers were much more graphic. The Kendal Mercury reported: “When the machine was stopped, a most disgusting sight presented itself. The girl’s head and arms were cut off completely from the trunk, and she was so horribly mutilated that the remains could hardly be recognized as those of a human being.

The unfortunate Mr. Oswald, who had tried in vain to dissuade the girls from wearing crinolines, had to “cut the clothes off the pole and carefully pick up the mutilated remains of the poor girl.”

The Announcer said: “After the accident, it was reported in the mill that the deceased had communicated to some of her companions a singular dream which she had had about a month before her death. She dreamed that she saw the mechanic stand up to his knees in blood, cutting the flesh of some machines.

Mr. Oswald told the inquest that he did not have to do the last track.

The coroner concluded that “the deceased was clearly the cause of his own death”, but said the well should be covered in the future.

He also said that Ellen’s death was “a good opportunity to ban the wearing of crinolines.”

The Echo of the North:

MEMORIES 545 was taken to the Relly area by Clive Madgin, who asked about a carved and weathered stone (above) located in the roadside wall on the north edge of the Langley Bridge, which is about a mile south of the paper mill. Clive’s parents once told him that the letters on the wall were the initials of a girl who had drowned in the Browney.

As our photos showed, the letters on the wall read “ELL”.

L'écho du Nord: Ann's terrace

THE theory of drowning on letters can still hold water. Immediately south of Langley Bridge is a row of four houses which is now known as Grove Terrace (above, from Google StreetView).

A diamond on a central house indicates that they were originally called “Ann’s Terrace 1874”.

Several Memories readers have heard a story that they were built in a place where a girl called Ann lost her life in Browney.

RAILWAYS and rivers were a winning combination for the paper mills. Railways brought wagons loaded with rags, and rivers supplied water and electricity.

North next to the Browney, the Relly area paper mills were Aldin Grange, Relly Mill, Stonebridge and Langley Grove.

During Ellen’s day, several of the mills were run by the Smith family, who lived near Park House, a large riverside estate that included Langley Grove in its grounds.

As coal became more profitable than paper, Park House became the home of Martin Holliday, agent for the Littleburn and Broompark coal mines, which were owned by Lord Boyne at Branceeth Castle. Martin lived there from 1884 to 1923, and after his death he allowed the Langley Grove area to become a public space – this is now the popular Holliday Park, overlooked by Ann’s Terrace.

“I worked for the Durham City Parks Department for 34 years and cut the grass a lot in Holliday Park,” says Billy Mollon, who helped me immensely with this article. “One winter the Browney had flooded it and left about 2 feet of water in a large lake. I was sent with a van and two small gas pumps to pump water into the Browney as it was a danger to the public.

“It had frozen over and I could see people had walked through the ice – not much of an issue for an adult, but a young child could have drowned.

“There was a filled well in the park which was possibly a coal mine ventilation shaft.”

The Echo of the North:

IN 1968 Park House became the studios of Radio Durham, one of the first nine local BBC radio stations established by the BBC. A young reporter called Kate Adie made her debut on their airwaves from there.

When BBC Newcastle and BBC Teesside were opened, BBC Durham was stuck in the middle. It ceased broadcasting from Park House in 1972, and now the county is shared by the two surviving stations.

Since 1988, Park House has housed St Cuthbert’s hospice (above) with Martin Holliday’s villa still at its heart.

Echo of the North: Trevor Horn

NEAR Holliday Park was a Milk Marketing Board depot where, in the 1940s, John Horn worked by day as a dairy engineer.

In the evenings, he played double bass in the dancings of Durham with the Joe Clarke Band.

John lived in Stonebridge – a bridge over the Browney, while Langley Bridge crosses the Deerness – where his son, Trevor, was born in 1949.

Trevor attended Durham Johnston School, showed such promise on bass guitar that he replaced his father when the band performed at the Astoria Ballroom.

The Horns left Stonebridge for Leicester when Trevor (above) was in his mid teens. He of course became a legendary music producer responsible for bands like Frankie Goes to Hollywood and The Art of Noise.


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