Sherburn, a village east of Durham City means ‘bright stream’ (Scir Burn) and dates to medieval times. The burn is locally known as a beck and at various stages is called Sherburnhouse Beck, Sherburn Beck, Old Durham Beck and in times past was also known as the River Pidding. Sherburn became a colliery village in the nineteenth century though some older houses and a farm on the Front Street of the village predate the mining era.
Sherburn, along with Cassop, Whitwell, Shadforth, Tursdale and Quarrington was once part of Quarringtonshire, a district of Anglo-Saxon origin that may have its roots as a tribal region of Celtic times.
In 1183 Sherburn Village (North Sherburn) belonged to a man called Ulkill, while South Sherburn (at Sherburn House) belonged to Christian Cementarius whose name indicates that he was a builder. Christian was probably the same Christian who is known to have built Pittington Church (where his tomb can be seen) and was a mason at Durham Cathedral’s Galilee chapel.
Two collieries at Sherburn village opened in 1844. These were called Sherburn Colliery and Sherburn House Colliery (at nearby Grand View) and were owned by Lambton, the Earl of Durham with railways linking them to coal staithes on the Wear near Penshaw. Sherburn Colliery closed in 1919 and Sherburn House Colliery in 1935.
On May 1, 1868 Sherburn village was the scene of a murder in which the police constable of Sherburn village shot dead the police constable of neighbouring Pittington village. Earlier that day the Sherburn policeman, David Paton, had been dismissed from the force following information given by the Pittington policeman, John Cruikshank, regarding his conduct and previous record in another police force in Scotland.
As Paton opened fire in the centre of the village Cruikshank took refuge in the Lambton Arms but was pursued by Paton who shot him dead before killing himself. Both men were Scots from the County of Banffshire. The events of the murder were witnessed by a third officer, William Mackay, who was the constable for Sherburn Hill.
Sherburn Hill, a village up the steep bank east of Sherburn is simply known to locals as ‘the hill’ and has good views of the surrounding countryside stretching for 50 miles and more. In geological terms we are in east Durham as the hill is part of the magnesian limestone escarpment that dominates the scenery of the eastern part of the county. There are nature walks in the countryside between Sherburn and Sherburn Hill with an abundance of butterflies in the summer months.
The hill itself from which the village is named is known locally as ‘the moors’ and rises to a plateau just above the south side of the village where there are splendid views to the south and north. There are no real views stretching east towards the sea due to neighbouring hills. However, the view north includes the distant Cheviot Hills in north Northumberland which can be seen very easily on a clear day.
Durham Cathedral can be viewed to the west with the Pennine foothills and Pennines beyond. Again from the top, looking north, we can see parts of Tyneside including several prominent high rise flats along with the Angel of the North at Gateshead and of course Penshaw Monument on the fringe of Wearside to the north east.
Closer to home, the spire of West Rainton church can be clearly seen along with the nearby open cast coal mine in the Low Pittington-Moorsley area. Pittington Hill, from where there are equally impressive views can also be seen.
Dominating the view to the south is the heugh or hill spur of Quarrington Hill and the nearby public house of the Three Horse Shoes at Running Waters. Views to the south west stretch out towards Bowes Moor beyond Teesdale.
Sherburn Hill did not come into being as a village until the nineteenth century so has no earlier history. Although Sherburn was the older village Sherburn Hill was the site of the first colliery in the area. Sherburn Hill Colliery was also a Lambton owned mine though it would later belong to Dorman Long, supplying the iron industries of Redcar and Teesside. The colliery opened in 1835 and operated until 1965.
In addition to coal mining there has been extensive quarrying of magnesian limestone in the Sherburn Hill area over the years. Older quarries have included Crime Rigg quarry between Sherburn Hill and Shadforth. Rigg means ‘ridge’ and crime may be from an old word meaning ‘crooked’ from which we also get the name of Crimdon Dene.
Sherburn Hospital is located to the south west of Sherburn Village at Sherburn House near Shincliffe and has medieval origins. It was founded by Bishop Pudsey in the 1180s as a religious establishment to look after the poor and was organised like a monastery with 65 poor brethren (later reduced to 13), who lived like monks.
The medieval hospital’s property included lands at Ebchester, Sheraton, Garmondsway, Thorpe Thewles, Stillington, Cassop, Kelloe and Quarrington and it was also endowed with the churches of Bishopton, Grindon and Sockburn.
Sherburn Hospital continued to care for the poor into recent times until it became a care home for the elderly in 1950. The hospital buildings resemble a pretty village set around a green that is entered by an arched stone gateway. The buildings were mostly rebuilt in the 1860s but the exceptions are the gateway and the hospital chapel which are both medieval.
Shadforth and Paradise Bank
Shadforth, situated on the Sherburn Beck is reached from Sherburn Hill by a steep descent down Crime Rigg and is a pretty green village of attractive cottages, farmhouses and a village pub. Shadforth’s name means ‘shallow ford’ and was called Shaldeford in 1183 but there’s a bridge across the beck today. Houses are in two rows called North Side and South Side.
Though not easily accessible from Shadforth, the hill to the south of Shadforth village has the mysterious name Witch Hill, the site of a quarry that stands above Cassop Vale to the south. The hill is climbed by the A181 as it ascends towards Thornley and Wheatley Hill and here the road is known as Silent Bank, which we will come to in a moment.
Linking Shadforth to Silent Bank is Paradise Bank which ascends southward from the valley of the Sherburn Beck midway between Shadforth and Ludworth with Thornley to the east.
There are some lovely views looking west particularly near Paradise Farm and Oxclose Farm where views across the magnesian limestone countryside include Durham Cathedral, Durham Castle and Durham viaduct with Ushaw Historic House standing out on the top of one of the Pennine foothills beyond the cathedral.
You can see the contrast between the typical east Durham magnesian limestone scenery in the Shadforth area and the Pennine foothill scenery of west Durham beyond Durham City. Both areas seem to have a distinct character with differing shades of green. The view is especially appealing near the entrance to Ox Close Farm, a dairy farm noted for the sale of milk and milkshakes where you may well see queues.
Ludworth is north of Thornley and to the south of Haswell Plough and about a mile east of Shadforth. Both villages lie in a valley formed by the Shadforth Beck. Ludworth and Shaforth are small villages by Durham standards but Ludworth is a former mining village while Shadforth is more of a typical rural village. Ludworth Colliery operated from 1837 to 1931 and one of its colliery owners was the former champion pugilist John Gully, who lived in the Bailey in Durham City.
Ludworth is thought to mean the enclosure of an Anglo-Saxon called Luda. By 1400 there was a manor house whose owners were called Ludworth (de Ludworth) and took their name from the place itself. Other owners have included the Holdens and a branch of the Lumleys.
Like many places in the region Ludworth was troubled by Scottish raids and in 1422 the Holdens gained permission to fortify their manor house. A tower house or defensive ‘pele tower’ was built and although much of it collapsed in 1890 a wall remains along with part of the staircase foundation. Little remains of Ludworth Tower but it does form an enigmatic ruin. Some locals calls it the Weetabix tower from its resemblance to a well-known breakfast cereal.
Silent Bank and Running Waters
This ancient route-way has sometimes been called Sylum Bank but older records usually refer to it as Signing Hill. Perhaps pilgrims signed themselves with the cross here as they gained their first view of Durham Cathedral to the west or perhaps it was associated with the asylum given to those who sought sanctuary at Durham Cathedral after committing a crime.
The period of sanctuary for criminals at Durham Cathedral lasted 37 days, before or after which they were expected to leave the country, usually via the port of Hartlepool which was linked to Durham by the Silent Bank route. Part of the bank is called Witch Hill and is the name of a local magnesian limestone quarry, but what the supposed connection is with a witch or witches is not known. Maybe people signed with the cross to protect them against such witches.
Running Waters is a place in the countryside alongside the A181 at the foot of Silent Bank and is probably named from the nearby Sherburn Beck and Chapman Beck on either side of the road. It is the site of a pub called the Three Horse Shoes.
Pittington, to the north of Sherburn derives its name from ‘Pytta’s don’ meaning ‘the hill belonging to Pytta’. Low Pitington village lies at the foot of Pittington Hill – the hill from which the name originates. Unlike, Sherburn it does not seem to have been part of Quarringtonshire and given the prominence of the place, perhaps we can speculate there was once a Pittingtonshire.
A gentle and well-maintained footpath at the east end of the village rises to the top of Pittington Hill, where, as at Sherburn Hill, there are views of the West Rainton church spire; Durham Cathedral; Penshaw Monument; the Pennines; Tyneside and the Angel of the North. Often, when the sunlight and conditions are right, there is a clear and crisp view of the Simonsides and distant Cheviot Hills in Northumberland.
The hill shows extensive remnants of magnesian limestone quarrying where at the top of the hill there is also a pleasing view of Low Pittington village nestling below. Low Pittington is a tiny but pleasant village, with the main street called the High Street terminating at the hill at the eastern end of the street.
The Blacksmiths pub in the village faces out onto an offset crossroads at the corner of the High Street and Station Road which was once the site of a railway station. There had been a number of railways in this area associated with local collieries such as the Lady Seaham pit just to the north and Belmont Colliery towards Ramside to the west.
Station Road leads north passing Homer Hill Farm which sells local produce and features a farm shop, a butchery and its own coffee shop. Nearby there is extensive opencast mining in the area carefully shielded from view. Across the busy A690 from Homer Hill is the village of West Rainton.
To the south of the offset crossroads at Low Pittington is the road called Lady’s Piece Lane that leads south to Sherburn with another road leading west to Broomside and Belmont.
The roots of Low Pittington go back beyond the days of mining as betrayed by the long gardens to the rear of some of the houses that are remnants of medieval burgage plots.
Back at the top Pittington Hill rises further to merge with the hill at High Moorsley near Hetton-le-Hole to the north where there is further evidence of quarrying and which is now the site of a weather station. The weather station looks like a giant golf ball on the hill top from a distance. There are views out towards Elemore Hall near Littletown from neighbouring parts of Pittington Hill.
From the south side of Pittington hill, the village of High Pittington can be seen, which again like Low Pittington, nestles below and further to the east is the tiny hamlet of Hetton-le-Hill, where cottages are built of the local magnesian limestone.
In medieval times Low Pittington was called Piddington Towne but is still a small village today. It should not be confused with High Pittington which developed in the mining era and is now also the site of a small housing estate. Nor should it be confused with Hallgarth, the site of Pittington’s beautiful medieval church.
Most historic of the Pittingtons is a neighbouring place called Hallgarth which lies just south of High Pittington. It was called Kirkpiddington in historic times and is a shrunken medieval village. As its older name suggests Hallgarth is the home to the medieval church of the Pittingtons which is dedicated to St Laurence.
Though there was some renovation in the nineteenth century at the east end, Pittington church is mostly the work of Christian, a twelfth century mason of Bishop Pudsey of Durham and it seems he also worked on the Galilee Chapel of Durham Cathedral. His tomb can be seen within the church.
The nave of the church has Norman arches and piers (pillars) with zigzag patterns and in general the interior has striking similarities to Durham Cathedral’s nave with its decorative pillars. More particularly, the tooth-like zig-zag arches closely resemble those of the Galilee Chapel of Durham Cathedral (where Bede’s tomb lies), the part of the cathedral that was likely worked on by Christian.
The church was probably built on the site of an earlier one as there is an Anglo-Saxon sundial incorporated into the outer masonry. Also hinting at earlier origins are Saxon or very early ‘Saxon-Norman’ windows one of which features a later twelfth century painting.
The Priors of Durham once held a manor house at Hallgarth of which only earthworks remain so the manor should not be confused with the nearby Hallgarth Manor Hotel which was once the Hallgarth farmhouse. The Durham monks owned Pittington until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s after which time residents included the Morlands, Andersons, Simpsons and, from around 1675, the Shipperdsons of Murton.
Inside the church there is a medieval cross-legged figure of a knight, – a Fitzmarmaduke of Horden and tombs of the Baker Baker and Baker family of Elemore Hall, who resided just to the north east of Pittington towards Haswell and Hetton-le-Hill.
The murder of a 19 year old servant girl called Ann Westropp at nearby Hallgarth Mill (it was located towards Sherburn) caused something of a sensation in these parts in August, 1830 and there is a memorial to this within the church. Another servant, Thomas Clarke, reported the incident saying that six Irishmen had broken into the mill while the owners were away and robbed the house of money. Clarke claimed they’d assaulted him with a poker and murdered the girl.
Clarke soon became the accused and was found guilty at court in Durham based on the evidence of two items found in his room, one of which might have been used in the break-in and the other possibly used in the murder. Further evidence rested on a ‘saucy remark’ he had earlier made to the girl.
Clarke was hanged the following year at Durham but continued to protest his innocence as he went to the gallows: “Gentleman I am innocent, I am going to suffer for another man’s crime” he is supposed to have proclaimed.
Such was the sensational nature of this event that the local newspaper, the Durham Advertiser produced a ballad about the whole occurrence. It is recalled in the Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend of 1891:
Eighteen hundred three times ten,
August the eighth that day
Let not that Sunday and that year
From memory pass away.
At Hallgath Mill near Pittington
Was done a murder foul
The female weak- the murderer strong
No pity for her soul.
Her skull was broke, her throat was cut,
Her struggle was soon o’er;
And down she fell, and fetched a sigh,
And weltered in her gore.
Her fellow servant, Thomas Clarke,
To Sherburn slowly sped,
And told a tale that strangers six
Had done the dreadful deed.
Now, woe betide thee, Thomas Clarke!
For this thy coward lie;
A youth like thee for girl like her
Would fight till he did die.
“They’ve killed the lass,” it was his tale,
“and nearly have killed me”;
But when upon him folk did look,
No bruises could they see.
Pittington Colliery operated from 1820 until 1891 and was owned by the Marquess of Londonderry who once brought his close friend, the Duke of Wellington to visit his colliery village at High Pittington or New Pittington as it was then called. The pits at High Pittington were called Londonderry Pit; Buddle Pit and Adolphus Pit (a Londonderry family name) with the Lady Seaham Pit and Belmont Pit situated to the north near Low Pittington.
The road running south from Low Pittington towards Sherburn has the intriguing name Lady’s Piece Lane. According to a legend this is named from a murdered girl whose body was found by the roadside, a place where according to one story there had been assignations with a secret lover. There does not seem to be a connection with the Hallgarth Mill murder and the girl’s identity and cause of death are unknown. She is said to haunt the lane but the whole story seems to be only a legend.
Littletown between Sherburn Hill and High Pittington is a village rather than a town and a very small one at that. It was yet another of the villages called Pittington that formed a medieval ‘township’ and was historically called Suthton (south farm) from at least as early as 1366 and later called Suth Pittington or Little Pittington. It was called Littletown by 1613 but was still then only a farm.
In the era of mining, Littletown Colliery initially belonged to Lambton, the Earl of Durham and operated from 1831 to 1914. Peter Lee (1864-1935), the later miners’ leader from which the town of Peterlee is named, once worked at Littletown Colliery, when he was only a boy.
As a mining village Littletown was very small. Today the main street is Plantation Avenue, named from the extensive woodlands nearby. The street overlooks a large field that forms a kind of village green that was once surrounded by the neighbouring streets of the colliery village but there are only a handful of homes over on the other side of the green today including a converted Methodist Chapel.
Belmont and Ramside
There are two notable old mansions in the vicinity of the Pittingtons. One of these is the red brick mid eighteenth century Elemore Hall, believed to be the birthplace of Ann Isabella Milbanke who was the wife of the poet Lord Byron. The couple were married at Seaham. Elemore Hall lies to the east of Littletown and is now Elemore Hall School (see Hetton-le-Hole).
The other notable hall of the area, is now a well-known hotel, the battlemented Ramside Hall. This building was originally called Belmont Hall and was built by Thomas Pemberton, a coal owner who constructed it as a mansion house in 1820.
Pemberton surrounded the hall with extensive plantations and the whole park acquired the name of Belmont which also became the name of a nearby pit. The hall is now called Ramside from the name of an old grange or farm called Ramside that once stood on the site of the hall. Ramside belonged to Kepier Hospital in medieval times.
Today, Belmont is the adopted name of a large housing estate adjacent to the former mining villages of Carrville and Broomside. These three places form the outer eastern parts of Durham City with Gilesgate and Gilesgate Moor a little nearer to the city to their immediate west.
Gilesgate Moor technically ends at the former hamlet of Moor End (where we now find Stirk’s steak house). Here the Sunderland Road from Gilesgate Moor crosses over the A1(M) motorway then splits in two to form Carrville High Street and Belmont’s Broomside Lane with the Victorian church of St Mary Magdalene situated in the ‘V’ between the two. The church was built by the architect William Butterfield in 1856.
To the south of Broomside Lane, the flat plateau of land on which Belmont Community School (formerly Belmont Comprehensive) is situated once stretched west into Gilesgate Moor’s Dragonville area and was historically called Ravensflatt.
A Ravensflatt Farm once stood where the car park is now situated between the school and Belmont’s Buckinghamshire Road. Ravensflatt was first noted in 1364 and was probably associated with lands called Raven’s Meadows belonging to a John Raven mentioned at West Rainton in 1365.
In Gilesgate Moor, another street midway between the Sunderland Road and Sherburn Road called Renny’s Lane becomes a country pathway after passing beneath the A1(M) motorway. From here it skirts the southern edge of Belmont and features views southward across the open countryside to Quarrington Hill.
The Renny’s Lane footpath links Belmont to Sherburn and the road to Pittington. At its eastern end, the lane passes under a bridge, beneath the old Leamside railway line before crossing the Pittington Beck near Sherburn by a little footbridge.
Hereabouts, rolling hilly scenery on the east side of Belmont is locally known as ‘the Scrambles’ where popular motorcycle ‘scrambling’ events were once held several decades ago. A little beyond the Scrambles, just to the north, is the southerly edge of the Ramside golf course.
The Raintons and Leamside
West Rainton and East Rainton to the north east of Belmont derive their names from an Anglo-Saxon called Raegnwald. We know that this Raegnwald was the son of Franco who was one of the carriers of St Cuthbert’s coffin who reputedly brought the saint’s body to Chester-le-Street in the ninth century.
In medieval times the Rainton area was a park belonging to the prior and monks of Durham and was also an important area for early coal mining development. In 1347 a mine at Moorhouse just north of Kepier Woods and near to Rainton was operated by the monks who used a pump to remove water from the mine.
Today there is a lovely managed woodland alongside the River Wear gorge here called Raintonpark Wood and just its east near the motorway at Moor House is Malygill Wood situated in a deep valley or gill that forms a tiny tributary of the River Wear. There are many traces of coal mining activity in this wood going back to medieval times and intriguingly the bed of the stream in the gill is paved for a considerable stretch, though this is possibly from a later period perhaps associated with sandstone quarrying in the area.
Rainton continued to be an area significant for mining for many centuries and in the 1600s coal mines were developed at Rainton by John Duck who was later knighted as Sir John Duck. A one-time mayor of Durham and known as ‘Durham’s Dick Whittington’ Duck opened collieries on land at Rainton that belonged to Durham Cathedral.
As well as living at Rainton, Duck also resided for a time in a prominent town house in Durham’s Silver Street. In the 1700s Duck’s Main Colliery was connected to the colliery wagonway network – early railways that were operated by horse-drawn wagons.
In 1714 John Wesley, the Methodist preacher remarked on the abundance of mines and people in the area but despite the early mining in the Raintons, the rapid growth in colliery development and population in the area did not come until the early nineteenth century.
Rainton mines of this era included the Adventure Pit (1816), Resolution Pit (1816); Plain Pit (1817); Hazard Pit (1818) and Rainton Meadows Pit of 1824. The principal mine owner of the area was the Marquess of Londonderry, although technically ownership was registered in the name of his wife. Indeed, a former school of 1850 (now a private house) in West Rainton was founded by the Marchioness of Londonderry with a very worn and barely readable inscription above the door that reads:
“This edifice erected in 1850 by Frances Anne Vane, Marchioness of Londonderry, as an encouragement to the colliers to promote the moral and religious education of their children and as a lasting memorial of the interest she takes in their welfare”
A number of colliery railways including early wooden wagonways linked the Rainton mines to staithes on the River Wear near Penshaw. One of the best known railways of the area is however the Leamside Railway line of 1844 named from the nearby village of Leamside which lies just over a railway bridge to the west of West Rainton.
When it was built, the Leamside line was the main line north from London and initially terminated at Gateshead. The course of the line, which departs from the present East Coast Main line near Cornforth and Ferryhill heads north eastward and crosses the Wear by the Victoria Viaduct near Washington and joins the Tyne and Wear Metro system near Heworth.
The tracks of the Leamside line have been removed leaving only the underlying ballast but over the years there have been constant re-emerging debates about its future potential.
West Rainton is the largest of the Raintons and is situated in County Durham while East Rainton, though historically in Durham is today part of the City of Sunderland. West Rainton has a large Victorian church of 1864 with a spire that can be seen from miles around. The spire incorporates an inscribed granite stone from the pyramid of Ghizeh in Egypt (a church at Penshaw has a similar stone from the pyramid of Cheops).
The spire was bestowed by George Elliot, later Sir George Elliot, a one-time miner who started working as a boy in a mine at Penshaw and worked his way up to become a coal owner, businessman, industrialist and influential politician. A seemingly shrewd businessman, his fortunes seemed to rise after he became the Chief Viewer of the collieries belonging to the Marquess of Londonderry.
Elliot’s other achievements included becoming an MP for Durham; manufacturing the first transatlantic cables; becoming an influential adviser to the Prime Minister, Disraelli and acting as a the financial adviser to the ruler of Egypt – hence the pyramid connection.
East Rainton has always been smaller than West Rainton and more of a colliery village in appearance but is still an old settlement. Middle Rainton in between the two villages only came into being in the 1820s.
Rainton is not to be outdone by the Pittingtons with its duplication of names and so there are also places called Rainton Gate (from a former toll gate); Rainton Meadows (the site of a nature reserve and events arena) and then we have Rainton Bridge (now home to a business park). Rainton has very strong links to the ancestry of Queen Elizabeth II through a family called Nicholson, see the family tree on the page for Hetton-le-Hole.
The A1(M) motorway separates Leamside and the Raintons from Great Lumley and Cocken in the countryside and farmlands alongside the River Wear to the west. These two places can be reached by Cocken Road or Pithouse Lane where roads pass beneath the motorway. There is a footbridge on the Wear at Cocken that crosses to Finchale Priory over on the west side of the river.