The Clement Family of Wood Farm, Aycliffe and the Bridge to Nowhere

People Of The S&DR

Wood Farm occupied a site at Aycliffe, adjacent to the Stockton & Darlington Railway and a little to the north of Heighington Station, with a bridge across the railway to facilitate access to the farm.  The original bridge appears to date to 1825 but was replaced as part of the railway track widening programme between 1831-2 by the bridge that survives on site today. However the bridge no longer goes anywhere. Much of the farmland is now part of the Husqvarna site and Preston Road.  Aycliffe Wood was immediately to the north west of the railway line and probably gave the farm its name.  Wood Farm is documented on the 1841 national census, but it is likely that it dates back much further than this.

The first National Census, taken in 1841 gives limited information, but shows that Wood House, Aycliffe, was occupied in 1841 by William Clement, his wife Jane and their three young children.  However, the 1851 census is more detailed and indicates that 45-year-old William Clement farmed 260 acres at Wood Farm, Aycliffe, and employed three labourers.  His wife, five children and mother-in-law also lived on the farm.

The Clement family is long-established at Aycliffe, with a baptism record for Elizabeth Clement, daughter of John Clement, noted in 1635 at St Andrew’s, Aycliffe Village.  James Clement of Aycliffe is mentioned in a land tax return in 1783 and Thomas Clement is mentioned as the tenant of a farm at School Aycliffe, which may have been Wood Farm, a portion of which was being sold by auction in 1790.

By the time of the1881 census, Wood Farm had passed to William Clement’s son, also called William, his wife Elizabeth, and their seven children.  The 1901 census shows William and Elizabeth still at Wood Farm.  However, William passed away in 1909 and records show that probate was granted to his two sons, John Clement and James Fred Clement, who are indicated to be jointly working Wood Farm on the 1911 census.  In 1921, only James Fred Clement and his family remained at the farm.

The 1939 Register, which was taken in England and Wales just after the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, and used to produce identity cards and issue ration books, shows James Fred Clement, now a widower, still resident at Wood Farm, with his two sons and farm workers.   However, after a documented century of the Clement family living and working at Wood Farm, this was about to change as priorities refocused and the nation geared up for the war effort.

In 1940 there was an urgent requirement for more Royal Ordnance Factories to be built to supply munitions for the war.  Aycliffe was chosen by the Ministry of Supply as a good location for a munitions filling factory as it was away from any densely populated areas and had good road and rail connections.  Unfortunately for the Clement family, the site chosen for the Royal Ordnance Factory covered some 867 acres of land, part of which was occupied by Wood Farm.

An advertisement in the Newcastle Journal, dated 30 March 1940, indicated that on 5th April 1940, Mr J F Clement would be selling by auction all of his farm stock and implements, owing to the farm being ‘acquired at short notice’.  This included 9 horses, 65 head of cattle, 155 sheep, 35 pigs, 40 poultry and numerous farm implements.  It appears highly likely that Mr Clement was required to leave the farm, with little preparation, to make way for the munitions factory.

Construction work began on the Royal Ordnance Factory in May 1940, bringing the work of generations of the Clement family on the site to an abrupt end.  It seems that Wood Farm, Aycliffe, was just one more casualty of the Second World War.

Amanda Donald