Sunday, 10 April 2011

Farewell to Priestgate, Fleet Street of the North

I spent 14 years working in newspaper offices in Priestgate in Darlington town centre. I first crossed the threshold as a newly qualified trainee and left as the editor of The Northern Echo. I worked the night shift on the Echo and the day shift on the late Evening Despatch. In many ways the office defines a huge slice of my life. With people who were to become lifelong friends, we covered four general elections, the disasters at Lockerbie, Zeebruge, Heysel, Bradford and Hillsbrough as well as the Falklands war, Margaret Thatcher's resignation and the Ripper's arrest. We watched Priestgate change from a hot metal rabbit warren with its own Press to a computerised open-plan office. But it was always our Fleet Street, the hub around which our lives revolved. We strolled out from time to time to go to the Red Lion, the Britannia, the Flamingo and even home, but we were never very far away. Some great newspaper characters have stalked the corridors of Priestgate. W.T. Stead, Harold Evans and David Yelland are among the most famous but you would be hard pushed to go into any newspaper or broadcasting office in the land and not find someone who had cut their teeth in that Victorian building on the corner of Priestgate and Crown Street. My 14 years pales into insignificance, though, compared with the tenure of award-winning writer Mike Amos, MBE.  He was the news-editor when I arrived in 1979 and is still there today, having racked up 45 years. This weekend it was announced that The Northern Echo and Darlington and Stockton Times are to leave the building after 150 years. It will be consumed by the shopping centre and probably become Debenhams. Who can blame Newsquest from selling it? It is no longer necessary to have such a huge town centre building to produce a newspaper. And if I was sitting on a multi-million pound asset that was surplus to requirements, I would cash it in too. But that doesn't mean it isn't a sad day and that a big chunk of North-East history will disappear with it. On hearing the news one of my old colleagues, Red Williams, summed it up in an email: "A sad day not just for the likes of us but also for the people of Darlington, a genuine North-East powerhouse of news and sport moves on...brings a tear to the eye mate." 
Read more here and on Peter Barron's blog.
Picture courtesy of


  1. A lovely reflection Pete! I too have vivid memories of Priestgate - arriving in January 1982 as a Despatch trainee alongside Glyn Middleton (a sort of 'buy one, get one free' arrangement by Robin Thompson in the halcyon days when newspaper managements could afford two trainees when they were only really looking for one). Completely innocent about the realities of working life (particularly the rough and tumble of the newsroom), every experience was loud and larger than life - the clattering - and usually malfunctioning - typewriters, the thumping of my heart with abject fear when I had to go on the stone and of course the terrifying bollockings...That said, it was an incredible time and I made lifelong friends. How amazing to have enough energy to go out until 4am then be at work at 8am! I left as chief reporter after three years to join The Journal which was much easier but somehow not nearly as much fun. Love to all Alison x

  2. If only the building in which I spent so much of my career was as elegant - the concrete bunker that is still the Yorkshire Post will never engender such nostalgia. Still, it's the people that count, and of course I too have many happy memories of great colleagues, great times and some great stories.

  3. Can still recall the thrill - and terror - of sitting in The Northern Echo office and typing my first ever published words while on work experience from the Darlington NCTJ Pre-Entry course. Several million words later, I've never forgotten that moment. Many thanks for the blog Peter.

  4. Hello Pete

    Happy memories of the people and places associated with Priestgate. Working for the Echo as a photographer was a dream job in regional press in the 80's and 90's with photography being an important and integral part of the newspaper's identity, you always felt on a par with the rest of the editorial team - a good picture was always rewarded with a good show in next days edition. The number of industry awards for photography in those days backs this up.

    I used to love heading all the way up to the top floor of Priestgate with a pocket full of film after a days work ready for process and printing. (Why were the photographers always hidden away in the attic in newspaper offices ?)

    Anyway if you're shopping in the planned Debenhams store in Darlington I would listen very carefully for some familiar voices and laughter.


    Tony Bart

  5. Good post Peter. Hope you are doing well. It brought back many happy memories for me too. Days on the old Despatch and nights on the Echo alongside such luminaries as Trevor, Sally, Geoff and Peta. And who will ever forget Ena - the world's gamest copygirl. Darlington won't be the same without the Echo on the corner of Priestgate. Regards to all.

  6. Pete

    I was there on some of those nights you mention, albeit in a junior newsdesk capacity. I'd give my eye teeth to do it again. Hope we all get the chance to go back to Priestgate one last time. I suppose this kind of thing has been inevitable for a long time, but it's still a crying shame.

  7. Two of the best years of my 43 years in newspapers were spent in that office. Frank Peters was night editor, Roger Boar the chief sub and Don Evans the editor. I think the average age of the subs' desk was around 26. We loved the paper so much we usually went in an hour earlier than our normal starting time. Happy days...

  8. Great stuff Pete. I was just a columnist on the Echo, rather than a staffer, but still some great memories. You, in fact, gave me my first ever newspaper column (20+ plus years ago) when I was presenting my daily current affairs programme on BBC locally.
    As I remember, the column offer was all done and dusted while watching Durham play cricket - that's the way to do it!
    Amazing how much has changed - old noisy newsrooms with clattering typewriters and the permanent smoky fug.

    I remember sending in columns with either a charming copytaker or on a Tandy - found one of those in the attic recently.

    Trust life's good with you - spend most of my time these days speaking around the world, writing, and training in media and presentation skills.

    Would fully endorse the comment that there should be a final farewell to Priestgate when the day comes.

    Best wishes - and to all old friends - Alan Wright -

  9. Who could forget the bacon butty run, Clarkie's Clubs and Glyn's Spins on the old Despatch? Wonder what Sadat's cousin in Ferryhill is doing now and whether the occasional body still washes up in the Skerne? Will never forget the deadline adrenaline rush, running down the corridor from the newsroom, to deliver the invariably late copy to a an old(young?) grumpy Chief Sub called Pete Sands. And did they ever catch the bogey smearer in the men's bogs? Fortunately the spirit of journalism is not housed in any one building although Priestgate did provide a temporary home to so many of us itinerant hacks. Best Gary Horne (Despatch 83-86)