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Monday, March 29, 2010

PoWs, tennis and plants - a century of celebration

DARRAS Hall has a range of facilities — from a church and school to a shopping centre and sports clubs — but did you know that it housed Prisoners of War in the Second World War?
And part of the area is protected because of its scientific significance.

In-depth details about its history and development can be found at the United Reformed Church in Broadway at the moment as an exhibition to celebrate its centenary is being held by the Ponteland Local History Society.

Although an auction was held for the Darras Hall Farm and Little Callerton with Callerton Moor Farm plots in 1907, they were bought by the Northern Allotment Society (NAS), and it was 1910 when people bid for the 185 lots available for housing.

And Tuesday was the 100th annual meeting of the Darras Hall Estates Committee.

Ponteland Local History Society Chairman John Turner said: "As the NAS had developed other places such as Westerhope they knew what they were doing and this is shown by the fact that the trust deed drawn up when the estate began is still in effect today, despite being challenged from time to time.

"It has had some interesting developments since then so hopefully we will get a good number of Darras Hall and Ponteland residents coming along to the exhibition and finding out a few things they didn't know beforehand."

Among its earliest major buildings was the Memorial Hall in 1922. This was preceded by the war memorial obelisk in 1920 and followed by facilities for bowling and tennis on its grounds in 1924, which led to the formation of the Ponteland Lawn Tennis and Bowling Clubs.

This fulfilled the requirement in the trust deed for a hall and the Darras Road location was chosen so it could also cover Ponteland village.

"It is a fantastic testament to the people running the Memorial Hall over the years that it's still going strong today and is used by a range of community groups," said Mr Turner.

A less successful development was the rail link to Ponteland, which included a Darras Hall station that opened in 1913.

A combination of the First World War and an economic depression slowed down building work and passenger services stopped in 1929.

The prisoner of war facility, known as Camp 69, was built in 1942 on land between Middle Drive, Western Way and The Rise (it is now a housing area called Parklands).

Many of the Italians and Germans worked on nearby farms and two of them, Adolf Gloth and Alfred Hansch, visited them and where the camp once stood in the last decade.

After the war, it was used to house displaced people from central and eastern Europe and some of them stayed in England. Then it was used as a civil defence training area before being demolished and cleared in 1961.

Mr Turner said: "A lot of people don't know that there was a PoW camp in Darras Hall and it comes as quite a surprise when they learn of it.

"The impact of the area and the kindness of its people despite the war situation is shown by some of the prisoners returning here and meeting up with familiar faces."

The 1960s and 1970s saw a big boom in housing developments, with the Broadway shopping centre and an infant and junior school also being built.

The change to a three-tier education system meant they became two first schools, which amalgamated into Darras Hall First School in the mid-1980s.

There was demand for housing smaller than what is specified in the trust deed and the trustees agreed for the building of flats at Darras Mews as well as a housing estate now called Old Station Court.

But many applications for new homes, alterations and additions were rejected first time around by the Estate Committee as it was keen to ensure they were in keeping with the local area.

Some lots were set aside for recreation to stop housing being built on them, but there was talk of Lot 195, the Recreation Ground, being sold for it until a survey produced an interesting result.

"It was discovered that the land contained a number of plant species that are rare in Northumberland so it was classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1984," said Mr Turner.

The exhibition, which contains written information, photographs, documents, maps and newspaper articles, is set-up in the church's new meeting place.

For more information about opening times, telephone 01661 824530.