King Henry the Ninth: The Donald of Darlo
Henry King Spark was a megalomaniac maverick businessman who started his career 150 years ago as a printer in Barnard Castle before making the coal deal of his life.
With the proceeds, he bought a mansion, a railway, a newspaper and some mines and then he took on the ruling elite of Darlington, promising the working man that he would drain the swamp of the Quakers. He successfully forced the formation of the town’s first democratic council and then its own MP, but his attempts to seize power for himself were thwarted by the desperate Pease Party’s underhand – even despicable – tactics.
Beaten, broken and bankrupt, he was booted out of Darlo in 1880, and spent his last decades quietly rehabilitating himself in Barney where he became a vice-president of the Mechanics Institute – which, of course, is now the Witham Hall.
Chris Lloyd is the chief feature writer of The Northern Echo and Darlington & Stockton Times, where he writes mainly about local history and local politics. A former North-East Journalist of the Year, he is the author of ten books and regularly appears on radio and television.