Although Hartlepool is a port with a rich industrial past, its hinterland features pretty villages in rolling magnesian limestone hills in countryside that has seen little development. This area lay outside the Durham coalfield that dominated much of the scenery of other parts of eastern County Durham just to the north.
Amongst Hartlepool’s neighbouring villages, Hart village, just outside the town to the north west has the closest and most ancient ties to Hartlepool itself. It is a small and beautiful village with wonderful views out to sea and is surrounded by the lovely rolling magnesian limestone countryside. Hart was the heartland and capital of a manor called Hartness (Heortnesse) from the seventh century onward. The district stretched from the River Tees to Castle Eden and included Billingham to the west.
Hart has a beautiful Saxon church dedicated to St Mary Magdalene which has Norman and later medieval additions. The church dates to the eighth century, it was built in stone in the Anglo-Saxon/Viking period and probably replaced an earlier Saxon church of wood of the seventh century.
There is a sculpture of the dragon slayer and patron saint of England St George on the east end of the church and from a more recent age are ‘Arts and Crafts’ style beautiful stained glass windows commemorating the Hart villagers who fell in the First World War.
Given its Anglo-Saxon credentials it is tempting to associate the village and the district of Hart with Heorot, the ‘hall of Hart’ that features in the famed Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, the oldest long poem in the Old English language of the Anglo-Saxons. However the poem is set in Scandinavia rather than England.
The Brus wall just outside the church is the remains of a huge medieval house that once belonged to the powerful De Brus family and stands on the site of an earlier Saxon hall. The De Brus family owned the manor of Hart. It is sometimes thought – or at least claims to be – the birthplace of Robert the Bruce, the King of Scotland.
In the village there is a pleasing front street with some surrounding developments of newer houses but all on a small and subtle scale and the village remains a tiny place. A cottage called ‘Voltigeur’ recalls a famous horse of Hart village that was bred in stables on this site. Voltigeur was bred by a Robert Stephenson in the village and in 1850 was the winner of both the Epsom Derby and the St Leger.
The village is home to the Raby Arms and White Hart Inn. The second of these is noted for the ship’s figurehead on its exterior. The original (this is a replica) was salvaged from a barque called The Rising Sun that was shipwrecked at Hartlepool during a great storm in 1861.
There is a windmill in the village on a site where there has been a mill since at least 1315. The present mill has not produced flour since 1915. Nearby, for contrast is a more modern wind turbine of which there are now many dotted around the coasts of East Durham and Cleveland.
Elwick and Dalton Piercy
Elwick village, just off the A19 to the west of Hartlepool is a good-looking village centred around a green and a main street. Its little church, dedicated to St Peter and dating to around 1200 lies close to a wooded road on its west side and is built of local magnesian limestone.
The church is just south west of the village. Climb a number of steps to reach it and then see if you can figure out how to get past the gate, even when you have fully opened it. Nearby is the private Elwick Hall.
The Anglo-Saxon village-name Elwick means the ‘wick’ (a trading-place settlement or a dairy farm) belonging to someone called Aella and was historically described as Aelwick in Hertenes (Elwick in Hartness) being part of the district encompassing Hart village and Old Hartlepool.
In the 1850s Elwick was described as containing a mill, two public houses, a tile manufactory, a dame’s school and “the usual village tradesmen”. There is still a mill – a disused windmill to the west of the village near Elwick Hall.
Like Hart village, Elwick once belonged to the De Brus family and Robert De Brus the second gave Elwick to Ralph the son of Ribald of Middleham after Ralph married De Brus’s daughter, Agatha.
Later the village passed to the Neville family after the great-great granddaughter of the couple married Robert Neville. The manor of Elwick remained in the hands of the Nevilles until they became involved in the 1569 Rising of the North rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I and their lands were subsequently confiscated.
Five residents of Elwick took part in this rebellion one of whom was executed. The lands of Elwick were divided following the rebellion. Owners in the 1850s included a Durham solicitor called Mr Shafto.
According to a helpful information board on the village green (which also suggests some local walks), Elwick has changed little since the Normans designed its layout. The houses and plots on the north side were originally larger than those on the south side, reflecting the early status of the inhabitants.
The two pubs in the village are the Spotted Cow and the McOrville Inn. The second of these is named after a stallion. There is a village shop and a former blacksmiths forge that is now a house. A former Methodist chapel of 1867 was purchased by the village Women’s Institute in 1949. There is a village farm and at the east end is Home Farm which has a milking parlour.
A little wooded valley formed by the Char Beck links Elwick with its village neighbour, Dalton Piercy to the south. A local road also links the two places.
Just north of Dalton Piercy the Char Beck is joined by the Bogle Beck on its west side and by the Dalton Beck on its east side and the wooded dene continues under the name of the Dalton Beck into Dalton Piercy. Curiously, the word ‘bogle’, usually describes a ghost or spectre or some similar creature.
Dalton Piercy, like Elwick is centred on a village green and a main street. The Dalton part of the name means the settlement in the dene or valley (the dale-tun).
The second part of the name comes from the famous Percy family who owned Dalton up until 1370 when it was sold to John Neville of Raby. Like Elwick, Dalton Piercy was confiscated from the Nevilles following the 1569 rising and its lands were divided up. The principal proprietors of Dalton Piercy in the 1850s were the Chilton family.
Brierton to the south of Dalton Piercy is a farming hamlet near the southern outskirts of Hartlepool. Beyond to the south is the A689 and the village of Greatham
Greatham (pronounced Greetum) situated near the southern outskirts of Hartlepool and close to the estuary of the Tees is another neat-looking village within Hartlepool’s environs and has an interesting history. It lies in the vale of the Tees to the south of Hartlepool rather than in the magnesian limestone hills that lie to the north and west of the town.
Situated just to the north of the Greatham Creek which enters the Tees at Seal Sands between Hartlepool and Billingham, Greatham’s name derives from ‘Greot-Ham’ possibly meaning ‘gravelly homestead’ which describes the subsoil hereabouts.
Greatham was famous for its salt making in medieval times when ‘Salt De Greatham’ was a noted commodity but its industry was overtaken by salt making at South Shields in the 1500s. George Weddell ensured its return to Greatham with the establishment of the Greatham Salt and Brine Company here in 1894, though it was later purchased by Cerebos in 1903.
The most striking and surprising historic feature of Greatham is the Hospital of God, St Mary and St Cuthbert. This was first founded by Robert Stichill, the Bishop of Durham in 1272 and was re-founded in 1610. The present building dates to the eighteenth century (including the chapel of 1788) with nineteenth and twentieth century additions.
Greatham church, dedicated to St John the Baptist is a rebuilt church of 1792 built on the site of an earlier church that is thought to have dated back to the eighth century.
Owton Manor and Foggy Furze
As with many large towns, Hartlepool’s suburbs were originally rural villages or scattered farms in open country. As West Hartlepool grew in the nineteenth century one of the first settlements to be absorbed was Stranton village that now forms the southern part of Hartlepool town centre. It is still home to a lovely rural-looking medieval church (see Hartlepool) that betrays its village origins.
South of Hartlepool centre towards Greatham is the suburb of Owton Manor with a name that comes from ‘Owfa-ton’ or ‘farm belonging to Owfa’ but perhaps Hartlepool’s most intriguing suburb-name is Foggy Furze south east of the town centre.
‘Furze’ usually refers to gorse but in Victorian times this area was called Foggy Furrows. ‘Foggy’ describes an area where coarse grass grows, from ‘fogg’, an Old Norse word for grass. It is from this word that we get the grass called ‘Yorkshire Fog’. So, Foggy Furrows would seem to have been ‘ploughed fields where coarse grass grew’.
Seaton Carew to the south of Hartlepool and to the north of Teesmouth is a beautiful seaside resort yet also the home to Hartlepool Power Station and in close proximity to industries close to the mouth of the Tees.
There is an excellent beach stretching all the way down to the North Gare breakwater at the river mouth with dunes and rough marshy grassland to the rear of the beach criss-crossed by creeks forming part of the Teesmouth National Nature Reserve. This area is called Seaton Snook and was the site of a fortification during the seventeenth century, built to defend against the Dutch.
Great views from Seaton Carew stretch out across to the other side of the Tees where we can see the cliffs of Cleveland in Yorkshire and the South Gare with its lighthouse across the other side of Tees Bay. In 2022 at the time of our visit, the old steel works buildings across the Tees at Warrenby near Redcar can still be seen adding a focal point with an element of drama to the seaside scene.
The oldest part of Seaton Carew is ‘The Green’ surrounded on three sides by stately houses of the eighteenth century. In historic times there was perhaps a fourth row that was subsequently claimed by the sea.
Seaton Carew’s history goes back to medieval times and it is recorded as under the ownership of a Peter Carou in 1180 and still in the hands of the Carou family in the fourteenth century. Later owners included the Lumley family, who also held land at Stranton and later still a Bertram Anderson of Newcastle upon Tyne.
Like many coastal places in the region it was originally a small fishing town but grew in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the rising popularity of health resorts, a notable reminder of this age being the Seaton Hotel of 1792 near the green.
Seaton was especially popular in the bathing season with members of the Quaker fraternity from Darlington though Darlington Quakers were later instrumental in developing the resort town of Saltburn on the Cleveland coast to the south of the Tees.
The arrival of the railway and the opening of Seaton Station in 1841 was a major boost for the place as a resort. Although Seaton Carew officially became part of West Hartlepool in 1882, it was still effectively an independent village. For many years a steel works to the north separated Seaton Carew from Hartlepool town centre along with a railway. The steelworks has now long gone but the railway line still separates the place from Hartlepool today.