John Atkinson

John Atkinson, J.P., born 1892 Darlington.

Parents: John Thomas and Sarah Jane Atkinson.

Army number: 22546. Rank: Private. Unit: 20th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.

Attested: August 10, 1914. Discharged: December 13, 1917 after being wounded twice.

The two stripes on the sleeve of his jacket in the photograph opposite signify that John had been wounded twice.

John Atkinson

John Atkinson WW1 medals

John Atkinson's WW1 medals

John Atkinson

Below are extracts from memories – including photographs and sourced material by his son, The Rev. Canon Lewis Atkinson.

John Atkinson WW2 Observer Corps second left

Lewis Atkinson, John Atkinson, Charlie Kisby, Walter Kent, Jack Kisby, Derek Mattheson, Billy Flower, 1945.


After serving in the D.L.I. 20th Battalion in WW1 he met his wife Elizabeth Simpson Wanless.

Following their marriage they lived with John’s father and mother at 5, Shildon Street.  In 1919 they moved to Aycliffe Village living in the High Street until 1928 and after a year in Heighington Street moved to St. Eloi on Durhan Road in the Spring of 1930.

During this same period, John trained in Electrical Engineering at Northampton Polytechnic, London , probably 1918/19.

He became a switchboard operator at Darlington Corporation power station.  He progressed from a Switchboard Electrical Engineer in 1919 to an Engineer in 1920 and an Electrical Switch Operator for the North Eastern Electrical Supply Company (NEESCo) and linked with the electrification of the Shildon to Newport railway established at this time with two Electric Power Stations serviced by NEESCo. built in the vicinity of Aycliffe Village at Ricknall and Preston Lane.

When the line changed to steam John, as an outdoor Electrical Engineer, became responsible for maintaining supplies to the local community in the Aycliffe/Bishop Auckland area. His work with the North Eastern Electric Supply Co. took him also to the Power Stations Thinford (Spennymoor) and Fylands (Bishop Auckland) and meant that he was one of the few people in Aycliffe in the 1930s to drive a motor car - a small Morris 8 (Reg. BVK 63).

At the same time his public activities began to emerge; as a recently discharged wounded soldier, he got involved with the Darlington Branch of the Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Association (DSSA) and on the 13th January 1918 he was elected a Branch Committee member. (Northern Despatch 14/1/1918).   The following year he was a founder member of the Association’s Branch at Aycliffe, being appointed Secretary (Northern Echo 15/4/1919).  The DSSA was a forerunner of the British Legion.

His long involvement with the South East Durham Cricket League began to develop at this time as a member of the Aycliffe team.

A further involvement took place as the Northern Despatch of 20/4/1923 reported on the Annual General Meeting of the Great Aycliffe Parish Council.   At that meeting among the officers elected was vice-chairman, Mr. J. Atkinson.   The Parish Council became an elected body in 1925 and of the 20 elected that included in 6th position J. Atkinson with 80 votes.

On the 14th November 1923 the Great Aycliffe Branch of the British Legion was opened with John as its President.   He also became involved with the Unionist Association (precursor to the Trade Unions) and the Telegraph Branch of the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows.

In his Council work his prime interests at this time were housing, transport and child welfare and support for the unemployed (especially ex-servicemen) as he sought to improve the lot of the people of Aycliffe so long overlooked by local authority.   The re-setting of the Great North Road which passed through the village required the demolishing of several old properties on High Street and 1925 John was a prime mover on a resolution that the Rural Council be approached to erect twelve council houses as soon as possible.  This began a long fight for the poorer people in the village to have modern living accommodation made available to them.   Over the following years the Rural Council maintained their “housing scheme was confined to giving assistance to private enterprise by granting subsidies, and it was open to anyone prepared to build houses to apply for the subsidy.  If applications were received from Aycliffe special consideration would be given” (Northern Despatch 25th May 1925).

Other issues being pursued, indicating the primitive facilities the villagers had to cope with, were building of protective fencing for safety around the river and in front of West Terrace and the ceasing of the long accepted dumping of sump from inspection chambers directly on to the street in the vicinity of houses.   Also, bus services in the village were developing and there was a need for suitable bus shelters to be provided.


At this time it became clear Aycliffe was a village on the move as highlighted in a Northern Despatch report on 24th March 1928 of a whist drive and dance that ” took place in the British Legion Institute on the 23rd March.   The Mayor of Darlington, Coun. S. Chadwick was present and in his address he expressed pleasure at seeing such a fine institute in Aycliffe, paying tribute to the Aycliffe British Legion President, Mr. J. Atkinson, and secretary, Mr. J.W. Kent and their hard-working women helpers and others for their active work in providing social entertainment for all in the village.

On the 3rd April 1928 John became Councillor as he was elected, with a majority of 39 over Mr. J. Bartram, to the Darlington Rural District Council representing Aycliffe Village. (Northern Despatch 4th April 1928).  On 23rd April he resigned from the joint secretaryship of the Unionist Association in Aycliffe.

A newspaper report on 14th June 1930 highlights John’s involvement in local affairs, apart from his Parish and Rural Council duties, as president and chairman of the Aycliffe British Legion Branch, C of E School Manager, National Health Insurance Secretary for  Telegraph Lodge of Oddfellows, member of the Darlington and District Migration Committee, member of the Juvenile Employment Sub-Committee (Darlington Rural) and Court of Referees (juvenile), Hon. Secretary of the South East Durham Cricket league, United Services Fund representative, president of the Aycliffe Yearly Club, president of Aycliffe Carnival Committee, member of the Rural Council, the Rating and Valuation Committee, and the Housing Committee.  Member of the Darlington Board of Guardians.    

Group of ladies outside the British Legion 1929 Aycliffe John Atkinson on right with a group of ladies outside the British Legion building about 1929. Alice Jackson is third from left, Elizabeth Atkinson fourth from left, and the children are Muriel Jackson and Arnold Atkinson.

Two newspaper articles of the time indicate John’s attitude to the community and its needs:

C1930 press cutting:  Zealous Representative.
Some public men seem to believe that only very rarely ought they to give an account of their stewardship.   Councillor J. Atkinson, who represents Aycliffe in Darlington Rural District Council, is of a different opinion.
He has as many consultations  as possible with his constituents, and he tells that he derives much encouragement from them.   At Aycliffe the housing problem is just now giving the people and their representative much anxious consideration.   In addition to his work on the rural council, Mr. Atkinson devotes a good deal of time to poor law relief, school management, juvenile employment, and the British Legion.   In the latter he is particularly interested.

Also, a Darlington & Stockton Times reporter’s visit to Aycliffe around the same time and highlighted the following improvements since January 1929 as erection of 12 houses by private enterprise, a number of old houses reconditioned, roadway improvements, installation of electric lighting into houses.  On his tour the reporter noticed that 2 of the 12  new houses were still unoccupied.   Coun. Atkinson pointed out, “These houses were built by private enterprise and would-be occupiers must either buy them outright or through a building society. The trouble is a good many people cannot afford to do this.   What is wanted most of all are houses to let at a working-class rent”.

Housing for working class people continued to be his aim in the subsequent years against great opposition from Darlington Town Council and within other villages in the Rural Council area.


Mrs Elizabeth Atkinson laying 1st brick December 1931

Mrs Elizabeth Atkinson, wife of John Atkinson who is standing behind her, laying the first brick for thecouncil houses on Durham Road in December, 1931. The vicar, Rev. J.W. Heap is standing behind John Atkinson.

The house is now 15, Durham Road. The brick is inscribed "E.S.Atkinson, 1932".

A copy of this photograph has been given to the current householder.

In December 1931 the first sod was cut to start the scheme to build ten new houses on Durham Road to be rented at a level of 3/6d a week.   Shortly after, the first brick was laid on the foundations” by Mrs. Atkinson, wife of Mr. J. Atkinson, the Great Aycliffe representative of the Rural Council.   In performing the ceremony Mrs. Atkinson expressed the hope that many happy homes would follow her action.   She declared the first brick well and truly laid.” (Northern Echo)

The local political fallout continued through the early thirties via. The Northern Echo “Letters to the Editor” with John taking much flack but he weathered the storm and the houses were built.

Press cuttings from local papers of the time show John throughout the mid-thirties continuing to work for the needs of the people of Aycliffe in terms of Housing, Water Supply, Unemployment, young people issues and poverty together with improvement to the bus services (particularly for workers to and from Darlington),   It also saw him extending into county and national issues through the Durham County Association of Parish Councils.   He became a County Magistrate in 1936 , sitting on the Darlington County, Spennymoor and Bishop Auckland Benches.

Remembrance Sunday 1946

Remembrance Sunday, 1946.

John Atkinson laying the wreath, and behind him is Norman Kent.

With expectancy of war increasing he must have been driven on.   Aycliffe was chosen as the site for a munitions factory and John found himself with the responsibility of maintaining electrical supply from the grid to the unit.   I recall during the early forties being taken into the site, through high security, to the café and enjoying a cake and pop.

He joined the Royal Observer Corp in 30 Group and became Chief Observer of the Aycliffe Post. I spent many nights with him at the post on top of the windmill outside Aycliffe and overlooking Teesside as the bombs fell - all exciting to me as a small boy but very frightening for Dad and other adults.   The security of the locality was never far from his mind and he was Chairman of the Darlington Rural District Invasion Committee.

John was also volunteer food officer for Great Aycliffe plus officer-in-charge of emergency feeding centres at Aycliffe schools.   With his work and these other commitments he was rarely at home during the five years of war.

After the war he continued to be deeply involved in local politics (Aycliffe Parish Council and Darlington Rural District Council, both of which he chaired- the latter in 1946). This included being part of the initial discussions on the development of Newton Aycliffe as the town for people working in the new Trading Estate as it, in turn, developed from the old munitions factory. Even after he suffered his first thrombosis attack in 1949 his work continued.

A long time trade-unionist he became disenchanted with the trend emerging at the time towards communism within the movement, particularly his own ETU, and he resigned.

He was saddened at the local Labour Party decision to seek to oust him from the District Council, putting up his former Agent in his place.   Dad, from his bed, put up against him, as an Independent, and had an overwhelming victory - the Agent, Joe Sturdy, a close friend apologised and their friendship remained.   Dad was always seeking to improve the lot of the people of Aycliffe Village and, in recognition of this the larger proportion of the new houses he fought for, Atkinson Gardens was named after him.

He died on the 16th July 1955 at the age of 63.