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 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 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 four miles distant Durham Cathedral and its surrounding countryside. 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.
The hill rises to a plateau just above the south side of the village where there are splendid views to the south and north, though no views stretching east towards the sea due to neighbouring hills. However, the view north includes the distant Cheviots Hills in north Northumberland which can be see very easily on a clear day.
Various parts of Tyneside can be seen including several prominent high rise flats along with the Angel of the North at Gateshead and of course Penshaw Monument. 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. It 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 which still continues today. 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 east 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 Ludworth Tower
Shadforth 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 the village has the mysterious name Witch Hill and stands above Cassop Vale to the south. The hill is climbed by the A181 as it ascends towards Thornley and Wheatley Hill and here is known as Silent Bank which we will come to in a moment.
Ludworth is north of Thornley, 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.
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. In medieval times Low Pittington was called Piddington Towne but is still a small village today. It should not be confused with High Pittington to the south which developed in the mining era and is now also a site of a small housing estate.
Most historic of the Pittingtons is another 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 of the, Pittington church is mostly the work of Christian, a twelfth century mason of Bishop Pudsey of Durham who likely worked on the Galilee Chapel of Durham Cathedral. His tomb can be seen within the church.
The nave has Norman arches and piers (pillars) with zigzag patterns and in general the interior has strikingly similarities to the cathedral’s nave with its decorative pillars but more particularly the tooth-like zig-zag arches closely resemble the Galilee Chapel of Durham Cathedral (where Bede’s tomb lies), a part of the cathedral that was also likely to have been worked on by Christian.
The church was probably built on the site of an earlier one and there is an Anglo-Saxon sundial incorporated into the outer masonry. Also hinting at earlier origins are Saxon or very early Norman ‘Saxon-Norman’ windows one of which features 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, just to the north east of Pittington towards Hetton-le-Hole.
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 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 she held assignations with a secret lover. The girl’s identity and cause of death are unknown but she is said to haunt the lane. It 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 after which the town of Peterlee is named, worked at Littletown Colliery when he was only a boy.
Even as a mining village Littletown was small. Today the main street is Planatation 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 eighteenth century Elemore Hall, reputedly the birthplace of Ann Isabella Milbanke 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 is a battlemented hotel called Ramside Hall, a building originally called Belmont Hall and built by Thomas Pemberton, a coal owner who constructed it as a mansion in 1820.
Pemberton surrounded the hall with extensive plantations and the whole park acquired the name of Belmont. The building is now called Ramside from the name of an old grange or farm that stood on the site of the Hall and belonged to Kepier Hospital (see Gilesgate) in medieval times. Today Belmont is the adopted name of a large housing estate adjacent to the former mining villages of Carrville and Broomside.
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 Raegnwald was the son of Franco who was one of the carriers of St Cuthbert’s coffin who 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 and near to Rainton was operated by the monks who used a pump to remove water from the mine.
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 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 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 Leamside line is currently uprooted but over the years there have been constantly re-emerging debates about its future.
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 built 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 (home to a business park). Rainton has very strong links to the ancestry of Queen Elizabeth II – see the family tree on the page for Hetton-le-Hole.