Readers track down the owner of the Darlington Salt Pig

A salt pig is an earthenware kitchen utensil used to store salt – “pygg” is an old Norse word for “pot”.

Des Needham recently purchased a copy with the inscription “Mrs. JS Watkins, Darlington, November 1, 1890” in the glaze.

The Northern Echo: Needham's Salt Pig


The Northern Echo: Needham's Salt Pig

Since the pig’s appearance in Memories 640, our genealogists have been scouring their databases to find out who Mrs JS Watkins might be, and we are deeply indebted to Helen Morton, David Lewis and Tony Young for their efforts.

All three came back with the same answer. The 1891 census shows John Southern Watkins living at 4 Gladstone Street with his wife Alice Annie and their young daughter Lily.

“It was common practice at the time to use the husband’s initials in the wife’s title, so her name was not Mrs AA Watkins but Mrs JSWatkins,” says Helen.

John, described in the census as “an engine builder’s fitter”, and Alice had married in June 1890 and Lily had been born in November 1890 (we will gloss over any late Victorian scandal here).

In 1891 they were both 21 years old, so it may be that the salt pig was made to commemorate Alice’s 21st birthday.

All our researchers say that the family had disappeared from Darlington by the time of the 1901 census.

But then David adds: “John Southern Watkins was admitted to the Darlington Freemasons Lodge on September 5, 1905, with an address showing him in East Borneo!”

The Northern Echo:

Somewhere in Borneo

Borneo is the third largest island in the world. Its northern part largely belongs to Malaysia, with the exception of the small sovereign state of Brunei, while the southern island belongs to Indonesia.

What could have brought him there? We have nothing but wild speculation to offer here, but two thoughts come to mind. Firstly, we know that Whessoe built an oil tank for Borneo a long time ago – could John have sailed off with it?

However, his job description suggests that he was a railwayman, and the North Borneo Railway was built under the direction of the English Worcestershire engineer Arthur West from 1896 until the completion of its 120 miles (193 km) in 1905, hand in hand with the “engine builder-fitter” JS Watkins, perhaps going there to get the first engines (made in Darlington) running?

It looks like his family went with him – and maybe their salt pig too.

Can you shed some light on the Watkins family or any connection to Borneo?


The Northern Echo: The recently restored Barclays roof garden above High Row in Darlington. Image: Susan Theobald

The recently restored Barclays roof garden above High Row in Darlington. Image: Susan Theobald

One of the wonders of Darlington is that there is a secret roof garden in the town center. It sits on the roof of Barclays Bank on High Row and, as Memories 637 reported, was built in 1974 when an extension was added to the stately Victorian bank.


Due to the height difference between the old and new, access to the roof of the extension was possible from the first floor of the Victorian building.

In the 1970s, Darlington was the local headquarters of Barclays with 54 branches under its control.

Jean Jones, who worked in human resources there at the time, remembers that the first floor was largely occupied by bank managers, who invited important clients to lunch and then showed them the garden.

The garden was maintained by Everards Nurseries of Richmond.

“They had to weigh all the soil and everything else that went into the garden so they knew the roof would support the weight,” says Jean.

As the nature of banking changed, the garden became overgrown a few decades ago, but now the staff has it back under control and can enjoy this little park in the sky just as much as they did in Jean’s day.

The Northern Echo: Haughton Road by Paul Boden

MEANWHILE, Paul Boden reports on the roadworks at Freemans Place in Darlington, the stretch of road from Russell Street to the Ring Road. A few inches of modern asphalt had been cut away to reveal the old stone pavers, which still looked pretty neat.

The Northern Echo: The Collapsed European Beech Tree in Green Park, by Brian Humphrey

In this summer’s storms, “a magnificent copper beech tree in Green Park was forever changed when it lost around a third of its enormous mass,” says Brian Humphrey.

Green Park in Darlington was, of course, once the back garden of Joseph Pease’s mansion in Southend. After his death in 1872 it was taken over by the Waldy family, who lived at Green Park Terrace on Coniscliffe Road. Although it was still a private park, the Waldys permitted public access for religious services and theatrical performances.

In 1960 it was purchased by the local council for £598 16s 5d and opened as a public park.

“The tree was a local landmark,” says Brian. “I wonder if there are photos of this in happier times?”

Can you help?


blank Readers track down the owner of the Darlington Salt Pig

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