Tuesday, 25 December 2012

St.Cuthbert’s Final Resting Place? (NZ273421)

Via Wikipedia (public domain)

As we all know, the mortal remains of St.Cuthbert lie in Durham Cathedral, right? Well, probably. The picture above tells us the official story, but a legend has persisted for centuries that the great saint’s bones actually rest elsewhere – and that the secret location has been passed down to a select handful of clerics still living today.

The history of St.Cuthbert’s remains and all the various relics that went with him is a lengthy one. To cut this very long story down to a manageable size, after his death in 687AD he was shipped from pillar to post for several centuries until he was finally laid to permanent rest within the walls of the newly-built cathedral around the turn of the twelfth century.

He has been disturbed at least thrice since. Once in 1541 when the Dissolution targeted the city, then in 1827 and 1899. The sum of the various investigations carried out at these times seemed to confirm the traditional story of the various shenanigans surrounding his post-mortem adventures – yet a curious rumour persists. Was, in fact, the body switched at some point, and the real remains hidden elsewhere?

The story goes that when Henry VIII and his chief minister Thomas Cromwell turned their eyes to Durham Cathedral in the dying days of the Dissolution, the monks panicked and substituted Cuthbert’s remains for some other nobody – probably a quick body switch during an overnight stay in the desecration process. As it happens, the ‘sacred remains’ – whether genuine or not – were reburied in due course, and remain where you will find them today, duly marked by a dirty big tombstone. Another version has Cuthbert’s genuine remains being desecrated, re-buried, then subsequently switched during 1542-58 for fear the royal commissioners should return for another poke at the same.

If the true remains were ever secreted away – to another spot in the cathedral, or elsewhere – nobody knows. Well, apart from a long, thin line of trusted clerics through which the secret has passed these past 450 years. 

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Durham Cathedral & the Dunbar Martyrs (NZ273421)

For all its Norman grandeur, Durham Cathedral was the scene of one of the most heinous war crimes in British history. The story of the Dunbar Martyrs is hardly a secret as such, but over the years the harsh facts of the sorry episode have certainly been conveniently and repeatedly skirted around.

It all began with Oliver Cromwell’s defeat of the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar in September 1650. Thereafter, the English leader, not in the best of moods, proceeded to ransack much of Scotland whilst sending 5,000 prisoners on a forced march south, where they were bolted up in Durham Cathedral. During their journey they covered 120 miles in eight days with no food or water (except whatever they could quickly scavenge) – and almost half the soldiers died en route, with the remaining 3,000 being crammed into the cavernous cathedral building and castle on 11th September.

And there they were kept until 31st October, with virtually no food or water – or indeed heating. They helped themselves to much of the woodwork within in an attempt to keep warm, but illness and disease quickly gripped the prisoners, with dozens dying every day. One of the few items to escape the captives’ makeshift fires was a clock embossed with a Scottish thistle – an item which survives to this day.

Of the 3,000 who began the ordeal, around 1,400 survived – and most of these were promptly sold as slave labour to the new English colonies in the Americas. About 500 were pressed into lengthy military service overseas.

During maintenance work in the 1940s a mass grave was allegedly discovered to the north of the cathedral, it being (it was assumed) the Scottish burial pit. Subsequent investigations have, however, failed to confirm the theory.

A campaign is currently underway to erect a memorial to the victims of this appalling episode.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Ode to Durham (NZ271418)

Cast in stone on Prebends’ Bridge, Durham City:

Grey towers of Durham
Yet well I love thy mixed and massive piles
Half church of God, half castle 'gainst the Scot
And long to roam those venerable aisles
With records stored of deeds long since forgot.

[From Sir Walter Scott’s Harold the Dauntless, published 1817]

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Roman Empire’s Most Northerly Farm? (NZ288419)

A little to the east of Durham City sits a spot on the map which goes by the name of Old Durham. It is aptly named, as here was said to sit what is thought to have been the most northerly farm in Roman Britain. Well, of those that have so far been found, anyway.

Sand quarrying led to the accidental discovery of promising-looking relics there in the late 1930s, so the site was properly examined, archaeologically, in 1940. Broken Roman tiles seemed to indicate the former presence of a Roman bath house. It was speculated that a Romano-British villa-farm may have occupied the spot – but subsequent quarrying activities destroyed what was left of the aging bits and bobs.

Circumstantial evidence has since backed up the original archaeologists’ claims, and Old Durham is now generally regarded as the best candidate for the most northerly farmstead-villa of the old Roman Empire. It is known that a Roman way, Cade’s Road, passed nearby, for one thing – and ancient bridge footings have also been found a matter of yards away, suggesting it was may have been a busy little place. The site was probably active from the second to the fourth centuries, with the bath house added late in the day.

Much of the area is today taken up by Old Durham Gardens (see here), the recently revitalised grounds of an originally 17th century manor house. Though the building was demolished within decades of its construction, the grounds continued to be used during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries as a place of public recreation. Following a period of decline after WWII, the site has been brought back to life by the local council in recent years.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Sherburn Hospital (NZ307415)

Sherburn Hospital, 1774

The site on and around the institution formerly known as Sherburn Hospital, a little to the east of Durham City, has a lengthy history. Chances are, in fact, that not even the locals realise quite how far its story stretches back.

The set-up was founded as a leper hospital way back in 1181 by the famous Bishop Pudsey, and dedicated, rather clumsily, to “Our Lord, to the Blessed Virgin, to St. Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha”. It came with extensive lands and has somehow managed to survive all that has been thrown at it since.

The Dissolution was the biggest hurdle, of course – but limp through the troublesome days of Henry VIII it did, re-establishing itself as “Christ’s Hospital in Sherburn” in 1585. In time, and with the discovery of coal reserves under its associated lands, it became very rich and was able to expand considerably during the Victorian era – branching into education, for one thing. It became what we would recognise as a ‘modern’ hospital during the 1860s-70s following construction work – though there were only 35 beds initially. However, a dispensary administered treatment extensively to the poor of the parish free of charge.

In time, its mode of operation shifted, having spent the past several decades as a care home of sorts, whilst providing financial support to establishments across the county – it closed as a hospital shortly after WWII with the birth of the NHS. It is now a pleasant enclave of Listed Buildings set around a grass court with fine gardens – the old hospital chapel being the only twelfth century survival.

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Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Durham City’s First Railway Station (NZ288408)

One’s arrival at Durham City’s present-day railway station, high to the north-west of the tight little conurbation, gives the lucky participant one of the finest views of the East Coast Main Line: the stunning vista that is Durham and its mighty Norman Cathedral. If ever there was an excuse to dismount and get out the camera, then surely this is it.

But Durham’s county town was not an easy place to reach by rail due to the awkward topography thereabouts. Following the birth of the railways in the North-East in 1825, the rail network spread rapidly throughout the region; but the task of linking County Durham’s two main towns, Sunderland and Durham, was easier said than done.

Shincliffe Village, a little to the south-east of Durham City – and very much outside the city boundary – was the unlikely setting of the very first railway station to serve the county’s ‘capital’. Moving coal from pit to port was the primarily use of the burgeoning rail network, of course, and one such line was thrown across the countryside from Sunderland to the pits and collieries to the south of Durham City at an early stage. This line passed through Shincliffe – the nearest it crept to the county town – so a decision was made to upgrade the line for passenger use as far as the little village. A brand new station was therefore built there to accommodate the travellers, and it opened on 28th July 1839.

The village of Shincliffe had been served by a bridge over the Wear (which leads to Durham) for many, many centuries – possibly as far back as the Romans. A new structure had been thrown up as recently as 1824, so it was no doubt considered an easy enough two mile trip into town from this point – at least by the standards of the time. Needless to say, though, as people’s expectation grew, so easier access was sought, and a succession of new lines and stations eventually rendered Shincliffe Village Station redundant – though it hung on until 1893. Traces of it still remain in the village, apparently.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Pineapple Church, Rocket City (NZ305384)

© Copyright OliverDixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative CommonsLicence.

This extraordinary sight is the famous ‘Pineapple Church’ of Bowburn, County Durham – complete with its detached ‘Rocket’ spire. The unusual combo – more properly known as Christ the King Church – helped make the former pit village rather well-known during its short lifespan, Bowburn being often referred to as ‘Rocket City’.

The ‘Rocket’ was the first to hit the skyline – in 1963 – being commissioned by Father Bill Armstrong and designed by Harold Wharfe. The planned new church took a good deal longer to build, being capped off with its fruity topping in 1976 and dedicated in 1978. In case you’re wondering, the distinctive dome was made from fibreglass.

However, like much of that which was built in the 1970s, the church proved to be of problematic design and questionable construction. It soon began to demand too much in the way of maintenance, was closed in 2004 and then demolished in 2007. A new, and painfully plain, church was built in 2008.

The crazy spire remained, though … but not for long.  In October 2009, shortly before it was due to be cleaned, a gale brought it to ground. It was hastily carted off to the scrapyard before anyone got the daft idea of re-erecting it.

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Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Sunderland Bridge (NZ266376)

Visitors to this little village by the side of the old Great North Road often wonder about the origin of its place-name. After all, Sunderland proper lies a good fifteen miles to the North-East of this settlement. Can the two possibly be connected in some distant way?

Well, yes and no. By a strange coincidence, both lie adjacent to the River Wear. Moreover, both just happen to have the same place-name derivation. But that’s it, I’m afraid: there the similarities end. Sunderland Bridge, like its more famous namesake, is so labelled due to its being ‘sundered’ or ‘separated’ land. In the case of ‘little Sunderland’, the village was an isolated portion of the ancient parish of St.Oswald in Elvet to the north, from which it was separated by the aforementioned river. One may speculate that the ‘Bridge’ bit was added to distinguish it from ‘big’ Sunderland – perhaps. 

Over the years it has also been known as ‘Sunderland juxta Croxdale’ (juxta meaning ‘near’), and even simply ‘Sunderland-by-the-Bridge’. The bridge, in case you’re wondering, is the stone effort which lies nearby, and which has its roots in the 13th/14th century. Though the old river crossing is still in use, the weight of the main road is now taken by a modern-ish metal affair – and for good measure the East Coast Rail line also crosses the river a few yards upstream.

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Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Mr Newcastle (NZ342363)

Like the rest of the North-East’s football teams, Newcastle United’s glory days have long since disappeared over the horizon. But a constant in their much more successful decades during 1920-1960 was one George Stanley “Stan” Seymour, who was born in the County Durham village of Kelloe on 16th May 1895*. The great black and white mainstay represented the club at every level: as a player, manager, chairman and director prior to his death in 1978.

Ironically, though, Seymour was rejected by the club as a teenager, but returned to grace the team’s left wing in a spectacular playing spell during 1920-29 – which included an F.A.Cup victory in 1924 and a League Championship success (the club’s last) in 1927. He famously supplied the ammunition for legendary centre-forward Hughie Gallacher during 1925-29, as well as bagging 70+ goals himself during his nine-year stay. He appeared twice (unofficially) for England, too.

He retired from playing in 1929 and set up a sports shop in the city centre (which survived for many decades), before being recalled as a director of the club in 1938 – and effectively managed the team for the next 16 years (with a break during 1947-50). He steered Newcastle United to back-to-back F.A.Cup Final wins in 1951 & 1952, before stepping down and moving upstairs to become chairman (1954-56). His presence continued to overshadow the club and city in the ensuing years, before he returned briefly as the club’s president during 1976-78 – dying in office in December 1978.

There is a great debt owed by Newcastle United to Stan Seymour for all of his services to the club.
[‘Wor Jackie’ Milburn]

* Some sources give his birth year as 1893.

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Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (NZ331359)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning is recognised – and was acknowledged in her lifetime – as one of the best known and most popular poets of the Victorian era. And though she lived most of her life in Herefordshire, the south of England and Italy, Elizabeth was actually born at Coxhoe Hall, Co.Durham, in 1806.

Although she came to vehemently oppose slavery, her family fortune was largely derived from the industry – from sugar plantations in Jamaica. At the time of her birth, the family lived at the aforementioned mansion situated between Coxhoe and Kelloe, though they would move to their famous Hope End estate near the Malvern Hills in 1809. Elizabeth was the eldest of twelve children, and was herself baptised at Kelloe parish church shortly before the move.

She was a deeply studious child, an avid reader and wrote poetry from any early age. Her mother would compile collections of her work, and her father would encourage her efforts, too – and she was educated thoroughly at home whilst her brothers were formally schooled. She became an ardent feminist after studying the work of Mary Wollstonecraft.

Published from an early age, she built up and maintained correspondence with many leading classical scholars. However, from the age of 15 she suffered a lengthy and undiagnosed illness, which troubled her for the rest of her life. The opiates and morphine she took to combat the pain may have contributed to her vivid imaginings.

Financial misfortune took the family to London, where she expanded her social circle to include the likes of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Tennyson. She spent some time in Torquay for health reasons, but returned to the capital for her most prolific period of the early 1840s. She married Robert Browning in 1846, and they moved to Italy – being largely disowned by her family. Despite her ill-health, they had a son, Robert, in 1849, but her frail body finally gave way to death – probably from lung disease – in 1861. She was buried in Florence – a long way from her place of birth here in the North-East – and was lauded long after her death.

Coxhoe Hall eventually found its way into the hands of the Coal Board, was used to house enemy PoWs during WWII, and then fell into disrepair prior to its demolition in 1956.

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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Trimdon Grange Explosion (NZ368357)

The Trimdon Grange explosion of 16th February 1882 left 74 men and boys dead. Within hours, famous local song-smith, Tommy Armstrong, had penned the following to help raise funds for the dependants…

Let’s not think of tomorrow, lest we disappointed be,
Our joys may turn to sorrow, as we all may daily see;
Today we’re strong and healthy, but how soon there comes a change,
As we may see from the explosion that has been at Trimdon Grange.

Men and boys left home that morning for to earn their daily bread,
Little thought before the evening they’d be numbered with the dead;
Let us think of Mrs Burnett, once had sons and now has none –
With the Trimdon Grange explosion, Joseph, George and James are gone.

February left behind it what will never be forgot:
Weeping widows, helpless children, may be found in many a cot;
Little children, kind and loving, from their homes each day would run,
For to meet their fathers’ coming, as each hard day’s work was done.

Now they ask if father’s left them, and the mother hangs her head,
With a weeping widow’s feelings tells the child its father’s dead;
Homes that once were blessed with comfort, guided by a father’s care,
Now are solemn, sad and gloomy, since the father is not there.

God protect the lonely widow, help to raise each drooping head,
Be a father to the orphans, never let them cry for bread;
Death will pay us all a visit, they have only gone before,
We may meet the Trimdon victims where explosions are no more.

By Tommy Armstrong, 1882.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Garmondsway & the King (NZ342348)

On the face of it, there doesn’t appear to have ever been very much in the way of activity in and around Garmondsway. The few farm- and home-steads which remains in the landscape a couple of miles west of Trimdon don’t appear to have seen much action over the centuries.

A railway line once helped serve the old limestone quarry to the north, the empty expanse of Garmondsway Moor lies to the south and – going way back – an old Roman road (now the A177) skirted the area a little to the west.

But look on the modern-day map and you’ll see the site of the old abandoned medieval village marked at NZ342348. Nothing much to look at now, maybe, but at one time this tiny settlement was important enough to receive mention in the history books as having been visited by King Canute.

For, in 1027, shortly after a slightly more high-profile pilgrimage to Rome, England’s then monarch decided to set out on a local mini-pilgrimage to the shrine of St.Cuthbert at Durham. On the way, the royal retinue passed through Garmondsway; and it was here – at a distance of some 5 or 6 miles from their destination – that they decided to complete the remainder of the trip barefoot, as pilgrims are prone to do. Canute is also rumoured to have shaved his hair and beard clean off for the occasion.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Brass House Farm Murders (NZ273327)

In 1683, one of the most infamous incidents of mass murder in the region’s history took place at Brass House Farm (now High Hill House Farm) a little to the west of Ferryhill. It was committed by teenage servant Andrew Mills, who killed his master’s three children…

1682/3 Jan.25 – A sad, cruel murther committed by a Boy about 18 or 19 years of age, nere Ferryhill, nere Durham, being Thursday at night. The manner is by report:- When the Parents were out of dores, a young man, being Sone to ye house, and 2 Daughters, was kil’d by this Boy with an axe, having knockt ym in ye head, afterwards cut their throats; one of ym being asleep in ye bed, about 10 or 11 yeares age; the other Daughter was to be married at Candlemas. After he had kil’d the Sone and the eldest Daughter, being above 20 years of age, a little Lass her sister, about ye age of 11 yeares of age, he drag’d her out of bed and kil’d her alsoe. This Andrew Millns, or Miles [Mills] was hanged in irons upon a gybett, nere Ferryhill, upon the 15th day of August, being Wednesday this yeare, 1683.
[from the diary of Jacob Bee, resident of Durham City]

Mills was hanged at Durham, and his body suspended in chains upon a gibbet – reportedly a mile north of Ferryhill and within sight of the scene of his terrible deed.

Website devoted to story here, and expanded contemporary account here.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Confusion at Ferryhill (NZ290328)

No one can say for sure how the town of Ferryhill in County Durham got its name. There are three theories. The first speculates that the ford across the now extinct river to the east (where the railway line now runs) combined with the lofty position of the settlement gave the place its name.

The second proposes that it is named after Sir Roger De Ferry (or Ferie), who famously killed the last boar of Brancepeth at Cleves Cross – now a part of the town – hence ‘Ferry’s Hill’. And the third theory simply suggests that the name is derived from the Old English fiergen, or firgen, meaning ‘wood’, or ‘wooded hill’ – with the ‘hill’ suffix added later.

The name first appears in the records as ‘Ferie’ in 1125, ‘Feregenne’ in 1256 and ‘Ferye on the Hill’ in 1316 – and it appears as an unnamed settlement in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 900. It would therefore seem likely that the latter place-name theory is correct. It has also been suggested that the ‘hill’ element was added to differentiate the village/parish from Ferrybridge in West Yorkshire – once also known as ‘Ferie’ and also on the Great North Road.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Bishop Middleham Castle (NZ327310)

As you can no doubt guess from the settlement’s place-name, Bishop Middleham, a little to the north-west of Sedgefield in Co.Durham, was once the site of the Bishop of Durham’s residence. Though you wouldn’t know it if you went poking around the village today.

It is, however, likely that it existed as simply ‘Middleham’ in the 9th and 10th centuries, as the first recorded mention is in a 1146 grant of the local church to the Prior of Durham – and thus giving the settlement its full name. By the time of the Boldon Book in 1183, there were 32 households collected around the little church – and it seems the Bishop clearly had a residence there for a good couple of hundred years during 12th-14th centuries. Furthermore, it must have been well-favoured, as two of the said officials died there.

The Bishop’s manor house – for that is what it most likely was, rather than a ‘castle’ – would have enjoyed a lofty setting, high on the promontory which extends to the south of the present-day village and church. All substantial traces of masonry have long since disappeared, though examinations of the existing earthworks suggest the former presence of a strong and well-guarded affair. There is no documentary evidence to suggest that any high status structure survived in use beyond 1600 – and indeed the remains are so scanty that they have even been omitted from some editions of the OS maps over the years.

Here’s how it looked in 2007…

© Copyright OliverDixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative CommonsLicence.

But a nice artist’s impression of it in its heyday can be seen here (church is to the left).

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Durham County Lunatic Asylum (NZ355305)

About one mile due north of central Sedgefield lies the site of the former lunatic asylum for County Durham, latterly known as Winterton Hospital. Virtually none of it remains today, which is probably just as well given the murky history of these questionable institutions.

The name ‘Winterton’ came from the former mill which occupied the site prior to the construction of the purpose built asylum in the late 1850s. Designed by John Howison, it was originally a 300-bed affair spread over three floors, with male wards to the west and female wards to the east. It was Elizabethan in style, mainly red-brick in construction, and came with so many extras that it was self-sufficient for much of its lifespan (including its own water supply, farm, fire service and cricket team).

It was more than doubled in size during 1875-80 – including the building of a new chapel (St.Luke’s) to hold all 700 inmates. More improvements and additions were made in the early 1930s, with the number of patients peaking at around 2,000 in 1954 – by which time it had effectively merged with the growing Sedgefield General Hospital under the auspices of the NHS. Additions continued to be made through the 1960s and ‘70s, with the institution carrying on in one shape or another until its eventual closure in 1996.

Almost all of the asylum buildings have been demolished (a new housing estate and other new buildings occupy much of the site), though a few lodges, etc – and the chapel – remain. Intriguingly, during demolition previously forgotten basement tunnels and rooms were discovered containing preserved specimens taken from patients decades previously.

More detailed information (and some great pictures) here.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Birth & Rebirth of Hardwick Park (NZ344290)

Gothic Ruin Folly, Hardwick Park

A visit to the modern-day Hardwick Park, near Sedgefield, at the height of summer can scarcely be bettered as a family day out in the North-East of England. A leisurely perambulation of the Historical Circuit Walk is just the ticket to wile away a couple of lazy hours.

Though the creation we see today is the result of the labours of the Hardwick Park Restoration Project of the early 21st century, the venue’s reputation as a pleasure ground goes back to at least the 1740s. For it was at this time that wealthy Tyneside businessman, John Burdon, set about transforming the estate – if only for the enjoyment of himself and that of his friends and acquaintances.

Burdon, with the help of leading architect James Paine, built the new (and present) Hardwick Hall, and grandly revamped the grounds in a ‘naturalistic’ way. Yes, there were follies and other ornamental buildings, but the artificial lake was improved and a serpentine river added – all tastefully supplemented by judiciously placed woodland. A later owner, Matthew Russell, added a number of improvements around 1800.

Within decades, though, the park lurched into decline – a process which lasted the best part of two centuries, before local efforts led to its sensational re-birth during the last decade or so. Thanks to a generous Heritage Lottery Grant, the local council were able to spearhead the project which returned the landscape to its 18th century look.

Now, of course, the vast expanse of parkland with its many and varied points of interest is open to the public, and comes complete with visitor centre and all mod-cons. The hall, on the other hand, is a luxury hotel.   

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Cosin-work at Sedgefield (NZ357288)

John Cosin was one of Durham’s most famous prince-bishops. He ‘ruled’ for a little over eleven years from December 1660, and was generally held in good regard for his work both within and without the Church – including promoting the interests of schools and charities.

Arguably his most famous legacy, however, is the unique style of church woodwork he championed – an elaborate and intricate cross between Gothic and Jacobean. Little of this remains today, however – the font cover in Durham Cathedral being the best example. Further fine examples of Cosin-work were tragically destroyed by fire at Brancepeth in 1998, leaving those remaining at St.Edmund’s Church, Sedgefield, as perhaps the best we have left of this distinctive style of craftsmanship.

Surprisingly, there are no good images to be had of St.Edmund’s beautiful interior d├ęcor on the Internet*. You’ll just have to go and see it for yourself, I guess.

* If you know of any let me know.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Changing Landscape (NZ310260 & thereabouts)

Modern drainage techniques of the past couple of hundred years or so have transformed our landscape. Gone are the large tracts of uninhabited and largely useless areas of our countryside formerly given over to fenland and marshes. And although the North-East region is hillier than most, we still have many examples of this in our part of the world.

If you spend a lot of time studying maps you will be familiar with the term ‘carr’, which means a wooded fen in a waterlogged terrain. Essentially, a low-lying, soggy area, zigzagged by watercourses and peppered with trees such as alder and willow. Soon enough, of course, these areas are drained by man, dry out and are cleared to create farmland.

But often the ‘carr’ place-name element remains. And so it is with the four or five square miles of open expanse that lies between Newton Aycliffe and Sedgefield in County Durham. Look at the map today and you will find such name as Bradbury Carrs, Morden Carrs, Carrsides, Ricknall Carrs, Preston Carrs and Swan Carr Farm. The area is noticeably devoid of contour lines, though not short of meandering waterways.

Then there are the high points: Great Isle, Little Isle, High Farm and Morden (‘the hill in the fens’). There is Rushyford and Rushyford Beck – self-explanatory, I think. Look at an old map and you’ll see more telling evidence still: the area itself being known as ‘Bradbury & The Isle’, with a clearly labelled feature called ‘The Lough’ (the lake) sitting a little to the south of Morden. And I’ve probably missed some other references, too.

Now there’s nothing left of the former, sodden landscape except for two neatly channelled rivers, the odd sizeable puddle after a downpour … and, of course, the place-names.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Wellington’s Altered Obelisk (NZ424254)

© Copyright OliverDixon and licensed for reuse 

The famous Duke of Wellington was a regular visitor to the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry’s Wynyard Hall. They’d been companions-in-arms during many a military skirmish overseas during their younger days, and after the construction of the latter’s magnificent new pile in the 1820s the duke regular popped in for a cuppa and a chat.

In 1827, the marquess was so overcome by his friendship with the great man during one particular visit that he threw up a 127ft obelisk in his honour in the grounds of Wynyard.  Not only that, but the family wing of the mansion itself was nicknamed the Duke’s Wing – and this side of the house also held the Duke's Gallery, where the family kept their art collection.

As for the mighty obelisk, illustrated above, the inscription once read:


However, when, a few months later, Londonderry was not given a place in prime minister Wellington’s cabinet, the message was altered to, simply …


Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Wynyard: the Best in the Land (NZ421257)

Wynyard Hall, c.1880

The Wynyard Hall/Park Estate, a few miles north of Stockton-on-Tees, has long been a beauty spot. Though the current magnificent mansion dates from a two-pronged building programme spanning 1822-41 and 1842-46 (divided by a catastrophic fire), its history – and reputation – as a site of splendour goes back many centuries.

In the mid-1600s, for example, it was described as fruitfull of soile and pleasant of situation, and so beautified and adorned with woods and groves as noe land in that part of the country is comparable unto them. In the ensuing two centuries, various avenues, terraces and gardens were added to enhance the landscape, until the Grecian mansion was added as per above. It was the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry who was responsible for the construction of the present edifice – the famous coal magnate himself – and it was at the brand new hall that, in 1847, a lavish birthday bash was laid on:

Amongst the distinguished company present was Prince Louis Napoleon, afterwards Emperor of France. On this occasion there was a curious card party, which deserves to be made historical. The gentlemen who took a hand in it were Louis Napoleon, Benjamin Disraeli, George Hudson (the Railway King), and J.J.Wright of Sunderland.

Disraeli, in fact, loved the place. On leaving London for a trip to Wynyard he once said, “I never left London with such a sense of relief and such anticipation of happiness.” More recently, Nikolaus Pevsner described the hall as “the most splendid 19th century mansion in the country.”

Royalty and the social elite have frequented the establishment, including visits in the Victorian era by Edward Prince of Wales and later by Queen Elizabeth II. 

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Friday, 3 August 2012

Elsdon & its Pele, Redesdale (NY936933)

Guest Post by Tom Moss

Elsdon in Redesdale, Northumberland, has a timeless air with many reminders of a bygone age. For all its turbulent history, it is a delight to the eye: picturesque with a rolling village green and a delightful array of stone houses. Here are to be found the Mote Hills which once housed the Motte and Bailey castle of the Umfravilles, Lords of Redesdale. They came with the Conqueror, William of Normandy, and were granted the lands of Redesdale to hold it against his enemies and wolves. The long-gone castle was built in the year 1080 and served as the headquarters of the Umfravilles until about 1157.

Elsdon Pele is a magnificent example of the fortified towers built on each side of the English-Scottish Border as both defence and sanctuary against the Border Reivers. It was built about the year 1400 for the Umfravilles but by 1415 it was in the hands of the Rector. His original home had suffered at the hands of Scottish Raiders. Not long before, in 1399, a Truce between the Scots and English had ended and the North of England was very soon afterwards plundered by the Scots. Elsdon was often a target. There is documentary evidence that the tower was standing in 1415 and that it belonged to the Rector – 'Turris de Ellysden' belongs to 'Rector eiusdem'.

It still preserves its character today even after many additions and renovations. The walls are massive and the original vaulted ground floor was once the pen of horses and cattle during Scottish raids or a place of refuge from feuding neighbours. The pele tower is a truly wondrous sight and dominates the village.

Although the tower of Elsdon was strong and fortified and offered shelter for the villagers in the endless raids from the Scots, there were many times when the people suffered at the hands of the infamous Border Reivers. An attack of particular note took place in September 1584 when Martin Elliot and five hundred men from Liddesdale attacked the village. Such great numbers indicate that the Scots came in reprisal for earlier raids against themselves. As the Scottish Border Reivers turned for home they left fourteen men dead, had burned down all the houses and made away with four hundred kye (cows), oxen and horses, insight (household goods), and taken four hundred prisoners.

From the records that still exist from the time it is clear that the raiding and reiving had reached an intensity that had existed for at least a hundred years before the Liddesdale raid. In 1498, the Bishop of Durham had threatened excommunication on the reivers of Tynedale and Redesdale (which included Elsdon) – not for attacks on the Scots, which was presumably acceptable, but for the family feuds which had reached such an intensity that God-fearing folk lived in daily terror of a raid from their own countrymen. The reiving was literally relentless – and the remedy hard to come by!

Today a visit to Elsdon is a great pleasure. It is a peaceful place nestling in rolling hillsides – yet proud of its history and its turbulent past. The church, pele tower, village green and the Mote Hills are all much as they were five hundred years ago – but back then every man looked over his shoulder, wary of the next attack to come screaming out of the hills.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Orwell’s North-East Retreat (NZ390226)

A little to the north-west of Stockton lies the village of Carlton, and a few hundred yards to the north of that can be found Greystone Lodge. Astonishingly, this little corner of the North-East was once, briefly, the home of the great George Orwell during what was one of the most important periods of his life.

Already suffering from ill-health, the author and his wife, Eileen, moved there in 1944 together with their adopted son, Richard, following bomb damage to their London flat. The house belonged to his wife’s sister-in-law, Gwen.

It was here that Orwell put his finishing touches to Animal Farm, which was published in 1945 – and highly likely that work was commenced (at the very least in his head!) on Nineteen Eighty-Four (working title The Last Man), which itself was published in 1949.

The peace and quiet of Greystone must have seemed a world away from the horrors of the ongoing war, of which Orwell was desperate to be a part of (but was preclude from on health grounds). But it wasn’t to last. For when he was offered (and accepted) a post as war correspondent in France in 1945, his wife died in his absence on the operating table in Newcastle whilst undergoing a hysterectomy. He returned to Greystone to find her unfinished final letter home from her hospital bed lying on the hall table.

He remained for a few more days, attending to the funeral and his adopted son’s future, before severing his links with the North-East for good. He struggled on for a few more years through ailing health, until his own death in 1950 aged just 47.

P.S. Strange but true: Orwell’s real name was Eric Arthur Blair, and Greystone overlooks the parliamentary constituency of Sedgefield, Tony Blair’s old stamping ground.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Sir Anthony Carlisle (NZ364227)

Old Stillington – the original village, not the nineteenth century creation which jumps out at you from the map of today – lies a mile to the south-west of the modern affair on a quiet back road. Its simple layout has scarcely changed since the time of Anthony Carlisle’s birth there way back in 1768 – a young lad who would move onto the world stage during the course of his lifetime, yet is barely remembered today.

The son of Thomas Carlisle by his first wife (identity unknown), Anthony was apprenticed to medical practitioners in York and Durham, before completing his studies in London and being appointed Surgeon at Westminster Hospital in 1793. He remained there until his death in 1840.

But in the days when men of science dabbled in several disciplines, Carlisle’s mind often wandered. During one such ‘distraction’ he made the not insignificant discovery of the process of electrolysis with chemist William Nicholson in 1800 – this being the process of driving chemical reactions by passing electricity through a liquid substance*. In this case, it was the passing of a current through water, thus decomposing it into its basic elements of oxygen and hydrogen. Just as importantly (for him, at least) he got himself married in 1800, too, to one Martha Symmons.

Though he never followed through with his newly-created science, many others did to stunning effect. Carlisle’s contribution was acknowledged, though, when he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1804 (and served as Professor of Anatomy of the Society during 1808-1824).

From 1815 he began a long association with the (Royal) College of Surgeons, serving as president in 1828 and 1839. He lectured widely and prominently**, and was appointed Surgeon Extraordinary to King George IV(1820–1830) – and must therefore have known, quite intimately, the sufferings of the monarch’s father, ‘Mad’ King George III, prior to the man’s death in 1820.

Carlisle was knighted in 1821, and died, after a long and successful career, in London in 1840. He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

* & ** Because of his association with electrochemistry, Carlisle has been labelled ‘The Real Mr Frankenstein’ (see here, and see also here – and scroll down), and his lectures were often especially graphic – and very popular! He may even be the author behind the 1797 gothic horror classic The Horrors of Oakendale Abbey, which tells of resurrected men and body-snatchers.