Sedgefield : Roman and Saxon Ceddesfield
Sedgefield is an attractive small town that resembles a large village with eighteenth century houses surrounding a green. At the centre is a handsome medieval church with a large imposing tower that seems to proclaim Sedgefield’s status as a town.
Long a place of importance in County Durham, Sedgefield is situated on the old turnpike road half way between Durham and Stockton, a road that to the north partly follows the course of a Roman road known as Cade’s Road. South of Sedgefield the Roman road or ‘street’ passes through Great Stainton (Stainton-le-Street) then on through the village of Sadberge (that was once the capital of a virtually separate county) before crossing the Tees near Middleton St George and continuing on in the direction of Brough on Humber.
North of Sedgefield the Roman road more or less follows the course of the A177. It skirts Durham City passing the site of the Roman ‘Old Durham’ near Shincliffe and continues on north through Chester-le-Street to its terminus at Newcastle upon Tyne.
Just north of Sedgefield the old Roman road is joined by another centuries old route. This is Salter’s Lane, an old salt trading road. It passes through neighbouring Fishburn and can be traced as far north as the outskirts of Sunderland.
In 2005 an important and unusual Roman settlement was found in fields on the western side of Sedgefield alongside the Roman road and stretching out towards Hardwick Park. The site was investigated by the BBC’s Time Team and seems to have been a Romano-British settlement inhabited by Romanised Celts who were engaged in trading and industrial activities. It’s very unusual to find a major settlement of this kind without an associated Roman fort or high status site like a villa in its vicinity, so Sedgefield may yet hide other Roman secrets.
Sedgefield’s name was first recorded before the Norman Conquest as Ceddesfeld and means the field of Cedd. The name Cedd was a common personal name amongst the Anglo-Saxons but it has earlier Celtic roots and was pronounced Ched or Chad. The ‘field’ part of the name is of interest. In old place-names field (feld) meant something very different to what it does today.
Today a field is a relatively small enclosed piece of land but back in Anglo-Saxon times the term described open land that might stretch for miles. Sometimes ‘field’ place-names represented very large estates or tribal regions with history going back to Celtic times as is the case with Hatfield – a former Celtic kingdom near Doncaster. Sedgefield may have similar roots and even has a similar setting.
During the time of Cutheard (Bishop of Chester-le-Street) around 900 AD Sedgefield was purchased or repurchased by the Community of St Cuthbert (then at Chester-le-Street) and a parish was presumably established with a church. Sedgefield had belonged to Aculf, Ethelbryth and Frythlake. If Sedgefield had been a previous possession of the Community it was perhaps briefly lost following the Danish invasion of northern England in 866 AD which was centred on Yorkshire. In 1085 a rector called Ulcid was mentioned at Sedgefield and his church probably stood on the site of the present one.
The town of Sedgefield
Sedgefield church is a striking edifice with an impressive tower that emphasises Sedgefield’s historic importance. It dates from the thirteenth century built in the ‘Early English’ architectural style and is dedicated to St Edmund. Inside, the church is noted for its beautiful woodwork dating from the 1600s and associated with Bishop Cosin of Durham who was bishop from 1660-1672. Similar woodwork could also once be seen at Brancepeth church near Durham though this was sadly destroyed by a fire in 1998.
A weekly market was first granted to Sedgefield in 1312 by Bishop Kellaw and was to be held weekly on Fridays. In addition a 5 day annual fair was held every year from the eve of the festival of St Edmund. Bishop Kellaw who granted this important right to Sedgefield resided in the castle at the nearby village of Bishop Middleham to the west.
The Boldon Buke (Durham’s version of the Domesday Book ) in 1183 records that Sedgefield was home to 20 farmers, 20 villeins, a reeve, a smith and a carpenter. In the 1850s Sedgefield was home to cartwrights, joiners, smiths, shoemakers, tailors, shopkeepers and tradesmen. It was home to 6 inns and taverns including a posting house as well as having a large brewery and a malting.
Sedgefield has a fine array of pubs and inns including the Dun Cow Inn where in 2003 the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair treated US President George W Bush to a pub lunch.
There are a number of smart old houses in Sedgefield many of which are Georgian in origin, particularly in the streets called North End and West End. Grandest is the former manor house of the 18th century in West End, with a sundial that dates the house to 1707.
In truth this house was never a manor house as it was not used by the Bishop of Durham who was Lord of the manor. In the 1820s it was used as a boarding school and in later times as a magistrates court and council offices.
Sedgefield’s impressive former rectory in Rectory Row dates from 1793 and was built by Bishop Barrington of Durham to replace the earlier rectory that was destroyed in a fire. Now called Ceddesfield Hall, the building belongs to Sedgefield Community Association.
An earlier rectory had burned down in 1791 and had been associated with the legend of the pickled parson. The story is that when the Reverend John Garnage passed away in the second week of December 1747 it was only a matter of days before the tithes would be collected in his name.
Tithes were taxes collected annually by the vicar for the upkeep of the parish and if the vicar was deceased the revenue would go to the bishopric. The vicar’s wife faced the predicament of poverty and came up with the unusual solution of preserving the body of her deceased husband in salt (some say it was brandy), propping his body up at his desk to give the impression that he was still alive when people came to pay the tithes.
The following day after the tithes were paid she called the doctor announcing that he had died and strangely the doctor did not seem to suspect anything unusual.
The preservation of his body has said to have delayed the parson’s entry into heaven and resulted in a refusal of admission there. Displeased, he haunted the old rectory up until it burned down as the ghost has not been seen since.
The Pickled Parson legend is kept alive in the name of the nearby Pickled Parson pub and restaurant which looks out across the green to the church.
Shrove Tuesday Football
The traditional event of the Shrove Tuesday football game in Sedgefield dates back around 700 years and is still going strong today Known locally as the ‘ball game’ it is a very physical form of ‘mob football’ of which there are few rules.
It was traditionally played between the mechanics and agriculturalists of Sedgefield and the surrounds and still involves lads from Sedgefield and the surrounding villages. Traditionally an elderly resident of the village starts the game by passing the specially made ball through a bull ring in the centre of the village three times and the eventual victor must to do the same.
In truth there are few rules if any and it is something of a boisterous scramble. The ball is handled more than it is kicked and to even get a touch of the ball is something of a privilege. Drinking “potations pottle deep” in the local inns as a celebration after the game is described in the 1850s at which the “victors and the vanquished” share their experiences of the day.
The Racecourse and Hardwick Hall
Sedgefield is home to County Durham’s only racecourse which is just to the south west of the town in the Sands Farm area. Racing has been held in Sedgefield since 1732 and the first recorded race meetings were in 1846. A racing club was established by Ralph Lambton who relocated the Ralph Lambton Hunt here from Lambton Park. Club members included Ralph Brandling, owner of Gosforth Park in Newcastle.
Harwdwick Hall Country Park lies half a mile to the west of Sedgefield to the north of the racecourse and is a former stately home set within extensive grounds that are now run by Durham County Council as a public park. Hardwick is first mentioned in medieval times and gave its name to a family called Hardwick (or Herdwyck). The last Hardwick at Hardwick was a John Hardwick who died in 1398 and later owners included the Hotons, Hebburnes, Frevilles, Lambtons and Conyers of Biddick.
The present house which is now Hardwick Hall Hotel was owned by John Burdon from 1748 but dates from before his time. It may date back to the 1630s although the façade looks early eighteenth century.
The grounds were set out as a pleasure ground by John Burdon (formely of Coxhoe Hall) and include a serpentine link and buildings designed by the architect James Paine. In 1999 Durham County Council set about the restoration of the grounds including the lake which had silted up. There are notable follies including a temple of Minerva on a hill top, a sham ruin of a gatehouse with a turret, a statue of Neptune at the centre of a lake and the beautiful Serpentine Bridge.
Fishburn on the road to Trimdon just north of Sedgefield simply means the ‘fish stream’ where fish were plentiful and would seem to have referred to the nearby River Skerne which flows just to its south.
The place is first mentioned in the 1180s and families that have owned Fishburn down the centuries include a family called Fishburn who were named from the place; the Claxtons (until 1480), the Elmedens (from nearby Embleton); the Conyers family; the Ords, the Bulmers and Widdringtons.
In the 1569 Rising of the North – a failed Catholic plot to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots – seven men from Fisburn joined the rebellion along with others from the tiny villages of Shotton, Morden and Foxton to the south of Sedgefield. Two men were executed in Fishburn for their part in the rebellion.
A colliery was opened in Fishburn in 1910 by Henry Stobart Ltd and operated until 1973. The village was also home to a coking plant that once gave the air in this village a particularly pungent smell.
Winterton Hospital, a large psychiatric hospital stood in the land between Fishburn and Sedgefield from 1855 until its closure in 1996 and was subsequently demolished around 2000. A new village estate called Winterton now occupies the site along with a technology park.
A mile to the north west of Sedgefield and to the west of Fishburn is the village of Bishop Middleham in the valley of the River Skerne which flows to its south. The name Middleham is thought to refer to the location of the castle that stood here half way between the castle of Durham and the castle at Stockton which all belonged to the Prince Bishops of Durham. Another theory is that it was the central ville of an early Anglo-Saxon estate.
Bishop Middleham was once the site of the main castle and residence of the Prince Bishops of Durham. A motte and bailey castle, it was seemingly a lofty eminence and the remains of a large mound can still be seen just outside the south western corner of the village along with the grounds of the castle’s former park which has partly flooded to create a lake.
Indeed the farm just to the east of the castle site is called Island Farm on slightly elevated land above the frequently flooded valley of the Skerne. It is likely that the castle included a defensive ditch or fosse and that the uncultivated land of the Skerne and carr land near Ferryhill to the west assisted the defences of the castle.
The castle was an important home to the Prince Bishops of Durham and for much of the medieval period from just after the Norman Conquest to the close of the fourteenth century was their principal residence. The only break seems to have come during the era of Bishop Flambard during whose time it was the property of Flambard’s nephew, Osbert. It’s extraordinary to think that such powerful statesmen as Bishop Pudsey and Bishop Bek resided here.
Other castles owned by the bishops included Bishopton Castle in the village of Bishopton near Stockton, a castle in Stockton itself and of course Durham Castle. They also owned Norham Castle in ‘Norhamshire’ on the River Tweed. Norham is now in Northumberland but Norhamshire was in earlier times part of ‘North Durham’. Crayke Castle in North Yorkshire was another castle in their ownership. Their manor house at Bishop Auckland developed into a castle in medieval times and would eventually come to be favoured over Bishop Middleham as the main country residence.
Two Prince Bishops Bishops, Robert De Insula (1274-1283) and Richard Kellaw (1311-1316) are known to have died at the Bishop Middleham residence.
Robert De Insula, also called Robert of Holy Island was described as “a jolly monk, whose mother complained of too many servants” while Richard Kellaw’s reign was troubled by Scottish raids and problems with local robbers and bandits who he tried very hard to suppress. Kellaw was named from the village of Kelloe situated between Durham and Trimdon.
You get a sense that Bishop Middleham village, which is situated on a steep slope, was once a place of importance perhaps almost even a small town. However in the 1850s it was home to 4 public houses, 9 farms (in the locality), a brewery and a malting and it was the home to several tradesmen.
The church at Bishop Middleham is Norman with thirteenth century enlargements undertaken by the powerful Bishop Bek whose arms can be seen. Nearby is the Old Hall which adjoins the churchyard. It was once the home of the Spearman and Pearson families .
The village was the home to a colliery from 1846 but this closed in 1936. It stood in the fields to the south east of the village and was never in continuous operation. In the 1880s it belonged to the Middlesbrough Iron and steel firm of Bolckow and Vaughan and another Middlesbrough steel firm Dorman Long owned it in the 1920s. The colliery brought some growth to the village but today Bishop Middleham still has more of a feel of a farming village than a mining village.
To the west of Bishop Middleham, on the other side of the Durham motorway and back into former colliery country, is the small hamlet of Mainsforth near Ferryhill. Its name is thought to mean the ford of someone called Maino (a Germanic name) and the ford probably crossed the boggy land called ‘The Carrs’ to the west.
Mainsforth village was the site of Mainsforth Hall, home to Robert Surtees (1779-1834), author of The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham whose four volume work is the classic pre-industrial history of the County.
Sadly, Mainsforth Hall was demolished in 1962 but the Surtees Society was set up after his death aiming to continue his work through the publication of historical manuscripts relating to Northumberland, Durham and the North Riding of Yorkshire. A memorial paid for by Surtees’ wife and widow can be seen in the church at Bishop Middleham.
In 1872 Maisnforth Colliery opened just to the west of the village near Ferryhill and Chilton. Initially operated by the Mainsforth Coal Company it was in the hands of the Carlton iron Company in the 1890s, then Dorman and Long of Middlesbrough in the 1920s before it was taken over by the National Coal Coal Board following nationalisation of the mines in 1947.
Hamlets of the Sedgefield countryside
Much of the mostly flat countryside to the south and east of Sedgefield is crossed in a slow wandering fashion by the little River Skerne. Some of this land was good for farming but significant areas were historically poorly drained country. There is little settlement with mostly scattered farms, small hamlets and tiny farming villages until you reach Teesside to the south.
To the east beyond the valley of the Skerne it becomes more rolling as we enter the magnesian limestone country near Hartlepool. The same is true to the north but there you enter the old coalfield area where we find the larger former mining settlements as we do also to the west beyond the motorway. This means that Sedgefield is the principal town of a very distinct corner of the historic County of Durham.
Villages, farms and hamlets in the Sedgefield area include Butterwick to the west of Sedgefield which means ‘dairy farm’ and is still a farm today. To its south is the site of a deserted medieval village near the Stockton Road called Layton. Farms called Layton still stand nearby and were once owned by the Layton family (named from the place) and later by the Brackenburys, Mundevilles and Conyers.
There is another deserted medieval village to the south west of here. Called Shotton it is just to the west of a farm. The outlines of both deserted villages can clearly be seen in satellite photos. Shotton means farm on a ‘sceot’ or ‘steep slope’ the slope being that which descends to the Shotton Beck. Shotton should not be confused with Old Shotton or Shotton Colliery which are both much further to the north east near Peterlee.
South of Shotton is Foxton, originally called Foxdene and meaning ‘foxes’ valley’. It’s a small farm and probably named from the little valley of the Foxton Beck. In times past it belonged to the Knights Templars and later to the De La Poles and Elstobs. Stillington to the south and Thorpe Larches to the east are in Stockton-on-Tees.
The Elstobs of Foxton took their name from Elstob, a farm near the Roman road between Sedgefield and Great Stainton. Elstob is thought to mean ‘stump of an elm tree’. The Elstobs of Foxton included Ralph Esltob who was a merchant adventurer and sheriff of Newcastle. He was the father of the famed Saxon scholars William Elstob (1673-1715) and Elizabeth Elstob (1683-1756). The Elstobs had settled in the Elstob some time after the Norman Conquest but claimed descent from Welsh kings.
The land to the south east of Sedgefield is very poorly drained and much is dominated by ‘carrs’. This proved a challenge for the Victorian engineers who built what is now the East Coast Main Line through the area and no doubt also for those who built the neighbouring A1M motorway in the late 1960s.
The Bradbury motorway Interchange stands close to the otherwise quiet little village of Bradbury which forms part of a civil parish called ‘Bradbury and the Isle’. The Isle of the name is formed by the River Skerne and its neighbouring ‘carrs’ and becks. The Isle is over on the other side of the motorway from Bradbury towards Woodham and Newton Aycliffe in the west and is formed by farms called ‘Great Isle’ and ‘Little Isle’ with earthworks close the Great Isle. Some lines of the surname Lisle may derive from ‘the Isle’.
In times past ‘the Isle’ belonged, along with Bradbury, to the De La Poles and then Roger Thornton, mayor of Newcastle (before 1439) and later to the Lumleys. By 1569 they belonged to the powerful Nevilles but the lands were confiscated due to the Neville’s part in the Rising of the North. The lands passed to the Bowes family and later the Emersons in the reign of James I.
Early spellings of Bradbury show that the name of the village is Anglo-Saxon and means ‘manor or fort built of planks’ the ‘brad’ part of the name meaning ‘board’ . Alternatively Bradbury could possibly mean ‘manor or fort approached by boards’.
Mordon, a tiny village to the south of Bradbury and Sedgefield has a name meaning ‘marsh hill’ as it stands on raised ground above the marsh lands of Mordon Carrs, Swan Carr, Bradbury Carrs and Preston Carrs that form the often waterlogged Skerne valley to its west.
Medieval owners of Morden included the Shottons, Kellaws, Harpyns, Lumleys and the Trollops of Thornley. Morden stands close to the Roman Road (Cades Road) with Elstob to its south. Yet another deserted medieval village can be found hereabouts. This one is called Grindon, meaning ‘green hill’ and is to the west of Elstob and the Roman Road.