Where the names have no 'streets' in County Durham
PUBLISHED: 08:31 24 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:05 20 February 2013
The old and the new come together in Newton Aycliffe and its surrounding villages, as Gareth Dant discovers
From the post-Second World War baby boom came a healthy bouncing baby of a new town. Born of William Beveridges report on his utopian vision for post-war Britain, new towns were a key building block, along with the NHS and the welfare state.
Founded in 1947 under the New Towns Act, Newton Aycliffe - even its name was aimed at embodying regeneration - was Beveridges flagship and the first new town in the North.
It was also considered ideally situated, on the site of a vast redundant ordnance factory - once the workplace to thousands of munitions staff, mainly women, known as the Aycliffe Angels - and poor surrounding farmland.
Chemical and manufacturing firms moved into the towns sprawling industrial district - many have come and gone over the years - but it remains very much a hive of industry today, weathering the economic storms. Its proximity to the A1(M) and ready supplies of labour helps Aycliffe Business Park - the second largest park of its type in the North-East - thrive.
As a result, and because of well-meaning but rather utilitarian post-war town planners (by repute, there are
no streets in Newton Aycliffe, only avenues, roads, closes and crescents) the town itself is a workaday settlement not known for its visitor attractions. It is, however, well served by retail outlets for a town of just under 30,000 people.
Aycliffe also has its own answer to The Angel of the North. Last summer a 16-metre high steel sculpture was installed at the main gateway to the town. In Our Image is a gigantic head and shoulders, complete with attendant workmen that do a pretty good job of fooling motorists into thinking these steel silhouettes are real labourers toiling on the structure.
It was created by Gateshead sculptor Joseph Hillier and commissioned by what was Sedgefield Borough Council, before local government reorganisation. He used for his models workers from local firm Aycliffe Fabrications, which built the structure.
Take to the lanes running to and from Newton Aycliffe and youll find pretty villages gathered around greens with some quality country pubs well worth a weekend run out.
Theres Aycliffe Village itself, originally a Saxon settlement, close
to the line of the original Stockton
and Darlington Railway. Divided by
the busy A167 thundering past to its younger neighbour to the north, the village nevertheless fosters a strong sense of community, managing to support three pubs.
To the west is Heighington, which basks in the glory of a vast village green looking south over the Vale of York, and a well-used village hall. St Michaels Church, at the heart of the village, is also a fine specimen.
These features, and a far share of pubs, no doubt helped Heighingtons selection from among a dozen rivals as part of the BBC Fours The Perfect Village, in 2006.
In world leaders footsteps
Its getting on for ten years since then PM and local MP Tony Blair dined at a small pub in Aycliffe Village with French president Jacques Chirac, bringing the global media circus to The County.
Today, that famous meal still proves a draw - just as it does for the Dun Cow across in Sedgefield, where Mr Blair ate with George Bush.
Owners Colette Farrell and Stuart
Dale regularly welcome businessmen from all over the world, visiting firms in Newton Aycliffe.
Since arriving at the County two years ago, theyve renovated the exterior, redecorated and, in February, opened seven bedrooms to entice those visiting bosses to stay over. Four AA stars for bed and breakfast had just been awarded the day we dropped by.
Theres a really varied client base, says Colette. This is a really nice, diverse area, with three diverse pubs. We are lucky that the village really uses us.
The couple and their staff are kept busy - a hectic Saturday night can bring in 110 diners. The pubs own real ale - The County - is brewed for it by the Yard of Ale Brewery in nearby Ferryhill.