Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Ghosts of Sockburn (NZ350070)

At the southern-most tip of the Diocese of Durham lies the parish of Sockburn. It’s a busy little place, history-wise, though you wouldn’t think it looking at it today, amounting, as it does, to little more a large farmer’s field situated in a giant loop of the River Tees.

There’s a nineteenth century mansion, a slightly earlier farmhouse and a ruined parish church – the much contracted population numbering little more than a few dozen (if that). There seems to have been something about the place, though, in times past which attracted the great and good to the spot. Higbald, Bishop of Lindisfarne, was crowned there in around 780 – ditto Eanwald, Archbishop of York, in 796. What are described as ‘Viking Age sculptured stones’ lie (still, I think) among the ruins of All Saints church, which add to the mystery of the place – as does the legend of the Sockburn Worm (or Dragon), slain by the Conyers family who for centuries owned the manor. The creature is said to be buried hereabouts.

Due to its geographical situate, Sockburn was for centuries the spot where each new Bishop of Durham was ceremonially welcomed into the diocese by the Lord of the Manor – a practice recently revived, in fact.

William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Lewis Carroll all have connections with the place – which encounters seem to have found their way into some rather famous works. Coleridge’s Love was written at Sockburn after the married poet fell for local girl, Sara Hutchinson, whilst staying at her brother’s farm. And Carroll is supposed to have based Jabberwocky on the legend of the ‘worm’ – though the Lambton Worm also claims this distinction.

Get more of a feel for the place here.

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