Durham City : Framwellgate and Neville’s Cross

Framwellgate to Finchale

Here we explore the western and northern parts of Durham City. We start at Framwellgate Bridge then head north along North Road exploring the Victorian developments of the area.

View of Durham Cathedral, Castle and Cathedral from the Millburngate-Framwellgate waterside
View of Durham Cathedral, Castle and Framwellgate Bridge from the Millburngate-Framwellgate waterside looking towards Fowlers Yard and other buildings to the rear of Durham Market Place © David Simpson

We then cover Crossgate and head into Flass Vale and along Redhills Lane to Crossgate Moor before heading north eastward to Framwellgate Moor. From there we head to Pity Me, Newton Hall, Frankland and Brasside then finally out towards Finchale Priory.

Framwellgate Bridge

Framwellgate Bridge links Silver Street to the ‘Old Borough’ of Framwellgate on the western side of the river and was known for many years as ‘Old Bridge’ as it was built more than forty years before Elvet Bridge.

Framwellgate Bridge
Framwellgate Bridge © David Simpson

Originally the Silver Street end of the bridge was surmounted with a tower containing a gateway, though both of these were demolished in 1760.

Framwellgate Bridge, Durham Castle and Cathedral
Framwellgate Bridge, Durham Castle and Cathedral © David Simpson

The bridge owes its origins to Bishop Ranulf Flambard (1099-1128) and was the first permanent crossing of the river in the city. It was, however, rebuilt in the early fifteenth century under Bishop Langley.

Framwellgate Bridge
Framwellgate Bridge © David Simpson

Most of what you see  today is Langley’s bridge though it was widened on the upstream side by just under 2.4 metres in the early nineteenth century.

Framwellgate Bridge and Durham Castle © David Simpson
Framwellgate Bridge and Durham Castle © David Simpson

In 1318 Framwellgate Bridge was the site of the murder of the Bishop of Durham’s Steward, Richard Fitzmarmaduke at the hands of his cousin, Ralph Neville who was known as ‘The Peacock of the North’. The murder took place on the bridge itself and was the final result of a long-standing quarrel between these two powerful men.

Framwellgate Bridge, Durham
Framwellgate Bridge, Durham © David Simpson

Until the 1970s nearly all the city centre traffic including buses and lorries had to pass over Framwellgate Bridge and then through the narrow Silver Street to get from one part of the city to the other.

Framwellgate Bridge
Framwellgate Bridge © David Simpson

This was a terrible inconvenience to pedestrians and eventually led to the construction of the nearby Millburngate Bridge. All except occasional service vehicles are now banned from Framwellgate Bridge.

Framwellgate Bridge, Durham Castle and Cathedral
Framwellgate Bridge, Durham Castle and Cathedral © David Simpson

The banning of traffic meant that a curious feature of Durham’s traffic management, a peculiar little manned police box with its closed circuit television situated in Durham market place has now long since gone.

Autumn view from Framwellgate Bridge looking towards Prebends Bridge
Autumn view from Framwellgate Bridge looking towards Prebends Bridge © David Simpson

Millburngate and Framwellgate

Framwellgate Bridge was linked to the neighbouring streets of Millburngate, Framwellgate and Crossgate on the west side of the river, all forming major medieval routes northward. North Road is a later nineteenth century addition.

Framwellgate Bridge
Framwellgate Bridge © David Simpson

Millburngate was the road or ‘gate’ (an old term for a road) near the Mill Burn. The Mill Burn is a stream that now flows through a culvert beneath North Road to join the River Wear via an outlet pipe nearby.

Framwellgate Bridge looking towards Crosgate and North Road with Riverwalk on the site of Millburngate to the right
Framwellgate Bridge looking towards Crossgate and North Road with Riverwalk on the site of Millburngate to the right © David Simpson

A curious fact is that streams to the north of Durham City (Mill Burn, Dryburn and so on) are called ‘burns’ as they are in northern County Durham, Northumberland and Scotland. South and east of the city, they are called ‘becks’ (in Viking style as in Yorkshire, Cumbria and as far south as Norfolk).  Thus we have Old Durham Beck, Sherburn House Beck, Croxdale Beck and others to the south of the city. See our map of burns and becks in the Durham City area.

Millburngate riverside - the Riverwalk and Millburngate Bridge
Millburngate riverside – the Riverwalk and Millburngate Bridge © David Simpson

Framwellgate takes its name from an old well and it has been suggested that Framwellgate means ‘gate from well’. Part of the Fram Well Head, a superstructure that once covered the Fram Well is situated just above Sidegate on Framwellgate Peth.

Part of the Fram Well
Part of the Fram Well © David Simpson

The well superstructure is not in its original location, as the well itself was a little further to the east close to where the railway now runs. Also, this is a Victorian rebuilding of the original but it is still an interesting link to Framwellgate’s earliest roots.

Nineteenth century illustration depicting the Fram Well
Nineteenth century illustration depicting the Fram Well

The old streets of Millburngate and Framwellgate which formed the district of Durham called the ‘Old Borough’ were demolished in the 1930s because of their poor condition and their residents were removed to a new estate at Sherburn Road near Gilesgate.

Millburngate and Framwellgate Streets included some very historic buildings which had once belonged to wealthy traders but the traders gradually moved out and over the years the two streets developed into slums.

Riverwalk and Millburngate Bridge
Riverwalk and Millburngate Bridge © David Simpson

Sadly, most of the historic buildings were beyond worthwhile preservation. Only one building survives from the old street called Milburngate. It is a much restored fourteenth century building, timber framed above with a seventeenth century rear wing.

Remnant of old Millburngate
Remaining house of old Millburngate © David Simpson

Formerly 129 Millburngate, it lies just inside the entrance to the modern development called The Riverwalk which is a home to eating and leisure facilities including an Odeon Cinema.

Durham Cathedral and Castle from the Riverwalk
Durham Cathedral and Castle from the Riverwalk © David Simpson

Riverwalk is linked to anther new riverside development called Millburngate (still not complete in early 2023) to which it will be connected beneath the Millburngate Bridge of 1967. It is one of a number of modern developments in Durham City Centre.

Millburngate ('Milburngate') Riverside developments, Durham
Millburngate (‘Milburngate’) Riverside developments, Durham © David Simpson

Other developments of recent eras include the Prince Bishops Place shopping centre and the Walkergate and Millennium Place development in the Bishops’ Mill area over on the opposite side of Millburngate Bridge.

Millburngate Bridge
Millburngate Bridge showing the Milburngate and Riverwalk developments to the right and the Walkergate development across the river to the left © David Simpson

Crook Hall and Sidegate

Further along the riverside from the Riverwalk, the riverbanks are called Framwellgate Waterside where we reach the Pennyferry Bridge, a footbridge that links the Waterside to Freeman’s Place and the Sands across the river.

Pennyferry bridge, Durham
Pennyferry bridge, Durham © David Simpson

The bridge is named from a little ferry that long ago operated a service here that cost a penny to cross. Again, nearby on both sides of the river are some of Durham’s most modern developments.

Modern riverside developments in Millburngate
Modern riverside developments in Millburngate © David Simpson

Staying on this side of the river near the bridge is the Radisson Blu Hotel which curves along the edge of the river front. Continuing along the Framwellgate Riverside we pass the hotel and reach Crook Hall and the eastern end of an old street Sidegate

Pennyferry bridge, Durham
Pennyferry bridge and Radisson hotel, Durham © David Simpson

Crook Hall was historically part of the manor of Sidegate (or Sidgate) which was literally a side entrance into the city. There was also incidentally, a medieval Sidegate in Newcastle that was likewise called Sidgate.

River Wear and Durham Cathedral from the Pennyferry Bridge
River Wear, Durham Cathedral and Castle from the Pennyferry Bridge © David Simpson

Durham’s Sidgate was first mentioned in 1217 when it belonged to Gilbert De Aikes of Aykley Heads, who sold it to Aimeric the son of the Archdeacon of Durham. Aimeric’s descendants are thought to be called Emerson or Emmerson.

In the 1200s Peter Del Croke (Crook) acquired Sidegate but it’s not certain whether he hailed from Crook in the Wear Valley or if the name Crook Hall derives from the bend in the river near Sidegate. The oldest parts of Crook Hall, a medieval house, date from around his time.

Sidegate © David Simpson

Later owners of Crook Hall included the Coxhow family (who originated from Coxhoe) and the Couplands including the Northumbrian knight, Sir John Coupland who captured King David of Scotland at the Battle of Neville’s Cross.

From the 1370s until the 1650s Crook Hall belonged to the Billingham family who provided water from the well on their land to the market place and city centre of Durham. In 1631 one of their number, Cuthbert Billingham, cut off the city’s water supply following a disagreement but was ordered to reconnect the supply.

For several years now Crook Hall and its gardens have formed a visitor attraction and wedding venue under private ownership. It suffered economically during the Covid pandemic which resulted in the announcement of its permanent closure in the summer of 2020.

Happily, after eighteen months of being closed to the public, it was announced in March 2022 that the National Trust had taken over the property and that it would reopen in the summer of that year. Crook Hall should not be confused with another Crook Hall (or Crookhall) near Consett in the northern part of County Durham.

Crook Hall
Crook Hall © David Simpson

Continuing along the waterside east from Crook Hall, the riverside route becomes Frankland Lane which heads up through the riverside farmland of Frankland Farm and Frankland Park and ascends towards the Newton Hall housing estate.

Castle Chare and St Godric’s church

We now return to Millburngate Bridge which carries the A690 across the river. Here at the Millburngate and Framwellgate end of the bridge the prominent Roman Catholic church of St Godric in the Castle Chare area comes into view.

Castle Chare
Castle Chare © David Simpson

Little remains of Castle Chare but it was a minor medieval road through this northern part of the old city. A ‘chare’ is usually a ninety degree offshoot of some kind (angled like a chair) but why it is called Castle Chare is intriguing.

Castle Chare
Castle Chare © David Simpson

Was there some kind of fortification nearby, maybe in what is now the railway station area? Was it named because it led down to the river peninsula (the entire peninsula was known as ‘the castle’ in medieval times)? The castle and peninsula are, however, on the opposite side of the river to Castle Chare. Was it simply because there was a good view of the castle across the river?

St Godric's church
St Godric’s church © David Simpson

Castle Chare became the Catholic quarter of the city in Victorian times. St Godric’s Roman Catholic church dates from 1864 and was built by E.W Pugin. The impetus was probably the significant number of Irish immigrants (presumably Catholic) who lived in neighbouring Framwellgate and Millburngate in the Victorian age.

St Godric’s church (right) viewed from Durham Cathedral tower. In front of the church you can see Tenter Terrace.  Bottom right is Framwellgate Bridge and running along the river is South Street. Running from the bridge diagonally right to left is Crossgate including St Margaret’s church and we can see the adjoining Allergate. The green dome of the former miners’ hall marks out North Road © David Simpson

Below the church is a large red brick Victorian building and a prominent Georgian house, which both now house apartments. The Georgian house was once an inn, but in the 1860s it became a Catholic convent and served that purpose for most of its history.

Castle Chare The Georgian house on the left is a former inn that was later a convent. The red brick brick building on the right was formerly a school
Castle Chare The Georgian house on the left is a former inn that was later a convent. The red brick building on the right was formerly a school © David Simpson

The red-brick building was built as the Roman Catholic School of St Godric but the school relocated to Newton Hall in the 1960s, to the north of the city.

Church of St Godric with Castle Chare to the left and Tenter Terrace to the right
Church of St Godric with Castle Chare to the left and Tenter Terrace to the right © David Simpson

To the rear of Castle Chare alongside St Godric’s church is a street called Tenter Terrace on a site called the Tenter Fields named from the tenter hooks where cloth workers once stretched their fabrics. Interestingly, one of the principal main streets in Bishop Auckland is called Tenters Street, again named from nearby fields where cloths were stretched.

Tenter Terrace
Tenter Terrace © David Simpson

At the end of Tenter Terrace where there are good views of the cathedral beyond is the white-painted Tenter House which was the former presbytery or home of the priest.

Tenter Terrace and Tenter House
Tenter Terrace, Tenter House and Durham Cathedral © David Simpson

A footbridge of 2004 called Highgate Bridge crosses the A690 from Castle Chare into an area called Highgate, near the railway station and consists of seemingly typical Durham ‘town houses’.

Highgate © David Simpson

Highgate is in fact a twenty-first century development from the early 2000s but has captured the typical style of traditional Durham town houses. Part of Highgate occupies the area in which the medieval street of Framwellgate was once situated.

Highgate, Durham
Highgate, Durham © David Simpson

North Road

Close by, near the railway station, the A690 and neighbouring North Road come together at a roundabout that splits North Road into two parts. The city centre end of North Road was once called King Street and built in 1831. It heads down towards Framwellgate Bridge.

Looking towards Framwellgate Bridge from North Road with the approach to Crossgate on the right
Looking towards Framwellgate Bridge from North Road with the approach to Crossgate on the right © David Simpson

Further north beyond the viaduct and the station the northerly part of North Road is an older route that would have been reached via Castle Chare before King Street was built.

North Road, Durham
North Road (formerly King Street), Durham © David Simpson

The city part of North Road between Framwellgate Bridge and the roundabout is a city centre shopping street and consists of a mix of nineteenth century and relatively featureless modern buildings.

When the street was built in the 1830s this was open land and its principal feature was the Mill Burn stream which flowed down from Flass Vale. The street runs diagonally across the course of the burn which is culverted beneath the street near the Bus station.

This roughly the point where North Road crosses the Mill Burn Stream
This is roughly the point (centre) where North Road crosses the stream © David Simpson

There was a steam powered corn mill situated above the burn on the bus station side of North Road called the City Mill or Robson’s North Road Steam Mill which operated until the 1920s. John Robson owned the mill from the 1840s and also owned the Market Place Mill (Bishops Mill) near the modern Walkergate complex (once the ice rink area) where there had been a mill since medieval times.

Victorian house of 1842 hidden behind the bus station
Victorian house of 1842 hidden behind the bus station © David Simpson

A house to the rear of the bus station, now a nursery, and once called Neville House was built in 1842 and seems to have been a home to the Robsons and a later family of North Road  millers called Hill.

Original miners' hall, North Road, Durham
Original miners’ hall, North Road, Durham © David Simpson

One of the most prominent buildings in North Road is the one with the green-domed clock tower. Dating from 1875, this was once a cinema and previous to that had originally been the Durham Miners’ Hall before its relocation to nearby Redhills.

Another building of interest, close to the roundabout is the Bethel Chapel of 1861 built by the colliery owner Joseph Love, a seemingly ruthless character who was no friend of the Durham miners’ movement.

Bethel Chapel, North Road, Durham
Bethel Chapel, North Road, Durham © David Simpson

Durham Viaduct

Beyond the roundabout, North Road leaves the shopping area and continues north beneath the viaduct. Durham viaduct dates from 1857 and was built by the North Eastern Railway architect T.E. Harrison. Today it carries the East Coast Main Line from London to Edinburgh but the viaduct once linked Durham to Bishop Auckland.

Durham Viaduct
Durham Viaduct and North road roundabout © David Simpson

The streets around the viaduct area consist of several nineteenth century terraces associated with developments of the railway age. Industries in this area included Hauxwell’s iron foundry in Atherton Street; Ainsley’s mustard manufactory in Waddington Street and an organ factory in Hawthorn Terrace.

Atherton Street
Atherton Street with Allergate to the left © David Simpson

Atherton Street is on the south side of the viaduct just to the west of the roundabout and is accompanied by the terraces of New Street, Mitchell Street and East Atherton Street, which are bordered by the A690 Sutton Street and Allergate.

Durham viaduct with Atherton Street to the right
Durham viaduct with Atherton Street to the right © David Simpson

Hauxwell’s foundry was established around 1860 by the Great Ayton-born George Hauxwell who moved here from Yarm. It’s not unusual to find drain covers inscribed with the name ‘Hauxwell’ in the Durham area. Atherton Street was named from a Durham City MP, and city resident, Sir William Atherton, who became the British Solictor General in 1859.

Nearby New Street is named from a William New who lived in Flass Street and was a key member of Durham’s co-operative movement that built some of the terraces in the area. New was born at Eaglescliffe near Yarm.

Durham Viaduct with Station Approach to the left
Durham Viaduct with Station Approach to the left © David Simpson

Over on the north side of the roundabout is Station Approach which climbs up to Durham railway station. The lower part of this road was once part of Castle Chare, the old road linking the city to the old North Road and Back Western Hill. ‘Parkside’, near Wharton Park at the foot of Station Approach was once the site of the Framwellgate Workhouse which was superseded later by a larger workhouse in Crossgate.

Parkside, Durham
Parkside and Station Approach, Durham © David Simpson

Two streets on this north side of the viaduct which are situated below it are Lambton Street and Bridge Street in land that once belonged to the Earl of Durham (who was, of course called Lambton). Lambton Street has a particularly distinct character.

Viaduct, Lambton Street and Bees Cottage
Viaduct, Lambton Street and Bees Cottage © David Simpson

Bridge Street is presumably named from the viaduct although the Mill Burn stream from Flass Vale passed through this area and seems to have been crossed by a path hereabouts at some time. It is now culverted beneath the Durham streets.

Viaduct, Lambton Street and Bees Cottage
Lambton Street, Bridge Street and Bees Cottage © David Simpson

Bridge Street plays host to Bees Cottage, an attractive stone cottage which is described as early nineteenth century. Perhaps this site has a link to Jacob Bee (1681-1707), a noted Durham diarist.

Redhills and Flass Vale

North of Bridge Street and Lambton Street is Sutton Street and just beyond Sutton Street is Durham University’s Rushford Court, the former County Hospital near Western Hill. Sutton Street links North Road to Flass Street to the west. At the Redhills Durham Miners’ Hall Flass Street becomes Redhills Lane which ascends steeply to the west.

Kings Lodge, Durham
Kings Lodge, Durham at the junction of Waddington Street and Ainsley Street. The lane to the right is a footpath continuation of Ainsley Street. The road to the left leads into the Kings Lodge Car Park where there is a footpath into Flass Vale © David Simpson

Near Rushford Court and adjoining Flass Street and Sutton Street is Waddington Street. This street leads north westward to the Kings Lodge Inn (historically called the Rose Tree). The street is named from George Waddington, who was Dean of Durham 1840-1869.

Waddington Street’s principal feature is the United Reformed Church (formerly a Presbyerian church) which dates from 1878. Waddington Street follows the course of the Mill Burn stream from Flass Vale. The burn is culverted beneath the ground along the west side of the street.

Waddington Street, Durham
Waddington Street, Durham © David Simpson

Waddington Street was the site of one of Durham’s mustard making mills, with mustard made here from the 1870s by a member of the Ainsley family who are recalled in neighbouring Ainsley Street – which follows a former country lane. A footpath to the rear of the Kings Lodge Inn is a good point of entry into Flass Vale.

Redhills Lane
Redhills Lane © David Simpson

Part of Sutton Street, along with Flass Street and  Redhills Lane all run parallel to the viaduct. Redhills Lane ascends to Crossgate Moor and the site of the Battle of Neville’s Cross. According to one legend the hill is said to have run with blood following the battle.

Flass Vale with Durham Cathedral in the distance
Flass Vale with Durham Cathedral in the distance © David Simpson

At the bottom of Redhills Lane is the Durham Miners’ Hall which along with a number of other neighbouring streets occupies the south end of the thickly wooded Flass Vale. Flass is a Scandinavian word for boggy land or swamp and the vale is now a nature reserve. There are still boggy areas at the bottom.

Flass Vale © David Simpson
Flass Vale © David Simpson

Flass Vale is something of an urban oasis and has a magical, almost ethereal quality about it. The setting includes the Maiden’s Bower, an ancient Bronze Age cairn. Flass is a term that also occurs in the name of Flass Hall near Ushaw Moor in the Deerness Valley.

Flass Vale
Flass Vale © David Simpson

The miners’ hall, built as the home to the Durham Miners’ Association and often simply called ‘Redhills’ dates from 1915 and is a red brick Edwardian Baroque style building.

Miners Hall, Redhills, Durham
Miners Hall, Redhills, Durham © David Simpson

Outside are the statues of prominent mining figures Alexander Macdonald, William Crawford, William Patterson and John Forman all of different dates. They were brought here from the earlier miners’ hall in North Road.

Statues of prominent Labour figures at Redhills
Statues of prominent mining figures at Redhills © David Simpson

Redhills is currently undergoing a restoration and renewal project supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and has become a vibrant centre for culture, heritage and education for the Durham coalfield area.

Inside, the hall is noted for its beautiful debating chamber inspired by Methodist chapels, which earned the hall the title of the Pitmens’ Parliament. Nearby are a number of former villas that were associated with prominent businessmen in Durham City.

The Putter by Brian Brown, Redhills, Durham
The Putter by Brian Brown, Redhills, Durham © David Simpson

In the grounds of Redhills is a super sculpture by artist Brian Brown (a former miner) called ‘The Putter’ which shows a young miner (a putter) re-railing a full tub of coal. Created using scrap metal, it gives a real sense of the tough work that miners endure.

Grey Tower and Western Hill

Returning to North Road, buildings worth noting along the section of the road beyond the viaduct and roundabout include the ‘Grey Tower’ which is reputedly a haunted house.

Grey Tower, Durham
Grey Tower, Durham © David Simpson

Occasionally, a ghostly face is said to appear at the upper window but the legend is thought to arise from the 1880s when the tower was the setting for a story called The Waif of the Wear, written by one of its residents, Mrs Linneaus Banks, the wife of the editor of the Durham Chronicle who lived here. Another later resident was Frank Rushford, local historian and editor of the Durham Advertiser.

Grey Tower, Durham
Grey Tower, Durham © David Simpson

The tower, a private house, is near the edge of Wharton Park which lies between North Road and Framwellgate Peth (A691). The building is a little bit of a mystery, being late eighteenth or nineteenth century in origin but sometimes said to incorporate a much earlier building. In the 1851 census it was called ‘Wharton’s Tower’.

The Victorian antiquarian Canon William Greenwell believed the building to be part medieval and built to protect against a band of brigands who supposedly lived in a cave opposite.

The Obelisk, Durham from Wharton Park
The Obelisk, Durham from Wharton Park © David Simpson

Nearly opposite the tower across North Road is Obelisk Lane where  the prominent obelisk of 1840 was erected as a meridian marker point for Durham University’s observatory which lies a mile to the south near Potters Bank. The obelisk was built by William Lloyd Wharton.

Entrances to back Western Hill (left) and Albert Street (right)
Entrances to Back Western Hill (left) and Albert Street (right) © David Simpson

Obelisk Lane, along with Princes Street, Albert Street and Back Western Hill form the Victorian suburb of Durham called Western Hill. This tiny suburb is centred on Albert Street which is a street of large town houses that attracted some of the city’s better-off Victorian residents.

Albert Street, Western Hill
Albert Street, Western Hill © David Simpson

Back Western Hill is a street or lane that flanks the western side of Albert Street and is a much older routeway that predates the Western Hill suburb. It was once the principal route north westward from Durham to Witton Gilbert and was  linked to the city centre via the upper part of North Road and Castle Chare.

Back Western Hill
Back Western Hill © David Simpson

On its opposite side Back Western Hill also flanks the northern and eastern side of Flass Vale where the hill drops into the vale below. This bank or hill was historically called ‘Gibbet Knoll’ – one of the places in the wider ‘Dryburn’ area associated with hanging and gibbeting as far back as medieval times. Bodies of dead felons were likely left hanging here in the full view of the road and other parts of the city.

Rushford Court, Durham University
Rushford Court, Durham University © David Simpson

Just below the entrance to Back Western Hill overlooking the North Road is Rushford Court which is part of Durham University. It was built in 1853 as the County Hospital and served this role up until its closure in 2010. It became accommodation for the University of Durham in 2018 and in 2023 it was announced that it will become the university’s eighteenth college.

Wharton Park

William Lloyd Wharton, from whom the nearby Wharton Park is named, was a Director of the North Eastern Railway and a coal owner at Coundon.

William Lloyd Wharton. Wharton Park
William Lloyd Wharton. Wharton Park © David Simpson

From a family with Westmorland origins the Wharton family seat in Durham from the 1600s was Old Park, an enclosed country estate situated between Spennymoor and Bishop Auckland and centred on Old Park Hall.

View of Durham station platform and viaduct from Wharton Park
View of Durham station platform and viaduct from Wharton Park © David Simpson

William Lloyd Wharton lived at Dryburn Hall. The nearby Durham Railway station was built in part of his grounds in 1857 when the new railway viaduct completely transformed the area. Wharton, who inaugurated the Durham Regatta in 1834 and served as a High Sheriff of Durham permitted the citizens of Durham to use part of his land called ‘Windy Hill’ as a park and it was this land that came to be called Wharton Park.

Wharton Park
Wharton Park © David Simpson

It was Wharton who built the mock castle in the park which offers fine views of Durham Castle and Cathedral. After a gun from Sebastapol used in the Crimean War was placed in the castle it came to be known as ‘The Battery’. Over the years the park hosted events including the first Durham Miners’ Gala in 1871 as well as ‘Irish Galas’ which were once held in the park’s amphitheatre.

Amphitheatre, Wharton Park
Amphitheatre, Wharton Park © David Simpson

William Lloyd Wharton died in 1867 and the Wharton lands in Durham including the park passed to his nephew, John Lloyd Wharton who was Chairman of the North Eastern Railway Company and twice MP for Durham City. It was his daughter, Mary Dorothea (married to a Charles Waring Darwin) who officially presented Wharton Park to Durham council for the citizens of Durham in 1913.

Durham Cathedral from the Wharton Park battery
Durham Cathedral from the Wharton Park battery © David Simpson

In 1923 the statue of Neptune (which dates from 1729) was removed from Durham’s Market Place and came to be placed in Wharton Park where it stood for many years. In later years Neptune suffered much damage and was struck by lightning in the park in 1979. He was removed, taken into storage and repaired. He returned to the Market Place in 1991.

Although Neptune is no longer in the park, Wharton plays host to the statue called ‘Albert the Good’ which is ostensibly, Prince Albert the consort of Queen Victoria. However, strangely the figure, which is missing its head, is carrying an orb which Albert would not do as a consort. Strangely, although Albert seems to be a Victorian sculpture, he appears to be wearing medieval attire.

'Albert the Good'. Wharton Park
‘Albert the Good’. Wharton Park © David Simpson

An inscription on the stone structure beneath reads “whilst we have time let us do good to all men”. This was intended for the accompanying oak tree planted in this stone container by William Wharton in 1863 in memory of Prince Albert.

St Leonard’s, Dryburn and Aykley Heads

A medieval hospital dedicated to St Leonard once stood somewhere near the Grey Tower and Wharton Park and the name of St Leonard is recalled at the nearby St Leonard’s Roman Catholic School, just a little to the north. The oldest part of the school was formerly called Springwell Hall, the nineteenth century residence of coal-owner, Joseph Love, who called the house ‘Mount Beulah’ when it was built in 1859. The hall can still be seen as can the former lodge house for the hall near the school entrance.

St Cuthbert's church, North Road, Durham
St Cuthbert’s church, North Road, Durham © David Simpson

Also in this northerly part of North Road is the Anglican church of St Cuthbert which was built by E.R. Robson in 1863. It is modelled on a church in Normandy that was destroyed during the Second World War.

St Cuthbert's church, North Road, Durham
St Cuthbert’s church, North Road, Durham © David Simpson

At the entrance door to the church is the figure of a bishop holding the head of a king. This is the typical depiction of St Cuthbert who is often portrayed holding the head of King Oswald. It is not Albert’s missing head.

St Cuthbert's church, North Road, Durham
St Cuthbert’s church, North Road, Durham © David Simpson

To the north of St Cuthbert’s church at St Leonard’s School, North Road merges with Framwellgate Peth, (the A691) as it approaches the Aykley Heads area and heads onward north towards Framwellgate Moor. Framwellgate Peth is the upper part of the old medieval street called Framwellgate.

St Leonard’s school (Springwell Hall) stands on a site that was called ‘The Gallows Field’ on old tithe maps. It lies on or near one of the sites where hangings took place in Dryburn. ‘Dryburn’ was the name given to much of this wider area in times past but is now best remembered in the name of ‘Dryburn Hospital’ (the prevailing local name for the University Hospital of North Durham) which is situated a little to the north.

Springwell Hall
Springwell Hall which later became part of St Leonard’s School occupies a site marked on old tithe maps as the ‘Gallows Field’ © David Simpson

The hospital occupies the site of a Victorian house called Dryburn Hall. Dryburn served as an emergency hospital for servicemen during World War Two when its patients included German prisoners.

It was in the Dryburn area that people were once hanged by the neck for crimes such as murder, horse stealing, house breaking, robbery, treason and even witchcraft. Public Hangings took place in the area up until 1816 after which they took place outside Durham prison and courthouse in Elvet.

Old lodge house for Mount Beulah (Springwell Hall) outside St Leonard's School
Old lodge house for Mount Beulah (Springwell Hall) outside St Leonard’s School © David Simpson

Justice could be very rough in days gone by and on one occasion during the reign of Queen Elizabeth five traders were hanged at Dryburn on suspicion that they might be gypsies. Their names were Fenwick, Arrington, Featherstone, Lancaster and Simpson.

On another, earlier occasion in 1594, a John Boste, a suspected Catholic priest who was captured at Waterhouses in the Deerness Valley was hanged drawn and quartered here. There is a legend that after his death a local stream or burn mysteriously dried up never to flow again. Hence the name Dryburn.

Burn, Flass Vale
Burn, Flass Vale © David Simpson

Where the Dry Burn stream was located is not clear but it may in fact be another name for the upper part of the Mill Burn in Flass Vale or one of its trickling tributaries that all frequently run dry. The Gibbet hill (or Gibbet Knoll) stands above Flass Vale in Western Hill and was once part of the broader Dryburn area which also encompassed St Leonards.

It is worth noting that in the justice of times past the place of execution was often different to the place of ‘gibbeting’ the latter being a location where dead bodies were left hanging as a warning to all. The choice of ‘Dryburn’ or perhaps the adoption of the name as a place for hangings in Durham may have been influenced by Tyburn, the famous spot in London where criminals were hanged.

Aykley Heads

Aykley Heads is across the road from the University Hospital of North Durham as we approach Framwellgate Moor. It is a business zone for the City of Durham with pleasant neighbouring woodland. Curiously called ‘Aycliffe Heads’ on old maps, Aykley Heads was historically connected with Crook Hall. Aykley Heads House is mostly of the eighteenth and nineteenth century but the name of Aykley Heads goes back to medieval times.

Aykley Heads House
Aykley Heads House © David Simpson

Like Crook Hall, Aykley Heads historically belonged to the Billingham family. In the early 1700s it passed to the Dixons and then in 1763 it passed to the Johnsons. A number of prominent graves of this family can be seen in the churchyard of Durham Cathedral at the south end of Palace Green.

An Aykley Heads Colliery operated in the area between Aykley Heads House and Crook Hall from the 1880s until 1949. The primary source of employment in the Aykley Heads area in a more recent age has been Durham County Hall, the headquarters of Durham County Council which was built in 1963 as the successor to the Old Shire Hall in Old Elvet.

South Street

Returning to the city centre, at the western end of Framwellgate Bridge, North Road is joined on its south side by South Street and Crossgate which are amongst the city’s older streets of medieval origin.

Approach to Crossgate and South Street from North Road and Framwellgate Bridge
Approach to Crossgate and South Street from North Road and Framwellgate Bridge © David Simpson

South Street runs southward parallel to the river but is high above the river bank and offers unusual views of Durham Castle and Durham Cathedral with its western towers viewed face on.

South Street, Durham
South Street, Durham © David Simpson

With its cobbled course, fantastic views and proximity to the city centre it is perhaps one of the most sought-after and most expensive streets in the city of Durham. It is unusual amongst Durham’s oldest streets for simply being called a ‘street’ rather than a ‘gate’ (gate is in fact an old word for a road or way).

South Street
South Street pictured from Durham Cathedral’s central tower © David Simpson

The name has led to speculation that South Street could be a Roman road or ‘via strata’ – a ‘stone way’ from which we get the term street. The word ‘street’ in old names can sometimes point to a Roman connection such as at Chester-le-Street.

South Street
South Street © David Simpson

There were certainly Roman roads passing through the central area of Durham somewhere in or near the city centre as three Roman roads point in the direction of the city, one from Chester-le-Street, one from Shincliffe via Bowburn and Coxhoe and one offshoot from Dere Street via Willington. The course of any Roman roads in the central area of Durham is, however, unknown.

Durham Cathedral viewed from South Street © David Simpson

At the south end of South Street we find Pimlico (named from London’s Pimlico) from which a footpath descends to Prebends Bridge. Close by are Grove Street, once the home of the portly Shakesperian actor who died in 1822 and was buried in the cathedral. Also here is the northern end of Quarryheads Lane and the eastern end of Margery Lane all in the vicinity of Durham School.

Durham School
Durham School © David Simpson

Durham School is an esteemed private school or ‘Public School’ as such private schools are so curiously and contradictorily named in England. Originally founded in 1414 by Bishop Thomas Langley and  situated on Palace Green it was re-founded by Henry VIII in 1541, though it is possible it can trace its roots back to a school on Lindisfarne in Anglo-Saxon times. Durham School was re-located to the present side in 1844.

At the bottom of the river bank on the riverside that runs parallel to South Street is the South Street mill, situated at the end of a weir and across the river at the other end of the weir, is the famous fulling mill which features in so many photographs of Durham.

South Street Mill
The South Street Mill © David Simpson

Crossgate and Allergate

The street of Crossgate which is linked to North Road and South Street near the north end of Framwellgate Bridge was once the main medieval route westward towards Neville’s Cross and plays host to the medieval church of St Margaret.

Church of St Margaret, Crossgate, Durham
Church of St Margaret, Crossgate and Durham Castle © David Simpson

Crossgate is a fine cobbled street with a number of Georgian houses and has good views towards the castle and cathedral. There are a couple of lively old pubs – Ye Olde Elm Tree and the Angel as well as the Durham City Workingmens’ Club. Adjoining Crossgate is a neighbouring tiny little medieval street hosting modern houses that is called Grape Lane.

Grape Lane
Grape Lane © David Simpson

The parish of Crossgate, centred on St Margaret’s church was one of the main medieval divisions of Durham City. The church itself is specifically dedicated to St Margaret of Antioch.

Crossgate, Durham
Crossgate, Durham © David Simpson

Crossgate is joined on its north side by another former medieval street called Allergate, though the origin of this name is not altogether clear. Allergate’s old name was Alvertongate and seems to be connected with Allerton (Alverton, an old name for what is now Northallerton in North Yorkshire).

Allergate © David Simpson

Allergate is one of Durham’s oldest streets but it can hardly be described as leading to Northallerton. The town of Northallerton and its surrounding district called Allertonshire was once a possession of the Prince Bishops of Durham so perhaps the street was associated with the administration of that district or somehow provided services or goods there. Perhaps the later development of the name was influenced by the French verb ‘aller’ meaning ‘to go’.

Former workhouse, Crossgate, Durham

Between Crossgate and Allergate we find Durham’s former Victorian Union Workhouse which later served as St Margaret’s Hospital. Today the building is a centre that includes a number of concerns such as a physiotherapists, dentists and yoga studio. Further up the bank, Crossgate becomes Crossgate Peth, the road leading to the medieval Neville’s Cross, which presumably explains the street-name.

Around The Avenue

There are several streets between Crossgate Peth and the railway that reflect the modest Victorian expansion of Durham City, most notably the Avenue and Hawthorn Terrace which both more or less run parallel to Crossgate Peth and the neighbouring A690.

Farnley Tower, The Avenue, Durham
Farnley Tower, The Avenue, Durham © David Simpson 2003

Several of the houses in The Avenue were the villas of business people including the turreted Farnley Tower of the 1870s which was built by a Durham architect called John Forster who built much of the street.

Former organ factory, Hawthorn Terrace
Former organ factory, Hawthorn Terrace © David Simpson

A prominent red-coloured building, now apartments, in Hawthorn Terrace  (a street which runs parallel to the Avenue to the north) was formerly the organ manufacturing works of Harrison and Harrison who operated here from 1872 to 1996. The business was encouraged to relocate to Durham from Rochdale by the hymn-writer John Bacchus Dykes who resided in Hollingside Lane in the Elvet area of the city.

Harrison House Blue Plaque, Durham
Harrison House Blue Plaque, Durham © David Simpson

At the eastern end of Hawthorn Terrace near its junction with Allergate and the A690 is the Victorian Colpitts Hotel which takes its name from a family of public house proprietors called Colpitts rather than from County Durham’s numerous coal pits. The Colpitts family hailed from the Bishop Auckland area. The pub and adjoining Colpitts Terrace date from the 1850s.

The Colpitts in Colpitts Terrace with Hawthorn terrace to the right
The Colpitts in Colpitts Terrace with Hawthorn Terrace to the right © David Simpson

Neville’s Cross

A little south of the Colpitts is the eastern end the Avenue. The street forms a long terrace of ascending town houses and up the hill at its western end it joins Crossgate Peth. Here, around a hundred metres further west, opposite St John’s church is the stump of the medieval Neville’s Cross. Now caged in, this was one of the medieval crosses that surrounded the City of Durham as symbols of the city’s right of sanctuary.

The cross is closely associated with the Battle of Neville’s Cross of 1346 but was here well before the time of the battle. In fact it does not mark the site of the battle which took place a little further north in the Crossgate Moor area but for centuries it was the most prominent landmark in the area.

The stump of Neville's Cross
The stump of Neville’s Cross © David Simpson

West of the Neville’s Cross and Crossgate Moor is the valley of the little River Browney, a tributary of the River Wear. The Browney skirts the city’s western suburbs. In the Durham city area it hosted several water mills employed in the manufacture of paper which are featured on our Browney Valley page.

At Stonebridge near the western end of Neville’s Cross is a bridge across the Browney situated on the course of a Roman road that branched off from Dere Street at Willington. The Roman road passed through Brancepeth and Langley Moor but its course in Durham City is not known. At Langley Moor the River Browney is joined by the River Deerness.

Battle of Neville’s Cross

The Browney Valley at Crossgate Moor was the setting for the Battle of Neville’s Cross. In 1346, the greater part of the English army of Edward III were away fighting against the French. The army included Thomas Hatfield, Bishop of Durham who took along his own private army. The French were desperate for the English to be diverted and encouraged King David II of Scotland to attack the English northern border.

King David obliged and invaded England with 20,000 men who wrecked and plundered parts of Cumberland and Northumberland before entering Durham where they made camp at Bearpark to the west of the city. The Scots were comprised of three factions under the respective commands of King David, the Earl of Moray and Sir William Douglas.

Plan of the site of the Battle of Neville's Cross
Plan of the site of the Battle of Neville’s Cross © David Simpson

On the 17th October the men of Sir William Douglas went on a rampage throughout Durham straying as far south as Ferryhill where to their surprise they encountered part of an English army of some 15,000 which pursued them north. Under the leadership of Sir Ralph Neville and supported by the men of Thomas Rokeby and Lord Percy, the English were successful in this initial encounter and a number of Scots lost their lives.

Information board at the cross, Neville's Cross
Information board at the cross, Neville’s Cross © David Simpson

Moving north, the real battle took place in the Browney Valley area around Crossgate Moor just west of the Red Hills and not far to the north of the then notable landmark – the stone cross called Neville’s Cross, which existed before the battle. Arrows were fired, axes hacked, swords were thrust and as the bloodbath continued the indication was that the Scots were going to lose. David, the Scottish king fled the scene.

In the distance praying monks spectated from Durham Cathedral’s central tower while nearby on the Maiden’s Bower in Flass Vale other monks prayed at closer quarters. Here they held high the holy cloth of St Cuthbert, a call for the support of God in battle. The call seemed on this occasion to be answered as the Scots were easily defeated.

The Neville's Cross, Durham
The Neville’s Cross, Durham as it would have appeared in its heyday

Meanwhile in the vicinity of Aldin Grange where the road from Crossgate to Bearpark crosses the River Browney, a Northumbrian soldier by the name of Copeland (or Coupland) came across a rather momentous discovery, for there beneath the arch of Aldin Grange Bridge lay hiding none other than David King of the Scots. The present bridge at Aldin Grange today dates to the fifteenth century and replaced an earlier one so it is not the bridge of King David’s time.

The king’s hiding place had apparently been given away by his reflection in the river. He was badly injured from two spears that had pierced his body but he put up a good fight and knocked out two of Copeland’s teeth. However, Copeland captured the Scottish monarch and for a time the English held on to him for ransom.

Aldin Garnge Bridge where David KIing of Scotland was found hiding after the Battle of Neville's Cross
Aldin Grange Bridge where David King of Scotland was found hiding after the Battle of Neville’s Cross © David Simpson

Eventually a fee was agreed for the return of King David to Scotland and he was released. The canny Scots never paid the fee. The victory at Neville’s Cross was long commemorated in Durham City folklore by local children. Children of the city traditionally claimed that if you walked nine times around Neville’s Cross and put your head to the ground you could hear the sound of battle and the clash of arms.

Whitesmocks to Framwellgate Moor

North of Crossgate Moor the Great North Road (A167) passes Durham Johnston School on its east side near the top of Redhills Lane and continues north into the suburbs of Whitesmocks. This area partly known as Western Lodge was the site of an inn on the great road named from the white smocks attire of coachmen who passed this way.

St Aidan's church, Framwellgate Moor
St Aidan’s church, Framwellgate Moor © David Simpson

North and east of Durham Moor and Dryburn we enter Framwellgate Moor, a suburb of Durham but originally a pit village north of the city. Framwellgate Moor Colliery known as ‘Old Pit’ operated from 1838 to 1924. Traces of earlier houses associated with the pit can be seen, notably in the area called The Carrs as well as in Old Pit Lane, but the main part of the pit village was the area around the Marquis of Granby pub and the Victorian church of St Aidan.

Like Gilesgate Moor, another Durham suburb, Framwellgate Moor takes its name from a Durham street and open uncultivated, common land (moor) that escaped enclosure until relatively late. Framwellgate, the street was in the centre of the town and linked to Framwellgate Moor by Framwellgate Peth (A691). The actual moor at Framwellgate Moor was not enclosed for farming until 1802.

Pity Me

Pity Me is Framwellgate Moor’s neighbour to the north and the two places merge together. A former pit village, Pity Me served Framwellgate Moor Colliery and Kimblesworth Colliery towards Chester-le-Street to the north. In medieval times this area was once noted for fish stews just to the north called the ‘Vivarium de Kimblesworth’.

These were huge fishing ponds belonging to the monks of Durham in the Plawsworth and Kimblesworth areas. They are recalled in  Pity Me’s Stank Lane (‘Stank’ an old name for a pond or pool). The lane is located near Pity Me garden nursery. Embankments of the medieval vivarium can be seen alongside the A167 near Plawsworth.

Stank Lane (right) near Pity Me
Stank Lane (right) near Pity Me © David Simpson

It is an area of Durham that seems to have been a centre for leisure pursuits in times past as the name Plawsworth derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Plaws-Worth’ meaning ‘enclosure for games’. To the west of Kimblesworth, Plawsworth and Nettlesworth are the villages of Sacriston and Witton Gilbert.

Pity Me
Pity Me © 2004 David Simpson

The meaning of ‘Pity Me’ has several theories ranging from the part-French ‘Petite Mere’ (‘small lake’ or even ‘small sea’) to the pitiful chants of wandering monks. Some say monks accidentally dropped St Cuthbert’s coffin here and his ghost cried “Pity Me”.

The cry of the Peewit (Lapwing) has been suggested and there was once a nearby farm at Framwellgate Moor called Pewit Mires later called ‘Tewit Mires’. Even today poorly drained land is preserved at the Pity Me Carrs nature reserve between Framwellgate Moor and Pity Me. You may see Lapwings and sometimes Oystercatchers may appear perched on the rooves of neighbouring retail outlets.

The Carrs nature reserve Pity Me
The Carrs nature reserve, Pity Me © David Simpson

There are plenty of other Pity Me theories. Another idea is that the name comes from the chant ‘misere me’ used by pilgrims walking to Durham. In fact there are other places called Pity Me in the region and at one time there were at least five in the North East – two in Northumberland, one in Newcastle and two in County Durham.

All seem to be located in areas where there was poor soil or waterlogged conditions. The name is most likely a wry reference to difficult farming conditions. Pity Me near Durham City gets noticed because unlike the others it grew from being an insignificant field-name into a prominent village as a result of mining developments.

View of Newton Hall from Durham Cathedral tower
View of Newton Hall from Durham Cathedral tower © David Simpson

Newton Hall and Frankland

Newton Hall is now the name of a housing estate and takes its name from a Georgian hall that once stood here. The house was demolished in 1926 and was once the home – in the eighteenth century – of William Russell, a powerful and very wealthy coal owner, who would go on to purchase Brancepeth Castle.

Russell constructed avenues on the land to create viewpoints of the cathedral. Despite the ‘new’ of Newton Hall’s name the name ‘Newton’ is hundreds of years old as it was first mentioned in the 1180s in Durham’s Boldon Buke.

Durham Cathedral viewed from Newton Hall looking across the farmland of Frankland
Durham Cathedral from Newton Hall looking farmland of Frankland © David Simpson

In its later years the Georgian hall at Newton served as a psychiatric hospital and as a barracks for soldiers in the First World War. When it was demolished in 1926 a tragic accident occurred in which a workman called Littlefair accidentally dropped a joist which killed a 14-year-old boy called John Arnison, who was working in his first job having only left school three days earlier. Years later, in 1988 as the result of a competition, Arnison’s name was chosen as the name of the nearby out of town retail centre in the Pity Me area.

To the North East of Newton Hall estate is Frankland Prison and Brasside.  Historically, the wider Frankland area was a hunting park for the Bishops of Durham and its lands stretched all the way down towards the centre of the city.

Frankland Park, Durham
Frankland Park, now farmland, Durham © David Simpson

A farm called Frankland Park near sloping fields above the River Wear still recalls this past. It has a lovely setting with views across the fields to Durham Cathedral below the Newton Hall estate. It was perhaps once farmed by a franklin, a tenant of free but not noble birth.

Durham Cathedral pictured from Frankland Lane near Newton Hall
Durham Cathedral pictured from Frankland Lane near Newton Hall © David Simpson

Brasside, close to Frankland Prison was the home to collieries belonging to the Earl of Durham (Lambton) in the nineteenth century but by the end of that century was primarily a site for brickworks. The clay deposits here were extensively excavated and resulted in the creation of the lovely Brasside Ponds which are a haven for waterfowl in this part of Durham.

The ponds lie close to the twisting and turning River Wear in the Frankland and Kepier Wood areas and an impressive nineteenth century disused railway viaduct called the Belmont Viaduct or Kepier Viaduct crosses the River Wear. Though disused it is not accessible to the public.

Viaduct linking Frankland Wood (left) near Brasside to Kepier Wood (right) near Belmont across the River Wear
Viaduct linking Frankland Wood (left) near Brasside to Kepier Wood (right) near Belmont across the River Wear © David Simpson

Until the 1870s if you had headed north on a train from Durham station you would have crossed this viaduct as the old main line north to Newcastle (the Leamside line) was to the east of the river. In the 1870s the present railway route was built branching off at Newton Hall and heading north to Newcastle and beyond via Chester-le-Street.

Brasside Ponds, Durham
Brasside Ponds, Durham © David Simpson

To the east of Brasside (the name means brae-side) and Frankland Prison is Adventure Valley, a children’s adventure park in a riverside setting. To the north as the river twists northwards on its way towards Chester-le-Street is a Second World War ammunition dump with several bunkered huts and nearby in a nick of the River Wear is the beautiful Finchale Priory.

World War Two ammunition dump near Finchale
World War Two ammunition dump near Finchale © David Simpson

Finchale Priory

The ruins of Finchale Priory (pronounced Finkle) stand in a beautiful spot by the River Wear to the north of Newton Hall on the outskirts of Durham City.

Finchale is mentioned as early as AD 792 when it was the site of a synod for the Northumbrian Church held to discuss church discipline. The meeting was followed by another two in AD 798 and in AD 810, which suggest that Finchale was a place of considerable importance.

Finchale Priory
Finchale Priory winter scene © David Simpson

The name of Finchale is Anglo-Saxon meaning either ‘dale frequented by finches’ or a ‘halh’ or heal of land frequented by the bird. Despite its spelling, Finchale is pronounced Finkle and is a reminder that the word finch has changed in its pronunciation. It originally described the ‘Fink-Fink’ sound made by these birds.

All these theories are made all the more confusing by the fact that ‘finkle’ usually means dog-leg in other places around the region – for example Finkle Streets in Bishop Auckland, Stockton, Alnwick (Fenkle Street) and several streets in historic towns in Yorkshire. The description ‘dog leg’ certainly fits the course of the River Wear at Finchale which makes a sudden bend of exactly that shape.

River Wear at Finchale Priory
River Wear at Finchale Priory © David Simpson

In about 1104 Finchale became the site of a hermitage belonging to St. Godric who lived here for sixty years. Godric was born in Norfolk in the year 1065 and in his early years lived the life of a pedlar but later became a pirate and sea captain and travelled extensively throughout Europe. In the middle part of his life he went on a pilgrimage to Compostella in Spain where he made the decision to return home to England to live the life of a hermit.

For a time he established a hermitage at Carlisle before moving on to Wolsingham in Weardale where he lived in a cave. Following the death of a close friend Godric witnessed a vision in which he was instructed to go to a place called Finchale. He knew of the site and got the permission of the Bishop of Durham, Ranulf Flambard to establish a hermitage there. Here he built a wooden hut as a simple place of residence and committed himself to a life of prayer.

During his time at Finchale, Godric is said to have been troubled by fiends and demons who took various shapes and forms, most often appearing in the form of a damsel. Visited by ‘evil concupiscence’ he would do anything to rid himself of such trouble such as rolling naked in thorns and then pouring salt into his wounds.

Bridge across the Wear at Finchale
Bridge across the Wear at Finchale © David Simpson

On other occasions Godric would stand naked in the river for a whole night with the water up to his neck, although it is said that often the devil would make a sneaky appearance at the river bank and make off with his clothes. Godric’s activities, however eccentric they may appear to our modern eyes, do not seem to have done the saint any harm as he lived to the grand old age of one hundred and five. His burial place lies among the ruins of Finchale priory.

Finchale Priory winter scene
Finchale Priory winter scene © David Simpson

Following Godric’s death Finchale passed into the hands of the priors of Durham Cathedral Monastery and a Benedictine priory was built here around 1196 by Henry Pudsey son of Hugh, Bishop of Durham.

From the fourteenth century the priory had four resident monks but the monks of Durham Cathedral made regular visits to Finchale which they used as a kind of holiday retreat. Visiting in groups of four, the monks took it in turns to holiday at Finchale.

It is most likely that the monks travelled to Finchale above ground but there is a legend that a secret passage runs underground from Durham Castle to Finchale.

Finchale Priory winter scenes
Finchale Priory winter scenes © David Simpson

Legend has it that in the eighteenth century the passage was discovered by a blind fiddle player who with his dog walked along the passage while playing the fiddle. The sounds of the fiddle could be heard above ground and this enabled the listeners to follow his course as far as Framwellgate Bridge where the passage was said to pass underneath the River Wear.

Mysteriously upon reaching this point the music stopped and the fiddler was never seen or heard of again. His little dog is said to have turned up later with a ghostly look upon its face but Finchale’s secret passage has never been found.


Cocken over on the north side of the Wear from Finchale lies to the west of Rainton and derives its name from ‘Cocca’s Ea’ meaning island or loop of land where perhaps the rights to fish belonged to someone called Cocca. There is still a distinct loop of the river here within which once stood Cocken Hall.

Who Cocca was is not known as the first mention of Cocken comes in 1133 when it was owned by a priest called Ellafus who gave it to the monks of Durham. It later belonged to Finchale Priory.

River Wear from Cocken Bridge
River Wear from Cocken Bridge © David Simpson

From the 1640s Cocken belonged to the Carrs of Newcastle, whose family members included Ralph Carr, a three times mayor of Newcastle and also that town’s MP. From 1804 Carr’s hall at Cocken was used as a convent by Carmelite nuns. These were seemingly nuns on the run as they had been expelled from England during the Reformation. They fled to the Continent but then came back to escape the French Revolution settling for a time at St Helen’s Hall in St Helen’s Auckland (another Carr home) before the Carrs moved them into Cocken Hall. Later in the 1830s the nuns relocated to Darlington.

Farmhouse at Cocken
Farmhouse at Cocken © David Simpson

Around 1812 the Carrs of Cocken took the peculiar name Standish Standish after inheriting land in Cheshire. One William Standish Standish who resided at Cocken until his death in 1856 was buried in a quarry at Houghton-le-Spring. Later residents of Cocken Hall included the nineteenth century pugilist and coal owner John Gully (he owned mines at Rainton and Wingate) who later retired to the Bailey in Durham City and Samuel Austin, the Sunderland shipbuilder who resided here at the end of the nineteenth century. Sadly, the hall seemed to fall into neglect in the following century.

Cocken Hall about 1850
Cocken Hall about 1850

In 1915 the suffragettes attempted to burn the hall down with large quantities of oil and a timed fuse attached to an alarm clock but failed after the caretaker discovered the plot he raised the alarm, though presumably not the one attached to the fuse. Later that year the hall would serve as a Durham Light Infantry barracks but sadly after the war the hall was knocked down and today Cocken consists of only a handful of farmhouses.

Cocken Bridge
Cocken Bridge © David Simpson

A footbridge links the Cocken side of the River Wear to Finchale Priory but Cocken Bridge itself which dates from 1886 is about a mile to the west within one of the numerous island-like loops of the River Wear. It is the only road bridge across the River Wear between Durham City and Chester-le-Street and links the country roads in the flat riverside farmland from Plawsworth to the farmland of Cocken and onward to Leamside and West Rainton to the east or Great Lumley to the north.

Durham City Origins | Durham Cathedral 

Durham Castle and The Baileys | Durham Market Place

Durham : Elvet | Durham : Gilesgate 

Durham : Framwellgate to Finchale


Rainton, Sherburn and Pittington

Deerness Valley | Lanchester and the Browney valley


Durham City Lad : Durham History on Twitter


North East England History and Culture