Lambton Castle and Harraton
East of Chester-le-Street and to the west and south west of the riverside areas of Fatfield and Chartershaugh we find the enclosed country estate of Lambton Park that lies just within County Durham. This private park covers around 1,500 acres, consisting of extensive woodland, parkland, lakes and ponds and occupies the north and south sides of the River Wear.
Near the far western and south western edge of the park is the A1(M) motorway roundabout and the nearby village of Picktree while just across the river to the west is Chester-le-Street where the River Wear flows in a south to north direction. To the north of the park we find Bonemill Lane and the General’s Wood which separate Lambton Park from Washington New Town to the north, while to the east are the former mining areas of Shiney Row and Penshaw.
Lambton Park is only open to the public at certain times as published on the Lambton Park website. A strict adherence to the seasonal waymarked walking routes is required, though these do include riverside routes with fine views of Lambton Castle and its nearby bridges.
Lambton is one of the great hidden gems and surprises of County Durham. It is a working country estate which includes forestry operations and livestock. There are also a number of residential properties on the site. Throughout the park there are signs pinpointing the private areas that are not accessible to the public and reminders to respect the privacy and quality of life of the residents.
Just outside the park, crossing the river to the north east is Chartershaugh Bridge (the A182 Washington Highway) and within the east side of the park is the private Biddick Hall, a Lambton property since 1594 that forms part of the estate and now the prime residence of the Lambtons.
On the south side of the park is the Chester Road, a little to the north of the wooded Lumley Park Burn valley and nearby is the village of Bournmoor which has strong links to the Lambton estate and its family.
Historically, the country estate of the Lambton family was situated only on the south side of the River Wear. Here was likely situated a place called Lambton (the ‘Lamb Farm’ or ‘Lamb village’) from which the family were named. A John de Lambton is mentioned hereabouts in 1180 and a later Sir John Lambton, ‘Knight of Rhodes’, who lived here during the 1400s is the Lambton who is said to have slain the Lambton Worm.
The area south of the River Wear was the site of a probable medieval manor at Lambton which later came to be called Lambton Hall. It was the principal home of the Lambton family for centuries. Family members included two Captain William Lambtons (father and son) who were killed in the Civil War battles at Wakefield and at Marston Moor respectively in 1643 and 1644. Other Lambtons included a notable eighteenth century Member of Parliament, Major General John Lambton.
The Lambtons inherited Harraton Hall and its estate on the immediate north side of the River Wear from the Hedworth family through marriage to the Hedworth heiress in 1696. Later, a new Lambton Hall was commenced in 1764 on the Harraton Hall site. The architect for the new Lambton Hall was initially Joseph Bonomi but the work was later carried out and completed by his son, Ignatius Bonomi.
Ignatius Bonomi adapted his father’s work and with Lambton family encouragement developed the new Lambton Hall into the grand Gothic style castle named Lambton Castle. It would challenge the status of the rival coal-owning Liddell family’s castle at Ravensworth near Gateshead. So, the new Lambton Hall on the site of Harraton Hall became Lambton Castle but the original Lambton Hall that stood across the river to the south was ultimately demolished.
Today, Harraton is the name of a housing estate district of Washington that is situated just north of Lambton Park beyond Bonemill Lane. Long before the housing, there was a Harraton Colliery in this area from at least the eighteenth century where mine explosions in 1794 and 1817 respectively claimed 28 and 38 lives but there were certainly mines in this area from at least as early as the 1640s.
Also nearby there was, somewhat confusingly, another Harraton Hall but this was not the Harraton Hall of the Hedworth family that later became Lambton Castle. The original medieval manor of Harraton was situated where Lambton Castle stands and derives its name from ‘Here-ford-ton’ meaning the ‘main ford settlement’ and must have been an important crossing point on the Wear.
Place-name experts have not connected the name with the Hær (the name given to the great heathen army of the Danes) though the Norse-style worm legend of nearby Worm Hill is sometimes thought to allude to an invading party of Danes. Hereford in Herefordshire means ‘ford of the army’ but the experts conclude that the early forms of Harraton suggest that this is not the origin of the name.
The names of nearby Herrington and Claxheugh (from a Danish personal name Klak) further downstream also set the imagination racing along Viking lines and perhaps there is a possible Viking link to the name of Biddick.
In later medieval times, Harraton belonged to a kinsman of the very powerful Ranulf Flambard, a twelfth century Bishop of Durham. Later owners included the Herrington and Darcy families and then most notably from 1416, the Hedworth family (who took their name from Hedworth near Jarrow). They inherited the land through intermarriage with the Darcys. Hedworth lands at Harraton would become very important for their coal mines from the seventeenth century.
The Hedworths owned land at Urpeth, Jarrow, Herrington and Rickleton as well as at Harraton and were in a position to benefit significantly from the profits of coal. One branch of the family, the Hedworths of the Deanery near Chester-le-Street (who were known as the Dean Hedworths) were particularly successful at this with one of their number developing ‘Dean Hedworth’s Wagonway’ linking Pelton to Fatfield and Chartershaugh from 1710.
However, the Hedworths of Harraton were not so successful at exploiting the coal mining potential. One foolish owner of the Harraton estate, a John Hedworth, sold his mining rights at Harraton to a William Wray in the 1640s at a significantly undervalued price.
Wray then subsequently had his mines confiscated by the authorities for being a Catholic and the lease of the Harraton mines came into the possession of the powerful Parliamentarian sympathising Sunderland family of merchants called the Lilburnes.
The Harraton mines gained huge political and military importance during the Civil War as they were crucial to crushing the Royalist monopoly that Newcastle held within the North East coal trade to London. Harraton’s coal mines would thus play a key role in the growth of the Wearside coal trade at Fatfield and Chartershaugh and in Sunderland itself during this era.
The Hedworths could only stand by and watch as political and financial gain was acquired through mining rights on their own land. Later, when the Harraton mines came into the possession of the Parliamentarian General, Sir Arthur Haselrigg, the General’s soldiers manhandled Hedworth off his own land during a vain attempt to reassert his ownership of the mines.
During the late seventeenth century and for much of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century the riverside area close to what is now Lambton Park formed the heart of the busiest coal mining district of North East England outside of Tyneside.
The coal mines of this area would considerably contribute to the wealth of the Hedworths’ successors, the influential Lambton family who became one of the most prominent coal owning families of the region.
Coal mining settlements and railways in the neighbourhood of the park became increasingly significant during the nineteenth century and although the Lambton family continued to own the land, some prominent family members preferred to reside at the family estate at Fenton in north Northumberland, away from the hustle and bustle and pollution of the mining industry.
Nevertheless, the Lambtons retained interest in their Durham home and there seems to have been little industrial encroachment within their parkland estate.
In the 1820s John Lambton, the First Earl of Durham, encouraged horse racing, developing a racecourse in the prominent loop of the River Wear still called the ‘Race Ground’. In truth the race meetings were only held from 1821 to 1825 but the setting still has the feel of a racecourse. It is at this loop that the River Wear opposite Picktree changes its course from flowing south to north to flowing from west to east.
Mines at Shiney Row and New Lambton were amongst the extensive Lambton-owned mines in the area by the nineteenth century. Though the park itself, protected by the family, showed little evidence of mining, mine workings did extend underneath its grounds and ultimately resulted in the subsidence and demolition of part of Lambton Castle, so that what we see today is only a remaining part of the grand building.
In 1896, Jack Lambton the third Earl of Durham, would sell his mining interests including fourteen mines and railways employing around 8,000 men to the Joiceys for around a million pounds and the Joiceys efficiently made sure of a return on their investment.
For many years Lambton Park has been predominantly utilised as a pheasant shoot but a huge area of around 1,500 acres was sold for the development of the housing estates of what became the southern areas of Washington New Town (designated in 1964) just to the north. More recently new housing, tastefully designed in keeping with Lambton Estate buildings have been developed near the southern entrance to the park north of Bournmoor, while some of the country estate buildings nearby are occupied by businesses.
Another, memorable though short-lived use for the park came in 1972 when 210 acres was set aside by Antony Lambton, Lord Durham (who was the MP for Berwick upon Tweed) in association with circus entrepreneur, Jimmy Chipperfield to become a safari park called Lambton Lion Park. Paying motorists could drive through this park and observe free-roaming lions, giraffes, rhinos, baboons and elephants within the enclosed park.
However, notable events associated with Lambton Lion Park included a family who had to be rescued after their car burst into flames, a warden having to distract lions while they were rescued; an escaped rhino wandering into nearby Fatfield where a farmer ushered it into a field of cows; a zebra wandering around the nearby Bournmoor village cricket ground and baboons running across the motorway. At the end of the 1970s, the safari park was struggling financially. It closed for good and the animals were sold off in 1980.
The old safari park area was just one small portion of the park. Today some walkways through Lambton Park on the south side of the River Wear are open to the public on certain days during the summer.
These include walks near the riverside area and a walk around the former race ground in the loop of the river at the park’s north west corner. Features within the park include the Lamb Bridge across the Wear, built by Ignatius Bonomi and dating from 1819. It is on the site of an earlier ferry and is currently undergoing restoration.
A little to the east of the Lamb Bridge and also within the park is the New Bridge of the late nineteenth century. Though it crosses the Wear, this bridge should not be confused with another Wear bridge called Chester New Bridge that lies to the far west towards Chester-le-Street near the old race ground.
The Chester New Bridge is just on the edge of the park, a short distance from the motorway roundabout with a lodge house nearby. A bridge existed here at least as early as the fourteenth century and is described as ‘Newbrigge’ in 1528.
Car parking for the Lambton Park parkland walks is in the Bowes House area of Lambton Park near Bournmoor village. The name Bowes House recalls the Bowes family who were landowners in this area of the park until the late 1600s. Here, an area of exclusive housing and nearby offices for small businesses are recent developments within a small area of the park.
Other features of the park not open to the public include the castle itself over on the north side of the river along with the park lake called Virginia Water that is also north of the river.
Biddick Hall and Bournmoor
South of the River Wear on the east side of Lambton Park is Biddick Hall, an elegant eighteenth century private house in its own grounds that has often been a preferred residence for the Lambtons.
It should not be confused with the demolished North Biddick Hall (or ‘Cooks Hall’) that stood much further to the north over on the other side of the river. Nor should it be confused with Biddick House near South Shields which gave its name to the Biddick Hall housing estate on South Tyneside.
Biddick Hall has been part of the Lambton estate since 1594. Its grounds feature a beautiful Italian style walled garden that can serve as a setting for wedding celebrations or corporate events.
Close to Biddick Hall beyond the wooded boundary of the park is the disused Leamside Railway line separating the area from the built-up former mining districts of Penshaw and Shiney Row to the east. Penshaw is of course home to the famous Penshaw monument which is intricately connected to the story of the Lambton family.
Bournmoor, just to the south of Lambton Park is situated a little to the north of the wooded valley of the Lumley Park Burn which enters the River Wear near Lumley Castle to the west. This stream flows through a pretty wooded dene and passes beneath the A1(M) motorway. Lumley Castle, across the burn to the south is of course associated with the famous Lumley family.
There is an attractive stone-built pub at Bournmoor called the Dun Cow on the southern edge of the village to the west just to the north of the burn. Much of Bournmoor consists of a modern housing estate but at the south eastern end towards the Leamside line is part of the old pit village of New Lambton. The Lambton Lady Ann Pit was situated nearby just to the east of the old railway.
Near the southern edge of Bournmoor but just across the Lumley Park Burn towards Woodstone village is a pub called Floaters Mill which was formerly a water-powered corn mill situated near the Lumley Park Burn. A mill race connected to the burn once ran through a field nearby to power the mill. In truth, being south of the burn, this pub is in Lumley rather than Lambton and the Lumley Sixth Pit was situated nearby just to the south where there is now a caravan sales business.
Like the Lambtons, the Lumley family had been connected with County Durham since medieval times. The surnames of both families derive from local place-names but the Lumleys were a titled family (Earls of Scarborough) long before the Lambtons. However, although the Lumleys were often immensely influential on a national scale, the Lumley family influence in County Durham was not as continuous, significant or as long-lasting as that of the Lambtons.
There is a direct family link between the Lumleys and Lambtons. A John Lambton, who was one of the senior line of Lambtons did marry an Agnes Lumley (one of the Ludworth branch of the Lumleys) who was a great granddaughter of Edward IV.
Despite its spelling, Bournmoor is pronounced ‘Burnmoor’ by the locals. It developed along with Bowes House (once home to the bailiff within the Lambton Park estate) and neighbouring mining settlements called Elba, Board’s Nook and Wapping.
Bournmoor is sometimes considered to be the Victorian ‘estate village’ for Lambton Park. There has been mining in and around Bournmoor since the 1600s. Wapping, a part of Bournmoor north of the Chester Road was once the site of a colliery and probably alludes to the Wapping dockland area in east London to which much North East coal was shipped. A couple of neat terraces associated with the old part of Bournmoor village can be seen north of the Chester Road.
Some of the most attractive buildings in Bournmoor are built with distinct yellowy-beige and red ornately patterned polychrome bricks. They include the lodge and the old rectory on the north side of the Chester Road but most notable are the cricket club (formerly the church school building) and nearby, the church of St Barnabas of 1867 which are both south of the Chester Road. Other buildings with this style of brickwork can be seen within Lambton Park.
There is a grand Lambton family memorial in the churchyard of St Barnabas and within the church, a large angel sculpture of 1894 by the American sculptor Waldo Storey.
It commemorates the third and fourth earls of Durham. However, the most significant monument to a member of the Lambton family in the region is of course Penshaw Monument, dedicated to John George Lambton, the First Earl of Durham.