The River Browney
The River Browney and River Deerness form twin valleys in the sub-Pennine region west of Durham City. Both are small rivers that form notable valleys in this hilly country and in their lower reaches are home to a number of former mining villages.
The Browney rises in the Satley area of the Pennine foothills southwest of Lanchester, with Lanchester itself just north of the Browney in the tributary valley of the Smallhope Burn.
East of Lanchester, bordering the Browney to the north are the high hills of Burnhope along with Char Law and Findon Hill near Sacriston to the east. The Browney flows eastward near Langley Park then on to Witton Gilbert. From here it heads south east to Bearpark then skirts Neville’s Cross on the western edge of Durham City.
The river then passes through Langley Moor where it is joined by the Deerness before joining the River Wear near Burn Hall south of Durham City in the vicinity of Croxdale. The name Browney comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Brune-ea’, meaning ‘brown river’ and in times past was often simply known as ‘the Brune’.
At Holliday Park in Langley Moor, the River Browney is joined by its more southerly tributary, the River Deerness. Places in the hills between the two valleys include, from west to east: Old Cornsay village, Cornsay Colliery, Quebec, Esh and the historic Ushaw College.
Satley to Lanchester
The village of Satley which may mean the ‘seat or lurking place clearing’ is a farming settlement about eight and a half miles west of Durham City in Pennine country on the Steeley Burn which feeds the Browney. A barn just outside the village is said to incorporate the tomb of a mosstrooper called Thomas Raw who died in 1714. In the fourteenth century Satley belonged to the Greenwells but later owners included the Marleys and Heswells.
About two miles east of Satley is Cornsay from ‘Cornesho’ meaning ‘hill spur of the crane’ and sometimes called Old Cornsay to distinguish it from the village of Cornsay Colliery two miles to the east. Cornsay consists of scattered stone houses clustered around a broad and rugged village green on which there is a stone structure covering an old well. It incorporates the village post box.
Cornsay Colliery to the east is situated in the valley of the Hedleyhope Burn which joins the Deerness near Esh Winning to the south west. The colliery itself was opened by Ferens and Love in 1868, at the south end of the village. The mine closed in 1953.
An outlying drift mine operated by Cornsay Colliery was served by the attractive hamlet called Hollinside, a single terraced row of 1892 which is to the north of the River Browney near Lanchester. This isolated terrace is on the south west approach to Lanchester village and lies close to the site of a Roman aqueduct that was about two and a half miles long.
The aqueduct was fed by a small reservoir formed by a Roman dam in the Knitsley area near Consett. It supplied drinking water to the Roman fort of Longovicium at Lanchester as well as water for a Roman baths at the fort. The site of Longovicium is just to the south west of Lanchester village.
Colepike Hall to the west of Hollinside Terrace was called Coldpigg, Cowpigg and Colpit in medieval times and once belonged to the sacrist of Durham Cathedral. It was home to Edward Taylor-Smith in the nineteenth century and he built the present Regency style hall in 1859 as well as Broadwood Hall (later the home of Sunderland football chairman and businessman Tom Cowie), a mile to the west.
The Roman fort of Longovicium at Lanchester was built by the Roman 20th legion on Dere Street around 100AD and came later than the neighbouring forts of Ebchester near Consett and Binchester near Bishop Auckland. As with many Roman forts, traces of a Roman civilian settlement have been found nearby. The present day village of Lanchester just to the west would have come into being in later Anglo-Saxon times.
Lanchester’s Roman name ‘Longovicium’ has Celtic roots deriving from ‘longo’ and ‘uic’ and curiously given Lanchester’s long distance from the sea means ‘ship warrior’ or ‘ship fighter’.
There seems to have been a large Roman civilian settlement or vicus at Lanchester in addition to the fort and the name may have been considered to mean ‘long chester’ or ‘long vicus’ by the later Anglo-Saxons.
Lanchester church and many old houses in the village are thought to have been built using Roman stones from the fort. Interesting Roman finds made here have included an altar dedicated to the Swabian goddess Garmangabis that can be seen in the village church.
Little is known of Lanchester in Anglo-Saxon times, though monks carrying St Cuthbert’s tomb are said to have stayed a night here. A hoard of 18 Anglo-Saxon iron objects including a sword, knife, blades and tools were discovered by an angler, buried in the Smallhope Burn in 1861, a mile and a half west of Lanchester near the hamlet of Hurbuck. Dating from the ninth or tenth century (during the Viking period) these finds can be seen in London’s British Museum and are one of Britain’s most important hoards dating from this era.
In the Boldon Book of 1183 Ulf, Meldred, Ulkil and the wife of Galfrid Personis were Lanchester’s main landowners. The church was already in existence, dating to 1147, and today is dedicated to All Saints but was originally dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. There are pews in the church by Yorkshire wood carver Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson dating to 1939.
Lanchester was one of the largest medieval parishes in Durham, encompassing extensive lands between the River Derwent and River Deerness. In medieval times the armies of Edward I and Edward II passed through this way on their way to Scotland. The manor of Lanchester belonged to the Prior of Hexham in medieval times but later passed to the Hodgsons and Stevensons.
The Smallhope Burn, a tributary of the Browney, passes through the village and is joined by a smaller stream called Alderdene Burn which both now flow in culverts beneath the village.
Lanchester village green, the site of the village stocks in 1575, is bounded by the Front Street on its west side and by the A691 bypass on its east side. There are some pleasant stone houses in the village. Other buildings of note in Lanchester include part of the former Union Workhouse of 1839 in Lee Hill Court. It now serves as a library and police station.
A long distance footpath passes through the village known as the Lanchester Valley Walk and follows the course of the old Lanchester Valley Railway of 1862. It linked Consett Iron Works with its Cleveland iron supplies and joined the present East Coast Main main line at Relly near Langley Moor. The former Lanchester railway station, now a private house, can be seen alongside the path.
There were once coal mines at Lanchester and at nearby Malton to the south but Lanchester is not really a place that you would describe as a pit village.
John Hodgson (1779-1945), later called the Reverend Hodgson, who became the foremost historian of Northumberland was a schoolmaster in Lanchester. During his time at Lanchester, Hodgson made extensive studies of the fort of Longovicium.
A family called Greenwell were long associated with Lanchester, Satley and the Browney valley and their most prominent member was Canon William Greenwell who was born in 1820 at Greenwell Ford on the Browney just south of the village. A canon and librarian of Duham Cathedral he was an antiquarian, noted for excavations of ancient barrows and cairns across Britain.
Greenwell was a keen angler who learned to fish in the River Browney and is remembered as the inventor of the famous Greenwell’s Glory fishing fly. He is buried in Lanchester churchyard.
Burnhope and Maiden Law
Maiden Law village stands on top of a hill a mile north east of Lanchester where a crossroads leads to Leadgate, Durham and Annfield Plain. It was perhaps frequented by maidens in ancient times seeking love and fertility from a yet to be discovered fertility stone. Interestingly Manor House Farm to the south east of Lanchester was once called Maiden-stan-hall and there may be a link.
The lofty village of Burnhope to the south (800 feet above sea level) may be named from the Browney or Brune valley to its south. It is noted for the 750 feet high Burnhope TV mast on the west side of the village that can be seen from miles around. It was built in 1959 when Tyne Tees Television began broadcasting to the region. Long before the mast, a hamlet called Jaw Blades stood nearby apparently named because a whale’s jawbone was once placed here, for reasons unknown.
Burnhope was developed as a mining village in the 1840s by William Hedley, famed as the locomotive engineer who built the Puffing Billy at Wylam. Hedley resided at nearby Burhopeside Hall – at the foot of Burnhope hill. The Hedleys built the village of Burnhope including the church of 1865. Later the colliery and its village passed to the philanthropic Utrick Ritson of Muggleswick who was a JP and Deputy Lieutenant of Durham.
The church at Burnhope is at the north east end of the village and serves the parish of Holmside. Nearby, the most remarkable feature of the village (other than the mast at the western end) is the remarkable war memorial of 1919 which incorporates its own park.
During the the General Strike in 1926 Burnhope became the only place other than Durham City to host the Durham Miners’ Gala. The usual organisers cancelled the event because of the public transport strike but the miners of Burnhope organised their own gala and on July 23rd, 1926, around 40,000 miners from throughout County Durham ascended on Burnhope. Coal mining ceased at Burnhope in 1949.
A couple of miles downstream from Lanchester to the south east is the former mining village of Langley Park which nestles on the south side of the Browney valley at the foot of a steep hill.
Until 1874, when Langley Park Colliery opened there was no village here and the original Langley (the name means ‘long clearing’) was in the hills across the Browney about a mile to the north. Here, the inaccessible ruins of a Tudor house called Langley Hall remain between the fells of Burnhope and Charlaw.
An earlier house on the site had belonged in the 1100s to Arco, a steward of the Bishop of Durham with later owners including the Lisles of Wynyard, the Percys, and from the 1300s, the Scropes. Henry Scrope (pronounced Scroop) built a huge fortified hall complete with a moat during the reign of Henry VIII of which little remains today.
Until the 1870s the only settlement at what is now Langley Park was a hamlet called Wall Nook that can still be seen, named from being a northern corner of Beaurepaire Park (Bearpark) that belonged to the Priors of Durham Cathedral. A railway line was built in this part of the Browney valley in 1861 and a railway station opened at Wall Nook in 1862 to serve the nearby village of Witton Gilbert to the east.
The former station can still be seen today alongside the Lanchester Valley Walk footpath and is identical in style to the former station at Lanchester and another at Knitsley near Consett which were on the same line.
The railway line, which closed in 1966, facilitated the opening of Langley Park Colliery in 1874 and the birth of Langley Park village. Amongst the earlier streets in the new village were Front Street and Quebec Street that developed from earlier country lanes. Another early street called Railway Street, now alongside the Lanchester Valley footpath is a particularly good example of an early pit village terrace.
Langley Park’s most notable pub is the Langley Park Hotel in Front Street which has a former handball court to the rear. Handball, also called ‘fives’ was a game resembling squash that was popular with the miners and was played with bare hands.
Quebec Street to the west is the home to All Saints church which includes a tomb of an unknown soldier. In May 1942, a Langley Park couple received news that their son, Private William (Billy) Bolton had died in action during the Second World World War. His body was returned home and his funeral held at Langley Park church. Two weeks later, Billy pulled up in a motorcycle outside his parent’s house. The identity of the soldier buried in the churchyard is not known but marked
“A soldier of the 1939-45 war.
Known Unto God”
A Langley Park lad called Robert Robson who was born at nearby Sacriston but whose family moved to Langley Park when he was a baby once had the honour of playing the bugle at the grave of this unknown soldier in a commemoration ceremony. Robson, who was then seventeen, had been taught by a member of the local colliery band.
This Bobby Robson (1933-2009) or Sir Bobby Robson as he would become, was of course a keen and talented footballer who played for Langley Park Juniors before signing for Fulham in 1950. He later became a successful football manager, managing Ipswich Town, PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona, Newcastle United and England.
Langley Park has a couple of other claims to fame. Its streets once featured in a drama about the world cup winning football team from West Auckland starring Dennis Waterman and Tim Healy. It was partly filmed in Railway Street and at the Langley Park Hotel. A Langley Park boy played the captain’s son.
The village also features in the name of a successful late 1980s pop album entitled From Langley Park to Memphis recorded by a local band from nearby Witton Gilbert called Prefab Sprout. The band was headed by singer-songwriter Paddy McAloon who once trained as a priest at nearby Ushaw College.
On the south side of Langley Park, roads rise steeply to the adjoining village of Hill Top. This place was described in the 19th century as “principally occupied by tailors and tradesmen employed by Ushaw College students”. The college is about half a mile to the south.
Esh and Esh Laude
The tiny village of Esh (which should not be confused with Esh Winning in the Deerness Valley to the south) is situated to the south west of Langley Park on a hill between the valleys of the Browney and Deerness. Sometimes known as Old Esh, its Anglo-Saxon name means ‘Ash’ as in the tree but ‘esh’ reflects the old Northumbrian dialect once spoken throughout the north.
Esh later gave its name to a family of medieval times called De Esh who resided here up until the reign of Henry VIII. They included Simon De Esh, a High Sheriff and Bailiff of Durham in the 1300s. Esh village, which dates from 1283, may be on the site of their private family chapel.
King Edward I visited the church on September 10, 1306 before heading north to fight the Scots and made a donation before his departure. Much of the church was rebuilt in the 1770s and restored in the 1850s. There is a medieval effigy of a costumed lady in the church that is thought to be one of the De Eshes.
The walled village green south of the church includes a prominent stone cross inscribed with the letters ‘I.H.S’ and dating to 1687. Nearby, a farmhouse called Esh Hall was built by the Smythe family in the 1600s.
The Smythes who originated from Nunstainton near Sedgefield succeeded the De Esh family and were fiercely Roman Catholic even during the later Tudor era when Catholics were persecuted. They established an illegal place of worship, at nearby Newhouse (near Esh Winning) and this continued in use until 1798. A Catholic Church was later built on the site serving Irish Catholics in the newly established colliery village of Esh Winning.
Sir Edward Smythe of Esh Hall replaced the Newhouse with a new place of worship which opened in 1800 at a place to the west of Esh village that came to be called Esh Laude. Perhaps wary of past persecution and the tradition of disguising Catholic places of worship, Esh Laude was built to resemble a farmhouse. It is the oldest church in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle that serves the North-East.
Quebec and Hamsteels
The village of Quebec and Hamsteels are about a mile west of Esh village towards Cornsay Colliery. Quebec is a former mining village and its name seems to have come from the earlier fields of a farm hereabouts.
The fields were seemingly enclosed in the mid-1700s when Britain was at war with the French Canadians and Quebec may have seemed a topical name. It is said to be named from General Wolfe’s capture of Quebec from the French in Canada in 1759. However, it may simply have something to do with the perceived remoteness of the fields or a farm. There is also a neighbouring farm called Greenland, half a mile to the north east.
Quebec isn’t the only Durham village to share its name with a Canadian city. There is also a village called Toronto near Bishop Auckland.
Hamsteels, to the north of Quebec has an Anglo-Saxon name, ‘Ham-Stigel’ which means the ‘steep ascents by the homestead’ and is a collection of buildings clustered around Hamsteels Hall which dates from the 1700s. There was once a Hamsteels colliery near Quebec which came into being in 1867. It closed in the 1950s.
The modern housing estate called Hamsteels to the south of Quebec on the northern outskirts of Esh Winning lies close to a site called Rowley Gillet near Rowley. Sometimes spelled Gillot (arguably pronounced with a soft G), it is named after a family called Gelet who owned land here in the 1200s. Here there are earthwork traces of a large, rectangular fortified manor house called Castlesteads that was probably abandoned in the 1600s.
Other earthworks can be found nearby that date back to ancient times. A woodland north of Hamsteels Estate called Rotten Row Plantation, suggests further abandoned settlement.
The Roman road of Dere Street runs through this area just to the north and passes through Quebec before approaching Lanchester north of Cornsay Colliery via Bargate Bank. It crosses the Browney at a spot called Bargate to the south of that village. A farmhouse called Cobie Castle stood on the northern side of Dere Street between Quebec and Esh Laude until the early 20th century and may also occupy a site of antiquity.
Witton Gilbert near the River Browney about a mile downstream from Langley Park can trace its history back to prehistoric times as several carved Bronze Age cup and ring rocks have been found in the neighbourhood probably associated with the proximity of Charlaw Fell and the neighbouring vale of the Browney. Cup and rings are found in a few isolated spots in North East England, notably on Doddington Moor and near Rothbury in Northumberland and in also in Teesdale in County Durham.
Witton comes from ‘Widu-Tun’ meaning ‘wood settlement’ in Anglo-Saxon times. This means it relied on the felling of wood for its livelihood. ‘Gilbert’ was added to the name later after the Norman Conquest by French speakers and is still pronounced ‘Jilbert’ with a soft ‘g’. The name was probably added to distinguish it from the Witton on the River Wear near Crook which came to be known as Witton-le-Wear.
The Gilbert in question may be either Gilbert de la Leia who owned Witton (Gilbert) in the 1100s or Gilbert De Layton who held land here in the following century. The first of these Gilberts was the owner of the vast Witton estate which stretched from the Browney as far north as Beamish, Stanley and Tanfield Lea. In fact Tanfield Lea was once called Tanfield De La Leia after Gilbert’s family.
Bishop Pudsey, Bishop of Durham granted all this land to Gilbert around 1154 and Gilbert established a leper hospital at Witton. This was a religious foundation for the upkeep of five lepers. Two Norman chapels were built nearby and one of these is now Witton Gilbert’s church of St Michael and All Angels. This church was partly rebuilt in the 1860s.
Nearby Witton Hall Farmhouse incorporates masonry from the leper hospital itself with the most obvious remnant being a pointed window head of the late 12th or early 13th century. Some buildings in Witton Gilbert’s nearby Front Street date to the early 1600s. These include Snook Acres Farm of 1620 that lies alongside in a snook of land formed by the River Browney. A snook is snake-like or pointed piece of land.
By the 1700s Front Street was part of a busy turnpike road and a tollgate was erected at the western end of the village where Norburn Lane climbs up towards the summit of Charlaw Fell.
Although many miners once resided here, Witton Gilbert was very much an agricultural village in origin and even in the late 19th and early 20th century there was still a predominance of rural trades in the village. There were farmers and farm labourers, masons, carpenters, cartwrights, shoe makers, weavers, a hatter and a tailor.
Sacriston is Witton Gilbert’s larger neighbour to the north. It is bordered on its western side by Charlaw Fell and the wooded valley of Fulforth Dene where the Nor Burn heads south to join the Kay’s Burn and River Browney near Langley Park. To the north west of the village near Sacriston Heugh the woodland is called Sacriston Wood and makes a sudden sharp bend around the edge of the hill to form the ‘chare’ or bend that gives Charlaw its name.
Sacriston is a former mining village but Sacriston’s earlier history is focused upon the wooded base of the hill at Sacriston Heugh which is the ‘yuff’ or hill spur formed by the wood that was the home to the medieval manor house that gave Sacriston its name.
Hugh Pudsey, a Bishop of Durham gave land here to the Sacrist of Durham Cathedral in the 1100s and the sacrist built a manor house in the thirteenth century. Sacrists (sextons) were senior monks responsible for sacred relics, vessels, vestments, lighting, heating, sweeping and cleaning the monastery. Also called sextons or sacristans, their title derived from segrestein, a medieval English word of French origin.
In the 1300s the Sacrist’s manor at Sacriston was called Segrestaynheugh and was farmed by the Durham monks. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the later 1530s the house and estate passed to Durham Cathedral’s Dean and Chapter.
Sacriston Heugh was sometimes called Segerston Heugh in the past and many locals still pronounced Sacriston as Segerston. Unfortunately, the last remnants of the medieval manor house (Heugh House) were demolished in the 1950s following mine subsidence.
Small collieries were worked in the Charlaw area in the 1730s and around Findon Hill (to the east) from the 1740s but it was the opening of Sacriston Colliery’s Charlaw Pit and Victoria Pit around 1839 that brought about the birth and growth of the present mining town. Earlier owners of the colliery were Edward Richardson of West Hendon and Joseph Hunter of Walbottle. The working life of Sacriston colliery came to an end in 1985 with the closure of the Victoria pit.
To the north of Sacriston are the villages of Daisy Hill and Edmondsley. Edmondsley lies close to Waldridge and the valley of the Cong Burn which joins the River Wear at Chester-le-Street to the east. Further east of Sacriston are the villages of Plawsworth and Kimblesworth that lie half way between Durham City and Chester-le-Street.
From Langley Park and Witton Gilbert the River Browney flows south eastward through what were once the lands of the medieval parkland called Beau Repaire Park or Bearpark as it has come to be known. On the east side of the river on a slightly raised bluff are the medieval stone ruins of the manor house of Beau Repaire itself. The Old French name means ‘beautiful retreat’ and this manor house and its adjoining park was used by the priors and monks of Durham Cathedral. It may have housed up to forty monks.
Bertram of Middleton who was Prior of Durham between 1244 and 1258, established a lodge and a chapel here and dedicated it to St Edmund. The surrounding land in this part of the Browney valley already belonged to the Priory of Durham Cathedral who received it from Gilbert of Witton Gilbert in 1154.
Monks could reach Beau Repaire from Durham via the Prior’s Path that ran up from somewhere near Redhills Lane in Durham City. The ruins can still be reached by a footpath from the western edge of Durham or can be reached from the Lanchester Valley Walk by a footbridge across the river that links the railway walk to the ruins.
Hugh of Darlington, who was the Prior of Durham from 1285, enclosed the surrounding land with a wall and palisade to create a hunting park for the retreat. In 1289 Hugh was succeeded by Prior Richard of Hoton who became involved in a quarrel with Anthony Bek the Bishop of Durham. Bek encouraged his men to tear down the fences of the prior’s park and drive out the deer.
In the 1300s Beau Repaire’s park included fourteen farms and covered about 1,300 acres stretching as far to the west as where Ushaw College stands today and extending as far east as the outskirts of Neville’s Cross. In the north, the park reached as far as Wall Nook near the present village of Langley Park.
The Beau Repaire manor once included a hall, a large kitchen, an oven, a back room, a dormitory, courts, gardens and a chapel. In 1315 the Scots raided Beau Repaire Park, stealing the game and cattle and damaging the manor house. The prior, Geoffrey of Burdon escaped with the monks, but several servants who remained were taken by the Scots. In 1346, a Scottish army returned again under King David II who camped here before the Battle of Neville’s Cross.
The manor must have provided accommodation fit for a king as Edward I, Edward II and Edward III all stayed at Beau Repaire with their armies during English campaigns against the Scots. Edward III visited Beau Repaire three times in 1330, 1333 and 1335. A survey undertaken in 1450 describes its rich furnishings.
Little is known of Bearpark’s history in later medieval times but it was closed down by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s. In the 1640s during the English Civil War an occupying Scottish army caused severe destruction to Beau Repaire’s buildings.
The former mining village of Bearpark across the Browney to the south, takes its name from the Beau Repaire Park and is a corruption of the old name. As far as is known bears were never kept at Bearpark. In medieval times there had been small-scale mining carried out in the Beau Repaire area by the Priors of Durham but as at Langley Park it was the opening of the railway in the Browney valley in 1862 that created an opportunity for large scale colliery developments.
Bearpark Colliery opened in 1872 and a large colliery village developed, swallowing up the hamlet called Auton Stile but not quite reaching the neighbouring hamlet of Aldin Grange near the River Browney just to its east. The colliery itself was initially operated by the Bearpark Coal and Coke Company owned by a Quaker called Theodore Fry of Darlington. Bearpark colliery operated until 1984 and is now a woodland plantation.
The hamlet of Aldin Grange lies on the west side of the River Browney near Bearpark and was a manor belonging to the Bishops of Durham until the 12th century. It later passed to the monks of Baxter Wood near Neville’s Cross and then later to Finchale Priory.
The bridge over the Browney at Aldin Grange is famed as the place where David, King of Scots was found hiding after the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346. Across the Browney about half a mile to the east are the western Durham City suburbs of Crossgate Moor and to its south Neville’s Cross. Much of this area, including the Browney valley was the setting for the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346.
From Neville’s Cross the Browney skirts the south western edge of Durham City at Merryoaks and Lowe’s Barn and in the former mining village of Langley Moor it is joined by the River Deerness in Holliday Park. From here the Browney continues south west to join the River Wear near Burn Hall and Croxdale.