Aycliffe and Shildon

Aycliffe Village

Ayciffe village, situated close to the River Skerne is a place with a long history and the home to a church of partly Anglo-Saxon origin dedicated to St Andrew. Aycliffe was evidently a place of importance in Anglo-Saxon times as religious synods, important meetings of the Northumbrian church, were held here in AD 782 and AD 789.

Aycliffe Village.
Aycliffe Village © David Simpson

Aycliffe of course has an Anglo-Saxon name meaning ‘oak clearing’. It was originally called Acley and was seemingly part of a felled area in a great oak woodland that stood in the district. In later times one part of Aycliffe’s Saxon estate was acquired by a Viking called Scule which is why we have the neighbouring village of School Aycliffe.

To the north and east of Aycliffe the River Skerne winds its way southward through the flat, sparsely populated and historically poorly drained lands to the south of Sedgefield. The river, which has its source near Trimdon, is always little more than a large stream, only becoming a small river in the Darlington area as it approaches the River Tees.

Aycliffe church.
Aycliffe church © David Simpson

East of Aycliffe the Skerne passes the farmstead of Preston-le-Skerne. As with other Prestons the name suggests a place that once belonged to a priest with the ‘le’ element added by Norman French bureaucrats to help them distinguish it from other places called Preston.

The name of the Skerne itself derives from the Old Norse ‘skirr’ meaning bright and clear which is the same as the ‘sher’ in Anglo-Saxon place-names like Sherburn. Skerne is also the name of a village in the East Riding of Yorkshire which is named from a beck.

Well, village green
Well, village green © David Simpson

Newton Aycliffe and Woodham

Newton Aycliffe, north west of Aycliffe, is a new town created in 1947 to provide housing and industrial growth in south Durham. It was given the ‘Newton’ prefix to distinguish it from the older village.

Heighington Station at Newton Aycliffe
Heighington Station at Newton Aycliffe © David Simpson

The southern half of Newton Aycliffe consists of industrial estates where, surprisingly, we find Heighington Railway Station on the north westerly part of the old Stockton and Darlington Railway.

Plaque at Heighington station
Plaque at Heighington station © David Simpson

A red-coloured Transport Trust heritage site plaque at Heighington Railway station informs that the famous locomotive Locomotion (Locomotion Number One) built at the Stephenson works in Newcastle upon Tyne was “hauled here from Newcastle, re-assembled and steamed prior to the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway on 27th September 1825”.

Locomotion at the Locomotion National Railway Museum, Shildon
Locomotion at the Locomotion National Railway Museum, Shildon © David Simpson

Newton Aycliffe’s industrial estate also includes the site of the Aycliffe Royal Ordnance Factory in Heighington Lane that was founded in 1941. Here worked the ‘Aycliffe Angels’, 17,000 women from surrounding villages employed in dangerous munitions manufacture during the Second World War. From the Ordnance factory site, the industrial estate was developed with the new town of Newton Aycliffe initially built to serve the industrial units.

Newton Aycliffe town centre
Newton Aycliffe town centre © David Simpson

Housing in Newton Aycliffe is focused in the northern part of the town with lots of lovely leafy streets and housing estates that are mostly late twentieth century. The town centre with its town clock tower forming Newton Aycliffe’s best-known landmark is a very typical urban design of its era. Here are a range of shops serving the local community.

Woodham, the most recent housing development at the northernmost end of the town includes the site of a deserted medieval village. The old village of Woodham is revealed by mounds and bumps in a field near the neighbouring Woodham Burn.

River Skerne at Coatham Mundeville near Aycliffe
The River Skerne at Coatham Mundeville near Aycliffe © David Simpson


Across the other side of the A1(M) motorway from Aycliffe, near the northern outskirts of Darlington is the village of Brafferton near which the famous Durham Ox was bred. The name of this village is Anglo-Saxon and derives from from ‘Brad Ford Ton’ – the ton or farm near a broad ford over a stream. The ford crossed the nearby Skerne where Brafferton Lane links the village to Coatham Mundeville.

The Durham Ox
The Durham Ox

The huge Durham Ox for which Brafferton is famed was bred by the brothers, Charles and Robert Colling of Ketton Farm near Brafferton in 1796 and achieved such great fame that it was exhibited throughout England and Scotland in an especially designed carriage.

Over a period of five years, the ox journeyed more than 3,000 miles before the unfortunate beast dislocated its hip while on show at Oxford in February 1807.

Brafferton © David Simpson

It was slaughtered two months later and weighed in at 189 stones. During its lifetime, it reached an incredible maximum weight of 270 stones. The Collings achieved far-reaching fame for their development and throughout the country there are many inns named after the Durham Ox of Ketton Farm. Another huge notable bull bred by the Colling Brothers at Ketton was The Comet born in 1804 and recalled in the name of The Comet pub at Hurworth Place to the south of Darlington.

Coatham Mundeville

South of Brafferton and just off the A1(M) motorway is the village of Coatham Mundeville. Coatham comes from an Anglo-Saxon word ‘cotum’ meaning shelters and was once known as Coatham on the Skerne from the little river which passes close by.

Coatham Mundeville © David Simpson
Coatham Mundeville © David Simpson

Coatham became Coatham Mundeville because it later belonged to a French family called Amundevilla who were named from a place in Normandy. Curiously, the French place-name Amundevilla means the ‘ville belonging to Amundr’ and is named from a Viking who had settled in northern France.

Coatham Mundeville
Coatham Mundeville © David Simpson

The ‘Northmen’ or Vikings who settled in northern France were known to the French as ‘Normans’ and over time they adopted the French language. The Normans would of course invade Britain in 1066.

Hallgarth Hotel, Coatham Mundeville
Hallgarth Hotel, Coatham Mundeville © David Simpson

The Hallgarth Golf and Country Club alongside the Skerne at Coatham Mundeville has wings dating to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and there is an old deer house in its grounds.

Hallgarth Hotel, Coatham Mundeville
Hallgarth Hotel, Coatham Mundeville © David Simpson

Just south of Coatham Mundeville we approach the northern outskirts of Darlington at Beaumont Hill, a place which has the strangely superfluous meaning ‘fine hill-hill’.

School Aycliffe : Viking ‘Scule’

School Aycliffe is situated west of Aycliffe and Newton Aycliffe towards Heighington. Surprisingly, its name has nothing to do with an educational establishment, but is from a Viking called Scule. He is probably the same Scule, a warrior, who was given land in south Durham (Castle Eden to Billingham) by Ragnald, Viking king of Dublin and York as a reward for military service around 920 AD.

School Aycliffe
School Aycliffe © David Simpson

Ragnald invaded the north of England from the Viking colonial base of Dublin in Ireland where the ‘Hiberno-Norse’ or ‘Norse-Gaels’ dominated the Irish Sea and Scottish Isles. Ragnald seized York where the Danes appointed him king of all Vikings in Britain. Viking influence in south Durham is perhaps indicated by the predominance of local streams called ‘becks’ rather than ‘burns’.


Heighington is a pretty village set around a substantial undulating village green to the south of School Aycliffe and is worth checking out. The village stands on high ground which looks out across the vale of the Tees to the south and west. At the centre of the extensive village green is a Norman church dedicated to St Michael which completes the setting.

Heighington village © David Simpson

It is thought that the eastern part of the village green may have Anglo-Saxon origins with its western extension being a planned development of a later medieval era. A notable feature of the green is the old village pump which is of eighteenth century origin.

Heighington church © David Simpson
Heighington church © David Simpson

The scale of the old part of the village may reflect its former status as the centre of an Anglo-Saxon estate called Heighingtonshire of which the village may have been the capital. Such estates are thought to have had their roots as tribal districts going back to Celtic times. Aucklandshire, Quarringtonshire and Wirralshire are other examples of such estates, the last of these being the name of a shire between the mouths of the River Wear and Tyne.

Village pump, Heighington
Village pump, Heighington © David Simpson

Ancient Britons were Celts and were described by the later Anglo-Saxons as ‘Welsh’ which means ‘foreigner’. Interestingly Walworth to the south of Heighington has a name that means ‘enclosure of the Welsh’.

Heighington village scenes
Heighington village scenes © David Simpson

Redworth and Shackleton Beacon

North of Heighington towards Shildon is the village of Redworth which is home to the Redworth Hall Hotel. The hall dates to the 1600s with additions of 1744. It was extended by Robert Surtees in the 1820s. The hall was long associated with the Surtees family who originated from Dinsdale near the River Tees from which they took their name.

Redworth Hall.
Redworth Hall © David Simpson

It was a Robert Surtees who built the hall in 1744 but he should not be confused with Robert Surtees, the Durham historian of Mainsforth (a great nephew).

Redworth village.
Redworth village © David Simpson

Nor should this Robert Surtees be confused with Robert Smith Surtees the author of Jorrocks who lived in Hamsterley Hall near the River Derwent in North West Durham. Smith Surtees was the nephew and heir of Redworth’s Robert. Members of the Surtees family still lived at Redworth Hall up until 1955.

Views near Shackleton Beacon
Views near Shackleton Beacon © David Simpson

Just west of Redworth village and Heighington is the wooded hill top of Shackleton Beacon where we find Redworth Wood. Here on neighbouring roads at the edge of the hill there are great commanding views out to the west overlooking some of the most northerly parts of the vale of the Tees – though the Tees itself is more than four miles to the south.

Shackleton Beacon looking north
Shackleton Beacon looking north © David Simpson

It’s worth considering the geography of this area for a moment. Heighington, along with Shildon and Middridge to the north are situated on higher land. To their east is the lowland area of the Skerne valley hosting Aycliffe village. To the west of Redworth and Heighington is Houghton Bank and Houghton-le-Side, where the hill side descends towards the extended Tees vale.

Road to Royal Oak from Shackleton Beacon
Road to Royal Oak from Shackleton Beacon © David Simpson

About a mile west of Shackleton Beacon, the Roman road called Dere Street descends southward from the hills of Brussleton and Bishop Auckland at Royal Oak Farm and Legs Cross near Bolam into the vale of the Tees.

Shackleton Beacon is one of the few positively identified Iron Age forts in what is now the County of Durham. It is possible that the ancient Celtic district that became Heighingtonshire was originally focused on this small Iron Age fort which is just to the north west of Redworth village.

Shackleton Beacon : an Iron Age fort site
Shackleton Beacon : an Iron Age fort site © David Simpson

The name of Shackleton Beacon Hill comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Sceacere Dun’ which means robber’s hill and was recorded as Shakkerdounlawe in the 1380s. At some point in history, probably long after it had been abandoned by the Britons it perhaps became a camp for thieves.


Shildon, the world’s first railway town, is situated half way between the towns of Bishop Auckland and Newton Aycliffe and is about a mile distant from each of the two places. The name Shildon means ‘shelf-dun’ – the shelf hill – from its location on a level shelf of land between hills which was an important factor in its later development as a railway town.

Old Shildon.
Old Shildon © David Simpson

In the nineteenth century the old village of Shildon (Old Shildon) started to grow and was joined by a new neighbour about a quarter of a mile to the south called New Shildon associated with the railway developments for which Shildon is principally famed. Over time the two places merged into one.

Old Shildon
Old Shildon © David Simpson

Old Shildon. on higher ground than its new neighbour to the south became the site of Shildon Lodge Colliery in the West Road area (1830s-1930s) and the colliery owners included Robert Surtees of Redworth and Middlesbrough ironmasters Bolckow and Vaughan.

New Shildon was home to Shildon Colliery (1880s-1924). This was also called Dabble Duck Colliery because it was ‘wet in the workings’, its site now marked by the Dabble Duck Industrial Estate.

Locomotion Number One, Shildon
Locomotion Number One, Shildon Locomotion museum © David Simpson

However, Shildon was primarily a railway town in origin and forever associated with the early history of the railways, as it was from here in September 1825 that George Stephenson’s famous ‘Locomotion Number One‘, made its historic journey to Darlington for the opening of what was effectively the world’s first public railway.

Exhibits at Locomotion, Shildon
Exhibits at Locomotion, Shildon © David Simpson

Shildon, rather than Darlington was the western terminus for locomotives on the Stockton and Darlington railway and in fact the railway itself, extended further west still, beyond Shildon towards Etherley and Witton Park Collieries near the River Wear. This part of the railway was operated by means of inclines and stationary engines.

Sans Pareil replica, Shildon
Sans Pareil replica, Shildon © David Simpson

Shildon was noted in railway circles as the home of the railway pioneer Timothy Hackworth, who had been an assistant to George Stephenson before setting up his own works in the town of Shildon. Hackworth hailed from Wylam in the Tyne Valley and worked at Wylam Colliery like his father before him. George Stephenson and the locomotive builder William Hedley had also worked at Wylam.

Sans Pareil locomotive, Shildon
Sans Pareil locomotive, Shildon © David Simpson

Locomotives built by Hackworth at Shildon included the Royal George, which ran between Stockton and Darlington. Perhaps more famously, he built, along with William Hedley, the Sans Pereil, which competed against Stephenson’s victorious Newcastle-built Rocket at the Rainhill Trials in Lancashire in 1830. Sans Pereil means ‘without equal’.

Stephenson's Rocket at Shildon
Stephenson’s Rocket at Shildon © David Simpson

Currently, the famous Rocket locomotive is on display at Locomotion in Shildon. Here it is accompanied by a replica which, when allowing for modifications that were made during Rocket’s history is closer to what Rocket looked like when it was originally built

Replica of Stephenson's Rocket at Shildon
Replica of Stephenson’s Rocket at Shildon © David Simpson

Until the 1980s Shildon could still claim to be an active railway town, but sadly its last great link with the industry was broken in 1984 by the closure of the Shildon wagon works and today their site is now the Hackworth Industrial Estate.

Shildon had been noted for the building of locomotives but the production of these moved entirely to Darlington in 1871 from which time Shildon specialised in the production of rail wagons with a new works established in Shildon specifically for this in 1896.

A railway works had opened here in 1825 to serve the Stockton and Darlington Railway with engines maintained by Hackworth who served as engine superintendent. Hackworth’s brother, Thomas Hackworth, was the manager of the works.

In 1833 Hackworth set up his own independent locomotive works in Shildon which were called the Soho Works that were eventually bought by the Stockton and Darlington railway in 1855.

Locomotion, Shildon
Locomotion, Shildon © David Simpson

Today, the profile of Shildon’s important links to world railway history are acknowledged by the setting of the National Railway Museum at Shildon. The museum, called ‘Locomotion’ is a branch of the national museum and was opened in 2004 by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

The main part of the museum occupies a modern purpose-built engine-shed building situated on railway sidings just off the old Stockton and Darlington Railway on the east side of Shildon.

Locomotives at Shildon
Locomotives at the National railway Museum, Shildon © David Simpson

The main building houses several interesting and impressive locomotives from the national collection as well as carriages. Locomotives include Timothy Hackworth’s original Sans Pareil locomotive and a working replica of the same. Also here is George and Robert Stephenson’s famous Locomotion Number One.

Other parts of the museum are notable historic sites still in their original locations along the course of a demonstration railway line where working locomotives occasionally operate.

Soho House, Timothy Hackworth's former home, Shildon
Soho House, Timothy Hackworth’s former home, Shildon © David Simpson

Soho House, Timothy Hackworth’s home of around 1833 and neighbouring Soho Cottages form part of the museum. They are part of an internationally important collection of outstanding early railway buildings that remain in situ at Shildon.

Soho Cottages, Shildon
Soho Cottages, Shildon © David Simpson

Soho House was Hackworth’s home until his death and following the death of his widow it became the home to William Bouch, the succeeding superintendent of locomotives. It was still occupied by railway workers until the 1960s and later served for a time as the home of the Timothy Hackworth Museum, a predecessor of the current museum.

Goods shed, Shildon
Goods shed, Shildon © David Simpson

Other buildings and structures on the site nearby include a goods shed of around 1855 which is partly built using stone sleepers from the original 1825 Stockton and Darlington Railway. Goods and coal were distributed throughout Shildon from here and nearby is a timber-built parcels office which dates from after 1923. Also close to Soho House is a former railway warehouse of 1826 with a tall chimney. It later served as a paint shop from the 1860s.

Former railway warehouse, Shildon
Former railway warehouse, Shildon © David Simpson

Nearby side-by side are two stone cabins from before 1839 that are possibly a plate-layers’ cabin and a bank riders’ cabin. They are situated close to a point where the Stockton and Darlington Railway was joined by a line of 1827 linked to the newly opened Black Boy Colliery, owned by Nicholas Wood. It is possible that the building on the right may be an early form of signal box.

Stone railway cabins, Shildon
Stone railway cabins, Shildon © David Simpson

Stretching alongside the main railway line are extensive coal drops of around 1846 created at the instigation of William Bouch. Wagons full of coal along the top of the structure dropped coal via chutes into locomotive tenders below.

Coal drops of the 1840s at Shildon
Coal drops of the 1840s at Shildon © David Simpson

Near the western end of the museum streets in what is part of New Shildon we find Station Street, Soho Street and Victoria Street. Here there is a prominent Wesleyan Methodist Chapel of the 1880s. A Wesleyan chapel (of the 1860s) can be found in Old Shildon too.

Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, New Shildon
Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, New Shildon © David Simpson

Still in New Shildon in Redworth Road but away from the museum locality is another vestige of Shildon’s railway history, namely the impressive Shildon Railway Institute of 1911 in Redworth Road.

Shildon Railway Institute
Shildon Railway Institute © David Simpson

In Old Shildon, a statue of Timothy Hackworth created in 1988 by Graham Ibbeson can be seen near Salvin’s church of St John the Baptist (1834). In the neighbouring churchyard can be seen Hackworth’s tomb.

Statue of Timothy Hackworth in Old Shildon
Statue of Timothy Hackworth in Old Shildon © David Simpson

As well as Hackworth, another great industrial notable associated with Shildon was Daniel Adamson (1820-1890) who was famed as an iron manufacturer and canal builder in Manchester. Adamson’s father who was also called Daniel was the proprietor of the Grey Horse in Old Shildon which can still be seen and is thought to have been Daniel junior’s birthplace.

Timothy Hackworth is commemorated in the name of a pub opposite Daniel Adamson's coach house
Timothy Hackworth is commemorated in the name of a pub near the Grey Horse opposite Daniel Adamson’s coach house in Old Shildon © David Simpson

Opposite the pub is ‘Daniel Adamson’s Coach House’ of around 1831 which may well be the oldest surviving railway coach station where Daniel senior operated a horse-drawn coach service along the railway line to Darlington. A branch of the Stockton and Darlington Railway called the Surtees Railway ran through this area in Shildon’s West Road from the 1830s serving the Shildon Lodge Colliery. There is no railway there today.

Daniel Adamson's coach house, Shildon
Daniel Adamson’s coach house, Shildon © David Simpson

All of the activity and excitement surrounding the foundation of the Stockton and Darlington Railway may have provided inspiration for the younger Daniel who was apprenticed to Timothy Hackworth at the Shildon engine works. He built his first locomotive in his teens and went on to become manager of the works.

Church of St John the Baptist, Shildon
Church of St John the Baptist, Old Shildon © David Simpson

Adamson progressed to become a very wealthy and successful industrial entrepreneur, moving on to the North West where he set up an iron works in Cheshire and then Manchester where he is principally remembered as the driving force behind the Manchester Ship Canal which he successfully instigated in the 1880s. Getting the act for the construction of the canal through parliament made him a great industrial hero in that city but he did not live to see the canal’s completion.

Daniel Adamson's coach house, Shildon
Daniel Adamson’s coach house, Shildon © David Simpson

On a literary front, Shildon was the birthplace of the North East writer Sid Chaplin (1916-1986) who later moved to Ferryhill where he worked in the mines. The Jarrow playwright Alan Plater based his musical ‘Close the Coal House Door’ (music by Alex Glasgow) on Chaplin’s early work. Chaplin later lived in Newcastle upon Tyne which was the setting for his best-known novel The Day of the Sardine.

Branch Library in Shildon dedicated to Sid Chaplin
Branch Library in Shildon dedicated to Sid Chaplin © David Simpson

Brusselton Incline

About a mile west of Shildon beyond the A6072 are traces of Brusselton Incline, a section of the Stockton and Darlington Railway where stationary engines hauled coal wagons on the line across a hill at Brusselton. The old engine house which housed the stationary engine is now one of a group of cottages.

Traces of the Brusselton Incline to the west of the old engine house
Traces of the Brusselton Incline to the west of the old engine house with Brusselton Wood in the distance to the left © David Simpson

Here were situated twin tracks on which coal-laden wagons were hauled up from the west side of the hill by the engine as empty wagons were hauled up from Shildon on the east side. Coal-laden wagons were met by Locomotion at Shildon and transported onwards to Darlington and the port of Stockton. Remarkably, from 1833 a passenger service even operated across the hill, utilising the incline. After 1842, a tunnel passed through the hill.

Close by, to the south, is Brusselton Wood on a neighbouring hill where once stood Brusselton Tower, a mid eighteenth century folly built for Newcastle merchant, Cuthbert Carr of Old Hall in St Helen Auckland. It is thought to have been built by George Longstaff of West Auckland and was demolished somewhat ignominiously in 1961 after serving as a landmark for around two centuries.

Brusselton Incline and Low West Thickley Farm
Brusselton Incline and Low West Thickley Farm © David Simpson

Traces of the Roman road of Dere Street (known in part hereabouts as Haggs Lane and Brussleton Lane) passes through the wood. About a mile and a half to the south of the woodland is Legs Cross, an Anglo-Saxon boundary marker alongside the Roman road near the village of Bolam.

Three quarters of a mile south of the wood is a place called Royal Oak, named from a nearby inn where the Darlington to West Auckland Road diagonally crosses Dere Street. To the north and north west of the woodland are Bishop Auckland and West Auckland. The name Brusselton is recorded in the 1240s as Brustledun (‘dun’ or ‘don’ signifying a hill). It may mean ‘bristly hill’ from rough vegetation or ‘brussled-dun’ meaning ‘scorched hill’.

Access bridge crossed by the Brusselton Incline near Low West Thickley Farm
Access bridge crossed by the Brusselton Incline near Low West Thickley Farm © David Simpson


The village name Middridge between Shildon and Newton Aycliffe describes a situation between ridges of hills. In the 1970s there was a plan to make Middridge part of an expanded Newton Aycliffe town but it never came to fruition.

Middridge © David Simpson

A hill near Middridge village (probably Tuft Hill) was once noted in legend as being the chief meeting place for fairies who it is said once gathered here in their hundreds on summer nights. It was said that if you caught a glimpse of them it was considered very lucky but to address them was considered very dangerous. Fairies are not an unusual feature of local legend. At Hetton-le-Hole there was once a ‘Fairies Cradle’ an ancient tumulus that was thought to be frequented by fairies.

Middridge © David Simpson

There is a story, well-known in the nineteenth century, that a young man of Middridge called William, expressed his disbelief in fairies and after a few drinks at a Harvest Festival in the village, accepted a challenge to disprove their existence. Visiting their supposed gathering place as dusk approached on his mater’s palfrey, he found no sign of them but spoke out at full voice:

Rise, Little Lads,
Wi’ your iron gads,
And set, the lad
o’ Middridge hame.

Poor William soon found himself surrounded by the avengeful little people, with one particularly aggressive fairy wielding an iron gad (javelin) but he gave William a head start:

Silly Willy, mount thy filly,
And if it isn’t weel corned and fed,
I’ll hae thee afore thou
gets home to thy Middridge bed.

Fortunately for Willy his home was close by and the terrified palfrey was as fit as a fiddle. Willy kicked his spurs and the palfrey returned to Willy’s abode at lightning pace where to his fortune, the door had been left wide open. The other startled occupants of the house were much surprised to find him ride straight into their home, but realising a danger, they quickly bolted the iron bar of the door behind him.

Middridge © David Simpson

The following day when it was deemed safe, the door was opened and a tiny iron javelin was found sticking from it which could only be removed with the forge hammer of a blacksmith. For generations the Fairyland relic was preserved but its whereabouts today is unknown.

Middridge © David Simpson

East Thickley Farm just south west of Middridge not far from the Locomotion railway museum was historically associated with the Lilburn (or Lilburne) family who owned the place and whose numbers included the radical John Lilburne (see Sunderland) known as ‘Freeborn John’, the founder of the Levellers movement during the time of Oliver Cromwell in the 1640s. Its not certain whether Lilburne was born at Thickley or at Sunderland.

John Lilburne
John Lilburne


The villages of Old Eldon and Eldon lie north east of Shildon and to the north west of Newton Aycliffe. Eldon, which either means ‘Ella’s hill’ or ‘elder-tree hill’ was given to the church of Durham by King Cnut (Canute) in the eleventh century. In much later times it was associated with the Scott family who purchased the manor and took the title Lord Eldon.

Old Eldon
Old Eldon © David Simpson

One John Scott, a Lord Eldon, who became Lord Chancellor of England was famed in his younger days for eloping with the Newcastle merchant’s daughter Bessie Surtees after she escaped with his assistance from her father Aubonne Surtees’ house on the Newcastle quayside by a ladder in 1772. Newcastle’s Old Eldon Square is named after Eldon.

Old Eldon
Old Eldon © David Simpson

Old Eldon is more of a small farming hamlet than a village and should not be confused with the villages of Eldon and Eldon Lane about a mile to the east towards Bishop Auckland which were colliery villages.

Bessie Surtees
Bessie Surtees elopes with John Scott at Sandhill on the Newcastle Quayside


Coundon is over a mile north of Old Eldon and less than two miles south of Spennymoor. It can be reached from Rushyford on the Great North Road or Coundon Gate on the Bishop Auckland to Spennymoor road (A688). Coundon means ‘cow’s hill’ and in the 1850s was described as mostly the home to pitmen.

Coundon church and churchyard occupy a hilltop site
Coundon church and churchyard occupy a hilltop site © David Simpson

In the Boldon Buke of 1183, the Coundon land belonged to the Bishop of Durham. In the 1380s William De Coundon (William of Coundon) held land here. In 1387-38 the tenants of Coundon mowed 107 acres of Auckland Park for the Bishop of Durham.

Coundon’s three main streets are Church Street at the west end that splits into Wharton Street and Collingwood Street. Wharton Street was named from a family with colliery interests at Coundon who are best remembered at Durham City’s Wharton Park.

Coundon © David Simpson

Wharton street extends towards Leeholme at Coundon’s east end while Collingwood Street heads slightly south west towards Windlestone. Just south near its junction with Church Street is St James’ church of 1873.

Church of St James, Coundon
Church of St James, Coundon © David Simpson

In the ‘v’ at the junction of Wharton Street and Collingwood Street is the village war memorial monument and behind it a cottage of the 1870s called Monument Cottage that quite unexpectedly for County Durham has a thatched roof.

Thatched cottage and war memorial at Coundon
Thatched cottage and war memorial at Coundon © David Simpson

At the east end of Collingwood Street in the Tees Walk and Hambleton Road area of Coundon was once a community of terraced streets unexpectedly called ‘Tottenham’. The long-gone terraces, with their river-themed names (Tyne Terrace, Esk Terrace, Wye Terrace, Tees Terrace, Eden Terrace), like Coundon itself, were a long way from north London.

Houses near Coundon's Church Street with hill views across the countryside
Houses near Coundon’s Church Street with hill views across the countryside © David Simpson

In the countryside east of Coundon is Leasingthorne. This was once the site of the main local colliery but today is home to a single terraced street (Eden Terrace) on the road north to Kirk Merrington and Leasingthorne Farm.

Scenery near Howlish Hall
Scenery near Howlish Hall © David Simpson

Howlish Hall, a care home south of Coundon derives its name from Howletch (old spellings include ‘Howledge’) meaning ‘hollow stream’ and the valley hereabouts still creates a distinct hollow in the neighbouring countryside. In medieval times the earliest recorded owners of Howlish were the Hoppers, succeeded by the Nicholsons, Doubledays, Agnews, Walkers and from around 1848, the Edens.

In the 1850s Howlish Hall was purchased by Nicholas Wood (1795-1865) of Hetton Hall, the one time owner of Leasingthorne Colliery which operated from 1836 to 1967. Wood, a famous and highly respected engineer was a close associate of George Stephenson. His huge statue features prominently inside the beautiful Neville Hall, the former Mining Institute in Newcastle, now called the Common Room of the Great North near Newcastle Central Station.

Howlish Hall
Howlish Hall © David Simpson

Wood’s eldest son, Captain Collingwood Lindsay Wood (1830-1906) resided at Howlish Hall in the 1860s and 1870s. The oldest parts of the present Howlish Hall date from the early 1700s with extensions in the later eighteenth century and nineteenth century. It was a property of the Middlesbrough iron and coal owning company of Bolckow and Vaughan from 1924 and served as a special school in the 1940s.

South of Coundon towards Bishop Auckland and Shildon is Coundon Grange in the Dene Valley, separated from Coundon itself by a farm called Grange Hill with Canny Hill (or Canney Hill) to its west.

Looking across the valley of the Debe Beck towards Close House and Coundon Grange
Looking across the valley of the Dene Beck from Eldon towards Close House and Coundon Grange © David Simpson

Dene Valley

The ‘Dene Valley’ north of Shildon and west of Bishop Auckland is formed by the Dene Beck which joins the River Gaunless at South Church. Dene Valley parish forms a collection of former mining settlements between Shildon and Bishop Auckland.

Eldon Lane © David Simpson
Eldon Lane © David Simpson

Dene Valley includes Close House, Eldon Lane and Coundon Grange. The last should not be confused with Coundon village to the north. Nor should it be confused with Coundon Gate or New Coundon which are alongside the A688 Bishop Auckland to Spennymoor Road to the north west. Also included in the Dene Valley parish is a place called Gurney Valley north of Eldon near the A688.

Church of St Mark, Eldon dates from 1879. situated between Eldon and Eldon Lane
Church of St Mark, Eldon dates from 1879. situated between Eldon and Eldon Lane © David Simpson

In the western part of the Dene Valley parish we find terraced house villages called Bridge Place and Coronation to the east and west of a bridge that carries the Darlington to Bishop Auckland railway line. The Coronation side of the bridge tells you that you’re about to enter Bridge Place while the Bridge Place side tells you you’re going to be entering Coronation when you pass beneath the bridge.

Coronation village was built in 1902 at about the time of the coronation of King Edward VII. The date of 1902 is confirmed above the door of a prominent house called Coronation Villa at the western end of David Terrace.

Beyond Coronation, the neighbouring village or suburb of Bishop Auckland called South Church is partly within Dene Valley Parish. To reach the historic part of South Church and its huge church you leave the parish and cross the bridge over the River Gaunless.

Coronation village near Bishop Auckland.
Coronation village near Bishop Auckland © David Simpson

Dene valley area collieries included South Durham Colliery near Eldon (1829-1932), once owned by the Pease family. Also nearby was Black Boy Colliery (1830-1939) and its Gurney Pit. It was operated by Nicholas Wood and later by Black Boy Colliery Company and Middlesbrough firms, Bolckow and Vaughan and Dorman Long. The two companies were also the successive owners of Auckland Park Colliery (1864-1946) to the north west.

Outside the parish on the other side of the Bishop Auckland to Spennymoor road in the Auckland Park area is the sweetly-named village of Canney Hill. To the north are Coundon Gate and New Coundon. Canney Hill was the site of a nineteenth century pottery.

 Spennymoor Merrington and Ferryhill

West Auckland and the Gaunless Valley

Bishop Auckland | Gainford to Coniscliffe

Darlington Croft, Sockburn and Sadberge





North East England History and Culture