Durham City Framwellgate and Neville’s Cross

Framwellgate Bridge

Framwellgate Bridge links Silver Street to the `Old Borough’ of Framwellgate on the western side of the river and was known for many years as `Old Bridge’ as it was built more than forty years before Elvet Bridge. Originally the Silver Street end of the bridge was surmounted with a tower containing a gateway.

Framwellgate Bridge
Framwellgate Bridge : ©  David Simpson

The bridge was erected in 1120 on the orders of Bishop Ranulf Flambard (1099-1128) who had been appointed as Prince Bishop of Durham following a very succesful period as a minister to King William Rufus. Over the years Flambard’s bridge witnessed many notable events in Durham’s history such as the murder in 1318 of the Bishop’s steward Richard Fitzmarmaduke by his cousin Ralph Neville `the Peacock of the North’.

The murder took place on the bridge itself and was the final result of a long standing quarrel between these two wealthy men.Until the 1970s nearly all the city centre traffic including buses and lorries had to pass through the narrow Silver Street and over Framwellgate Bridge to get from one part of the town to the other. This was a terrible inconvenience to pedestrians and eventually led to the construction of the nearby Millburngate Bridge. All except occasional service vehicles are now banned from Framwelgate Bridge. The peculiar little manned police box with its closed circuit television that controlled the city traffic from the Market Place has now long since gone.

North Road

Across to the western side of Framwellgate Bridge we enter the Victorian street of 1831 called North Road. Formerly known as King Street its most prominent building is the former cinema which was built originally as the Durham Miner’s Hall. Another building of interest is the Bethel Chape of 1861 built by the colliery owner Joseph Love  who was no friend of the Durham Miner’s movement. Today North Road is split into two sections by a roundabout. Beyond the roundabout we leave the shopping area and are heading north towards the County Hall .

There are two buildings worth noting along this section of the North Road. One is a battlemented building called the Grey Tower which is reputedly a haunted house. Occasionally a ghostly face is said to appear at the upper window but the legend is thought to arise from the 1880s when the tower was the setting for a story called “The Waif of the Wear”. The other building of interest in this area is St Leonard’s Roman Catholic School part of which was formerly called Springwell Hall the nineteenth century residence of the afforementioned Joseph Love. Also nearby is the Obelisk of 1840 a marker point for Durham University’s Observatory which lies a mile to the south near Durham School.

Millburngate and Framwellgate

North Road superceeded the older neighbouring streets of Millburngate and Framwellgate as the main road through the western part of the town. Milburngate was the road or gate near the Mill Burn, a stream which now flows through a culvert beneath North Road to join the River Wear via an outlet pipe nearby. Framwellgate takes its name from an old well a little further to the north and it has been suggested that Framwellgate means `gate from well’. The Fram Well Head is in fact situated in Sidegate near Crook Hall and once suppied water for a pant in Durham Market Place.

The old streets of Millburngate and Framwellgate which formed the district of Durham called the `Old Borough’ were destoyed in the 1930s because of their poor condition and their residents were removed to a new estate at Sherburn Road near Gilesgate. Millburngate and Framwellgate Streets included some very historic buildings which had belonged to wealthy traders but the traders gradually moved out and over the years the two streets developed into slums. Sadly most of the historic buildings were beyond worthwhile preservation. Only one building survives from the old street called Millburngate. It is a much restored fourteenth century building, timber framed above with a fifteenth to sixteenth century rear wing. It lies just inside the entrance to the modern Gates Shopping Centre but was originally number 129 Millburngate.

Dryburn – Site of the Gallows

The upper section of Framwellgate Street was called Framwellgate Peth which is now the site of a more modern road leading north towards County Hall, Aykley Heads and the Unioversity Hospital of North Durham (known to locals as Dryburn Hospital). The older part of the hospital is Dryburn House (or Dryburn Hall), the Victorian residence of William Lloyd Wharton, chairman of the North Eastern Railway Company. it was later a residence of Colonel Cuthbert Vaux, head of Vaux breweries. Dryburn served as an emergency hospital for servicemen during World War Two when its patients included German prisoners.In earlier times the grounds of Dryburn were the site of the Durham City gallows.

Here people were hanged by the neck for crimes such as Murder, Horse stealing, House Breaking, Roberry, Treason and even Witchcraft ! Justice could be very rough in days gone by and on one occasion during the reign of Queen Elizabeth five traders were hanged at Dryburn on suspicion that they might be gypsies. Their names were Fenwick, Arrington, Featherstone, Lancaster and Simpson.On another earlier occasion someone was hanged in this area for being a Jesuit priest and there is a legend that after his death a local stream or burn mysteriously dried up never to flow again. Hence the name Dryburn. An alternative suggestion for the name Dryburn is that it is a corruption of Tyburnthe place at which criminals were hanged in London.

The Ghost of Crossgate Peth

Near Framwellgate Bridge, North Road is adjoined by South Street and Crossgate which continues up bank to the west, passing the historic church of St Margaret. Up bank this street becomes Crossgate Peth, the road leading to the site of the Battle of Nevilles Cross. In days gone by when carriages, horses and carts made their journey up Crossgate Peth they would often stop for a drink along the way. Occasionally during their periods of rest, the drivers would become aware of a peculiar unexplainable fall in temperature.

As they continued up the bank they would notice the presence of a grey sombre looking young woman – a grey lady with a young newly born child in her arms. She would remain sad and silent in the cart or carriage for the course of the journey and then upon reaching Neville’s Cross at the top of the bank she would mysteriously disappear.

Legend suggests that the grey lady is the ghost of a young woman who lost her husband at the Battle of Nevilles Cross in the year 1346. It is said that her husband had gone to fight in the battle without receiving her farewell, for she was sorely set against him enlisting for this fight. Perhaps her ghostly journeys were undertaken in the hope of finding his body on that ages old battlefield near the top of Crossgate Peth.

In modern times with the fall in use of horse drawn vehicles, sightings of this ghost were less frequent although some people have claimed to see the ghost of a young woman walking in this area without a child. This is thought (by those who believe in such things) to be the ghost of another girl who in Victorian times was murdered and thrown down the steps of a workhouse in the vicinity of nearby Allergate. Her assailant was a visiting soldier who confessed to the murder many years later while living abroad. Not far from Allergate in the nearby street of Hawthorn Terrace is the firm of Harrison and Harrison the organ builders who are one of Durham City’s most famous industries.

The Battle of Neville’s Cross

In 1346 the greater part of the English army of Edward III were away at war fighting against the French with the assistance of among others Thomas Hatfield, the Bishop of Durham who took along his own private army. The French were desperate for the English to be diverted and called upon King David II of Scotland to attack the English northern border. King David gladly obliged and sallied forth into England with 20,000 men who wrecked and plundered parts of Cumberland and Northumberland before entering Durham where they made camp at Bearpark to the west of the cityThe Scots were comprised of three factions under the respective commands of King David, the Earl of Moray and Sir William Douglas.

On the 17th October the men of Sir William Douglas went on a rampage throughout Durham straying as far south as Ferryhill where to their surprise they encountered part of an English army of some 15,000 which pursued them north.Under the leadership of Sir Ralph Neville and supported by the men of Thomas Rokeby and Lord Percy, the English were successful in this initial encounter and a number of Scots lost their lives. Moving north the real battle took place on the Red Hills in the vicinity of a stone cross called Nevilles Cross (which existed before the battle). Arrows were fired, axes began hacking, swords were thrusted and as the bloodbath continued the indication was that the Scots were going to lose. David, the Scottish king fled from the scene.In the far distance praying monks spectated from the Cathedral’s central tower while nearby on a hill called the Maiden’s Bower at Crossgate Moor other monks watched at closer quarters. Here they held high the holy cloth of St Cuthbert, which was a call for the support of God in this battle.

The call seemed on this occasion to be answered as the Scots were easily defeated.Meanwhile in the vicinity of Aldin Grange where the road from Crossgate to Bearpark crosses a tributary of the Wear called the River Browney, a Northumbrian soldier by the name of Copeland came across a rather exciting discovery, for there beneath the arch of Aldin Grange Bridge lay hiding none other than David King of the Scots who was badly injured from two spears that had pierced his body. Copeland quickly captured the Scottish monarch and for a time the English held on to him for ransom.

Eventually a fee was agreed for the return of King David to Scotland and he was released. The canny Scots never paid the fee ! The Victory at Nevilles Cross was long commemorated in Durham City folklore by local children. Boys of the city traditionally claimed that if you walked nine times around the Nevilles Cross and then put your head to the ground you could hear the sound of battle and the clash of arms. Attempted today it is more likely to distract motorists and result in the sound of crashing cars.

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