Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Summerhouse Earthworks (NZ202189)

(taken from The Victoria History of the County of Durham, 1905)

Around and about us there are layers of history buried beneath our feet. The vast majority of it remains hidden and undiscovered, a good deal has been wiped out completely – and just here and there can be found tantalising glimpses into the world of our ancestors. Only by tapping into the archives can we begin to make a little sense of these faint ghosts from our distant past.

South Durham has many such spots. The Romans drove Dere Street through these parts, of course, and much of the human activity that followed during the Dark Ages was wiped from the face of the earth during the Norman ‘Harrying of the North’ and other such cleansing operations. Later still creations, such as the remarkable lost village of Ulnaby (13th-16th centuries) as well as that at Walworth (among others), provide evidence aplenty of the fluctuating fortunes of local life. And at the little village of Summerhouse, a few miles NW of Darlington, lies another odd little example of our mysterious past.

At the southern extremity of the settlement’s north-south village green can be found an area of apparently open countryside – but which, in fact, contains a series of winding earthworks. As can be seen from the image above, the small, central section encloses an area of land (about 15m or so square), with a southern ‘feed-off’ into a larger moated area. Towards the west there is a sluice-gate which regulated the flow of water into the system from a small lake. The lake is now a wood.

Not a lot is known about exactly what the system of moats was protecting, but the faint remains of a tower within the smaller enclosure suggest that there was a fortified manor house on the spot. Adjacent and to the south lie remains of another, larger building – then there is the even more expansive and partly-moated area further to the south. All very mysterious, and abandoned long, long ago – though it is likely that the earthworks may hint at a connection to the Raby estate (their ‘summer house’?), and the monks of Durham City also had interests hereabouts.

By way of further illustration, here is a splendid aerial shot (taken from the west, facing east).

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