Gilesgate and Gilesgate Moor
The long, steeply-banked street of Gilesgate is still occasionally known to older residents by its medieval name ‘Gillygate’ (with a soft G) and is the ‘street of St Giles’. It is named from the nearby St Giles church, an attractive little edifice that claims to be the second oldest church in Durham City after Durham Cathedral.
The church of St Giles and the associated twelfth century Kepier Hospital on the riverside east of the Sands are central to the history of the land encompassed by the street of Gilesgate and neighbouring suburb of Gilesgate Moor.
On this page we begin our exploration of the area at Gilesgate Moor, which was once a mining area. We then explore the street of Gilesgate itself and head down the street into adjoining Claypath in the parish of St Nicholas as well as exploring Walkergate on the fringe of Durham Market Place.
We then head down Providence Row from Claypath to the Sands towards Kepier Hospital heading all the way to Kepier Wood. This brings us back almost full circle to Belmont Viaduct in Kepier Wood, just north of Gilesgate Moor.
It is the church of St Giles that gives its name to the street of Gilesgate and wider area including Gilesgate Moor to the east. Gilesgate Moor forms a Durham suburb but originally referred to unenclosed common land between Sherburn Road and Sunderland Road. At their western end these streets merge together at the ‘road ends’ to form Gilesgate.
Gilesgate Moor forms the heart of eastern Durham City stretching from the housing area of Sherburn Road, overlooking Old Durham, extending north to the A690. The suburbs then stretch east into Dragonville (the name of a long-gone nineteenth century pub) and across the motorway into Carrville and Belmont.
Much of the area was first developed in the nineteenth century when there were several collieries here, notably Kepier Colliery; Old Durham Colliery; Grange Colliery; Kepier Grange Colliery; Broomside Colliery and Belmont Colliery.
A mining settlement called ‘New Durham’ developed north of the Sherburn Road in the nineteenth century but was largely abandoned and demolished by the end of that century.
Some outlying parts of the former mining settlement of New Durham survive. They include Adolphus Place and Ernest Place, where an old Primitive Methodist chapel of 1852 is now student accommodation.
Some historians of the time listed terraces like Ernest Place and Teasdale Terrace as if they were settlements in their own right but sometimes they were considered part of New Durham. A more definite survival of New Durham pit village is ‘Old Whitwell House’, a stone house adjoining a newsagent on the Sherburn Road. It was once a pub called the Old Whitwell Inn
There was was also another pub called the ‘Rising Sun’ nearby but this was demolished in 1996 following a fire. The neighbouring Sherburn Road housing estate across the road was not built until the 1930s, so these old stone houses at ‘New Durham’ originally looked out across the Sherburn Road into the open countryside that descends towards Old Durham Gardens.
New Durham pit village was specifically built on the moor in 1836-37 by a man called Andrew White to house miners working at his Whitwell Colliery situated about a mile away near Shincliffe. However, New Durham was actually larger than a now lost pit village that existed at Whitwell itself.
Whitwell was a nineteenth century colliery (it closed around 1874) but there was an earlier, smaller mine at Whitwell in the 1730s owned by the Teasdale family. Interestingly, the nineteenth century pit terrace called Teasdale Terrace that faces the large Tescos store near the eastern end of Gilesgate Moor was originally called Teasdale’s Terrace and likely connected to that family in some way.
Behind Old Whitwell House once stretched long-gone poor quality pit houses in New Durham village (it’s now the Frank Street area that was built much later). New Durham village streets included Love Street, named from a noted coal owner along with College Street and Chapel Street, where a chapel was built in 1838. Intriguingly, there was also Dike Street but what the ‘dike’ was is unknown.
Most of the streets in New Durham had gone by the end of the nineteenth century. Nearby Mill Lane was the site of a windmill called New Durham Corn Mill. It was situated approximately where we now find the New Durham Workingmens’ Club.
The old mining streets of Adolphus Place and Ernest Place (now the name of a modern block of student accommodation) just to the north recall sons of the coal-owning Marquess of Londonderry. The Marquess owned land nearby, notably at Old Durham and Low Grange but the land on which Ernest Place was built was connected to Kepier Colliery owners Dixon and Thwaites.
Further west, along the Sunderland Road is Wynyard Grove, a later street named from Wynyard Hall, once the family seat of the Marquess. A statue of the third Marquess of Londonderry on horseback can of course be seen in Durham Market Place another reminder of his power and influence in the Durham City area.
Although Gilesgate Moor declined as a mining area at the end of the nineteenth century, it subsequently developed as a Durham suburb. A former cinema that opened in 1927 is a reminder of this growth. Now the ‘Old Cinema Launderette’ on the Sunderland Road, today it serves as a launderette and music venue.
Previously called Crescent Cinema and then Rex Cinema, it closed as a cinema in 1958. More recent roles before it became a launderette were as a Bingo hall and tool hire business.
For a time in the 1930s, while still a cinema, it also served as a church for Roman Catholic services after many Catholics of Irish background were relocated to the new Sherburn Road estate from the Framellgate and Millburngate areas of Durham city centre. After 1939 a Catholic Church Hall in Mill Lane served this purpose until 1966 when St Joseph’s Church was built, also in Mill Lane.
The Rex wasn’t the only cinema in the area. The much larger Majestic Cinema on Sherburn Road opened in 1938 and operated until 1961. At the time of writing the building is still there.
Sunderland and Sherburn Road were situated either side of the common land of Gilesgate Moor. Today, this and the surrounding built-up area with modern retail developments around Dragon Lane form a distinct community on the east side of Durham City as well as being a popular place of residence for Durham University students.
On the north side of Sunderland Road is a red-brick housing estate built after the Second World War. It features street-names commemorating local and national war heroes. Streets include Bradford Crescent, named from Victoria Cross recipients, the Bradford brothers of Witton Park. Others include Donnini Place, from a nineteen-year-old Easington lad who was the youngest recipient of the Victoria Cross in the war. His father was Italian.
Annand Road; Heaviside Place; Cooper Square; McNally Place; Wakenshaw Road; Gort Place; Kenny Place; Cunningham Place; Montgomery Road; Churchill Avenue and Roosevelt Road are also named from heroes and prominent figures connected with the war.
Within the apex of the meeting of the Sunderland and Sherburn Roads (both ancient routes) is the ‘road ends’ which was once the ancient site of the Maiden’s Arbour. A signalling station or beacon is said to have existed here, roughly in what is now the Young Street area and was perhaps associated with Roman Old Durham or the nearby hill fort of Maiden Castle. A marble cross existed here in the 1500s. The actual site of the Maiden’s Arbour is the car park near the Sainsbury’s store.
Close by, hidden away to the rear of Gilesgate near the Queen’s Head pub is Vane Tempest Hall, a former military drill hall, dated to 1865 and built for the Second Durham Militia.
Vane Tempest was of course the family name of the Marquess of Londonderry who established the unit. A shooting gallery range with targets for militia training was built down by the river to the north, east of Kepier Farm.
The upper part of Gilesgate, which begins at the ‘road ends’ includes the village-like Gilesgate Green, best-known locally as ‘the Duckpond’, though remarkably there hasn’t been a pond here since the 1840s when it was filled in for health reasons.
There are some neat looking houses nearby, including one featuring the letter ‘L’ indicating that although we have left the former mining area, there was still a Londonderry presence.
Nearby, a plaque at number 142 commemorates the Durham photographer Daisy Edis who lived there and worked from a studio in Saddler Street.
A little further down Gilesgate is St Giles Church, set back from the street on the south side with views from its graveyard of the beautiful Pelaw Wood, as well as Maiden Castle and Old Durham. Built in 1112 by Bishop Ranulf Flambard, the church was constructed as a chapel for a hospital dedicated to St Giles.
Later relocated to nearby Kepier, the hospital stood close to the church but was burned down in the 1140s. The trouble that led to the burning of St Giles Hospital was caused by one of the most notorious characters in the history of the Bishopric of Durham, William Cumin, a usurper bishop who falsely appointed himself Prince Bishop of Durham with the encouragement of King David of Scotland.
As the supposed bishop, William Cumin took up residence at Durham Castle where for three years he abused his falsely claimed powers and terrorised local people with the assistance of his band of armed retainers.
It is thought that Cumin was the son of Robert De Comines, the Norman Earl of Northumbria who was killed in the bloodbath massacre of 700 Norman soldiers in Durham City on January 30th 1069. If so, then Cumin may have had a particular grudge against Durham. Cumin and Comines are thought to be early forms of surnames such as Cummings and Cummins.
In March 1143, when William De St Barbara was elected as the true Bishop of Durham, Cumin still had to be removed. William St Barbara’s supporters had expected Cumin, the usurper, to stand down. Unfortunately he did not and what is more Cumin would not allow St Barbara anywhere near Durham Castle. The real bishop was forced to take refuge at St Giles church for the night.
The following morning Cumin broke down the doors of St Giles Church and a pitched sword battle broke out between the supporters of the real bishop and the usurper. Terrified monks caught up in the fight prayed desperately for peace but one was nearly killed by a huge stone thrown by one of the usurper’s men.
On this occasion William St Barbara was forced to accept defeat and had to leave Durham for a time until a second unsuccessful attempt was made to oust Cumin at a later date.
During his ruthless rule, Cumin gained the support of many of the barons in Durham and his main opponents in the County Palatine seem to have been the Escolland, Bulmer and Conyers families. Of these, the most prominent supporter of the real bishop was Roger Conyers.
Conyers was the Constable of Durham Castle but the castle had been seized by Cumin around 1141. Conyers took refuge at his own manor house at Bishopton near Stockton-on-Tees, which he converted into an impressive castle, of which extensive earthworks can still be seen just outside that village.
The supporters of William St Barbara also built a castle at Thornley during this period. This was a time that might well be described as County Durham’s very own civil war and indeed took place at a period in English history known as ‘the anarchy’. A notable flash point in this ‘war’ was the besieging of Kirk Merrington church near Ferryhill which Cumin had fortified in an act that was considered sacrilege.
In August 1144, St Barbara tried once again to evict Cumin from Durham, this time enlisting the help of the Earl of Northumberland’s army. On this occasion they were successful. Cumin’s men fled the scene and the usurper relinquished his claim to the bishopric, though it seems that the hospital of St Giles may have suffered a burning at the hands of Cumin’s men at around this time.
In Gilesgate, close to St Giles church, there is a commemorative plaque to local First World War hero, Michael Heaviside. Later residing at Craghead, Heaviside is one of the war heroes recalled in local street-names but is the only one with a specific connection to Durham City, as Gilesgate was his birthplace.
From St Giles church this upper part of Gilesgate called Gilesgate Bank continues to descend towards the centre of the city and today the street called Gilesgate is cut in half by a roundabout, close to which there are a number of features of note.
Large sections of the street of Gilesgate were demolished in the 1960s to make way for the A690 roundabout and adjoining Leazes Road, including the demolition of tenements called Moody’s Buildings. Nearby, a Territorial Army Centre stands close to the site of the demolished drill hall of 1902 that served the 8th regiment of the Durham Light Infantry.
Other features of note in the vicinity of the roundabout include a large eighteenth century house called ‘Belvedere’ with its flat roof. Below the roundabout is the College of St Hild and St Bede, known as ‘Hild and Bede’ for short.
Part of Durham University since 1979, ‘Hild and Bede’ started as two separate teacher training colleges. Bede’s College was established in 1839 in Leazes Lane off Gilesgate. This lane is now partly the course of the A690 Leazes Road into the city. Near the college there was once a marble works owned by a local councillor called Mr Lowes who was murdered in 1902.
Until 1933 there was a ‘model school’, connected with the college, used for training teachers, further down the lane. The adjoining College of St Hild was established in 1845, with its buildings clustered in St Hild’s Lane and to the rear of Gilesgate.
Across the other side of the roundabout is the A690 which from the east follows the course of a former railway that was a branch of the Leamside line. The Leamside line was the main line north to Newcastle when it opened in 1844 and was located east of the city, unlike the present main line which is to the west. The Durham branch of this railway terminated here at what was the first railway station in Durham City, though there was an earlier station on a separate line at Shincliffe.
The railway station building, now a hotel, can still be seen next to the roundabout and dates from 1844. The railway closed in the 1960s and was replaced by the present A690 dual carriageway road.
Nearby Station Lane was the birthplace of Michael Heaviside (1880-1939) who later moved to Kimblesworth and Sacriston and became a miner at Craghead near Stanley. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery in the First World War and is commemorated in the mentioned memorial at St Giles Church.
Close by, the gable end of the last house in this upper part of Gilesgate on the north side of the street has a painted mural created to commemorate 900 years of Durham Cathedral in 1993.
The roundabout, which seems to form the terminus of Gilesgate actually splits Gilesgate in two. Gilesgate continues across the western side of the roundabout, running parallel to Leazes Road.
Even some locals mistakenly think the part of Gilesgate beyond the roundabout is Claypath, though this isn’t surprising given that it is home to Claypath Medical Centre.
The street in fact continues as Gilesgate until it reaches a narrow alley or ‘vennel’ called Tinklers Lane on its south side, which marked the historic parish boundary between St Giles in Gilesgate and St Nicholas in the Market Place.
It is here that Gilesgate becomes Claypath. In historic times a cross called the Leaden Cross marked the boundary between the two streets and was the site of a cattle market.
On the north side of Gilesgate near Tinklers Lane and just above Bakehouse Lane, Gilesgate broadens out at a part of the street called ‘The Chains’. This is named from chains once used to assist horses on this steep stretch of road.
Just beyond Tinklers Lane, Gilesgate becomes Claypath and shortly beyond the lane Claypath is joined on its south side by the attractive Leazes Place, built in 1836 in Regency Style.
Hidden away further along Leazes Place is Leazes House, a nineteenth century house built in 1848 as a home for the influential Hendersons, who were carpet manufacturers in Durham.
From 1910 to 1968 the house served as Durham High School for Girls. The name ‘Leazes’, is also recalled in the busy A690 Leazes Road below. This part of the A690 to the west of the roundabout is on the site of Leazes Lane which led down towards the river. It is named from either being the ‘leas’ meaning ‘river meadows’ or is from an old word for freehold land in medieval times.
A little bit further along from Leazes Place, a short road, again on the south side of Claypath, leads to St Anthony’s Priory, a Christian spirituality centre. The priory itself, which dates from 1850, was originally the vicarage of St Nicholas church. Nearby is the priory’s modern octagonal chapel that dates from 1990.
Claypath, like the street of Gilesgate, runs along a ridge to the east of Durham City with the valley of the River Wear situated parallel to it on both sides of the street to the south and to the north. Given its location, the street likely formed an ancient routeway of some kind.
On the south side of Claypath, the descent to the westward flowing river via Tinklers Lane is interrupted by the modern Leazes Road but on the north side it is possible to descend to the eastward-flowing part of the river on foot via Bakehouse Lane off Gilesgate (named from a manorial bake house) or by road along Providence Row to ‘the Sands’.
Providence Row joins Claypath’s north side and a little further along Claypath on this side of the street is Christchurch. The spire of Christchurch is Claypath’s most prominent feature. Dating from 1856, it was originally a Congregational church. Tucked away behind it, but now hidden from view, is a Georgian chapel of 1751.
A little further down Claypath on the opposite side to Christchurch is the entrance to Blue Coat Court. Here we find a timber-framed building hidden away in the yard. Nearby was once situated a Quaker meeting house and the Blue Coat School, which was in a vennel just to the east.
The school, founded in 1708, was originally located behind the Market Place (in New Place) and moved to Claypath in 1812 before it was relocated to the Newton Hall housing estate on the north side of Durham City in 1965.
Claypath terminates at Durham Market Place in the Walkergate area near the Gala Theatre, Millennium Square and Clayport Library. The library recalls the name of Clayport Gate that was a feature of Durham’s medieval defences. Here, Claypath joined the Market Place, but the gate was removed in 1791.
This gate, though not as imposing or as formidable as the Great North Gate, was significant because it controlled the movement of people in and out of the city from the east. It guarded the only part of central Durham that could be approached without crossing the river. The gate had a chamber above it.
Adjoining the gate were walls that extended south towards Elvet Bridge and north along the back of St Nicholas church towards the river. Claypath was known in times past as ‘Clay Peth’ and is thought to mean Clay Hill-Way, although it may derive from the name of the gate. In the North East a ‘peth’ is often an ascending routeway, usually from a valley.
Millennium Square and Walkergate
Millennium Square includes the Walkergate complex and Clayport Library. Walkergate is named from a nearby former street. The original Walkergate descended to the river on the edge of the nearby Market Place next to St Nicholas church.
Millennium Square is just off the south end of Claypath, forming an entertainment hub with popular eating and drinking establishments. It hosts a sculpture entitled ‘The Journey’ outside Clayport Library.
Originally carved by the artist Fenwick Lawson in 1997 from seven elm trees, it was subsequently cast in bronze. The bronze sculpture was unveiled by Princess Anne in 2008 and depicts the journey of St Cuthbert’s coffin to Durham.
Walkergate runs alongside St Nicholas church on its north side. Here the Market Place is linked to Claypath by a bridge over the A690 that passes beneath to cross the river via Millburngate Bridge.
Much of Walkergate was lost when the bridge was built, as were many buildings linking Claypath to the Market Place. Behind St Nicholas church the city walls ran adjacent to a sixteenth century house called New Place or New Palace which lay somewhere behind the Town Hall in the market place.
The palace was a town house belonging to the Neville family of Raby Castle and Brancepeth who were the most powerful barons in the County of Durham. The Nevilles also owned a town house in Newcastle in what is now the Neville Street and Westmorland Road area.
The palace of the Nevilles in Durham was confiscated following their part in the Rising of the North in 1569, which was a Catholic plot to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I. In more recent times the locality of the Neville palace in Durham was remembered in the name of the Palace Cinema which is now also long since gone.
From St Nicholas Church the old walls of Durham City ran south down to the River Wear where a ford once crossed to Framwellgate. Here, the road called Walkergate passed though the wall by a small gateway called Walkergate Postern. Walkergate anciently meant cloth worker’s street and their this seems to have traditionally existed in the area.
For a time in the early seventeenth century the old house called New Place was used as a woollen factory. Unfortunately the business failed, as did a second attempt to establish the trade a little later.
Eventually in 1814 a weaver from Merrington called Gilbert Henderson successfully met the challenge of establishing a business on the site and by the later nineteenth century Henderson’s Durham carpets were famed throughout the world.
Later, the carpet factory building was bought by Mr Hugh MacKay, the Henderson’s manager who started another successful Durham business. The factory moved later to Dragonville on the eastern outskirts of Gilesgate Moor but the business, sadly, is no more.
Providence Row to Kepier Hospital
We now head back up Claypath to Providence Row which was once known as Wanlass Lane and named from a local dyer. In much earlier times it was called Woodman’s Chare.
Providence Row was one of the childhood homes of the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Blair’s family moved to Durham when he was five years old and later, the family moved to High Shincliffe on the south side of the city where the young Blair was raised until heading off to University.
The street of Providence Row descends steeply from Claypath down towards the flat riverside area called ‘The Sands’ that traditionally belongs to the Freemen of the city.
Each Easter the Sands plays host to fairground rides as the site of the Easter fair. From here the road continues along the riverside to the medieval archway of the former Kepier Hospital.
The destruction of the hospital of St Giles near St Giles Church by William Cumin’s men in 1141 resulted in the relocation of the hospital by Bishop Pudsey to this new site a little further to the north by the River Wear.
The name Kepier means ‘fish catching place’ from ‘cype-gear’ which refers to baskets placed in the river, the ‘g’ being pronounced like a ‘y’. The riverside location of the hospital site lies close to the point where the Roman road called Cade’s Road is thought to have crossed the River Wear.
Before the foundation of the hospital at Kepier it was part of a manor called Caldecotes which covered much of the Gilesgate and Gilesgate Moor area. Caldecotes means ‘cold shelter’ and could refer to some ‘cold’ (long-abandoned) ancient shelter or building. Whether this stood at Kepier or at the site of a later farm called ‘High Grange’ is uncertain.
Kepier is not the only former medieval hospital in the Gilesgate area. Situated between Gilesgate and Kepier we find the remains of another medieval hospital called the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene.
The chapel dates from 1451 and is now a protected ruin alongside the A690 Sunderland to Durham road not far from the former railway station. Magdalene Street, off Gilesgate (historically called ‘Maudlingate’) was once part of a lane that led here.
Back on the riverside, Kepier Hospital remains as a building with a vaulted, arched gateway with rooms above. Now part of Kepier Farm, the hospital was built to relieve the poor and to welcome pilgrims visiting Durham. It was constructed by Bishop Pudsey some time after 1153 and was presided over by a master and thirteen brethren of which six were chaplains.
Records show that the chaplains were entitled to new boots twice each year while the remaining brethren were only allowed simple leather shoes as well as thongs. Naturally Kepier was important for its hospitality and in 1298 King Edward I was among those entertained here.
Not many years later, in 1306 the visit of Robert the Bruce was not so warmly welcomed. On June the 15th of that year Bruce’s Scottish army swarmed towards Kepier and torched the building. It is likely that much of the hospital was then rebuilt as the existing gatehouse dates from the fourteenth century.
In later centuries following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Kepier passed out of the hands of the church and in 1568 it was bought by a Londoner called John Heath who was a close friend of Bernard Gilpin.
Bernard Gilpin was the so-called ’Apostle of the North’ who established the Kepier Grammar School at Houghton-le-Spring. The name of the school recalls the connection between the two men. A restored Elizabethan effigy of John Heath can be seen in St Giles Church in Gilesgate.
The Kepier estate in Durham that was purchased by Heath was quite extensive and stretched as far to the east as the “farm or grange” called Ramside, now the site of a hotel to the east of Durham.
The history of the Kepier lands isn’t straightforward but there were three main parts from west to east namely Kepier itself; High Grange and Low Grange. Low Grange or simply ‘The Grange’ seems to have developed from the manor of a lost medieval village called Clifton.
The village of Clifton was situated near the river just north of the Brasside-Belmont viaduct beyond Kepier wood. High Grange was centred on a farm of that name in what is now the Willowtree Avenue area and some older Durham residents may recall the farm and a huge neighbouring medieval tithe barn.
The remains of Heath’s Elizabethan manor house at Kepier can be seen near the Kepier Hospital site. In the 1820s the manor house became an inn called the White Bear but only the arches of its basement remain. Heath also owned a manor house at Old Durham. In 1629 Heath sold Kepier and High Grange to Ralph Cole, the coal owner and merchant of Gateshead but kept hold of Low Grange and Old Durham.
Later, in 1642 through the marriage of an Elizabeth Heath these last two properties came into the hands of the Tempests. Later, in 1819 Low Grange and Old Durham became the property of the ‘Vane Tempests’ after Frances Anne Tempest married the third Marquess of Londondery.
In 1674 Ralph Cole sold Kepier and parted with High Grange too. They became the property of Sir Christopher Musgrave (a name recalled in the 1920s streets called Musgrave Gardens). Kepier, stretching to Kepier Lane and what is now Kepier Crescent was kept by Musgrave but High Grange was sold to the Carrs of Cocken and its lands stretched as far east as what would become ‘Carr-ville’ High Street.
By the time of the St Giles tithe apportionment map of 1846 Kepier belonged to Sir James Musgrave; High Grange belonged to Sir William Standish of Cocken (a descendant of the Carr family) and the Grange (or Low Grange) belonged to the Marquess of Londonderry.
Near Belmont the land between Carrville High Street and Broomside Lane belonged to the Pemberton family of Ramside while the former land of Gilesgate Moor had been divided up into many small plots belonging to numerous people including colliery owners Dixon and Thwaites and Andrew White.
A little to the north of the Kepier Hospital farmhouse is an isolated brick building in a field where the land begins to rise up from the riverside fields towards the A690 (the old railway) at the top of the bank.
The building, overgrown with trees is a mid-nineteenth century brick kiln that was used by a brick and tile works once located here. The works had fallen out of use by the 1890s but a substantial pond associated with the clay works was not filled in until the 1960s.
Spanning the two river meanders nearby there was once a 900 yard long nineteenth century military rifle range for training militia. Near the ‘pebble beach’ of the more northerly meander not far from the edge of Kepier Wood are concrete structures that are the remains of rifle butts.
Amongst the trees at the mid point between the two meanders was the site of one of the two pits belonging to Kepier Colliery. The other was at a site locally known as ‘the Duff Heap’ on the Sunderland Road in an area once named Glue Garth from a horse-hoof glue factory.
The Duff Heap area was roughly where we now find Mackintosh Court. The owners of Kepier Colliery were called Thwaites and Dixon. When Kepier Colliery started operating isn’t altogether clear though it is mentioned as early as 1818 but may later have remained dormant for a while. There were two separate deaths recorded at Kepier Colliery in 1847 and others as late as 1871.
A mile or so to the east of Kepier Hospital and approachable on foot, the River Wear forms a steep gorge that is occupied on the south bank by Kepier Wood and on the north side by Frankland Wood. Kepier wood is the site of the former Kepier Quarries, one of the locations where some of the sandstone used in the building of Durham Cathedral is thought to have been quarried centuries ago.
Within this beautiful wood there are some remains of drift mines and paths that follow the course of associated tubways (little colliery railroads) and similar features can be found in the woodland over on the Frankland side of the river too.
As suggested, some of the stone for Durham Cathedral was thought to be excavated here but stone for the cathedral (and castle) also came from the area now occupied by Quarryheads Lane, a little nearer to the cathedral.
It is possible that the stone from Kepier was ferried upstream for the construction of the great church. An impressive feature of the woodland gorge is the Brasside-Belmont viaduct (also known as Kepier Viaduct) which dates from the 1850s.
From around 1857 the viaduct linked the Bishop Auckland branch of the North Eastern Railway to the growing network of railways and joined the NER’s Leamside line (then the main line north to Gateshead and Newcastle) to the east of the woods at a site which is now just to the north of the A1(M) motorway junction.
This was the main route north from the present Durham station to Newcastle until the 1870s when a new line branched off it in the Newton Hall area heading directly north towards Chester-le-Street following a course entirely to the west of the River Wear. Crossing of the viaduct is not currently accessible to the public.
Straying across the river from the Gilesgate area for a moment, we find Frankland Wood and further west Frankland Farm on the opposite river bank to Kepier and nearby the Brasside Ponds formed from the former clay pits of a neighbouring brickworks.
The Frankland area was the site of Frankland Park, an old deer park belonging to the Bishops of Durham. Today a large part of this area at the top of the hill, overlooking the valley, is occupied by the Newton Hall Housing Estate, one of the largest private housing estates in Europe. It takes its name from the original Newton Hall, a Georgian mansion demolished in 1926. It was once a home to William Russell of Brancepeth.