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. Originally the Silver Street end of the bridge was surmounted with a tower containing a gateway.
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 wealthy men.
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.
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. The peculiar little manned police box with its closed circuit television that controlled the city traffic from the market place has now long since gone.
Across to the western side of Framwellgate Bridge we enter the Victorian street of 1831 called North Road. Formerly known as King Street its most prominent building is the former cinema which was the original Durham Miners’ Hall.
Another building of interest is the Bethel Chapel of 1861 built by the colliery owner Joseph Love who was no friend of the Durham Miner’s movement. Today North Road is split into two sections by a roundabout. Beyond the roundabout we leave the shopping area and are heading north towards the County Hall .
There are two buildings worth noting along this section of the North Road. One is a battlemented building called the Grey Tower which is reputedly a haunted house. 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.
The other building of interest in this area is St Leonard’s Roman Catholic School part of which was formerly called Springwell Hall, the nineteenth century residence of the aforementioned Joseph Love. Also nearby is the obelisk of 1840, a marker point for Durham University’s observatory which lies a mile to the south near Durham School.
Millburngate and Framwellgate
North Road superceeded the older neighbouring streets of Millburngate and Framwellgate as the main road through the western part of the town. Milburngate was the road or gate near the Mill Burn, a stream which now flows through a culvert beneath North Road to join the River Wear via an outlet pipe nearby.
Framwellgate takes its name from an old well a little further to the north 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. It’s not in its original location, as the well itself was a little further to the east.
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.
Sadly most of the historic buildings were beyond worthwhile preservation. Only one building survives from the old street called Millburngate. It is a much restored fourteenth century building, timber framed above with a fifteenth to sixteenth century rear wing. It lies just inside the entrance to the modern Gates Shopping Centre but was originally number 129 Millburngate.
Dryburn – Site of the Gallows
The upper section of Framwellgate Street was called Framwellgate Peth which is now the site of a more modern road leading north towards County Hall, Aykley Heads and the University Hospital of North Durham (known to locals as Dryburn Hospital). Dryburn served as an emergency hospital for servicemen during World War Two when its patients included German prisoners. In earlier times the grounds of Dryburn were the site of the Durham City gallows.
Here people were hanged by the neck for crimes such as murder, horse stealing, house breaking, robbery, treason and even witchcraft. 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 someone was hanged in this area for being a Jesuit priest and there is a legend that after his death a local stream or burn mysteriously dried up never to flow again. Hence the name Dryburn. An alternative suggestion for the name Dryburn is that it is a corruption of Tyburn the place at which criminals were hanged in London.
Crossgate and Neville’s Cross
Near Framwellgate Bridge, North Road is adjoined by South Street and Crossgate which continues up bank to the west, passing the historic church of St Margaret. Up the bank this street becomes Crossgate Peth, the road leading to the site of the Battle of Nevilles Cross.
In 1346 the greater part of the English army of Edward III were away at war fighting against the French with the assistance of among others Thomas Hatfield, the Bishop of Durham who took along his own private army. The French were desperate for the English to be diverted and called upon King David II of Scotland to attack the English northern border.
King David gladly obliged 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.
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.
Moving north, the real battle took place on the Red Hills in the vicinity of a stone cross called Nevilles Cross, which in fact existed before the battle. Arrows were fired, axes began hacking, swords were thrust and as the bloodbath continued the indication was that the Scots were going to lose. David, the Scottish king fled from the scene.
In the distance praying monks spectated from Durham Cathedral’s central tower while nearby on a hill called the Maiden’s Bower at Crossgate Moor other monks watched at closer quarters. Here they held high the holy cloth of St Cuthbert, which was a call for the support of God in this battle. The call seemed on this occasion to be answered as the Scots were easily defeated.
Meanwhile in the vicinity of Aldin Grange where the road from Crossgate to Bearpark crosses a tributary of the Wear called the River Browney, a Northumbrian soldier by the name of Copeland came across a rather exciting discovery, for there beneath the arch of Aldin Grange Bridge lay hiding none other than David King of the Scots who was badly injured from two spears that had pierced his body. Copeland quickly captured the Scottish monarch and for a time the English held on to him for ransom.
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 the Nevilles Cross and then put your head to the ground you could hear the sound of battle and the clash of arms.
Framwellgate Moor, now a suburb of Durham City was originally a separate pit village to the north of the city. The Framwellgate Moor Colliery known as ‘Old Pit’ opened in 1838 and operated until 1924. Traces of earlier houses associated with the pit village can be seen notably in the area called The Carrs and in Old Pit Lane, but the main part of the pit village was in the area around the Marquis of Granby pub.
Like Gilesgate Moor, another Durham suburb, Framwellgate Moor takes its name from a Durham street and from open uncultivated, common land land that escaped enclosure until a relatively late period. Framwellgate Moor was not enclosed for farming until 1802 and was linked to Framwellgate the street (now gone) by the A691 ‘Framwellgate Peth’.
Pity Me is Framwellgate Moor’s neighbour to the north and the two places merge together. A former pit village, Pity Me served both Framwellgate Moor Colliery and Kimblesworth Colliery towards Chester-le-Street to the north. There were once fish stews called the ‘vivarium de Kimblesworth’ nearby in medieval times.
These were huge fishing ponds belonging to the monks of Durham in the Plawsorth and Kimblesworth area. The ponds are recalled in the name of Pity Me’s Stank Lane.
The name Pity Me creates quite a lot of interest with many theories ranging from the French ‘Petite Mere’ meaning ‘a small lake’ or even ‘small sea’, to the pitiful chants of wandering monks. Some say the monks dropped St Cuthbert’s coffin here and he cried “Pity Me”.
The cry of the Peewit (Lapwing) has also been suggested and a nearby farm that once existed at nearby Framwellgate Moor called Pewit Mires (and later Tewit Mires) could support this idea but there are plenty of other theories. How about the idea that it comes from the chant ‘misere me’ used by pilgrims as they walked towards Durham?
In fact there are other places called Pity Me in the North East and at one time there were at least five in the region – two in Northumberland, one in Newcastle and two in County Durtham. 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. The Pity Me near Durham City tends to get noticed because unlike the others it grew from being a farm into a hamlet and then a village as a result of mining developments.
Newton Hall and Frankland
Newton Hall, now the name of a housing estate 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 coal owner. Despite the ‘new’ of the name ‘Newton’ was first mentioned in the 1180s in Durham’s Boldon Buke.
Nearby Frankland, now includes the site of a prison but the wider Frankland area was once a hunting park for the Bishops of Durham. A farm called Frankland Park near sloping fields above the River Wear still recalls this. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 the 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 s 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.
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.
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.
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.