© Copyright Stanley Howe and licensed for
Overlooking the graveyard of St.Mary’s church, Gainford, there stands a conspicuous 40ft tall classical column. It is a lovely affair, yet seems to be so obviously out-of-place that you may wonder if it was placed there as some sort of affront to its religious neighbour. And, in fact, you are right…
Though the story dates back to relatively recent times, the truth is difficult to pin down precisely – not surprisingly, really, as the tale concerns one of the most eccentric families the North-East has ever produced, the Edlestons. Mainly, they were weird in a good way: they had always been big in the parish and were renowned for their good turns. Following the death of 79-year-old Joseph Edleston in 1895 (who had, in the past, served as vicar of Gainford and done his share of good deeds for the locals) an almighty storm blew up over how his legacy should be marked. The exact sequence of events is not known, but, basically, the family, having buried the old man near his Cambridge home, wanted a suitable memorial erected in the church grounds here in Co.Durham. The authorities, though, said the graveyard was full and suggested that the Edleston’s could donate some of their adjoining land to the church and put the memorial there. Suitably miffed, the family decided instead to keep the land in question and erect a large building known as a ‘spite house’ on the site to annoy the local clergy – a structure which is still there, and is known as Edleston Hall (shown in the background of the above image).
The hall bears the date 1904; but, several years later, and still seething, they added an imposing column placed right up against the graveyard wall. In typically eccentric fashion, they had purchased the ‘item’ from Stanwick Park/Hall, Yorkshire, in the 1920s and transported it north. Some accounts suggest an enormous V-sign once sat atop the pillar, but the two-fingered gesture was probably metaphorical – I’m quite sure the giant tower on its own said it all.
Moreover, this is only a very small part of the extraordinary tale of the Edleston family – more can be found archived away, here.