Old Cassop is just off the A181 Silent Bank to the south east of Durham City and is one of two distinct places called Cassop. The roots of Old Cassop go back to medieval times and it is still a farming village in appearance formed from a handful of houses. It should not be confused with Cassop, the former mining village across Cassop Vale to the south which was formerly called New Cassop.
Cassop Vale is probably the ‘cat’s op’ meaning ‘valley of the wild cat’ in Anglo-Saxon times. The vale is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) noted for wild flowers which grow on the magnesian limestone grassland and was historically a hunting park used by the Prince Bishops of Durham. The SSSI also includes marshland and a woodland fringe.
A mine called Cassop Vale Colliery operated here from 1840 until the 1850s but the main colliery, which operated until 1868 was at New Cassop. Quarrying of the magnesian limestone stone was also an important activity in the neighbouring hills of the Cassop area.
Quarrington and Quarringtonshire
Quarringtonshire was an ancient district stretching from Sherburn to Tursdale with an Anglo-Saxon name but like other such districts probably had roots going back to earlier Celtic times. The district was still recognised after the Norman Conquest but as a part of the County Durham.
Other old shires in Durham which formed divisions of the Kingdom of Northumbria included Heighingtonshire, Gainfordshire, Aucklandshire, Billinghamshire, Staindropshire and Wirralshire (the last one located between the Tyne and Wear in what is now South Tyneside and northern Sunderland). There were likely other ‘shire’ districts of this kind in Durham but their names are not recorded.
Post-Conquest Quarringtonshire owners included the Baliols, Rothburys and Salvins, and a John Raket in the 1500s. Old Quarrington, near Bowburn, was probably the capital, although the Baliol family held a moated manor house called Standalone at Tursdale which is another candidate for the Quarringtonshire capital.
Quarrington, (originally called Querningdon) means ‘quern stone hill’ and is named from querns or millstones used for grinding corn as it seems the local stone was used for this. The actual hill itself includes a hill spur or ‘heugh’ at its north east corner near Bowburn. The heugh can be seen from the A1(M) motorway and alongside the A688 road linking Bowburn to Sherburn.
There is a farm called Heugh Hall and an isolated street called Heugh Hall Row in the vicinity of Old Quarrington. Like Old Cassop, Old Quarrington is an old farming settlement and the history of the two places is linked by a civil parish called Cassop-cum-Quarrington which does not include the former mining village of Quarrington Hill up on the hill top as that was historically on land that was part of Kelloe.
In 1840, Heugh Hall Colliery opened near Old Quarrington and the old village became a mixed community of miners and farm labourers but nearby Quarrington Hill was the main mining village of the Quarrington area.
The hill top now occupied by Quarrington Hill village was more than once a location for military encampments in centuries past. During the English Civil War in April 1644, the Scots under the Earl of Leven encamped on the hill for seven days before heading to Marston Moor near York to fight alongside the victorious Parliamentarians in the battle there.
Just over a century later, in April 1747, British troops under the Duke of Cumberland camped here for several weeks after returning from victory over the Jacobites at Culloden in Scotland. Traces of their huts could still be seen on the hill in the 1850s.
A Quarrington Colliery opened near Old Quarrington in 1777 which included a pumping engine to remove water from the mine but it was a small scale operation. It was William Hedley who opened Crow Trees Colliery near Quarrington Hill in 1825. Mines of the area were linked to Hartlepool by rail.
Most Quarrington Hill miners worked at East Hetton Pit situated near the woodland close to the Kelloe Beck between Quarrington Hill and Kelloe. In 2016 an excellent sculpture was unveiled in Quarrington Hill created by Teesdale-based sculptor Phil Townsend. What is particularly endearing about this memorial is that it explains and depicts the work and processes of the miners serving as an educational memorial for future generations.
It shows miners testing for gas; filling coal tubs; setting up pit props; hewing at the coal face and ‘putting’ with a pit pony. There is also a depiction of the pit cage that transported the miners down to the coal face. The cage is in three tiers. Miners on the top tier could stand but those on the bottom two tiers had to crouch in a tight space with interlocking knees.
One of the houses in the Front Street of Quarrington Hill village is called Aston Villa. It was named in 1913 by a Sunderland Football Club supporter called Albert Gillett who later went on to run a bus company in the village. Sunderland were having a successful season that year and reached the FA Cup final.
Albert confidently promised his house would be named after the FA Cup winners. Unfortunately for Albert, the Birmingham side, Aston Villa were the victors. Albert had hoped to call his home ‘Sunderland House’ but kept his promise.
Kelloe has a name that derives from ‘Kelf Law’ meaning ‘Calf Hill’ and its history dates back before medieval times. The hill, now Kelloe Law, is that between Kelloe and Trimdon. There were two old settlements called Kelloe, namely Town Kelloe and Church Kelloe both of which are shrunken medieval villages.
Shrunken and deserted medieval villages are usually places that struggled to thrive economically or suffered from the ravages of the plague in medieval times.
Town Kelloe is a tiny farming hamlet and home to Kelloe Hall Farm, while about half a mile to the west, Church Kelloe is home to a handful of houses and a medieval church on the western outskirts of Kelloe itself.
Kelloe church is dedicated to St Helen and is part-Norman, dating from 1181 and partly thirteenth century. Kelloe was historically linked to Sherburn Hospital in early times with Kelloe’s farming activity helping to pay for the running of the hospital. The medieval parish of Kelloe included Coxhoe, Quarrington, Cassop, Tursdale, Thornley, Wheatley Hill, Wingate and Trimdon Grange. A memorial to the Trimdon Grange Colliery disaster of 1882 that lay within this parish can be seen outside the church in addition to the one in the cemetery at Trimdon.
Inside the church is Kelloe Cross, an important piece of medieval sculpture dating from the 12th Century and discovered embedded into the chancel wall in six pieces in 1856. St Helen is depicted on this cross. She was the mother of Constantine the Great, the first Christian Emperor of Rome.
Perhaps there was something symbolic about this being a hidden cross. Those familiar with the story of St Helen herself will know that the true cross of Christ was supposedly revealed to her by an angel. On the Kelloe cross the angel is depicted holding a scroll and St Helen holding a spade ready to find the cross.
One of the Prince Bishops of Durham was closely associated by name with Kelloe. He was Bishop Richard Kellaw, who was Prince Bishop from 1311 to 1316 and may have been born at Town Kelloe. As Prince Bishop, Kellaw primarily resided at Bishop Middleham Castle near Sedgefield. His brother, Patrick Kellaw led an army of Durham men against the invading Scots during Richard’s time as bishop.
The Kellaws took their name from Kelloe and the family name was first mentioned in the 1200s when an Alexander Kellaw is recorded as a benefactor of Sherburn Hospital. This family were lords of the manor at Kelloe until the 1400s when it was sold to the Fossour family who held Kelloe until 1782. Later owners were the Tempests and the Marquess of Londonderry. One of the daughters of the Marquess was born at Kelloe Hall.
Kelloe vicars included Thomas of Canterbury who the Pope temporarily excommunicated in 1314 for not paying his ‘Peter’s Pence’ tax. Thomas then duly obliged. In the 1600s there was a vicar at Kelloe called John Lively “the vicar of Kellow who had seven daughters, but never a fellow”.
Kelloe itself as distinct from Town Kelloe and Church Kelloe is a former mining village that came into being in the nineteenth century. The pit village and its colliery were once officially called East Hetton but locals preferred to call it Kelloe. The site of the colliery and the first pit terraces of East Hetton village are just south of the present village at a site called ‘Old Kelloe’ which confusingly brings the number of Kelloes to four.
East Hetton Colliery at Kelloe opened in 1836 and was initially owned by East Hetton Coal Company. It was named from the colliery at Hetton (Hetton-le-Hole), a good seven miles to the north. The colliery at Hetton-le-Hole was famous as the first mine to open beneath the magnesian limestone of East Durham and produced good quality coal with a strong reputation in the market. Coal from Kelloe was of a similar grade and quality to that of Hetton so the name East Hetton ensured that Kelloe coal carried a strong market brand. Kelloe Colliery finally closed in 1983.
Coxhoe is on the old main road from Stockton to Durham on lower-lying land bordered by the magnesian limestone hills to the east. A Roman road known in more recent times as Cade’s Road passes through the centre and more or less follows the Stockton to Durham turnpike road of 1742 that is now part of Coxhoe’s Front Street.
Coxhoe’s Anglo-Saxon name means ‘hill spur or heel of land belonging to someone called Cocc’. The deserted medieval village of Coxhoe stood in the countryside to the east, half between present day Coxhoe and Kelloe. A cleared piece of land within a wood marks the point where the village stood. It was abandoned in the 1500s but traces can be seen on aerial photos. The cleared land also marks the site of Coxhoe Hall.
In medieval times Coxhoe belonged to Finchale Priory to whom it was given as a gift by Walter Audre who wished to be buried at the priory. The longest owners of Coxhoe were the Blakistons, a Catholic family who came from Norton near Stockton and owned Coxhoe from 1318 to 1617. Coxhoe then passed through marriage to the Catholic Kennetts of Kent, one of whom was killed at the Battle of Marston Moor in Yorkshire in 1644.
In the early eighteenth century Coxhoe was sold to John Burdon, the wealthy son of a Newcastle merchant who, in 1725, built the fourteen bedroom Coxhoe Hall and a park on the site of Coxhoe manor house. Later Burdon moved on to Hardwick near Sedgefield where he built Hardwick Hall and its park in the 1740s.
Coxhoe Hall’s most famous residents arrived in 1795. Edward Barrett, a sugar plantation owner (a significant slave owner) in the West Indies settled here that year and leased the property from its owners.
Edward’s great granddaughter, the famed poet Elizabeth Barrett Moulton Barrett was born at the hall in 1806. It was through marriage that she was later known as Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Elizabeth was baptised at nearby Kelloe church in 1808 and there is a memorial inside the church to her name. In truth Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her family departed from Coxhoe in 1809 and headed for Herefordshire.
In 1850, a mining engineer called Thomas Wood resided at Coxhoe Hall but by the 1930s the hall belonged to the East Hetton Colliery Company. It then served as an army barracks and part of a prisoner of war camp. However, successive mining over the years caused subsidence to the hall. It was condemned and demolished in 1952.
Although mining and quarrying were noted in the Coxhoe area back in medieval times, Coxhoe’s main road did not become the focus for the village until the nineteenth century when the two industries boomed as the result of the railways which enabled local coal and stone to be efficiently shipped to the ports of Tees and Hartlepool.
Coxhoe’s place on the main road ensured its importance as a centre for the surrounding mining villages in a similar way as this same Roman road contributed to the growth of the town of Chester-le-Street further to the north. In fact Coxhoe was virtually a small town with 30 pubs and even had two railway stations at either end of its main street. There was a pottery too at the south end of Coxhoe and Coxhoe was locally known for the manufacture of clay pipes.
Coal mines in the area included Crowtrees Colliery near Quarrington Hill of 1825 opened by William Hedley, the inventor of the Puffing Billy locomotive. Other pits followed: Bell’s Pit at Park Hill in 1827; Coxhoe Colliery of 1835; West Hetton Colliery of 1837; Clarence Hetton or Clay Hole Colliery of 1839; the first Bowburn Colliery of 1840 and Heugh Hall Colliery near Old Quarrington in 1841.
Most of the collieries were worked and closed before the 1880s. Coxhoe was also home to an iron works from the 1850s to the 1870s opened by the brother of the Wylam and Shildon railway engineer Timothy Hackwoth.
As far as collieries were concerned it was boom and bust with the collieries of Coxhoe worked and closed by the 1880s. Quarrying continued however with the Steetley limestone works on the low hill just east of the main road operating until the 1960s. Known as the Basic Works they are recalled in the name of Coxhoe’s ‘Basic Cottages’.
Garmondsway and Raisby
Significant quarrying activity continues in the neighbourhood just south of Coxhoe in the Raisby-Garmondsway area where it began in 1845. Garmondsway and possibly Raisby are both deserted medieval villages. There is a small present-day village called Garmondsway about a quarter of a mile to the east of the much larger deserted medieval village. Significant traces of the site of the deserted village of Garmondsway can be seen on a sloping bank beneath Garmondsway East Farm.
Garmondsway was noted as ‘the Via Garmundi’, the place where King Cnut, the Viking ruler of England and Denmark began his barefoot walking pilgrimage to St Cuthbert’s shrine at Durham in 1020 AD. The event is a recorded historical fact but the story that he had his hair trimmed and donned a cloak at Trimdon is probably a later embellishment.
The name of Garmondsway is Anglo-Saxon or Viking in origin and means Garmund’s or Gormund’s Road. It is thought to be the route or way of a Dane called Gormundus. Given this unusual name it is tempting to speculate that there was some kind of ancient routeway here. There is a natural valley that predates the quarrying at the foot of the slope of the lost medieval village with the Coxhoe Beck to the west and source of the River Skerne at Trimdon just to the east.
Raisby, now only a farm name is situated on Garmondsway Moor and might also be the site of a deserted medieval village. Its name is intriguing because it ends in ‘by’ which usually indicates a Viking settlement of Danish origin. However, the place seems to have come into existence after the Norman Conquest and was first recorded in 1183.
It was around that time that a man called Race Engaine gave a piece of land in the Kelloe area to the medieval hospital at Sherburn and the name Raisby (Raceby) seems to commemorate this. Raisby means ‘Race’s farm’ but its site is probably lost in this extensively quarried landscape. Garmondsway formed part of the lands of Sherburn Hospital.
Cornforth or ‘Corneford’ as it was known in medieval times was the site of two corn mills in that distant era but this is not an explanation for its name. For philological reasons place-name experts have concluded that in the same way as Cornsay near Lanchester is the ‘crane’s hill’, Cornforth was the ‘crane’s ford’ in a reference to the bird of that name that presumably frequented the stream here.
Cranes were a relatively common breeding bird in medieval England and prized as game and were heartily eaten. Falconers often set their falcons upon them.
One problem is that herons (still a common bird in Britain today) were also often called ‘cranes’. The ford across the stream where the cranes (or herons) could be found was perhaps the Coxhoe Beck on the north east side of Cornforth which is now crossed by a bridge leading to Cornforth Lane. Cornforth Mill, a water mill was located near this spot. Alternatively, perhaps there was a ford across the boggy wooded wetlands called the Carrs just to the south west of Cornforth near Ferryhill. This would formed an ideal habitat for a crane.
In the Hatfield Survey of the 14th century it was recorded that the villeins or feudal tenants of Cornforth held the special privilege of erecting booths at St Cuthbert’s fairs. Families associated with or owning land in Cornforth from medieval times included the Kellaws, Ushers and Shaws. Later families connected with the village included the Hutchinsons, Haswells and Garthornes.
The surname Cornforth and its variant Cornford originated from Cornforth in medieval times and the first record of the surname is a mention of a Thomas De Corneford in the Assize Rolls of Durham in 1242.
Cornforth is centred around a village green which gives away its medieval roots. At the south end of the green is the Square and Compass pub and on the west side the Victorian church of Holy Trinity built by the architect J.P Pritchett in 1867.
Cornforth was still a small farming settlement at the beginning of the 19th century with a population of 324 that expanded to more than a thousand by 1851 with the opening of collieries in the neighbouring Coxhoe area.
West Cornforth is Cornforth’s near neighbour and the two villages merge together. It was a product of the 19th century coal mining boom and initially developed to the west of Cornforth itself, then spread south west and south east of the original village. West Cornforth is affectionately known by the nickname ‘Doggie’ but it is not clear why.
One explanation is that it was an association with the making of dog iron as there was an iron works on the western fringe of the village. Another theory is that just about everyone in the village once owned a dog. Other thoughts are that it is from a dogleg bend in a local lane, but where? The nickname is not unique in the North East as North Ormesby on Teesside is also known as ‘Doggie’.
Thrislington which is mistakenly called ‘Thristlington’ on one prominent local signpost was originally called Thurstanton and is a Viking-Danish place-name where the personal name Thorsteinn has been combined with the Anglo-Saxon word ‘ton’ meaning a farm.
Although much of the area has been obliterated by quarrying there is an associated nature reserve that protects the distinctive natural environment of the magnesian limestone country. However, the original village or hamlet of Thrislington and its associated hall have long gone. They nestled on the edge of the valley of ‘the Carrs’ of the North Skerne or Little Skerne (see Ferryhill). This was the old name for a branch of the Skerne, the river that rises near Trimdon and eventually joins the River Tees near Darlington.
A family called Thurstanton took their name from the place who in 1262 sold neighbouring marshland to the Priory of Durham Cathedral in exchange for pastorage rights at Ferryhill. Thrislington, as the place later became, possibly through association with thistles, was purchased by Sir Thomas Robinson of Rokeby near Barnard Castle who later sold it to Henry Hopper of Durham.
Metal Bridge and Tursdale
To the north west of the Cornforths is the little village of Metal Bridge on the road towards the Thinford roundabout (near Spennymoor). The road here is crossed by a railway bridge in Bridge Street that carries the East Coast mainline. The village is on the west side of the bridge and is the site of a pub called The Poachers.
Under the bridge and a little further to the east there is a pub and country house hotel called The Old Mill, that was one of the old mills associated with Cornforth. The building began as a paper mill in 1813 and then operated as both a paper and corn mill until 1890.
The mill was once called Thinford Mill and it is interesting that despite the name there does not appear to be an actual stream at Thinford itself. The Coxhoe Beck flows just a few meters to the west of the Old Mill pub and the water mill was worked by the channel of a mill race connected to the beck.
Just to the north of Metal Bridge the Leamside railway line or at least its course (most of this line has been uprooted) joins the main line at nearby Tursdale.
Tursdale is another Viking name (as is Croxdale to the north) and was originally called Trillesdene or Trellesden. It means the dene or valley belonging to Thrall or Thrylli, the dene in question being that of the Tursdale Beck between Croxdale and Hett.
This little grouping of Viking names seems to be associated with the upper part of the Skerne valley and neighbouring tributaries of the Wear to the north of the Ferryhill Carrs. Viking place-names are virtually absent to the north of Durham City.
Just along the A688 to the north of Tursdale near the junction with the motorway at Bowburn is the massive white building of an Amazon distribution centre.
Bowburn is named from the Bowburn Beck – or simply the Bow Burn, which flows in the shape of a bow, though in distant times it was known as the Wedhope Burn. Much of the stream runs in a culvert through Bowburn.
A Bowburn Colliery was opened about 1840 by John Robson and Ralph Ward Jackson but was a small mine close to Coxhoe where the motorway interchange is today. Bowburn as a village was then yet to come into existence being only a tiny hamlet with some neighbouring pubs located on the road to Stockton which more or less follows the Roman Road that continues south through Coxhoe.
When the Teesside iron firm, Bell Brothers who already operated nearby Tursdale Colliery opened a larger Bowburn Colliery at Bowburn itself in 1908 it brought about the birth of the mining village of Bowburn. Bowburn Colliery and possibly the village were originally going to be named ‘New Tursdale’ by the mine owners.
Bowburn Colliery closed in 1967 and in recent years Bowburn has grown with new estates that are conveniently situated for commuters with access to the nearby motorway. Bowburn Hall Hotel just to the west towards the distinctive hill of the Quarrington ‘Heugh’ was a former colliery agent’s house called Bowburn Grange and dates from the 1920s. It later served as offices for the National Coal Board.