Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Darras Hall: The Garden City (NZ152712)

Darras Hall, to the south of Ponteland, is perhaps the most ‘exclusive’ housing estate in the North-East of England. Famed for its plethora of mini-mansions and sprawling gardens, it is best known for being the collective home of many of our most affluent footballers. But how did it all come to be?

It will not surprise you to know that the famous Ponteland annex was actually purpose-built, and was always meant to be for well-to-do folk. Until the Edwardian era, the landscape thereabouts was mere farmland, but an enterprising Newcastle-born philanthropist by the name of Joseph Whiteside Wakenshaw thought it’d be a neat idea for the monied classes to have a nice out-of-town village to live in – thus placing themselves a respectable arms-length from the grime of industrial Tyneside. Acknowledging the potential of the growing rail and road network, he looked at his map and brought down his pin on the area occupied (at that time) by Darras Hall Farm and its neighbours at Callerton Moor and Little Callerton. It was relatively poor farmland and Wakenshaw thought he might get it on the cheap, I suppose.

Wakenshaw put together a consortium of like-minded businessmen and the purchase was duly made in 1907. The 1,000-acre expanse was divided up into around 190 plots of 5 acres each (which were sold off at auction) and a Trust Deed was drawn up and published in 1910 – a document still in use today and which is enforceable by the current ‘Estates Committee’. Essentially, the document lays down the rules, regulations and guidelines for development on the estate in order to ensure a ‘good quality of life’ for its residents – which basically equates to leaving ‘plenty of space’. Hence Darras Hall’s nickname of ‘The Garden City’.

Once an individual had secured a plot there was no obligation for them to build on it (the cheapest went for £35!) – indeed many areas remained undeveloped for decades. However, as land prices crept up, most of the land was given up to residential housing. The place even had its own railway station, but this proved to be a bit of a white elephant and was closed in 1929 (and finally disappeared completely in the 1990s). Strangely, much of the town was given over to a PoW camp during World War II.

Despite the restrictive covenants, there has been much development in the designated zone, especially of late. At one time, the ‘new town’ consisted of modest bungalows set in huge gardens, but now small mansions are being carefully placed on the sprawling plots – though there has been a slight easing of the rules and regulations. But all in the best possible taste, of course.

Note: Darras Hall was once the site of the medieval village of Callerton Darreynes, abandoned after the Scots destroyed it in the 14th century – and from which the modern-day place-name is just about descernable.

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