Crook, County Durham

PUBLISHED: 10:54 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:28 20 February 2013

The Mill

The Mill

Barbara Mason finds that Crook is the perfect starting point for travellers to Weardale and Upper Teesdale

From Barcelona to Wembley

Although Crook Town now play modestly in the second division of the Northern League, the team have played their part in putting Crook on the map. In one sensational decade, they played at Wembley four times between 1954 and 1964 in a spell during which they won the FA Amateur Cup four times to add to their first triumph in 1901. Understandably, the football teams place as a non league giant declined as the town did with the closure of the last pits in the decade of Crooks final trip to Wembley.

Crooks most famous footballing son was John Richard (Jack) Greenwell, who spent just over decade with Crook a century ago. Greenwell went to play for and manage Barcelona before coaching the national teams of Spain and Peru. A year after swapping Crook for Barcelona he arranged for Crook to play three games against Barca. Two were drawn, with Crook winning the other game 4-2. Crook returned to play Barcelona in 1921 and 1922 and in total have played the club, who are the current European champions, ten times.

Ten miles south west of Durham City, Crook is an old mining town that takes its name from a bend in the river. Its name originates from the ancient Norse word krokr, which literally means a bend.

Like the flowing water, you change direction when travelling through Crook, where the road changes from the A690 as you enter the town from the east and becomes the A689 as you leave westwards and move towards all that Weardale and Upper Teesdale have to offer - be that lovely summer days out or the wild and windy beauty of unspoiled countryside on a winter walk.

For many, Crook is a base camp acting as a gateway to the countryside for those travelling from the direction of the city of Durham.

We get lots of caravans going towards Stanhope that clock us on the way through and come in on the way back, says Tony Hill the owner of Cafe Js, a busy caf on the main road. Next door to Deftys ironmongers, a business so entrenched in Crook life its been there 140 years, Tonys venture into making a going concern of a business in Crook is just a youngster in comparison. I left Portsmouth five years ago to make my first venture in business after 20 years in the haulage industry. Id never run a coffee shop before and people said it wouldnt work but we have lots of regular customers, some of whom come in three times a day some days. They come back because we offer quality. All of our cakes are home made and we try hard to source as much as much of what we sell as locally as possible.

The notion of Crook acting as a gateway is enhanced by an attractive pavement compass positioned on the opposite side of the main road to the market square. This points the direction to local streets as well as two European partners with which the area has forged links: Ivry-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris and Bad Oeynhausen, a spa town in Germany.

Travel through Crook with just a minute or so to take in the local shops and youll miss some of the best of them. Just off the main thoroughfare, North Street, is a hidden gem of a street, Hope Street. Wander up here and among a varied assortment of local shops youll find the Elachi Indian restaurant and two good looking bistros, Carmelinos and the El Greco. If you are going to visit Crook for a bite at a bistro and a saunter around the shops, be sure to go on a Tuesday as that is the day of the market proclaimed on the town sign.

Like so many other parts of the North East, Crook was once a thriving mining community and owes much of its original development to coal. Two hundred years ago fewer than 200 people lived in Crook but after the first mine opened in 1844 the population grew as coal brought work - and pubs! A dad celebrating the birth of a son on the day the first pit opened could have celebrated in Ye Olde Horse Shoe. By the time the sons 21st birthday was toasted there were 14 other pubs and hotels to choose from as supply met demand from a growing town which, at its peak, had 26 working pits in and around the area.

As with so much of North East mining, the pits ground to a halt from the 1960s and their demise saw the closure of the railway developed to carry coal to the ports. Now, as we move into 2010 Crook is less of a destination and more of a gateway, but its making a good job of it and approaching a half a century since the mines began to close, Crook seems increasingly comfortable in its new role.


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