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.