WHAT started off as a collection of old photographs has turned into a historical archive for Allendale.

“I’ve been collecting old photographs and history books for the past 40 or 50 years,” said ‘the Dale’ born and bred Robert Philipson.

“It just started off as a bit of fun, but it’s become a passion.”

Indeed, he now has around 2,500 old photographs and a roomful of local history books, including two of his own.

The second one, Looking Back at Allendale, is hot off the presses – big, bold and brimming with images of old.

He said: “I used to travel all over, going to antiques shows. Now, I’ve got four or five buyers and sellers who, when they get anything they think I might be interested in, send me a photocopy to look at.

“You can pay up to £80 or £90 for a good photograph. I have said ‘I’m not paying that’, but then you never seen it again, so now I just part with the money. You have to.”

A real labour of love, it has taken him 10 years to produce this book, an eclectic mix of anecdotes, personal memories, poetry and parish records.

The chunkiest chapters are the ones headed ‘Allendale 100 Years Ago’, a time when 200 or so dwellings housed around a thousand residents.

Single rooms were probably counted as dwellings and so many properties were at bursting point. Robert writes: ‘For instance, a house of four rooms in Wentworth Place had a school, a sort of finishing school for young ladies in the front room downstairs; the two sisters who kept it slept in the room above; the back room downstairs was a cobbler’s shop; while the room above was the home of a married couple.’

There were shops everywhere – in living rooms, in basements, underneath stone staircases, in rooms upstairs – and of all kinds too. Coopers, weavers, saddle-makers, shoemakers and smithies jostled for space with corn merchants, diary men, bakers and food producers of many a hue. Cows, horses, pigs and chickens were kept in back yards.

But the biggest show in town? Well, that would have been the hostelries, which offered a yard of ale practically every yard.

‘It used to be said that nearly every other house was either an inn or a beer shop. This, however, must clearly have been a libel on the fair name of the ‘Toon’ and uttered by no loyal native.

‘As a matter of fact, there were two and twenty houses of this kind. Nor must it be forgotten that teetotalism is a modern cult. A man who couldn’t take his beer was considered a weakling.’

All but the smaller inns had their long rooms, which were in much demand for the many public gatherings and revelries that were the hallmark of the town.

The book also brings to life many of its past characters, such as Walter Rutherford, of Shilburn.

‘He would have a go at just about anything and if there was a wager attached, then he was more than happy to prove everyone else wrong and himself right.’

He once won £3, a new razor and a free pint after dry-shaving his beard off in the Golden Lion in record time, as the regulars cheered him on.

And there was the ‘grand old lady’ of Britain’s licensing trade herself, Ethel Rood, who felt a bit hard done by after being persuaded to retire at the age of 83.

She had spent 67 years at the King’s Head Hotel, where her mother was tenant before her, until the day she was overcome by fumes from a coke heater.

Luckily her family found her in time, but she said later, ‘I think I would have kept going for a bit longer, although I’m not quite so good on my legs now’.

Looking Back at Allendale can be purchased in the town’s Co-op, gift shop, post office and art centre.